What You Should Consider Before Purchasing a Pool Table....
What You Should Consider Before Purchasing a Pool Table....
Guide to Buying a Pool Table (Part 1 of 5)
1. Select the Category that Suits You Best.
Pool tables vary greatly in price, from about $600 to $10,000 or more. Some highly ornate or antique tables may cost as much as $40,000 or even much more. The first step in buying a pool table, therefore, is to consider the purpose and function of the table, and the amount of money you are prepared to spend.
Start by selecting the category that suits you best:
Q)" I want a table for my kids to play on; it doesn't matter what it looks like, or how well it plays, and I don't expect them to use it for more than a couple of years."
Answer: Buy a non-slate table for $600 to $800 from a mass merchandiser, possibly one that you can take home and assemble yourself.
Q)" I want a real pool table, but I want to pay as little as possible for it. It doesn't have to play like a professional table, and I'm not looking for a beautiful piece of furniture. I realize that the table may not last more than a few years, and may trade up to a better table later."
Answer: Shop for an economy slate bed table in the $1200 to $2500 price range, but scrutinize advertised claims carefully and be sure to buy from a knowledgeable and reliable billiards retailer.
Q) “I am a serious player and want a table that plays well, one that I can develop my skills on, but I am on a limited budget."
Answer: Carefully select a good used table that will cost in the neighborhood of $1500 to $3000 after being fully reconditioned. Most specialized billiards retailers have used tables for sale. Even better is to locate a table through the classified ads in your newspaper. You may find an excellent table for just a few hundred dollars. Many times a person with no interest in billiards will inherit or be left with a table that is just taking up a lot of room; they are anxious to get rid of it and have no idea what it is worth. Don't buy directly from an individual, however, unless you have a billiard mechanic inspect the table (look under "Billiard Service" in the Yellow Pages). You will need the services of a billiard mechanic anyway to move and recover the table.
Q) "I want a table that will look nice and play well, one that I will be happy with for a number of years, but I can't afford to spend too much. I may consider trading up to a better table later on."
Answer: Shop for a popularly priced table in the $2000 to $3,000 price range. Examine the construction of the table and ask lots of question because quality varies greatly in this price range. Expect to be in the upper end of the price range if you want a good-looking piece of furniture.
Q) " I want a top quality table, a beautiful piece of furniture that will enhance the decor of my home while playing like a professional table. I expect it to be a lifetime investment, the only table I will ever own."
Answer: Buy a well-engineered solid hardwood table in the $3,000 to $5,000 price range, with a fine furniture finish and styling to create just the right ambiance in your home. Buy it from a knowledgeable and reliable retailer who guarantees satisfaction and can service your needs in the future, including other fine furniture and accessories to complement your billiard table.
Q) "I want something really special, a table with a unique look that will make a statement and perfectly complement the decor of my home; perhaps a table with intricate carvings or unusual styling that reflects real craftsmanship; or possibly a rare antique."
Answer: Expect to pay at least $5,000, but you should be able to buy just about any new table for under $8,000. Antiques can cost up to $15,000 or much more, but ask around to make sure you aren't paying too much. There are a few billiard retailers in each region of the US who are experienced in collecting and restoring antique billiard tables.
2. Some General Considerations About Each Category
Least Expensive. Many tables in the least expensive category do not use real slate as a playing surface because it is too expensive. They use an artificial slate called "perma-slate", a plastic "honeycomb" surface or some other substitute material. Some of these tables are toys designed for you to take home and assemble yourself. Others are more like real pool tables requiring assembly and leveling by an experienced billiards mechanic. All of these tables are lightly constructed, easily "bump able", and unlikely to last more than a few years. None will play well enough to satisfy even a slightly experienced player. Full sized toy tables that you can assemble yourself can be purchased from mass merchandisers for $300 to $800. Those requiring installation (but still with non-slate playing surfaces) are more likely to cost $800 to $1200.
Economy Tables. At the next level are the economy slate tables, which range in price from $1200 to about $2000. These tables have genuine slate playing surfaces but are inferior in most other respects. At the lowest level are the "one piece" slate tables. The people who make these tables (most are produced locally in garage-type workshops) may try to convince you that one-piece slate is superior to three-piece slate. Don't believe it. See the section on slate below to understand the pitfalls of one-piece slate.
