Buying a pool table is a major purchase. At the very least, you're spending hundreds of dollars, with custom tables possibly costing tens of thousands, on something you and your family will enjoy for decades. Understanding what you want and researching your options helps ensure you choose the perfect pool table.
Keep reading to learn a little about the history of pool tables and billiards, basic construction of the table, and what to look for when selecting a pool table.
A Brief History of Pool Tables
Pool has been around in one form or another for nearly 500 years, although early billiards games looked far different than what we know today. For one thing, they were played outside on a field, based on outdoor games such as croquet and bocce.
Billiards as we know it today dates back to around the mid-18th century, when France's King Louis XI built what is considered the world's first indoor pool table. As was common with most royal pursuits, billiards' popularity skyrocketed and soon furniture makers were busy supplying pool tables to cafes throughout France.
In early billiards games, pockets were not targets to hit but traps to avoid. This changed by the end of the 1800s, as the popularity of pool expanded across Europe and into North America. Formal rules were adopted for this new sport and tournaments were held.
In 1948, the Billiards Conference of America (BCA) formed. The BCA still governs professional tournaments today. Since then, pool table sales seem to rise whenever pool-themed movie hits theaters. After "The Hustler" premiered in 1961, popularity skyrocketed and then surged again after "The Color of Money" premiered in 1986.
What Are the Parts of a Pool Table?
There are five main parts of a pool table:
- Cloth or Felt
- Cushions and Rails
Pool Table Slate
The BCA recommends 1" slate as the ideal thickness for accuracy and requires it for any table used in tournament play. Some manufacturers and dealers use 3/4" slate, or may even try to pass 7/8" off as 1", so verify slate thickness before buying any table.
You may also find tables made with materials other than slate. Possible substitutions include fiberboard, permaslate, plywood, and slatex. These less-costly alternatives do not create the same smooth, level surface as slate, however. If you want an accurate, level table, you want a slate table.
Pool Table Legs
As with your body, the pool table's legs support its weight. Unlike your body (probably), your pool table likely weighs around 1,000 pounds (although smaller tables may come in at around 650 pounds). That kind of weight requires strong support.
There are two basic types of pool table legs: perfect legs (also called post legs) and industry standard legs.
Post legs are a continuation of the cabinet, a single piece of wood that extends from the slate to the floor. This gives your table a reliable support that prevents it from lowering over time.
Industry standard legs come in two styles: single anchor and quad anchor. Both styles bolt to the cabinet. Single anchor uses only one bolt, which has a tendency to loosen over time, negatively impacting play. Quad, however, uses four bolts, making it much more secure and reliable than its single anchor counterpart.
Pool Table Frame
A wood frame supports the slate. To protect the slate against cracking and sagging, you need a table with a solid, quality frame, preferably glued to the bottom of the slate. In addition, the frame needs cross beams, with larger slate requiring more support beams. For 1" slate (or higher), the ideal frame includes two cross beams as well as two long beams. If your table only has 3/4" slate, two cross beams generally offer ample support.
Pool Table Felt
The cloth covering your pool table needs to be durable while also promoting a great play surface. Most tables today use a felt made from a blend of wool and nylon that is then coated in Teflon to help with speed and traction.
Cloth weight helps determine durability. For maximum durability, look for pool table felt with a weight between 18 and 22 ounces per yard.
Pool Table Rails
Also known as cushions, pool table rails made with natural gum or gum blends help give your table just the right amount of bounce. Many table rails are made using synthetic materials and clay fillers. Over time, the clay dries out and you lose that bounce, so look for natural gum table rails.
Pool Table Equipment and Accessories
The table itself is, of course, the most important thing, but the best play also requires great, quality equipment and accessories.
There are 15 numbered, colored Pool balls (also known as billiard balls) and one white "cue" ball. Size and color vary depending on location. Different countries follow different size guidelines and pool ball color varies according to the sport.
Traditionally made of wood, today's pool cues and sticks come in a variety of other materials as well, including carbon fiber, fiberglass, and graphite. Length typically ranges between 48" and 58", with weights falling between 17 and 22 ounces.
Pool ball racks come in two basic shapes: triangle and diamond. Triangle-shaped racks are used to arrange the billiard balls for 8-ball, snooker, straight pool, and other games that use all 15 colored balls. Diamond-shaped racks are used to play 9-ball.
The bridge (sometimes called a granny stick) helps you reach your shot without lying across the pool table. This is particularly important when tournament rules (or house rules) require players to always keep one foot on the ground.
There are also a variety of pool table accessories, including:
- Chalk and chalk holders
- Cue repair kits
- Pool cue cases
- Table and rail brushes
- Table covers
- Talcum powder and powder cones
- Tally balls and shakers
- Wall racks
Buy Your New Pool Table Today
Prestige Billiards offers an extensive selection of quality pool tables and supplies, as well as everything you need for a well-stocked gameroom. We carry tables from the top brands, including A.E. Schmidt, American Heritage, Imperial International, and Plank and Hide. In addition, we build custom tables according to your specifications. Check out our catalog or give us a call; we're happy to work with you to help you find the pool table you've always wanted.