Although pool tables have been around since before assembly-line manufacturing in one form or another, they do take a lot of different parts to make. And while today’s pool tables are made much quicker than those tables of old, they do take a lot of work. So, for those of you who like to see how the sausage is made, so to speak, I’ll answer the question: How are pool tables made?
Pool tables are made in a multistep process that involves mostly wood and slate rock. Most pool table manufacturing processes require a team of people and special machinery. Each piece of the table is made separately and then put together by hand using bolts, shims, staples, and other fasteners. The finished table is then disassembled and packaged for delivery, where it will be reassembled again at the customer’s home.
Since each pool table manufacturer has a slightly different process for making their pool tables, the following is an approximation of the overall process rather than a step-by-step walkthrough of any one company’s process. Since slate is the most popular pool table option, this article will cover the making of a slate pool table.
What Wood Are Pool Tables Made From?
There are a wide variety of woods that pool tables are made from. The most popular are oak and maple. Both of these are readily available, hard, resilient, and take stain well. Some other common woods used to make pool tables include:
Sometimes two or more different types of wood are used to make a pool table.
How Are Pool Table Components Made?
Each different component of a pool table is made using a different process unique to that component. The making of the rails, cabinet, legs, and other components is usually done with a computer and precision cutting equipment.
Pool Table Slate
The slate for pool tables is harvested at a rock quarry. The best slate is generally from Italy, but there are many exporters from all around the world. Some exporters can be found in India, Brazil, and China.
Before the slate is shipped to the pool table manufacturer, it’s cut down to size using diamond blades and precision measuring instruments. Most slate for pool tables is cut to be ¾” thick and leveled to be as flat across as possible. The holes where the pockets will go are also cut out of the slate, as well as holes for hardware that will be needed to fasten the slate to the table’s frame upon assembly.
Finally, the slate is cut down into three pieces for easy transport and assembly. This is very important so that the pieces can fit perfectly together and make a level surface for playing pool. Sometimes a wood backing is glued on the slate, known as the slate lining.
The rectangular frame is assembled from pre-cut pieces. This is typically done by hand to ensure that all the pieces fit together and that everything looks good. The frame generally has two or three wooden cross beams and one center beam. Once assembled the pieces are stamped with numbers or letters so that the right pieces can be matched up when the table is reassembled at the customer’s home.
This frame is generally made smaller than the slate itself. This allows the slate to be fixed to the frame and then the holes covered over by the rails. The frame consists of a slate frame, which is designed to support the slate and to allow it to be leveled by shims between the wood of the slate frame and the wood lining glued to the slate. Often, this slate frame is made from poplar wood.
If the table has a ball return system, it will be worked into the frame using wood, aluminum, and other materials. These are more common on commercial pool tables or “bar boxes.”
Depending on the manufacturer, the legs may be hand-carved or designed by a machine. They may be solid wood or they may be hollowed out to fit leveling mechanisms inside of them. Either way, the legs are polished and sanded and usually finished with a stain that matches the visible wood of the rest of the table.
The rails get a little complicated because they need to have rubber bumpers affixed to them, then those bumpers need to be covered with cloth. They also need to have the diamond-shaped sights fixed into the wood.
First, six pieces of wood are all precision-cut using computer-guided machines. This is important because the ends of the rails need to be angled correctly for the bumpers and for the pockets. The parts of the rails that will be visible are stained the desired color. Then, a worker glues on the rubber strips and attaches the hardware that will be needed to affix the rail to the table.
While the glue dries, the diamond-shaped mother of pearl sights are glued into precise, pre-cut holes along the tip of the rails. Once the glue is dry on the sights and the rubber, a worker will attach cloth over the rubber bumper, stapling it to the wood underneath and using a wedge to secure it on top in a divot designed for such a purpose.
On the underside of each rail an apron is attached. Also known as a “blind,” this is generally a finished and stained wood veneer that serves to add style to the table and covers the outside of the slate and frame. When the table is assembled, the apron and rails almost look like a shell around the top outer part of the table.
The pockets are usually made of leather or a leather substitute. They may be assembled with the rest of the table at the factory to make sure they fit. But, some manufacturers simply set them aside to be shipped with the table since there’s not a lot of precision involved in attaching pockets to the table.
Pool Table Assembly
Once all the components are correct and the table has been assembled once to make sure, it’s disassembled again and shipped out to the customer to be put together by an authorized installation team. Here’s how it gets assembled.
1. Frame and Legs
The frame and legs are assembled first in the customer’s home. The numbers or letters stamped into the pieces of the frame help the installer put it together in the home. Once the legs are attached, the installer level the frame and make adjustments to the leg levelers as needed.
Next up is the slate. The three pieces of slate are placed on the table, each weighing between upwards of 150 pounds. The pieces of slate are pressed together and then attached to the frame using screws. The table is then leveled again and shims are used between the slate frame and the frame if needed.
Once securely attached and the slate is leveled, a worker will heat a special wax on the creases between each piece of slate. The wax smooths out the playing surface, making sure that there is no bump or divot there.
Once the slate is ready, the workers will attach the pool table cloth (also called felt), which is generally made from worsted wool or a wool/nylon blend. They fit the cloth over the pocket holes in the slate, cutting it strategically so it doesn’t leave creases. They stretch the cloth tight and staple it to the wood slate lining.
4. Rails and Pockets
Once the cloth is on, the workers will cut small holes in the cloth where the rail assembly bolts will go. These bolts that are fixed to the underside of each rail fit into these pre-drilled holes.
The rails and pockets are assembled upside-down on the table in two u-shaped formations— one for each side of the table. Then, when all the hardware is in place and the pockets have been attached to the rails (with screws or staples), the workers will flip the rail and pocket assemblies and line up the bolts with the holes in the slate. Then nuts are used underneath the slate to tightly fix the rails to the top of the slate.
They then use screws or staples to attach the loose pocket fasteners to the frame, completely securing the pockets. Once this is done, the table is ready to go!
As you can see, making pool tables takes a lot of work. Thanks to technology and precision machines, the major components can be pre-cut. Still, it takes workers to assemble much of the table and to make sure that everything fits right.
And since pool tables are so big and heavy, they usually require professional installation and special shipping. Of course, all this is considered in the cost of a pool table. Some companies still hand-make pool tables, carving the feet and veneers by hand. This increases the cost of the table significantly. Yet, there are plenty of other companies that offer high-quality pool tables at reasonable prices. So as long as you have the room, you can enjoy a pool table in your home!