How To Choose a Pool Cue: Ultimate Pool Cue Buying Guide


There are few decisions harder to make in life than deciding which pool cue is right for you. I’m kidding. But with so many brands, tips, materials, variations, styles, and cost differences, trying to make this decision can feel completely overwhelming.

If you’re new to the game of pool and are considering buying your own pool cue, there are some things you should know first. In this pool cue buying guide we’re going to share with you everything you need to know about the different styles and varieties of pool cues so you can decide which one is right for you.

By the time you finish reading this pool cue buying guide, you should have a pretty good idea about how to choose a pool cue that’s right for you. Keep reading to learn more!

What Will Your Cue Be Used For?

The first thing you have to decide when buying a cue is what it will be used for. Certain cues are made for playing while others are made specifically for breaking or jumping.

I’m assuming that most of you reading this are looking to buy your fist playing cue so that’s where we will focus most of our attention, but I would like to briefly point out the differences between jump cues, break cues, jump-break cues, and playing cues.

Jump Cues

Jump Cues, as the name implies are designed specifically for jumping the cue ball. They are typically shorter in length than most standard pool cues, coming in at around 40” long which is the minimum length allowed for tournament play. They are also much lighter, most of which weigh in around 10 ounces.

This light, short cue makes it easier to get in the proper position to perform a jump shot. Although you won’t need to perform jump shots often, a jump cue can be a life saver if you ever need it. They also come standard with hard tips which transfer more energy than a soft tip will. This energy transfer is vital to pulling off a jump shot.

Break Cues

Break Cues are made specifically for, you guessed it, breaking. They are typically 58” and also come equipped with a hard tip, most of the time phenolic. A break cue can often be heavier than a standard pool cue, depending on the preference of the player. Most break cues start around 20oz and move upwards of 27oz. This is not to say that your break cue has to be this heavy as its really just personal preference.

Jump-Break Cues

Jump-Break Cues are a combination of a jump cue and a break cue. They come in 3 pieces and screw together like a standard 2-piece cue. If you want to use it as a jump cue, you simply attach the butt end to the shaft, like a 2 piece. If you want to use it as a break cue, you screw in the extension to the butt end and you have a full-length break cue. This is a great option if you want to save some money by buying one cue instead of two. Some people, however, prefer to have a separate cue for breaking and jumping.

Playing Cues

Playing Cues are what will be in your hands the majority of the time. This is the cue you will use more often than all the others so it’s important to get this one right. Most playing cues come standard with a medium tip, which is great for overall playability. Playing cues come in a variety of weights, lengths, and materials, all of which we will discuss.

Do I Need a 1-Piece or 2-Piece Cue?

One of the first questions that beginners ask when buying a cue (myself included) is do I need a 1-piece or a 2-piece cue and what’s the difference? I’ll start off by saying that if you plan on playing a lot or if you plan on taking your cue outside of your home, a 2-piece cue is really your only option.

1-piece cues are fine to use as rack fillers, so your guests have something to use when they come over but that’s about their only positive. As you have probably already noticed, most pool halls have 1-piece cues in their racks. This is mainly due to the fact that they are typically cheaper than a 2-piece cue and they’re harder to conceal if someone wanted to walk out the door with one (not sure why anyone would want to but you never know).

Another disadvantage of a 1-piece cue is that if it ever warps, you’re pretty much stuck with it. If a 2-piece cue warps you can always keep the butt end and just replace the shaft. This reason alone is enough to persuade most players to go with a 2-piece cue, and the little bit extra you pay for a 2-piece cue is well worth it.

2-piece cues are also easier to work on whenever you have to repair or replace the tip. Instead of fumbling around with a full length 58” cue, you simply unscrew the butt from the shaft and your repair process becomes much more manageable.

All in all, if you’re going to spend the money to buy your own cue, it would make more sense to spend it on a quality 2-piece cue instead of the same cheap 1-piece cues that your local pool hall has.

Which Cue Material is Best?

The next thing we’re going to discuss is the type of material cues are made of. There are quite a few options to choose from including wood, fiberglass, graphite, carbon fiber, aluminum, plastic, and even hybrid models.