Many of these cheaper tables do not use "oversized" slate. Oversized slate is an industry term for slate that extends beneath the rails. As you will soon discover, the rails of your table are just the right height to sit on. As much as you may discourage the practice, people will inevitably sit, or at least lean heavily, on the rails of your table. If the slate is oversized, extending underneath the rails, it is strong enough to support the weight. If the slate is undersized, watch out! You will soon have wobbly, misaligned rails and a playing surface so uneven as to make it impossible to play.
Even the better tables in this category with 3 piece, oversized slate, often have unframed (un-backed) slate, sometimes only 3/4" thick. The lack of slate framing (backing) means that the bed cloth has to be glued to the underside of the slate instead of tightly stretched and stapled to the slate frame (backing). Such tables not only lack the weight and stability of a 1" framed slate table, but the irregularities in the cloth will also hamper playability. This is why tournament regulations require framed slate. The playability of most of these tables also suffers from the use of inferior grade cushions.
It goes without saying that the materials used and construction of these tables is not top grade. At the lower end of the price range most will have vinyl or melamine laminated surfaces. Further up the price scale they may have wood veneer surfaces, usually a thin sheet of wood glued to a plywood or fiberboard substrate. Be especially wary of these artificial materials in a humid environment or an area subject to large temperature changes like a basement.
When buying an economy table, be sure to determine what the necessary extras will cost. Many buyers end up paying more than they bargained for when the extras are added, like delivery and installation charges, the bed cloth, playing equipment and accessories which are usually included in the price of more expensive tables.
Popularly Priced Tables
The most popular price range is $2000 to $3000. At this level you can buy a properly built, good playing table; one that will look attractive and be enjoyable to play on for a number of years --- if you choose wisely and know what to look for! Even in this price range, however, expect the manufacturer to utilize a number of cost saving measures. Most of these tables will incorporate cheaper materials somewhere in the table, particleboard, fiberboard, laminated wood or other composite materials. When properly engineered, these tables can be quite strong --- strong enough to support the 400 to 600 lbs. of slate --- but the frames of some will sag and spread over time, which can render them unplayable. Be especially wary if your table will be subjected to a lot of humidity or large temperature changes (e.g. in a basement), because some of these artificial materials can deform and disintegrate under adverse climatic conditions.
Tables at the lower end of this price range will sometimes have laminated or veneer surfaces, and laminated wood or plywood cross members and structural components. When buying a laminated table the consumer should avoid vinyl and insist on a high-pressure melamine laminate. If the table is veneered, look for a good quality substrate such as industrial grade medium density fiberboard (MDF) or hardwood plywood, never particleboard.
Tables in the upper part of this price range may be solid wood, but solid wood alone does not guarantee sound construction. Consider the thickness of the wood used in the cabinet or frame: cabinet walls constructed of 4/4 lumber (about ¾" thick after planning and sanding) are unlikely to provide sufficient strength, especially in larger sized tables. Even 5/4 lumber yielding 1” thickness is marginal. Consider too the quality of wood used. Though perfectly acceptable, ash is less costly than oak, and tulipwood is less costly than maple.
If you prefer the look of a carved leg, such as "ram's horn" or "ball & claw" styling, such legs can only be carved out of solid wood which will usually be more costly than a simply constructed "hollow" leg. But notice the size of the carved leg and the intricacy of the carving. The larger the leg and the more intricate the carving, the more expensive the legs will be.
Part 2 of 5:
Top Quality Tables
When purchasing a table for $4,000 or more you should expect top quality materials, design and construction, as well as a long-term warranty. Price alone, however, does not guarantee quality, so you should shop and compare, and ask lots of questions using the information in this document as a guide.
First, consider the kinds of materials used in the table's construction. Some ways of building pool tables create more value than others.
Use of hardwoods as opposed to soft woods, wood substitutes, metal or plastics adds value and longevity to a pool table.
- Hardwoods have a superior ability to hold nails and screws and withstand stresses.
- Hardwood construction techniques utilize less hardware, which can bend or loosen over time.
- Hardwoods lend themselves to all manner of furniture styles and carving.
- Hardwoods can be sanded and refinished.
- Hardwoods have distinctive one of a kind characteristics in their grain structure and appearance that add beauty and value.
