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Pool Table Buyers Guide

Buying a pool table is a big investment. While it’s undoubtedly exciting, buying on impulse is not the best recipe for long term value. Just like a pool cue should be considered an extension of your arm, the pool table should be the center of your playing universe. Whether you are a leisure player, someone who wants to improve their game, or even a league player, the pool table is where it all starts. Size and style are of paramount importance, depending on what you want to do, but it doesn’t stop there. Pool tables, like expensive cars, come with all sorts of bells and whistles to consider. It can all be a little overwhelming if you let it, but hopefully this guide will provide some clarity in getting you started in your pool table search. 

 

Table Types

To begin, let’s discuss the most important part of a pool table – the table top. This is the foundation upon which all your pool playing wizardry is unleashed. Picking the right material from the get-go will be the deciding factor in two crucial categories: money and purpose. 

Generally speaking, a smart purchase is an informed purchase. One where the buyer knows exactly what his or her requirements are, and what does and doesn’t represent good value in their circumstances. In layman’s terms, you get what you pay for. Whether you are looking for cheap entertainment or an impressive center-piece for the most veteran of players, the table’s material from should be considered first and foremost. 

As mentioned, the primary consideration of materials is how they affect the quality of play. However, pool tables are also an inThe materials below are listed in order from cheapest to most expensive.

 

Synthetic Table Slates

  • Particle Board (MDF) – This is a medium density fiberboard that will serve its purpose initially but will warp over time. Condensation and changes in temperature will all but ensure its fate and there is not much you can do to protect a table made from this material. Although often used on lower quality tables built for accessibility, MDF is also found on some higher quality boards that prioritize a lightweight build over the longevity of slate - slate cabinets need to be significantly more substantial in order to support the additional weight, MDF tables may have a more sleek design with a lighter footprint.

  • Honeycomb – This is a honeybee-like surface that is compressed by layers of hardened plastic. The major flaw in this design is that although it doesn’t tend to warp, the playing surface is a bit rougher than the other synthetics. These tables are also considerably lighter than other tables and, when paired with cabinets built with economy in mind, often have a tendency to be unstable

  • Slatron– An alternate name for this material is Permaslate which is a layer of condenses and hardened plastic covering particle board. This is considered the best option out of all the synthetics available and will be the most expensive and durable synthetic you can buy. This is a great compromise if you are looking for quality, but not yet ready for that “lifetime” slate purchase. 

 

Slate - The Industry Standard

Slate gets its own tier because it is universally considered the highest quality surface available. It is more expensive than the rest of the options but the payoff is considerable. It will not crack or warp under normal circumstances and the surface allows for a clean and smooth shot. Italian slate has historically been regarded as the most premium material from which to build a table, but in recent years Brazilian slate has also developed an excellent reputation. 

 

  • Slate – A heavy rock that naturally splits into wide, flat pieces, this material lends itself well to a game that absolutely requires a level playing field. Slate comes in a few different sizes including 3/4”, 7/8”, and 1”. Although thinner slates may be cheaper, a 1” slate is the recommended standard, and is also approved by the Billiard Congress of America (BCA) for tournament play. Because slate is too large and heavy to be easily transported (up to 600 lbs. for a standard-size table), it is typically separated into three pieces to make it more feasible and economical to transport. Most three-piece slates are diamond-honed matched and registered, which simply means that all three sections were cut from the same slab. 

 

In addition to the higher price, a downside to slate is that it’s pretty difficult to move around - whether that be a new furniture layout in the same room or a full move to a new house. It’s not impossible but the best bet is to plan thoroughly and then enlist some professional help with installation or moving.

 

Basic Table Construction (Slate):

The table cabinet is usually a large wooden frame, rectangular in shape and made from planks of thick hardwood. Be sure to educate yourself on the robustness of the joining techniques on any tables you’re looking at - it’s a crucial component of the table’s stability. Designs and materials can vary, but typically the slate (or synthetic) is supported by two cross beams as well as a center beam. Some tables might even have doubled up center beams but since the weight of the slate is distributed from side to side and not end to end, these could be considered redundant. Depending on the size of the pool table, the construction may consist of any number of legs or even a central pedestal. 

 

The slate will lock down onto the frame in 3 sections which are leveled separately. Bumpers, or cushions, are then lined flush with the table rails and slate in a rectangular pattern along the edges. The table rails will contain grooves running the entire length of the sides and ends. Felt is then spread and stretched across the table in stages and then secured with wooden or rubber featherstripping that is hammered into the grooves. Finally, the pockets are secured to the corners and side rails with metal or carbon fiber brackets. 

 

Being lighter, MDF and synthetic tables below a certain price point will typically employ plastic or particle board in elements of the frame. 

Pool Table Styles & Aesthetics

The sheer size of a pool table means that it will command a lot of attention, making it important that you consider how any potential table complements (or clashes with) it’s intended home. While modern and unique tables are a great addition to specific decors, they typically require someone who has a real eye for detail in order to avoid mismatching. Furthermore, a good table should last decades so, if there’s any hesitation, we often recommend a slightly more conservative approach to the decision. Pool tables generally fall into three basic categories:

  • Classic – These are the basic tables that have been around for decades - the ones your grandparents grew up playing on. They are usually covered in vintage green or red felt and have a hardwood frame. The legs of the table probably have an antique pattern and styling you might see on older chairs or table. 

