Everything you need to know to choose the perfect pool table.
Pool tables, billiard tables and other tables upon which cue sports can be played are major investments on the level of a baby grand piano, grandfather clock or other heirloom-quality pieces. Pool tables can run anywhere between $900 and $5,000 offering many variations of slate, felt, cloth, wood and more. To ensure your investment is safe and sound for many years to come, use this buyer's guide to educate yourself on pool and billiard tables before you make a purchase.
What to Look For When Buying a Pool Table
There are six aspects of a pool table you should consider:
There is no substitute for a pool table made with slate. Common substitutes include plywood, fiberboard, slatex, permaslate, slatron, slatine and honeycomb, but none of these alternatives offer the smooth experience and accuracy of slate. What is slate? Slate is shale or rock made over thousands years from volcanic ash or clay that is mined, quarried, cut and leveled into smooth flat sheets perfect for cue sports such as billiards or pool.
Pool table slate is divided into categories by thickness, with the standard sizes being 3/4" slate, 1" slate and 1-1/4" slate. The Billiard Congress of America (BCA) recognizes 1" slate as the most accurate slate available and requires at least 1" slate on tables used in tournaments and competitions. Many dealers will substitute 1" slate with 7/8" and still market it as 1" slate. Be sure to ask that the slate is truly 1" thick and not 7/8" thick.
The cabinet of a pool table holds 90% of the overall weight, which means this amount must be supported by strong legs. When players take shots, lean or sit against the pool table it adds even more stress. There are two types of legs: post or "perfect" legs and two-piece or "industry standard" legs. The post legs are considered "perfect" because they are made from solid pieces of wood, from the slate down to the feet. They are reliable and will prevent a lowering of the gameplay experience as time progresses.
There are two types of two-piece or "industry standard" legs; these leg systems attach the legs to the cabinet with anchor systems and avoid a solid leg. The first type is the single anchor system which uses a single nut and bolt combination; this type of system will loosen overtime and affect the playing experience. The second type is the quad anchor system, which offers four nut and bolt combinations, and is the more secure of the two types of two-piece legs.
The slate of a pool table is only as good as the wood frame, since a lack of support can cause the slate to sag, crack and become uneven. A high-quality pool table will offer slate that has been framed with wood glued to the bottom, along with cross beams that add support. You will find a review of three types of frames below on this page.
The type of frame beams needed depends on the size of the slate. Pool tables that offer 3/4" slate can get away with utilizing two cross beams. But larger slate, such as 1" and up, should be using quad-beam construction that offers two cross beams and two long beams. Just remember with larger slate more framing is required, and to ask about the amount of beams below the slate.
Cloth / Felt
Modern billiard cloth or pool table felt is typically made from a wool and nylon blend that's been coated in Teflon. To determine the durability of a cloth look at the ounce weight per yard of the felt; we recommend between 18 and 22 ounces per yard for a maximum life.
While durability can be an issue, many players are concerned about speed and traction on the playing surface. Worsted cloth typically made from wool offers fibers that are combed before they are spun which will help with speed and accuracy.
Cushions / Rails
The cushions or rails of a pool table are normally made from either synthetic materials or natural gum or gum blends. The synthetic options routinely rely on clay filler to form the rails; this clay will dry, out, lose its bounce and become a "dead rail".
But rails or cushions with the standard K-66 profile use natural gum materials; these types of rails provide a predictable bounce that will last as long as you own the table. We recommend natural gum rails over synthetic rails. An in-depth review of rails and cushions can be found below.
While the pool table itself is probably the single most important aspect that will determine the playing experience of the games, the playing equipment is quite important. Here's a quick rundown of billiard equipment and accessories:
- Pool cues, cue sticks or billiard cues are tapered pieces of wood used to strike the billiard balls. While historically cues offered strictly wood, today modern versions feature not only natural maple but synthetic materials such as fiberglass, graphite and carbon fiber. They range in size from 48" to 58" long and can weigh between 17 and 22 ounces.
- Bridge sticks are used when the pool player cannot reach his or her desired shot without lying upon the pool table. Many games require players to keep at least on foot upon the ground during shots; bridge sticks allow players to place the shooting cue on the bridge so they accurately hit their shot. Bridge sticks normally offer a tapered wood shaft complete with a brass bridge head.
- Billiard balls are the balls used to play pool, billiards and other cue sports. A normal billiard ball set includes 15 numbered balls sometimes divided into stripes and solids, and one white or clear cue ball. Color, size and diameter can vary depending on the cue sport being played and the location. For example, Russian pool uses larger cue balls, while American-style pool uses smaller cue balls. Initially billiard balls were made of clay, bone and ivory; in 1869 John Wesley Hyatt introduced a material called nitrocellulose, later called Celluloid, for pool balls. The industry eventually moved on to plastic compounds such as Bakelite and Crystallite, and currently relies on phenolic resins, plastics, polyester blends and acrylics to create modern billiard balls.
- Pool ball racks are framed pieces of wood used to set the billiard balls at the beginning of play. The most common rack is the 15-ball "triangle" rack that offers a pattern of 1-2-3-4-5. These racks typically require the eight ball to be placed in the center of the third row, with the #1 ball being placed at the apex of the triangle (the front corner). These triangle racks can be used to play pool, snooker, eight-ball and other games. Another type of pool ball rack is the nine-ball "diamond" rack with a pattern of 1-2-3-2-1 and is used to play nine ball.
- Other pool accessories include table brushes, rail brushes, training balls, cue repair kits, cue chalk, chalk holders, talcum powder, tally ball shakers, tally balls, table covers, pool cue cases, wall racks and much more.