Break Cue vs. Playing Cue: Whats the Difference?


For the majority of casual pool players, using the house cue is the way to go. After all, its free to use and it gets the job done. Using a different cue for breaking and playing is just overkill, right?

Well that depends. Casual players can get away with using the house cue for breaking and playing. However, more advanced players usually opt to use a break cue for breaking, and a separate cue for playing. Now if you’re still fairly new to the game of pool, you may be asking yourself, “Whats the difference between a break cue and a playing cue?”

The main difference between a break cue and a playing cue is the way its constructed. Break cues have thicker shafts, shorter ferrules, and hard phenolic tips to accommodate for the force being used during the break. They are often heavier as well.

If you’d like to know more about the differences between break cues and playing cues, keep reading to learn more. In this article we’re going to share with you everything you need to know about the differences between break and playing cues so you can decide for yourself if you need to add another cue to the case!

How They’re Constructed

All pool cues have the same basic anatomy: butt, shaft, tip. However, what these parts are made of and how they’re constructed can have a huge impact on the way they play and what they can be used for. Lets take a closer look at the differences between the components of a break cue vs those of a playing cue.

The Butt

The butt end of the pool cue is the heavy end that typically has some form of wrap on it. Wrap materials can be anything from leather, to Irish Linen, to rubber. Some butts even come with no wrap at all. The type of wrap your butt has on it can drastically change the way your cue handles.

For example, a rubber or leather wrap tends to be “grippier”, allowing you to put more power behind your stroke. This is perfect for breaking. On the other hand, playing cues typically come with Irish Linen, which is better suited for finesse shots. This subtle difference in wraps is one key difference between a break and playing cue.

The butt is also where the majority of the weight is. Break cues are often heavier than playing cues. This added weight helps put some extra force behind your shot which helps make breaking a bit easier. We’ll talk more about weight a little bit later.

The Shaft

The shaft of a break cue is also different to that of a playing cue. Because the break requires such an extreme amount of force to be effective, the shaft of a break cue needs to be able to withstand it.

With that being said, break cue shafts are often thicker than playing cue shafts. This is necessary to help prevent damage to the shaft that could occur from using such force. While ordinary shafts aren’t meant to tolerate this kind of use, break cue shafts are designed specifically to be used in this fashion.

The Tip

Most playing cues come equipped with either a soft or medium leather tip. These tips are perfect for holding chalk and maintaining control of the cue ball. Soft tips are usually popular with players who like to utilize a lot of English. This is because soft tips allow for better cue ball control and chalk retention.

The downfall to these types of tips is that they wear out quickly when used for breaking. That’s why break cues come stock with either hard leather tips or phenolic tips. These tips are designed to be used for breaking without wearing down quickly or mushrooming. They are also more conducive to speed rather than spin, which is helpful when it comes to break shots.

Hard leather and phenolic tips are also maintenance free and can last for years. However, they don’t hold chalk well and therefore shouldn’t be used for anything other than breaking. Having a hard leather or phenolic tip on your break cue is crucial for a good solid break. Never replace your break cue tip with anything other than another hard leather or phenolic tip. Doing so kind of defeats the purpose of having a designated break cue.

The Ferrule

The ferrule of the pool cue is the small, typically white, piece that sits between the tip and the shaft. It plays a vital role in helping disperse energy from the tip of your cue throughout the shaft and butt. It basically acts as a shock absorber and helps protect your cue.

If you take a look at most playing cues, the ferrules are usually around 1″ or so long. This length ferrule works perfect for playing cues but not so much for break cues. Because of the force used during break shots, ferrules on break cues are often much shorter. Its not uncommon to see ferrules around 1/2″ or shorter.

The material used for the ferrule is often different between break and playing cues as well. Playing cue ferrules are often constructed out of composite or linen material while most break cue ferrules are made of very hard, and durable phenolic or carbon fiber. The short, dense ferrule is perfect for absorbing impact without getting damaged in the process.

What About Weight Differences?

If you’re familiar at all with pool cues, you probably already know that the sweet spot for playing cue weight is between 19oz-21oz. This weight range seems to be perfect for most players. To find what works best and feels best for you will take some trial and error and a little bit of time.

However, there has been some debate about what weight is best for break cues. Some players prefer a heavy break cue (27oz) while others prefer one that is light (20oz). There is good reasoning behind both logic’s.

If you want to increase the power behind your break, you either have to use a heavier cue or increase the speed of a lighter cue. Both methods work well for breaking but it really comes down to personal preference and what works best for you.

Heavy break cues are better suited to players who want to maintain the speed of their stroke and let the cue do all the work. The extra mass of a heavy break cue will allow you to have more of an impact on the cue ball without increasing the speed of your stroke. On the other hand, light break cues are better suited for players who can speed up the speed of their stroke without losing any accuracy or control.

Again, this all comes down to what works and feels best for you.

What Are The Benefits of Using a Designated Break and Playing Cue?

As you’ve learned so far, there are quite a few differences between playing and break cues. These differences, although subtle, can have a big impact on your game. If you’re serious about improving your skills as a player, you should highly consider using a designated break and playing cue. Here are a few reasons why.

One reason why is consistency. Consistent practice with the same cue is key to improving your game. Whenever you decide to pick up the house cue to break with, you never know what you’re going to get. Because its unlikely that you practice breaking with the same house cue, you’ll never have the confidence in your gear that you could have if you always practiced using the same cue.

Another benefit of using a designated break and playing cue is less maintenance. While most people do opt to use the house cue for breaking, there are some who use their own playing cue. While this isn’t necessarily recommended, it does happen.

When you use your playing cue for breaking, you’re subjecting it to a lot of force that it isn’t really designed for. You can expect to have your tips wear out faster and possibly even ferrule damage over time. By using a break cue for breaking and a playing cue for playing, you can save yourself from a lot of wasted time and money due to unnecessary repairs.

Lastly, using the proper cue for the shot at hand can help you become a better player. Break cues and playing cues are designed specifically to be used for certain shots and by using them for their intended purpose, you have a better chance of improving your break and pocketing more shots.

In Conclusion

All in all, the differences between break and playing cues are subtle but important. Although most new players may not find it beneficial to have a designated break and playing cue, its crucial to those who play on a professional level and to those who want to improve their game.

If you’re ready to take your game up a notch, consider using a designated break and playing cue. Doing so will drastically improve your break and your game as a whole. I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

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