  • Contemporary – The modus operandi of these tables is to showcase a current twist on an older design. Stained hardwood is replaced by polished black finishes and the old-timer green and red felts are replaced with blue or even patterned designs. 

  • Modern – These tables completely break rank with the older designs. Expect table legs to be replaced with pedestals, varying assortments of pocket designs and felt colors, track or neon lighting and even glass LED top covers that can help highlight shot angles. These are the high end designer tables that will practically wash your dog while you take a break on the couch if you want them too.


Measuring:

Standard size pool tables, along with the playing surface dimensions (measured between the noses of the cushions) are:
  • 12-ft (snooker):  140″ (356.9 cm) x 70″ (177.8 cm)
  • 10-ft (oversized):  112″ (284.5 cm) x 56″ (142.2 cm)
  • 9-ft (regulation size table):  100″ (254 cm) x 50″ (127 cm)
  • 8-ft+ (pro 8):  92″ (233.7 cm) x 46″ (116.8 cm)
  • 8-ft (typical home table): 88″ (223.5 cm) x 44″ (111.8 cm)
  • 7-ft+ (large “bar box”):  78-82″ (198.1-208.3 cm) x 39-41″ (99.1-104.1 cm)
  • 7-ft (“bar box”):  74-78″ (188-198.1 cm) x 37-39″ (94-99.1 cm)
  • 6-ft (“small bar box”):  70-74″ (177.8-188 cm) x 35-37″ (88.9-94 cm)
The distance between the diamonds can be found by dividing the playing surface length by 8 or the width by 4.
For recommended room sizes, see the table of data quoted below.
More info can be found here: Wikipedia pool table dimensions resource page.
from RSB FAQ:
The minimum space for a table is the playing area plus the length of a cue (58″) plus about 6 inches for the back swing, more for comfort, on each side. This gives:
table playing
area
room size
(feet, inches)
room size
(meters)
8′ 44″ x 88″ 14’4″ x 18′ 4.37m x 5.49m
8+’ 46″ x 92″ 14’6″ x 18’4″ 4.42m x 5.59m
9′ 50″ x 100″ 14’10” x19′ 4.52m x 5.79m
12′ (snooker) 70″ x 140.5″ 16’6″ x 22’5″ 5.03m x 6.83m
“Seven foot” tables vary in size. Work down from the 8′ dimensions. “8+” is an “oversized” 8-foot table. If your room does not meet these minimum size requirements, many billiard retailers will suggest that you can still put a table in, and use short cues (52″, or 48″). Many people have found they are unhappy having to resort to shorter cues, and should have either gotten a smaller table, or no table at all. Others, of course, take the opposite view — they are delighted to have any table. In the end, only you will know whether you are happy with the room dimensions and need for short cues. Before you spend $2000 for a table that will cause you to smash the walls in frustration, try this:

(1) Find an indulgent pool hall when it’s not busy.
(2) Measure your space (at home) carefully, including the distance from the table to all walls that require a special cue
(3) Go to the pool hall with a piece or pieces of plywood or some such, and a short cue, and set up the “walls” to replicate where the walls would be in your house. Play for several hours, using the short cue when needed. Between two tables you can do with about the length of a cue, the limit is caused not by the cue, but by the player being able to go into his stance between the tables. 

from realkingcobra (on AZB):

A 4 1/2 x 9ft pool table gets it’s measurements from finish of rail to finish of rail.

4 1/2 feet = 54″
9ft = 108″

Take the playing surface of a 9ft pool table, it’s 50″x100″ now add in the 2″ of cloth on the cushions on the side rails to the playing surface, what you come up with is 2″ of cushion/cloth on the left side rail, plus 2″ of cloth/cushion on the right side rail, plus the 50″ of the playing surface from side to side. Now, add that together and you have 2″+2″+50″ = 54″ which equals 4 1/2 feet.

Now, if you double that measurement you’d be adding up 4 side rails at 2″ each … remember you’re DOUBLING the width, so that means instead of adding just 2 rails, you’d be adding up the width of 4 rails, at 2″ each, plus you’d be doubling the width of the table side to side being 50″ twice, so thats 100″ … now add up … 2″+2″+2″+2″+50″+50″= 108″ which equals 9 feet even, EXCEPT … we all know all pool tables only have 2 end rails and NOT 4, so in order to keep the playing surface twice as long as it is wide … you have to subtract 2 of them 4 rails as ghost rails … meaning they’re not really there on the pool table, so if you take and subtract the 4″ of ghost rails from the 9ft … 108″ that leaves you with 104″, now subtract the 4″ of cloth/cushions that ARE on the table, and you end up with 100″ … so that’s how you get a 50″x100″ playing surface out of a 4 1/2 x 9 pool table.