If you’re a beginner, the only three you should really consider are wood, fiberglass, and graphite. Plastic and aluminum cues just aren’t worth the money you’ll waste on them. They may be fine for a child’s first cue, (even that’s debatable), but that’s about it. Carbon fiber and hybrid models may be great for some advanced players but offer little, if any, added benefit to the beginner to justify their price tag.

Wood cues, however, have been around for hundreds of years and is the material of choice for most professional players while fiberglass and graphite models do have some features that a lot of beginners find appealing. If you’ve read my article What You Need to Know About Wood, Fiberglass, and Graphite Pool Cues, then most of the following information won’t be new to you. But no pool cue buying guide would be complete without touching on this subject.

Fiberglass and graphite cues are great for most beginners since they are typically cheaper than a quality wood cue and you never have to worry about them warping. A quality fiberglass or graphite cue can typically be purchased for under $100. This is great for those who want to own their own cue but aren’t ready to break the bank to do so.

The downside to these cues, however, is the fact that they tend to stick to your bridge hand, if your hands sweat when your play. This is not typically a big deal as it can easily be compensated for by wearing a glove. The only other negative characteristic associated with these cues is the way they feel when striking the cue ball. Fiberglass and graphite cues don’t provide the same shot feel that most pool purists are used to.

If you can get past these two downsides, then a fiberglass or graphite cue may be your best bet if you’re trying to stay under $100 for your fist cue.

A quality wood cue on the other hand is usually going to cost you between $100-$200. Don’t let this jump in price scare you off though. There are a lot of benefits to owning a wood cue. They are very strong and durable. They can be repaired if dented or nicked. They provide the best feel when moving through your bridge hand as well as when striking the cue ball.

Think about all the pro’s you see on TV and what material their cue is made from. The majority of them are using wood cues and there’s a good reason for it. Wood cues provide the best feel, and an overall better playing experience than any other material on the market today. And if you take care of them properly, you typically don’t have to worry about them warping, assuming you buy a quality cue that is.

What Kind of Tip do I Need?

Most playing cues come standard with a medium tip which is perfectly fine for the majority of players. However, depending upon your style of play or what you intend to use the cue for, you may instead need a soft or hard tip.

Tips are made from a variety of different materials but the most common are leather for soft and medium tips, and phenolic resin for hard tips. Leather tips can come in one piece or layered construction. Layered tips are generally stronger and last longer than one-piece tips, but they are also more expensive. Phenolic tips are made from phenolic resin and are as hard as the cue ball itself.

Tips can range in price from .50 cents a piece up to $30 a piece. These high dollar tips aren’t usually necessary unless you’re playing at a very high level. Most decent tips for a beginner can be bought around $2-$8 a piece. Let’s look at the differences between soft, medium, and hard tips now.

Hard Tips

Hard Tips are typically made from hardened leather or phenolic resin and are most commonly used on break and jump cues. This is because hard tips transfer the most amount of power from your cue to the cue ball, which is vital for producing a good break or making the cue ball jump, without wearing down or mushrooming when doing so.

They also require little to no maintenance and don’t have to be repaired or replaced very often. Because of the material hard tips are made of, they don’t hold chalk very well so miscuing can be an issue. It is also very difficult to get any amount of English on the cue ball, which is why hard tips are not recommended for playing cues.

Medium Tips

Medium Tips, as mentioned earlier, come standard on most playing cues. This is because they are typically hard enough to break with without mushrooming but soft enough to hold chalk and provide you with good ball control. Medium tips are made from leather and come in single piece, or laminated versions. They will need to be maintained and repaired occasionally but not as often as a soft tip.

For a beginner or casual player, choosing a cue with a medium tip is often the way to go. They provide the benefits of soft and hard tips and are ultimately the best choice when it comes to playability.

Soft Tips

Soft Tips are the best option if you’re looking for ultimate cue ball control. If you play with a lot of English, or plan to, you need to invest in a good soft tip. Soft tips absorb more energy when making contact with the cue ball. This means the tip stays on the cue ball longer than a hard tip would, thus producing more spin. They also hold chalk better, so miscuing is less of a problem.

Soft tips, however, do require the most maintenance out of all three options.  If you play a lot with a soft tip, you may find yourself repairing or replacing it a few times a year. This can be an issue if you want a cue that is low maintenance, but a quality soft tip will last longer than a cheap one.

What About the Ferrule?

