In billiards no matter what game you want to play, you will use a stick to hit the balls. This stick is referred to as a billiard cue, pool cue, or cue stick. Every serious pool player should have their own billiard cue. Having your own cue will help to improve your accuracy and playability by always using the same cue stick.
Billiard cues can seem to be quite a simple decision when looking to make a purchase, it is just a stick is it not? Well, there are many things to consider, cues come in different lengths (57-59 inches), weights (15-25oz), materials (wood-carbon fiber), pieces (1-piece, 2-piece, & 3-piece), and of course prices ($100-$6,000). As well with the cue itself, you will also need to consider the type and length of the ferrule, the type and size of the cue tip, the style and diameter of the shaft, and also if the cue comes in multiple pieces how they will connect what kind of joint is best.
Down below I break down the billiard cue into bite size bits of information to help you understand the parts of a billiard cue. I also will show you your choice of options and things to consider before you make your purchase.
A Brief History Lesson
Billiards is believed to have derived from a lawn game like croquet played during the 15th century in Northern Europe. This lawn game over time got moved to indoors on a wooden table with green cloth to simulate the grass of the lawn game.
Before there were cue sticks, the billiard players used wooden maces, which were like the ones used in the original lawn game outside. The balls were pushed rather than struck similar to the game of shuffleboard.
The maces worked well when the balls were out in the middle of the table, but problems were realized when the balls ended up close to the rail. The players began to turn the mace around and using the handle to hit the ball. The smaller size of the handle made it easier to hit the ball when on or near the rail. The handles were called a “queue” which means tail and as time went by it became shortened to cue.
As the game evolved, so did the maces, they began using narrow tapered wooden sticks with leather tips, and today we call them cues.
Why Should I Buy My Own Pool Cue?
Choosing a pool cue that is well adjusted to you and your preferences is an important first step to getting serious about improving your skills on the table. You will want to have consistency with your practice if you really want to improve. Changing cues every time you go out to practice can be counter intuitive, every cue is different, so the cue you use will affect can performance.
How straight is the cue that you are picking up at a bar or pool hall to start shooting with? A warped cue can be detrimental to your stroke and aiming. Using your own cue every time you play will give you the consistency with the cue’s length, weight, tip hardness, and tip size. All of which can affect your game if it is always changing every time you play.
The Anatomy of A Pool Cue
Selecting the right cue for you can get complicated, there are many options for the different parts of the cue. These options can have different advantages and disadvantages for your game and are things to be considered on a person to person basis.
Construction of The Cue
The construction of the pool cue refers to how the cue is made, is it one solid piece or does it break down into multiple pieces. The biggest difference between the two is the portability of the cue itself. Pool cues will typically taper uniformly from the butt of the cue down to the tip of the cue no matter how many pieces it breaks down to. There are 3 main types of construction, a solid one-piece, a two-piece, and a three-piece sometimes called a three-quarter piece.
A one-piece cue is normally made entirely from a solid piece of wood and as the name describes cannot be broken down. It is what you will find at most pool halls and bars for shared use.
A two-piece cue is the most popular that players bring with them because of its ease of use to break down the cue and throw into a case. The two pieces are divided by a locking joint in the middle of the cue.
A three-piece cue or three-quarter piece cue will break down in the middle like a two piece but will also have another joint located three-quarters down the cue.
Materials the Cue Is Made Out Of
When looking to purchase a pool cue a big component determining the price is what materials are used in the making of the cue. Most pool cues are made from wood, normally straight-grained maple is used but an exception is with snooker cues which are normally made from ash, which is not as hard as maple and is usually more expensive.
Some other woods you may find in pool cues which can affect the price include ebony, red ivory, blackwood, and olive wood, among others. Although wood is the typical standard there are many other materials used to make pool cues such as fiberglass and graphite.
***Note: You may find some other materials such as acrylic, aluminum, and titanium but I would strongly advise to not buy them as they are highly prone to warping.
Typically, another factor that can influence the price of the cue are the inlays in the butt of the cue. They are a work of art and as such brings personality and interest to your cue but be aware, they also highly increase the price because of the intricacies of the process. They are normally inlaid with exotic colored woods such as cocobolo, bocote, and mother of pearl, as well as many others.
Weight of the cue
A standard pool cue can weight anywhere from 15 to 21 ounces, although I have seen some go all the way up to 25 ounces, which are usually too heavy to be used in tournament play. Choosing the right weight for your cue is something that you should consider as it can affect your stamina on the table, how long can you play for before your shoulder starts to get sore.
The weight of the cue can also affect your stroke which is the most important fundamental in pool. If the cue is too heavy you could be dropping your shoulder more often than you realize.
What weight pool cue do pros use?
The most popular weight for a regular shooting cue is 18 to 19 ounces and is usually a good starting point and you may either decide to go lighter or heavier. Depending on your cue you may be able to swap out the weights in the butt of the cue.
Tip of the cue
The tip of the cue is the part of the cue in which you hit the balls with and will transfer the energy gained by the stroke to give the results of accuracy, speed, and spin. Tips are usually glued onto or sometimes screwed into the ferrule.