- Hardwoods, as opposed to metal and plastics, have the necessary elasticity, as good slate does, for proper leveling and accurate play.
- Tables built of solid hardwoods hold their value decade after decade, becoming tomorrow's heirlooms. A few nicks and scratches only add to their character.
Next, for enjoyable and accurate play, check to see that the pool table meets these equipment standards:
- The table should have at least a full 1-inch thick, 3-piece, slate bed. Some manufacturers use thinner slate. Sales persons may not volunteer this information so be sure to ask.
- The slate should be backed with hardwood framing that is a minimum of 3/4 inches thick, not particleboard or other substrates that can swell with moisture or crumble after replacing bed cloth; and not softwoods that are prone to expand and shrink with climatic conditions.
- The slate playing surface should be secured to the frame with screws or bolts.
- The frame should be heavily constructed with a thick, solid hardwood platform for the slate to rest upon (not a thin sheet of plywood), cross members that are notched into the frame (not bolted to the sides of the frame).
- The frame should have a longitudinal center beam as well as two lateral cross members for added stability, and the slate should have wood backing down the center so that it actually rests upon the center beam (otherwise, the center beam is not functional and has been provided only as a "selling point").
- The frame should be pre-assembled at the factory using traditional furniture making joinery, i.e. glued and screwed together at the joints, and not assembled in your home with components held together by metal brackets. This insures a flat platform for the slate and long lasting rigidity.
- Rubber cushion should be triangular in shape and molded in the conventional K-66 profile.
- Cushion rubber should have control fabric molded to the top and base area of the cushion. This is vital for accurate play. Some cushion rubber touted for its quality lacks the vital control fabric.
- Pocket openings and table height should comply with tournament specifications.
- The table should have a high quality furniture finish with a top coat of catalyzed varnish or lacquer (preferably oil based) and not high gloss polyurethane or acrylic finish. The latter will cloud with fine scratches over time (much as the exterior of an airplane window) and then be nearly impossible to strip and refinish.
Third, know what you're getting. If you are going to be spending $3,000 or more on a quality furniture style table, then be sure you know how to recognize what materials have been used in the pool table's construction. What may look like solid hardwood at first glance, could in fact, be something else.
- "Solid hardwood" means that each part is made exclusively of hardwood lumber. Larger pieces such as the frame may be glued together from smaller strips, which is advantageous because glue joints are stronger than wood and such glued parts, if properly assembled with opposing grains, are more stable (less susceptible to warping) than single large pieces. Laminated wood (thin sheets of wood glued together to make a thicker piece) should not to be considered equivalent to "solid wood". Veneer, a very thin sheet of more expensive wood covering a substrate of cheaper wood or artificial material, is also common in pool table construction. If the table lacks decorative routing or carving it is usually, though not always, a sign of veneers being used Even if the exterior is solid hardwood, a pool table manufacturer may use particleboard, fiberboard, plywood and other artificial materials on the hidden interior structure, so ask your sales person to show you the interior construction of the product you are considering.
- "Solid wood" is sometimes used to describe tables made in part or whole from evergreen, coniferous trees known as "soft woods". Soft woods such as fir and pine are less stable and dense than hardwoods. Check the slate framing in particular; some manufacturers use pine slate frames to cut costs, a sure source of problems later on.
- The term "all wood" is sometimes used to refer to a variety of artificial materials made of wood substances like particleboard, fiberboard, pressed wood, plywood, laminated wood, wood veneer, and other composite materials. Again, examine the pool table closely. These materials may be used on interior construction to cut costs, but they also reduce the value of the product you are considering.
- Be careful of terminology that describes the stain color or simulated grain design as opposed to the actual wood used in the table's construction. For instance, cherry or mahogany may describe tulipwood (much less desirable for furniture exteriors) that has been finished in a typical cherry or mahogany color, not that you are actually getting the more costly cherry or mahogany wood.
- How do you know you are getting solid hardwood? Examine the construction and look for visible signs of particleboard and laminates, which is usually evident by the appearance of layers. Also look for signs of hardwood construction methods in the way the wood is joined together such as dado cuts, and dovetail or mortise-and-tenon joints. The Hardwood Manufacturers' Association offers a hangtag to identify solid hardwood furniture. If it is not prominently displayed on the table you are looking at, ask your sales person about it.
