At a glance, pool cues don’t look like much. They look like a smoothed stick with some inlays on them and a tip glued at the top. But when you start to look closer, you may notice that there are many different parts that make a cue what it is. And when you think about the precision that must go into a pool cue’s design, you may wonder: How are pool cues made?
There are a few different construction methods for pool cues. Some are made using mostly machines with little human intervention. Other “hand-crafted” cues are made with a combination of painstaking human construction and the use of precision machines. Let’s take a detailed look at how pool cues are made.
The Main Ingredient of Every Pool Cue
With the exception of the rare carbon fiber or fiberglass pool cue, the main ingredient for every pool cue is wood. Choosing the right wood is essential for making a quality pool cue. The wood’s moisture content needs to be low (most makers aim for around 6%) and the longer the wood is aged, the better and longer it will hold up and the less likely it is to warp.
What is the Best Wood for Pool Cues?
The best wood for pool cues is Hard Rock Maple. The majority of wood you see on quality pool cues is some sort of maple. But for inlays, points, and other intricate designs, many types of hardwoods are often used. Some of these include:
- Olive Wood
- Red Ivory
- Brazilian Rosewood
Why Are Pool Cues Made of Maple?
Pool cues are made with maple because it provides a great combination of toughness and durability. It’s a strong wood that’s not overly brittle, which is ideal for pool cues because their whole job is to strike the hard cue ball again and again.
Maple is also widely available and not terribly expensive, which allows cue makers to keep their costs down. Some custom cues are made with other types of exotic hardwoods, but they tend to be very expensive.
Pool Cue Construction
The construction of a pool cue takes on different processes depending on the maker and the quality of the cue. But, to make things simple, let’s take a look at the different parts of the pool cue and cover how each one is assembled. Then, we’ll take a look at how all the parts come together.
There are two main pieces of a pool cue: the shaft and the butt. But there are sub-pieces that make up those two components.
- Butt Sleeve
How Are Pool Cues Made: Cue Butts
We’ll start with the butt because that’s where most of the intricate design is. It also has more components than the shaft. That’s not to say that one is more important than the other. They’re equally important. The butt just takes a bit more effort to get right.
The forearm is the place just above the wrap and below the joint that connects to the shaft. It’s where most of the intricate points and inlays are found and its construction is essential for a sturdy, balanced cue. Forearms can be made in a couple of different ways.
Most pool cue makers start by coring the butt of the cue after it has been turned to the desired diameter. This allows them to control the weight of the cue even after the design process.
A full spliced cue is one with a butt made from two intricately designed pieces of wood that interlock perfectly. If you have a full spliced cue, you won’t be able to tell just from looking at it because it’s done so well. These cues are generally the most expensive but the full spliced design gives them extra strength and structural soundness.
Half splicing is the more popular method for making cue butts. Instead of having two different pieces of wood that fit together like puzzle pieces, the half splice method uses a precision machine to cut grooves in the wood of the forearm.
Then, usually by hand, pieces of exotic wood are glued into those grooves and allowed to dry. Then the whole thing is put into a lathe which smooths it out, leaving behind a nice smooth forearm with hand-inlaid points.
Below the forearm is the handle area where the wrap goes. Not all pool cues have wraps, but most of them do. Usually the wraps are made with leather or Irish linen. Either way, this also takes a machine and precise movements to do properly since the wrap is one long thread that ends up looking almost like a sleeve (in the case of stacked leather and Irish linen).
Once the wrap is put on the cue, it gets pressed to make it smooth and more secure. This is often done by hand on quality cues.
Just under the handle/wrap, there’s a small area called the butt sleeve. Many cues have very small inlays here in the same style as those decorative inlays on the forearm. On quality, hand-crafted cues, these inlays (and the holes they fit into) are cut by precision machines that must be extremely accurate.
Once the inlays are cut, they are put into the butt sleeve and glued by hand, usually using tweezers and other small tools.
On low-end cues, this area may not have inlays or they may have the appearance of inlays using a decal that is simply placed on the wood instead of in the wood like real inlays.
Under the butt sleeve is the bumper, which is typically made of a round rubber protector. Some pool cue makers design the bumper to be removed so you can access the weight bolt system inside the partially hollow butt. Not all cues are made with this feature, but all cues do have some sort of protective bumper.
Ring, Collar, and Pin
Jumping back up to the top of the butt, we have the last components of the butt. In ascending order, you have the ring, collar, and pin.
- Ring – The ring is both decorative and functional. It usually matches the style of the other ring on the shaft on the cue and helps provide stability through the collar, pin, and connecting joint.
- Collar – The collar is generally glued and/or screwed into the top of the forearm. You’ll often see these made of metal, phenolic resin, ivory, or wood. It’s used to support the pin and allow for the uniform transfer of energy from butt to shaft.
- Pin – The pin is fitted securely into the hollowed-out tip of the forearm and seated firmly. It’s typically metal and allows for a secure connection between the shaft and butt.
How Are Pool Cues Made: Shafts
Now that we’ve covered how pool cue butts are made, let’s talk about the slightly less complicated but no less important shafts.
The shaft itself is rounded and precision-made. There are two main types of shafts – pro taper and straight taper. Each one requires a different rounding process to get it to the right diameter at each point along its length.
Some shafts are hollowed near the tip and filled with foam, carbon fiber, or another kind of filling to help reduce deflection. Again, this hollowing is done with a precision machine. If the shaft of a pool cue is poorly designed or made with flawed wood, it can ruin the cue. This is why cue makers usually let their shaft wood cure for as long as possible and only use quality wood (usually maple).
Joint, Collar, and Ring
The bottom of a cue’s shaft has a setup identical to that at the top of the butt. The pin on the butt screws into the joint on the shaft, which is usually threaded into the wood for secure construction.
The collar and ring also perform similar functions to those of the butt. They allow for energy transference, protect the joint, and often add a little decorative flair.
Ferrules are generally glued to the tip of the shaft, although some are screwed on. Ferrules are usually made of Aegis, linen fibers, Ivorine, or ivory. The ferrule helps protect the wood of the shaft and acts as a kind of energy absorber.
Most pool cue tips are made from leather. They are usually glued onto the tip of the shaft (above the ferrule). Tips vary in terms of hardness and durability. The type of tip your pool cue has will largely determine its purpose. For example, pool cues with hard tips are used for break and jump shots where large amounts of force are required, whereas playing cues often come with soft or medium tips which allow for better cue ball control and finesse.
When Shaft and Butt Come Together
Both shaft and butt also go through a finishing process that adds a layer of protection and a smooth shine and feel. When all the components have come together, the shaft and butt are assembled and checked, usually several times, by workers. When the cue is deemed of good quality, it can then go out to the customer.
This is the overall construction process for quality two-piece cues. Each manufacturer has a slightly different process and some of them keep parts of their cue making a secret.
I hope this crash course in cue-making gave you a better idea of all the work that goes into making a cue. Next time you pick one up, you can give it a look and remember how all the parts work together— and why some cues have the high price tags that they do!
Looking for a new cue? Check out this article on the best cues for every budget!