A pool table may not be the biggest investment a person or family might make, but it is one of those purchases that you might make once in a lifetime, maybe twice. As such, it is relatively important to be informed about what makes a good pool table, and what makes a pool table a good fit for you, your family, and your budget. Here, we’ve attempted to organize a pool table buyers guide to help you find your way to the right product.
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- SIZE – The first thing to consider in buying a pool table is size. This is because, often times, the size of the room is going to dictate your limitations on the size of the pool table you can purchase and use.There are 3 main pool table sizes (there is a fourth size, technically, but it has all but been abandoned by the industry): 1. 3.5’ by 7’, called a “7 foot table”. 2. 4’ by 8’, called an “8 foot table”. 3. 4.5’ by 9’, called a “9 foot table”. (the fourth, largely unused, size is an “oversized 8 foot” table which is between an 8’ and 9’ size). The diagram below shows the minimum room size required for clear play around each size of table. Keep in mind that standard cues are 56-57” long so area “C” is of main concern.
A is the area required for a 48″ cue.
B is the area required for a 52″ cue.
C is the area required for a standard 58″ cue
- Seven foot table: 3.5′ x 7′ (Playing area: 38″ x 76″) A – 11′ 6″ x 14′ 6″ B – 12′ x 15′ C – 13′ x 16′
- Eight foot table: 4′ x 8′ (Playing area: 44″ x 88″) A – 12′ x 15′ 6″ B – 12′ 6″ x 16′ C – 13′ 6″ x 17′
- Oversize eight foot table: 4′ x 8′ (Playing area: 46″ x 92″) A – 12′ x 16′ B – 12′ 6″ x 16′ 6″ C – 13′ 6″ x 17′ 6″
- Nine foot table: 4.5′ x 9′ (Playing area: 50″ x 100″) A – 12′ 6″ x 16′ 6″ B – 13′ x 17′ C – 14′ x 18′
NOTE: if you are shy of the exact size requirement, keep in mind that often one short cue can be used for those rare moments when the ball is pinned to the rail and you’re shooting perpendicular to the rail.
PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS: The price between 7’ and 8’ and 9’ tables, considering all other factors to be equal is not a very large difference in most cases, so we don’t recommend trying to save money by going smaller.
The reason is that the playing surface is meaningfully smaller while the savings aren’t great. Consider this: a 7’ table’s playing surface is 2888 square inches. An 8’ table’s playing area is 3872 square inches. That means the playing area is roughly 34% larger on an 8’ table vs. a 7’ table.
However, the price might vary by about $300. It’s a big difference in the game, and not a proportional difference in the price. That is why nearly 90% of residential tables sold are 8’ tables.
Pool Table Buyers Guide Features
- TABLE FEATURES – Pool tables aren’t rocket science, we know that. However, there are a few key areas where major differences need to be understood, and where people can often make mistakes in buying a pool table
- Playing Surface – There are two categories of playing surfaces: Slate and non-slate. The reason they are separated like this is that “real” pool tables require a slate surface. Non-slate surfaces do not provide the same performance and are often an option that is exercised to bring down cost.These pool tables, due to the lack of performance, are considered more like toys and are adequate for children or the very lax recreational user.With regard to slate, you want to know: A) how thick the slate is. This can range from ¾” to 1.5”. We recommend 1” thick slate.Anything less can be problematic over time, and the extra thick slate does not provide a meaningful improvement to the performance compared to the significant price increase. B) How many pieces is the slate. There is one-piece slate (meaning the whole thing is made of one single piece of slate), 2-piece slate (rare, but out there), and 3-piece slate (most common).3-piece slate is most common and highly recommended for a couple of reasons. First, one piece slate is quite heavy and difficult to install, service, or move. Also, one piece slate can, over time, sag in the middle due to this weight.3-piece slate is easy to install and maintain, and does not come with any performance issues over time. Non-slate table playing surfaces can be made of phenolic resin, plastic honeycomb, or MDF.PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION – Again, if you’re looking for a real pool game experience for older children, adults, or competitors, we absolutely recommend looking at a 1” thick, 3-piece, slate surface.
- Rails – The Rails of the table are the part that the cushions are glued to. It is the visible perimeter of the playing surface and will have sights that used throughout the game. The rails of the table can be made of particle board, MDF, or solid wood.The thing to remember about rails is that, you (or the installer) is going to be stapling dozens of stables into each rail when the felt is put over the cushions. Then, over time, these staples come out, new felt is applied, and new staples go back in. Imagine how particle board is going to hold up during this process, over the years. Not well.Solid wood has fibers that will close back up when the staples come out and can sustain multiple re-staplings over many decades before ever being a concern. PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION: Solid wood rails are easily the better call if you plan on keeping your table around for longer than 5-7 years.
- Cushions –You probably already know where the cushions on a table are. What you may not know about cushions is what separates good ones from the rest. This is particularly important since the cushions have a very active role in the performance of the table. They very directly affect game play.There are two important things you need to know about cushions: 1) What are they made of? The best cushions are made of AAA Malaysian gum rubber. These cushions are known, in most cases, to never lose their bounce, even after decades of play. Some brands will compromise this part of the table to save money on manufacturing and since its not a part of the table that is seen during the purchase.2) The “profile of the cushion. The profile of the cushion refers to the height of the point on the cushion that contacts the ball. There are two main profiles, K56 and K66. K66 is the BCA regulation cushion profile. K56 will actually play faster since it contacts the ball directly in the center and not above the center. However, it comes with the additional liability of more balls flying off the table.PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION: K66 Profile, AAA Malaysian gum rubber cushions will give the truest performance and the longest lifespan.
- Cabinet –The cabinet is the main body of the table. Outside having the right look that you are looking for, the cabinet is the heart of the stability and quality of the table. It bears the weight of the slate, as well as the people leaning in or bumping into the table on a regular basis, whether during play or not.Cabinets come in four main types: Solid hardwood, Veneer, Laminate, Synthetic.Solid Hardwood is extremely durable, structurally sound, and beautiful. However, solid hardwood is often more expensive than Veneer or laminate tables. If the budget allows for it, solid hardwood is going to be your best bet for a high quality purchase. However, even with that said, not all hardwood tables are the same.The difference between high quality manufacturers and low grade brands might be the type of hardwood they use in their hardwood tables. You will notice a lot of fillers (where knots have come out) or inconsistencies in the hardwoods where a manufacturer used “seconds” or “thirds” in the grade of wood they used. However, you will see no such thing in great brands that use only “firsts” and so the table looks fantastic, as well as being very solid.Veneer is second best, in that it can be stable and sturdy enough for most applications, and can arguably look even better than solid hardwood. Veneer is multiple layers of different wood products, with the outermost layer often being a “jewelry box quality” sheet of wood that looks gorgeous. The problem with veneers is not knowing for sure what the layers beneath the beauty are.NOTE: Be wary of sales people that use words like “all wood” in order to give the customer the impression that a veneer table is solid hardwood. Laminate is basically fake veneer, and is applied over layers of synthetic material. Unless the budget requires it, this is the least recommended option as it has the same problems as veneer, but doesn’t even look as nice.The last category is a bit of a wild card. The “synthetic” category. This is a very broad stroke because there are some very expensive (and not so expensive) tables that are made of metals and other strange expensive materials and no one can confidently say they are not going to last as well as a solid wood table or not. If you are looking in this category of table, we can only recommend that you take your time and learn about the material and construction of the table thoroughly to decide if it is built right.PROFESSIONAL RECOMMENDATION: Solid Hardwood table, preferably where the manufacturer used “firsts” in the woods they chose.