- Finally, all hardwoods are not created equal. Tulipwood, more commonly referred to as poplar, is a cheap and plentiful hardwood with excellent structural characteristics, but less desirable than maple as an exterior furniture material because of its relatively soft and porous surface. Tulipwood is acceptable for pool tables (some may even prefer its velvety texture to the glasslike surface of maple) as long as the top rails, which are exposed to the most wear, are made of hard maple. Ash, similar in appearance to oak, is strong and bends well, excellent for baseball bats, but not the equivalent of oak in furniture. Alder, a Western version of poplar or tulipwood, looks somewhat like maple but is not nearly as hard or strong; it too should be considered marginal for exterior furniture use. Even oak, maple and cherry, the predominant furniture hardwoods, vary from region to region with the slower growing, tight grain, varieties from northern climates favored over the faster growing southern varieties.
Part 3 of 5:
3. About the Manufacturer
Construction techniques and know-how vary widely among manufacturers of billiard tables. In every metropolitan area and region of the country there are small local woodworking shops building pool tables. Their skills vary widely. Some are excellent woodworkers but know little about pool tables. Others are good billiard mechanics but know little about woodworking. In rare cases the two skills are combined and you can get excellent value in a well-designed table made locally, but be careful.
Among larger manufacturers there are great differences too in philosophy and approach. Some are captives of mass merchandisers, more interested in achieving the lowest possible cost than in producing a quality product. Others produce well-engineered products but use many cost cutting techniques to achieve lower prices and a broader market. There is nothing wrong with this approach except that the compromises made are usually glossed over in sales presentations. A few others follow a tradition of building the best product possible.
There can be less in a name than meets the eye. Some of the biggest and best-known names in the industry do not manufacture billiard tables at all; they just put their names on them. Most of these tables are imported from low wage countries where the local supply of lumber may not be up to US standards, especially with regard to drying and storage techniques. The terminology regarding the type of wood used can be loose too; mahogany may not be mahogany at all but a species of cypress or other little known tropical wood. Increasingly, low cost components are being imported from the Far East, sometimes using local wood varieties that masquerade as "maple" or "oak". Since pool tables are bulky and expensive to transport, a large part of your purchase price will be devoted to the cost of transportation and of carrying a large inventory of tables produced at great distance.
4. Understanding the Components
No matter what price range you're looking at, or who you are buying from, it pays to understand the individual components of the pool table, and what to look for in each.
The two most important considerations for the pool table frame (or cabinet) are its strength and flatness. Both are vital to providing a true and secure platform on which the playing surface of slate will rest. Since the slate can weigh as much as 600 pounds, in time a weak or improperly designed frame will begin to sag and spread under the stress.
Stronger frames will be built of 6/4 or 8/4 lumber stock, which after planing and sanding may be reduced to 1 3/8 or 1 ¼ inch thickness in the case of 6/4, or 1 7/8 to 1 ¾ inch thickness in the case of 8/4. The most common frame material for solid wood tables is 5/4, but some are built of 4/4 material which ends up being only ¾" thick after planing and sanding. A 5/4 frame is acceptable if designed properly, especially on the standard 8 foot table; a thicker frame is definitely advisable for larger size tables. A 4/4 frame is asking for trouble.
The platform or sill on which the slate rests is an important component of frame construction. Many manufacturers use a thin sheet of plywood as a platform; others hang a relatively short and thin piece of wood on the side of the frame to form a partial platform. Better built tables will have a 4"x2" piece of hardwood glued and screwed to the top of the frame. Being glued to the frame, this massive platform becomes an integral part of it, adding enormous strength and stability.
Also examine the cross members of the frame. They give additional support to the slate as well as rigidity for the frame. Look for cross members at least 2"x4", with a longitudinal center beam running the length of the table as well as two lateral cross members of the same size.
Notice how the cross members are attached to the frame. Most sit on small blocks of wood glued or stapled to the inside of the frame; some are bolted to resist the frame's spreading. A better approach is to fit the cross members into dado cuts (notches) in the 2" thick platform and the top portion of the frame, securing them with large screws running through the platform and into the cross members. Also examine the slate framing. Without framing that runs down the center of the slate, the center beam makes no contribution to supporting the slate and providing a quieter and more stable playing field.