The ferrule is the small, usually white, piece that sits between the end of the shaft and the tip. It acts as a shock absorber, helping disperse energy from the tip of the shaft throughout the rest of the cue. A lot of cheaper cues come with low quality ferrules that tend to chip, or crack easily. You will want to avoid these completely. If your ferrule cracks while you’re in the middle of a game, and you don’t have a spare cue, your night is over.

Fortunately, most quality cues come stock with a solid ferrule so you shouldn’t have to worry about ferrule damage or replacement for quite some time. Some popular ferrule materials include Aegis-2, Ivorine-4, Juma, and Elforyn. All ferrule materials provide a different feel so choosing one that is right for you comes down to personal preference.

Wrap

Choosing the right material for your wrap is important. The most popular materials available are rubber, leather, and Irish linen. If your hands sweat a lot, then a rubber wrap is probably your best bet. They provide the best grip out of all three options. But because of the amount of grip they provide, they also transfer the most amount of power, which can make finesse shots more difficult.

Leather wraps are in between rubber and Irish linen as far as grip goes. This material is usually the best choice for the majority of players. They provide enough grip to help with sweaty hands and are also good for making shots that require a softer touch.

Irish Linen provides the least amount of grip. This wrap is well suited for finesse players who need a lot of control over their shots. A wrap that provides too much grip may hinder your accuracy so if you favor cue ball control over everything else, an Irish Linen wrap may be your best bet.

(Note: Believe it or not, cues with no wrap at all are also good for hands that sweat a lot. The finish on the butt of the cue is different from the shaft and provides a really good grip.)

What Length Cue Is Right For Me?

The length of a standard pool cue is 58”. However, this length may or may not be comfortable for you. Choosing the proper cue length is vital to playing at your best. As a rule of thumb, players between 5’8” and 6’4” typically do fine with a 58” cue. Players over 6’4” may have to go for a longer cue such as the Elite extra long pool cue which comes in at 62” long. And players under 5’8” may need to drop down to a 52” or 48” cue.

If you’re looking to purchase a cue for a child, then it’s possible the 48” cue may still be too long. In this case a shorty cue would be perfect. Shorty cues come in lengths as short as 24” and are great for small children or for playing in tight spaces.

There is no clear-cut way of determining which cue length is right for you without playing with it first. The best advice I can give would be play with a few cues of various lengths and see which feels the best to you. In all reality, choosing a cue length is completely personal preference. Whatever feels right for you is what you should go with.

For more information on choosing a proper cue length, check out my article Which Cue Length is Right For You? (With Chart). Here you will find as easy to read chart that will help point you towards which cue length is right for you.

What Weight Cue Should I Use?

Most playing cues weigh in between 18-21 ounces. Deciding which weight is right for you is largely dependent upon your style of play and personal preference.

The weight of your cue plays a large part in cue ball and object ball movement. If you use a lighter cue, you typically get more action out of the cue ball which may make it hard to control for beginners, but the object ball you make contact with will move slower. On the other hand, a heavier cue will cause the cue ball to move less aggressively but will cause the object ball to move faster.

A good weight for most beginners to start out with is 19 ounces. Keep in mind that most cues have weight bolts that can be adjusted if you feel the need to change the weight of your cue. Similar to getting a feel for what length cue feels right to you, it would be wise to play with a few cues of various weights and see what you like best before making a purchase. Again, there is no right or wrong weight to play with, its mainly personal preference.

Do I Need a Low-Deflection Shaft?

If you’re unfamiliar with the differences between a low-deflection shaft and a standard shaft, allow me to briefly explain.

Every time you use sidespin on the cue ball, you get what’s called “squirt”. Squirt is an instant angle change of the cue ball that happens immediately when you make contact with it.

This angle change causes the cue ball to deviate from your intended target, either left or right. If you use left English, the cue ball will deviate to the right and vice versa. This happens every time you use sidespin to some degree. There is no way to correct this, so you have to learn how to compensate for it by adjusting your aim.

What causes squirt in the fist place? Your cue. Every cue produces some amount of squirt when using side spin but using a low-deflection shaft minimizes the amount of deviation you will experience. This is because they are designed with less total end mass which is the main contributor to the amount of squirt you experience.

While low-deflection shafts help improve your accuracy, they may not be necessary for every player. If you’re a very casual player and just want a decent cue to play with when going to the pool hall, and are not overly concerned with improving your skill, then you probably don’t need a low-deflection shaft. A standard pool cue should be just fine.

