Buying Your First Cue

by James Hoover

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Buying a pool cue can either be a pleasant enjoyable experience or a nightmare. The determining factor will most likely be the knowledge you possess when you begin.

Things to Consider before Buying

There are many things to consider when buying a cue. One step most people miss is determining what games you are going to play. For instance, if you are planning on playing Snooker you will probably want a cue at least 59"-60” long that has a relatively small diameter tip, probably 12.5mm or less. Why? Snooker tables are several feet larger than the typical pocket pool tables most people play on and the balls are much smaller. A standard size tip would make precision aiming more difficult. On the other hand, if you plan on playing 3-cushion billiards you will probably want a cue with more "spine". That means the shaft of the cue is relatively stiff and won’t deflect much. Why is that important? Because the balls used in 3-cushion billiards are larger, and heavier, than those used in standard pocket pool games and the table is larger. A shaft with a softer hit could deflect too much on a 3-cushion table and you will sacrifice accuracy, not to mention the increased probability of miscuing.

Most people playing pool today enjoy games like 8 ball and 9 ball. These are the more typical games played in bars and taverns, pool halls, and by leagues. These are also the two games you are most likely to see on television. The reason is that these games go faster, and the rules are more universally understood, which makes for good television. These are the games most people intend to play when purchasing a cue so I will devote the majority of this article appropriately.

It is unfortunate that many people select their cue based entirely on its appearance. I compare that to buying a bottle of wine based on how pretty the label is. Sure, it may look nice, but that may be the extent of its appeal. Most people would rather have a good tasting bottle of wine rather than a pretty label. The same logic applies to pool cues. Most players would rather have a good playing cue, even if it is not the prettiest cue on the rack, instead of one that is flashy but of poor quality. The problem is how to tell the difference between the two. It may help at this point to describe the components of a modern cue and the possible variations.

One and Two-piece Cues

First, there are one piece cues and two piece cues. They both have positive and negative qualities. It is important to know which are important to you before making a decision. A good one piece cue will probably cost less than a good two piece cue. The down side is that a one piece cue is difficult to carry with you. Also, if it begins to warp, which long thin pieces of wood often do, it can be very difficult to salvage. On the other hand, if the shaft of a two piece cue begins to warp, you can simply get a new shaft and retain the butt, or expensive end of the cue. Two piece cues are far more likely to have more decorative inlays and be made of more expensive materials than one piece cues. Most experienced players choose a two piece cue for many reasons. Probably the most important is the possibility of having several interchangeable shafts.

It also may help to understand the parts of a two piece cue. Let’s begin with the shaft. The end of the shaft that strikes the cue ball is where the tip is mounted. Most quality tips are made of several layers of thin leather and glue, laminated under high pressure. Multiple layers of thin leather are used rather than one thick piece because thick pieces of leather can be very inconsistent in texture which can make for unpredictable play. The tip is glued to a small cylindrical component called a ferrule. In the past ferrules were commonly made of ivory. The restriction of trade in natural ivory has limited the manufacture of ivory cue components to the higher priced cues.

It is still legal to use natural ivory in the construction of cues. The restriction is on the import of ivory, not its use. Ivory that already exists in commercial venues can still be used but is treated like a controlled substance with very strict monitoring of quantity and conservation.

The reason ivory is so desirable is that ivory is very durable and transmits the "hit" better than any other material. The "hit" refers to the feel the player gets from the cue when striking the cue ball. A cue with bad hit transmission will give the player very little information to work with. In general, natural materials, ivory, wood, etc, provide better hit transmission, or feel, than synthetic materials. Most manufacturers who do not use natural ivory use a substance called Ivorine ™. This is a man made material that is very close to ivory in virtually every respect and is a suitable replacement for natural ivory in most circumstances. The ferrule is mounted on a short spindle on the end of the shaft.

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