Metal corner braces, presented by many as an advantage, are actually the source of many problems. Some of these corners are flimsy and bend easily, and none are more secure than the screws that bind them to the walls of the frame. Look for massive 2" thick corner blocks that are glued and screwed in place in the time honored tradition of solid wood construction
Check the underside of the frame to see if it has been stained or sprayed with a preservative. Is any raw wood exposed?
Frames that are assembled at the factory will be tested for flatness. If the table frame is delivered in parts that are assembled when the table is installed in your home, there could be problems putting it together in a way that is level. When the frame is pre-assembled at the factory, even if the installer has to take it apart to get it into your house, he will have a better chance of putting it back together properly.
Although slate is abundant throughout the world, its mineral properties vary greatly from place to place and the supply of slate suitable for billiard playing surfaces is rare. Italy has long been the traditional source for billiard slate, but in recent years large deposits of high quality billiard slate have been developed in Brazil. Billiard slate has begun to be imported from China, but the quality at this time is suspect.
Slate comes in varying thickness. The Billiard Congress of America specifies 1-inch thick slate for tournament play. You can generally rely on your sales person to tell you when the slate is noticeably thinner, such as 3/4" thick slate. Be careful, however, because some manufacturers economize by shaving off only an eighth of an inch and sales personnel do not always volunteer that information.
Three-piece slate is preferable to one-piece. One-piece works on a small bar table but presents serious problems when attempts are made to use it on larger tables. Three separate pieces allow for more accurate leveling, easier handling and less breakage. At first one might think that one piece slate would be easier to level than three pieces. The advantages of three pieces are obvious when one stops to consider that neither the table nor the floor it sits upon will be absolutely level, and all three components, floor, table and slate, will flex to some extent. Furthermore, one-piece slate is difficult and dangerous to move because of its great weight. Some billiard service companies may refuse to handle it if you need to move a table with one-piece slate.
All but the most inexpensive tables use "oversized slate", which means that the slate extends underneath the rails. Anyone who has been around a pool table knows that it is virtually impossible to resist the temptation to sit or lean on the rails. They are just the right height!
If the slate is not oversized the inevitable result is that the rails will sag and become misaligned… a condition that may be impossible to correct, rendering the table unplayable. We're not recommending that you sit on the rails; another hazard of sitting on rails is separation of the cushion from the rail.
Slate backing (or framing) is important for accurate leveling and for covering the table. Some cheaper tables omit the backing. The billiard cloth will be attached to the backing with staples. If there is no backing it will be glued on. Gluing does not allow the same ability to evenly stretch the cloth over the slate. Particleboard or other substitute materials used for backing can crumble and erode when staples are removed with each recovering. It can also form an indention where the rail bolt washer is tightened against it. More information on this point follows in the section on rails. Look for slate backed with hardwood; the backing should be wide enough to provide a firm platform, generally 4" to 6", and extend down the middle of the slate to make contact with the frame's center beam (if it has one).
The slate backing plays an important role in leveling the table. When a pool table is installed, the tightness of the slate screws will affect the leveling. The wood backing provides some give so that by tightening the screws one at a time, and inserting wooden shims underneath the backing, the installer can level the playing
surface with far greater accuracy than a table with un-backed slate.
Rails are generally constructed of two pieces of wood glued together. In most cases the rail cap (the visible part) will be of the same material as the rest of the exterior. The normal rail width is about 2 1/2" from the cushion, but more expensive tables are often supplied with extra wide rails that have 3 1/2" of finished surface, sometimes gracefully scalloped. Diamond shaped sites are a very desirable decorative feature; these can be plastic, or more expensive genuine mother of pearl. Beautifully finished rails with sparkling mother of pearl diamond sites add much to the esthetic appeal of a table. Diamond sites also add a lot of cost, however, because they must be individually fitted by hand. Genuine diamond sites are not to be confused with cheap diamond shaped decals that are sometimes applied.
Part 4 of 5:
The rail base (bottom part) is not visible after the table is assembled. What to look for here is the type of material being used and the bolting mechanism that will mount the rail to the table. Billiard cloth is fastened to the rail base with staples therefore materials such as particleboard and fiber-board are not desirable. They will crumble and disintegrate with repeated recovering. Poplar is a preferred material because of its unique ability to heal itself after a staple is removed and accept re-stapling better. Oak will have a tendency to split and is too hard to easily accept staples; pine does not hold staples well and is unstable.
