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How to Buy a Billiard Table

A billiard table is a big investment. In order to make an informed decision, you will need to answer several important questions. Who will be using the table, and will it be used for recreation or serious play? What price range fits your budget? What is the size of the room where the table will be located? Our guide will help you answer these questions and understand the features you will need to know.

Performance Ranges

Least Expensive (up to $1000)

  • Suitable for kids and informal games.
  • The playing surface is made of artificial materials such as permaslate or particle board.
  • Designed for you to assemble and adjust on your own.
  • The guarantee is usually only a few years and the life of the table is limited.

Economy Level ($1000 - $1500)

  • Fair table performance, suitable for recreational play.
  • The playing surface is usually slate.
  • The cabinet and rails are typically made of laminated particle board or MDF.
  • The average life expectancy is five to seven years.

Mid Range Level ($1500 - $2800)

  • Offers excellent playing characteristics and attractive designs.
  • The playing surface is three-piece slate supported by cross and center beams.
  • The cabinet and rails are typically made of laminated hardwoods.
  • The cushions will have a K-66 blended gum rubber profile.
  • Should be considered a lifetime investment and will often come with a manufacturer's lifetime guarantee.

Custom Level ($2800 upward)

  • Features the highest grades of materials, designs, and quality workmanship.
  • Should have all the construction features of the mid range table with higher-grade materials used in all facets of the manufacturing process.
  • Unique features and intricate designs are standard.
  • Should be considered a lifetime investment and should come with a manufacturer's lifetime guarantee.

Size

Regulation-size pool tables have a playing surface that is twice as long as it is wide. Tables come in several different sizes, the most common of which are 7' (bar size), 8' (home size), Oversized 8' (commercial size), and 9' (tournament size). The larger tables provide for a more challenging game because the pockets are farther apart. No matter which length you choose, be aware that minimum space requirements will change depending on the size of the cue you select. Use the table below to find the appropriate size.

Example: If you have a 7' pool table and are playing with a 57" cue, your room should be at least 13' x 16'.

7' Table8' TableOversized 8' Table9' Table
48" Cue11'6" x 14'6"12' x 15'6"12' x 15'8"12'6" x 16'6"
52" Cue12' x 15'12'6" x 16'12'6" x 16'4"13' x 17'
57" Cue13' x 16'13'6" x 17'13'6" x 17'4"14' x 18'

Playing Surface

Non-Slate

Inexpensive recreational billiard tables use non-slate playing surfaces, including:

  • Slatron and Permaslate - Hard, synthetic materials that are basically sheets of plastic layered over particle board
  • Honeycomb - A stiff plastic honeycomb structure between two sheets of plastic
  • Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) - A flat piece of material made from compressing tiny pieces of wood together, also called pressed wood or particle board

Non-slate surfaces tend to warp over time and have less durability.

Slate

A slate playing surface has been recognized and approved by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) as the only playing surface suitable for tournament play.

  • Slate is extremely stable and durable.
  • Because it has elasticity, it can be cut into a flat playing surface.
  • One-piece slate is cumbersome and difficult to level because it covers such a large expanse of space.
  • Three-piece slate is easier to move during installation. With three different sections of slate, each can be leveled individually to achieve a perfectly flat surface.

Features

Fabric

Cloth is generally a wool/nylon blend for the more expensive tables, or a synthetic nylon (Taclon® or Tadlon®) for recreational tables. Both types provide a smooth and durable playing surface.

Rails

The rail is the top part of the table to which the cushions and pockets are attached. The rails are fastened to the playing surface and/or frame.

  • Rails can be constructed from MDF/particle board or solid wood.
  • Particle board rails are suitable for recreational play, but they will not hold up to the frequent recovering that will usually be done in a busy billiard parlor.
  • Solid wood rails form a better surface for stapling the billiard cloth and gluing the cushions. Being more dense, they also allow a faster, more solid rebound for the ball.

Cushions

The cushion is attached to the top rail and is the point of contact for the balls.

  • Full-profile, molded gum rubber cushions will allow the fastest rebound.
  • K-66 style cushions are required and approved by the BCA for tournament play.

Sights

The sights are the markers on top of the rails, used for reference points when aiming.

Cabinet/Apron and Leg Materials

The cabinet or apron is the wood between the rail and the legs which covers the playing surface, cloth, and frame to provide a finished look.

  • In high-humidity areas, or rooms with large temperature or humidity changes, plywood or MDF will probably be less likely to warp than solid wood.
  • Veneer/laminate surfaces give the appearance of wood at an affordable price.
  • Solid hardwoods are heavier, stronger, and are better able to withstand wear.
  • A solid wood table will be more valuable than a veneer or laminate table - decorative carving can only be done in solid woods.
  • Oak is the most popular wood used in tables because it is hard, durable, and easy to match to furniture and accessories.

Pockets

Most billiard tables have drop pockets, which simply means that some type of net or container is under each pocket to catch the balls that fall into that pocket. Drop pockets can be simple or elaborate, constructed from plastic, vinyl, or leather.

Some tables, particularly commercial tables, have an automatic ball return. A system of chutes connects to the table's six pockets. Each chute is angled slightly downward from the pocket to the ball return. When a ball falls into that pocket, gravity causes it to roll along the guide until it reaches the ball return.

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