It’s fair to say that, for people who are serious about pool, slate tables are the way to go. Not many aficionados are clamoring to buy the latest MDF table. That doesn’t mean MDF tables aren’t good for some people. They are. But slate tables are by and large the best ones on the market.
But of those slate tables, there is a small question of the kind of slate. There are 1-piece slate tables and 3-piece. Some people swear by the 3-piece tables while others insist that 1-piece tables are better. But these people usually have very different reasons for preferring one over the other. So read on as I explore this conundrum and answer the question: 1 piece vs. 3 piece slate pool tables: which is better?
1 Piece Tables
1 piece slate tables are generally made for bars and pool halls. They’re pretty heavy-duty and don’t often look like a furniture-style table. Instead of carved claw legs and leather drop pockets, 1-piece tables usually have utilitarian metal legs and a ball return. Many of them are coin-operated.
There are several reasons for this:
- 1 piece tables don’t need to be disassembled to move, which is why bars and other businesses like them so much. Moving them short distances only takes will and muscle.
- Since they’re commercial tables and don’t require disassembly, they’re built to last a long time. They’re essentially built with a shell around the playing surface, clamping it in place.
- Coin-operated tables need to have built-in security, lest someone bust it open and steal all those precious quarters.
3 Piece Tables
The vast majority of pool tables sold these days are 3 piece tables. There are many more varieties of these tables than there are of 1 piece tables, meaning you have a better selection to choose from. These are sometimes called furniture pool tables because they’re built to be aesthetically pleasing and playable at the same time.
These home pool tables aren’t built for the commercial use and abuse that 1 piece tables see. But that doesn’t mean that 1 piece tables are better. For most people, 3 piece tables are the better choice. Why? Well, let’s dive into some pros and cons.
1 Piece Pool Table Pros and Cons
1 piece tables have a few big things going for them. But for most the cons outweigh the pros.
1 Piece Pros
The one large piece of slate in the table is ideal for some things. Commercial pool tables are almost always 1-piece because they can take a great deal of abuse.
The tables are designed to be moved while fully assembled. So, when the bar owner has a band playing, he or she can just push the pool tables against the walls or into the back room without damage to the tables or the need for some serious re-leveling. This isn’t always possible with 3 piece tables.
Since the slate is one single piece, you don’t have to worry about seams or divots popping up. The slate will be smooth even after you move it. It may not stay level, but we’ll get to that in the cons.
Lastly, used 1 piece slate tables can be much cheaper than their 3 piece counterparts. This is mainly because they’re hard for private owners to move. Still, a cheap slate table could be just what you’re looking for.
So, to recap:
- Will take a lot of abuse and so are ideal for commercial use.
- Can be flipped on their sides without fear of damaging the table.
- Can be moved without disassembly.
- Provide a smooth playing field.
- Used ones often sell for cheap.
1 Piece Cons
Now let’s talk cons. What makes 1 piece tables great for commercial use is also a mark against them. As you can probably guess, slate is heavy. It’s rock, after all. So 1 piece slate tables are made with one large piece of rock, generally ¾” thick. Needless to say, a piece of rock that large will be very heavy and hard to move. When you add the rest of the table, you’ve got one large, unwieldy, and heavy object. Fitting it through doors can be a feat bordering on the fantastic. Getting it up a flight of stairs is a miracle in its own right.
In fact, many professional pool table movers will not move a 1-piece slate table up or down stairs. And they’ll charge you extra for moving it anywhere.
Another mark against 1 piece tables is the fact that they can bow or sag in the middle over time. It can be frustrating when you’re going for a nice slow shot across the length of the table and the cue ball curves because the table is no longer level. And there’s nothing you can do about it if this does happen.
The fact that it’s 1 piece also limits your ability to level the table. Precision leveling is not often possible because anything you do to one part of the table will affect the other.
Lastly, there’s not often a wood backing under the single piece of slate. This means you’re limited to glue as a means of attaching the felt underneath. For most people, this is probably a non-factor because glue seems to do just as well as staples. Still, it’s worth mentioning in case you want a table with wood backing.
- Heavy! 1 piece slate tables are incredibly hard to move anything but short distances.
- Has the potential to bow or sag over time.
- Limits your leveling options.
- Only glue to attach the felt (on most 1 piece tables).
3 Piece Pool Table Pros and Cons
3 piece tables are where it’s at for most homeowners or anyone without a bar or pool hall. Let’s dive in and talk pros.
3 Piece Pros
3 piece tables are easier to move than 1 piece tables— when they’re disassembled. They’re designed to be taken apart, at which point you can split the three pieces of slate up into manageable chunks instead of trying to move the whole thing at once.
The fact that there are 3 separate pieces of slate (cut from one piece) also means that you can get a more precise playing field. You’re able to level each piece of slate separately from the others, making little adjustments until the three of them are perfectly level, or at least close to it!
3 piece tables are also much prettier. They’re more popular and so come in many different styles. You can get a customized 3 piece table whereas 1 piece tables are mainly for commercial use.
The slate on 3 piece tables is usually thicker than that of a 1 piece table. The standard is 1-inch thick for 3-piece and ¾” for 1-piece. These thicker pieces of slate tend to have fewer imperfections and must be supported by wood backing. This makes for a very sturdy, long-lasting table.
For all these reasons, 3 piece tables are what the pros use. The majority of professional tournaments are played on 3 piece tables and they’re what the pros have in their homes for practice.
- Much easier to move when disassembled (you should never attempt to move when fully assembled).
- Enables more precise leveling since they can be leveled separately.
- More options and styles available with 3 piece tables.
- 1-inch slate on 3 piece tables is considered superior to ¾-inch slate on 1 piece tables.
3 Piece Cons
The things that make 3 piece tables good can also make them less-than-ideal for some. For instance, a 3 piece table is not ideal for a commercial environment. It won’t be able to take the same amount of abuse as a 1 piece commercial table.
Likewise, the three pieces of slate mean that they can get knocked out of alignment, which can create divots in the pool table. This can make playing nearly impossible. Granted, it takes someone standing on the table or putting it on its side to do this, but it is possible.
Since 3 piece tables aren’t designed to be moved in one piece, they must be taken apart before a move and reassembled afterward. Many people find this easier to do than moving a 1 piece table, but it’s still worth mentioning here.
- Not ideal for a commercial environment.
- Slate can get knocked out of alignment and must be re-leveled.
- Can’t be moved in 1 piece.
For most people, 3 piece tables are by far the better option for home use. There are more options available on the market, they’re easier to transport from one location to the next (although they must be disassembled), they allow for precision leveling, and they won’t bow or sag over time.
However, if you’re looking to buy a table for commercial use, you’ll probably want to stick with a 1 piece slate table designed with a complete shell around the slate. This is really the only time you should consider a 1 piece table unless you’re a collector and you like the style of the old 70s 1 piece tables that are floating around on the market.