How securely the rails are mounted to the pool table is crucial for accurate play. The rails and playing surface should be as one. If this juncture is wobbly or vibrates, play will be inaccurate and inconsistent. Grab hold and shake, but before you do make sure the table has been set up with slate. Often the tables on display in a billiard store will be set up with fake slate beds. This is for convenience, but the store should have at least one table fully assembled with slate for your inspection.
Check the rail mounting mechanism. Flat washers that are resting against the slate backing, especially if the backing is particleboard, can form an indentation and loosen over time leaving you with wobbly or vibrating rails. Look for oversized openings in the slate backing so that the washer rests directly against the slate, as well as use of a dome washer that grips the slate.
For proper play the table should have good quality cushions. K-66 and or K-55(Brunswick) refers to the shape of the cushion. It is an industry standard. Lower grade K-66 / K55 cushion are used as means of reducing cost. Insist on high quality cushion rubber.
The cushion should adhere firmly to the rail in a straight line free of any waves. Setting the rail rubber is a tricky operation requiring experienced personnel. Canvas backing helps the cushion adhere to the rail. Loose cushions will affect the accuracy of play. Accuracy will also be compromised by cushion that lacks control fabric. Control fabric is canvas embedded in the top of the cushion. It controls the action of the rubber and insures accurate rebound. Although required by Billiard Congress of America regulations for many years, some manufacturers have begun omitting this crucial component of the rail cushion.
The distance from the playing surface to the nose of the cushion is absolutely critical to the playability of the table. For optimal playability, this distance must be 64% of the ball diameter, or 1.44 inches (standard ball diameter is 2.25 inches). Cushion set lower than 1.44" will cause the ball to hop or even bounce off the table when struck hard. Cushions set higher will dampen the rebound resulting in a noisy thud and dead ball. Cushions set precisely will be both lively and quiet.
The blinds (or aprons) are the part of the pool table that hangs down from the rail. They are mostly ornamental, covering the exposed side of the frame and slate underneath the rail. Blinds can get a lot of abuse from being bumped and leaned upon. Again, check for the construction material used in the blind. Sometimes particleboard or press wood laminated with a veneer is used. This will not be as strong as a solid hardwood. Also, check for how securely it is attached to the rail. Manufacturers use a variety of methods, some better than others. Your best bet is to grab hold and see if it shakes. (Warning: some dealers do not fully assemble their display tables and may not have the aprons firmly attached.)
You will notice also that the blinds on some tables have exposed screws, which many consider to be unsightly. Better quality tables have blinds that are secured from behind with no exposed screws.
Furniture style tables come with hollow legs or solid wood carved or turned legs. Carved legs are expensive and add a lot of cost to the table both because of the quantity of wood used and the intricate work required to carve, sand and finish them. Most carved legs are similarly made, but some are larger than others. Most manufacturers have some styles of legs that are oversized, and hence more expensive. Some have deliberately undersized even their standard legs to reduce the cost of materials.
Hollow legs can be solid wood, veneered or laminated like other components. Those made of solid wood should be joined at the corners with tongue and groove construction for greater strength and avoidance of unsightly seams.
Examine the leg mounts carefully. Better quality pool tables will be built with sturdy solid wood leg blocks (the plate where the leg attaches to the frame). See the "Frame" section above for a discussion of the advantages of wood over metal plates. Carved legs should be attached with heavy 3/8" lag bolts at least 6" long. Sturdy leg mounts are important because of the great weight the legs have to support.
Generally in the market for home tables, lower priced tables will have a laminated or veneer surface. The most desirable laminates will be high pressure, or thermally fused melamine with burn, stain and scratch resistance for maximum longevity. The cheaper vinyl coverings, similar to contact paper, should be avoided.
The more expensive the pool table, the more you should expect from its finish. Sanding and finishing techniques make a difference in feel and appearance. Oil based finishes in the present state of technology are generally considered to be superior to water based finished required in some localities by environmental restrictions.