If, however, this is your fist cue and you plan on improving your skill, and taking pool a bit more seriously, then you should not hesitate to buy a low-deflection shaft. I would not advise buying a standard shaft first with the intention of upgrading to a low-deflection shaft later.

The longer you use a standard shaft, the more accustomed you will become to the amount of deviation it produces and how you have to aim to compensate for it. Switching to a low-deflection shaft after years of using a standard shaft can be difficult as you will have to re-learn how to aim to compensate for this new, lesser amount of deviation.

If you plan on becoming an avid pool shark, then do yourself a favor and buy a low-deflection cue in the beginning and save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

How Much Money Should I Spend on my First Cue?

Last on our list of considerations is budget. As mentioned earlier, a good quality beginner cue will cost you around $100 for fiberglass or graphite, and between $100-$200 for wood. Don’t be tempted to spend much more than this on your fist cue.

As a beginner, all you should be focusing on is good shot form and technique and a high dollar cue won’t help you do that any better than one under $200.

All the benefits of high dollar cues typically go unnoticed to most casual players anyways. Professionals on the other hand can feel every little difference and deviation between cues because they spend so much time with them. Unless you have spent countless hours with a cue in your hand, chances are you wont gain or feel any benefit from buying a $1000 pool cue.

How To Check Out a Potential Cue

If you’re buying your cue in person there are a few things to look out for before handing over any cash.

Warping –Make sure the cue isn’t warped by laying it down on a flat surface, such as a pool table, and roll it from side to side. If it rolls smoothly then you’re good to go. If it hops or wobbles when you roll it, you may need to look at another cue.

If you don’t have a flat surface to put it on, there is another way to check for warping. Hold the butt end of the cue up to your eye and look down the cue towards the tip. Slowly rotate the cue in your hands and look to see if the shaft is warped or bowed. If it is, don’t buy it.

Tip – Make sure the tip is properly glued to the ferrule. Do this by pinching the tip between your thumb and index finger and gently tug it side to side. If it feels loose or pops off, and you’re buying from a billiard supply store, ask them to put another tip on. No big deal. If you’re looking at a cue with a screw in tip, keep looking. No quality cue will come standard with screw in tips.

Ferrule – The ferrule is glued on, like the tip, and should be checked in the same fashion. Also check to make sure there are no cracks or chips in it. If there are, the ferrule needs to be replaced.

Cosmetics – The butt end of the cue is typically the most ornate. Check it over, along with the rest of the cue, for any blemishes or defects in the finish. Also, look for dents or dings in the shaft. Even if they are small you can sometimes feel them when the cue glides through your bridge hand. This can be very annoying for some players.

Fit and Feel – With the cue assembled, make sure the shaft and butt are aligned properly at the joint. Also check all components around the joint to make sure they have no play in them. The entire cue should feel solid and should taper down seamlessly from the butt to the tip.

Wrap – Check the wrap for any tears or raised areas in the fabric. Make sure there are no loose threads that could come unraveled if the wrap is Irish Linen.

When Should I Buy My First Cue?

One last thing to mention before wrapping up is when to buy your first pool cue. This is a question that comes up a lot as most players new to the game just aren’t sure.

The main thing to be sure of when buying a cue, is knowing what you like. This often takes 2-3 months of trying out cues of different materials, tips, wraps, weights, etc. Sometimes this takes longer, depending on how often you’re able to play. But this isn’t something to rush. It’s better to take your time and figure out what you really like before jumping the gun and being stuck with a cue that isn’t a good fit for you.

Besides, learning the basics is the most important thing for a beginner to do. And doing this with a house cue works just as well as it would with a personal cue. Take the time to get the fundamentals down with a house cue, and when you buy a cue of you’re own, you’ll already be ahead of the game.

For more information on this topic, check out my article When Should You Buy Your First Pool Cue? There you’ll find everything you need to know prior to making a decision on your first pool cue.

Conclusion

All in all, finding the perfect pool cue comes down personal preference. It will probably take a little bit of time, and some trial and error before you find the right one.

I hope this article has been helpful in showing you how to choose a pool cue that’s right for you. If you have any questions feel free to reach out or check out our other helpful articles for all of your billiard related questions.

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