What cue tip shape is best for beginners, nickel or dime?
Most tips are made from leather and can vary in curvature and levels of hardness. The levels of curvature are typically referred to as dime or nickel shaped. The rounder the tip the more spin can be applied to the ball. Beginners should shape their tips to the roundness of a nickel while they learn, it allows for easier straight shots because it makes it harder to apply unwanted English (or spin on the cue ball).
What is the difference between hard and soft cue tips?
The tips hardness can also affect how much spin can be put on the ball and the longevity of the tip. The different degrees of hardness range from very soft to very hard. All tips will eventually need to be replaced. The harder the tip the longer it will normally last, but you are limited to the amount of spin that can be applied to the cue ball as well as makes it harder to hit softer shots because less impact is absorbed by the tip.
What is the best cue tip for English or sidespin?
Soft tips are what you will find most experienced players using on their shooting cue because of the improved ability to apply spin as well as being able to control the power of the hit. They also hold chalk better but tend to need to be reshaped more often and replaced sooner compared to hard tips.
Hard tips are more commonly used on break cues because it will transfer more energy to the cue ball and will hold up longer compared to softer tips.
***Note: A lot of players are moving to phenolic resin tip and ferrule for their break sticks because of the extreme durability and transfer of energy.
What size tip should a beginner pool player use?
Tips can vary is sizes depending what billiard game you are playing because of the different ball sizes. Most snooker cues have tip sizes between 9mm to 10mm, while most american pool cues have tip sizes between 11mm to 13mm. The size of the tip can again affect how much spin you are able to apply to the cue ball. For beginners, a larger tip size will be beneficial while you are learning it will help to prevent any unwanted English or sidespin applied to cue ball.
How long does a cue tip last and when should I replace it?
All tips will eventually need to be replaced when the tip becomes unrepairable. A rule of thumb is every 6 months but that varies depending on your usage and what kind of tip you have as well as how it has been maintained. Softer tips will need to be replaced more often than harder tips. Over time hitting the balls hard and constant chalking will compress and glaze over the tip making the tip less receptible to holding onto the chalk.
A tip to bring life back into your tip is just to scuff the tip either with a scuff tool or a piece of sandpaper. If you have enough tip left to get the curvature you desire, you won’t have to change your tip. The only exception really is if you want a soft tip, because over time that soft tip will compress into a hard tip, so you may desire to just put on a new soft tip to be able to achieve the same amount of spin on the ball.
The ferrule is a sleeve that slips on top of your shaft and is where the tip is glued onto or screwed into and is there to help absorb the impact from the cue ball so that the shaft wood does not split. Ferrules used to be made of ivory but now are made of carbon fiber or plastic such as phenolic resin which is extremely durable and resistant to cracking, chipping, and breaking. You sometimes will see a brass ferrule on snooker cues.
The shaft of a pool cue is the upper part of the cue from the tip down to the joint where the shaft meets the butt of the cue. The shaft can come in different diameters just like the tip typically 11mm to 13mm and can affect the comfort of the player depending on their hand size.
The shaft of a pool cue is tapered, meaning it is thinnest near the tip and gets thicker the closer it gets to the butt of the cue. There are two styles of shaft tapers and they are the standard taper and the pro taper.
The standard tapers gradually decrease evenly in diameter the closer to the tip you get from the butt of the cue. A pro taper keeps an even diameter for the first 12 inches from the butt before it begins to taper to the tip.
Joint & Pin
The joint and pin is sometimes referred to as the collar and can be on either end of the shaft or butt. The joint is basically a hole where you screw or lock the two ends of the cue together. The pin is the screw that is used to lock together with the joint. These can be wood to wood for a more traditional solid feel but are more commonly stainless steel.
While most cues just use a simple screw that you twist around, more advanced cues sometimes have an easy lock system that allows you to connect and disconnect with a single twist. There are a few different sizes and types and they are:
Butt- Inlays, Wraps, Bumper
The butt of the cue is the thickest part of the cue and is the handle of the stick. It will normally consist of a wrap, some inlays, and a rubber bumper. The wrap of the pool cue, what you grab onto, is usually made from Irish linen, or leather wrap, and sometimes no wrap at all. A wrap on the butt of the cue adds no real value to the cue its just makes the cue look and feel nice. When you are shooting you normally have a loose grip so there is no real need for it.
The inlays of the pool cue are purely decoration to give the cue a distinct look. They are exotic woods and metals placed over the wood of the butt. The more decorative the more expensive the cue tends to be but adds no real value to the playability of the cue.
The final piece of a pool cue is the rubber bumper on the bottom of the cue. This is just a protective piece that allows you to rest the bottom of the cue on the ground without damaging it.
Pool cues vary widely in their pricing from a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. There are many factors that go into the pricing a cue such as the material, brand name, the number of inlays and exotic woods used, the type of joints, type of wrap, and the tip.
If you are new to billiards or are looking to buy your first pool cue, I would not recommend any cue over $300. There is no need to spend anymore, you can get a great quality cue in that price range that will look good and perform good.
***Note: An expensive cue does not make you a better player, proper fundamentals, and tons of practice will.