Different hardwoods exhibit different characteristics when finished. Choose the smooth, glasslike finish of maple for an elegant formal look. Choose the grainier appearance of oak for a warm, informal atmosphere. The grainy surface of oak is also more forgiving to minor scratches and blemishes than maples mirror-like finish. Cherry and mahogany because of the deep hue of the wood itself and rich grain patterns are extraordinarily beautiful when finished well. Cherry has a smooth hard surface like maple. Mahogany has a softer surface and finishes with a rich satin texture. Tulipwood or poplar has a soft porous surface and mineral stains that make it difficult to finish in lighter colors, though some prefer its velvety texture when finished in darker tones. Tulipwood should never be used on the top rails, however, because it is so easily scratched.
In addition to extensive machine and hand sanding, a multiple step finishing process, including shading coats, is necessary to achieve depth and clarity. Better quality tables have top-coats of catalyzed varnish or lacquer, catalyzation being the chemical process of molecular bonding, which produces an especially hard and durable surface. Most people prefer medium or satin sheen, avoiding both a dull flatness and the wet look of excessive gloss. High gloss polyurethane or acrylic finishes, though extremely tough, will cloud over with fine scratches over time (much as the exterior of an airplane window), and are nearly impossible to strip and refinish when aged.
For the ultimate in fine furniture finishes, polishing compounds can be used as a final step to add luster and depth to an already beautiful finish
More expensive tables sometimes use rare and exotic hardwoods on the rails alone, such as rosewood, zebrawood or walnut, and apply a simple coat of wax or oil for luster and protection rather than finishing the rails. Although the color contrasts with the rest of the table, this is a sensible alternative because the rails absorb most of the wear, nicks and scratches. An extremely hard species like rosewood, zebrawood or walnut is not only more durable, but if merely oiled or waxed can easily be repaired.
Minor scratches can be buffed away with super fine steel wool, and deeper scratches can be sanded away. Apply a coat of paste wax or tung oil and voila -- like new again!
Part 5 of 5:
5. About the Retailer
It is important to purchase your table from an experienced and reliable billiards retailer. Find out how long he has been in business. Is billiards a side line or a major part of his business? Does he have his own crew of experienced billiard mechanics or does he contract out his installations? Is he authorized to sell and service the brands he is offering you? If not the manufacturer's warranty may be voided.
Proper installation is critical to the satisfactory performance of your table. A proper installation takes 2 to 3 hours, even with the rails covered in advance. Beware of speedy installations.
Billiards is a fast growing business. Many new retailers are appearing every year, some with good experience and business ethics, some without. Beware of the hard sell, deceptive advertising and bait and switch tactics. Unfortunately, there are some retailers who see a billiard table as a one-time sale. They don't expect to see you again, and you will have a hard time getting their attention if you are not satisfied with your table.
Most dealers price their tables as a complete ready-to-play package, complete with delivery (within a certain radius), installation, 21 oz nylon/wool blend cloth in the color of your choice, standard pockets in color and style of your choice (tassel or shield), and a standard package of playing equipment including 4 cue sticks, balls, triangle, chalk and sometimes other items. One or more deluxe accessory packages with upgraded cues, balls and various other accessories may be offered for an additional charge. When a price is advertised or quoted, be sure to determine exactly what it includes. Some dealers offer discounts on lights, spectator chairs and other game room furniture or accessories when you buy a pool table.
Get to know the owner or manager you are doing business with. When purchasing an expensive item like a billiard table the comfort and security of dealing with a person who is knowledgeable and trustworthy is worth a great deal.
6. Questions to Ask
1. Is this table made of 100% solid hardwood? If not what other materials have been used?
2. Does this table have 1-inch, three-piece slate?
3. Is the slate backed in hardwood? Is it backed in the center so that it rests on a center beam?
4. Does the cushion rubber have both canvas backing and canvas control fabric embedded into the top of the cushion?
5. How thick is the frame? Is there a center beam as well as two cross members for adequate support of the slate?
6. Does the slate rest on a solid 2" thick platform or a thin sheet of plywood?
7. Are components glued, screwed, doweled or dovetailed like fine furniture of the past, or is extensive use made of inferior metal brackets and supports.
8. Is the frame or cabinet pre-assembled at the factory or will it be assembled in your home?
9. Has the table been finished with water or oil based solvents?
10. Is the underside of the table finished or sprayed with a preservative? Are there any exposed surfaces?
11. Is the table American made? What is the experience and reputation of the manufacturer?
12. Does the table have lifetime warranty?