For most pool players looking to create their own billiard room, the question of, “Should I buy a slate or wood bed table?”, is one of the first to cross their minds. This is because slate tables are by far more popular and desirable than their MDF (wood) counterparts, but they are also a lot more expensive.
Their steep price tags, however, are not without justification. Slate tables have some inherent features that just cannot be had with an MDF version. On the other hand, the affordability of MDF makes it possible for nearly everyone to enjoy a pool table of their own.
So which table is right for you?
To be honest, it depends on your needs as a player. If you’re a casual player just looking to have fun, and aren’t overly serious about pool, then an MDF table is a great budget friendly option. On the other hand, if you play competitively, or plan to, a slate table is your best bet. The reason for this is that slate tables provide a truer, more consistent playing surface than MDF does which is important if you’re looking to improve your skills as a pool shark.
Let’s take a look at some of the differences between slate and wood bed pool tables so you can decide which is right for you.
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What’s The Difference Between Slate Bed And Wood Bed Tables?
A slate bed pool table, or slate table for short, is simply a pool table that uses slate for its playing surface. A wood bed table is one that uses MDF (medium-density fiberboard) for its playing surface. Slate is more expensive and is used on high quality tables while MDF is used as a more budget friendly option.
This brings us to the topic of ……
As with anything we want to purchase in life, cost is always a factor. This is no different when it comes to pool tables. As you all are well aware, slate tables are expensive! A 4×8 slate table is going to cost you over $1000 on the cheap end and can reach prices upwards of $10,000! Compare that to the price of a similarly sized MDF table, around $500, and you can easily see why lots of people choose MDF when budget is their primary concern.
Why the big difference in price?
Due to the fact that most slate used in pool tables comes from oversees, it costs more to source than MDF does. Once its sourced, it then has to be shaped, packaged up with all the other pool table components, and shipped. And shipping something that heavy is never cheap.
Also, because of how much slate weighs, the table itself has to be made of a stronger, higher quality material to support it. This also drives up the price. All of these factors play a role in how much a slate table cost. Keep in mind that there are different qualities of slate as well. If you order a custom table with top of the line slate, the price of your table could skyrocket.
MDF on the other hand, is cheaper to produce and is much lighter. Because of how lightweight it is, the materials used to construct the table itself don’t have to be as strong as those in a slate table. This means the materials used are often cheaper. These cheaper materials help keep the price of an MDF table relatively inexpensive. This is great for those who want to purchase their own table without having to draw from their 401k to do so.
Most pool purists will tell you there is a noticeable difference between playing on a slate table vs an MDF table. Slate tables tend to play faster and smoother, meaning that the balls roll across the felt effortlessly while MDF tables cause some amount of “drag”, which causes the cue ball and the object balls to travel less distance with the same amount of shot power.
If you have consistently played on a slate table and then buy an MDF table, you will definitely notice a difference in the way it plays. Although this can be compensated for, it may be annoying at first until you get used to it.
Another important factor to discuss while on the topic of playability is warping. Warping is when the bed of the table begins to twist, sag, or bow. This is mainly an issue with MDF tables. Because MDF is a wood product, it is susceptible to temperature change, humidity, and moisture. This means that spilling a drink on your table could cause it to warp which would make any competitive play impossible.
Also, keeping your table in a damp basement could cause it to warp. Given enough time, almost all MDF tables will warp to some degree if they’re not kept in a proper environment.
With slate, however, you typically don’t have to worry about this. Because slate doesn’t absorb moisture like MDF does, the chances of a slate table ever warping are very slim. If a slate table ever warped, it would most likely be the table itself warping, not the slate.
This, however, is very unlikely to occur since slate tables are made with stronger, higher quality materials. Knowing that a slate table will remain flat over time is a huge selling point to the more serious player and to those who want a table that will last a lifetime, if not longer.
When it comes to portability, MDF tables have a huge advantage. Because they are so lightweight when compared to slate tables, they are a lot easier to move and assemble. While this may not sound like a big deal, a lot of people refrain from buying a pool table because of how much of a hassle they are to move. I’m not saying that an MDF table isn’t still heavy or awkward but moving a table that weighs 200 pounds is a lot easier than moving one that weighs 800 pounds (or more).
There are even some MDF tables that have foldable legs and can be stored out of the way when not in use. This is great for someone who wants to own their own table but may not have an area they can completely dedicate to it. This is something that could never be done with a slate table due to how much they weigh.
Slate tables are a lot like refrigerators, toilets, and pianos. They fall into the category of things that are best to just set it and forget it. If you plan on buying a slate table, it would be wise to have an area you can use as a dedicated billiard room, so you won’t have to worry about moving it in the future.
Because of how much they weigh, they are pretty much impossible to move without disassembling them. Even when disassembled, a 1-piece slate top can weigh between 500-600 pounds by itself, not including the rest of the table. And 3-piece slate tops can weigh up to 250 pounds apiece!
Trying to move and install a slate table is a job best left to the professionals. Attempting to do this yourself could result in destroying your table or worse than that, injuring yourself. I would highly recommend paying a trained professional to deliver and install any slate table you purchase. The risk of doing this yourself is not worth the reward of saving a few dollars.
Other Things To Consider When Buying A Pool Table
Now that we’ve discussed the differences between slate and MDF tables, lets talk about what you should consider before making a purchase.
We all have budgets we’re trying to stick to and other financial goals we’re trying to achieve so spending thousands of dollars on a pool table doesn’t make sense for a lot of people. Unfortunately though, with pool tables, high quality comes with a high price tag. So, if you want a table that you know will last a lifetime, you’re going to have to spend a little bit extra to get it, and most of the time this means buying slate table.
This is not to say that a high quality MDF table can’t last a lifetime. As long as they are kept in a climate-controlled environment and don’t take too many soda spills or abuse over the years it is possible. But if you like to entertain a lot or have small children the chances of this happening are pretty slim.
If your heart is set on buying a table but a new one is out of your price range, then maybe consider buying a used one. A lot of times you can find used tables at a great price because someone is moving and doesn’t want the hassle of taking it with them. Or they’ve just lost interest and don’t use it much anymore. Regardless of their reason for selling it, buying used is a great way to get a high-quality table at an affordable price.
If you plan on paying a professional to move and assemble your table (which I recommend) make sure you consider the cost of this service in your total budget. You don’t want to spend all your money on the table and then not be able to afford getting it home.
What size table you can buy is largely dependent on the amount of space you have to put it in. just because you have a room that is 12×12 doesn’t mean you should put a 4.5×9 tournament sized table in it. Although the table itself will fit, you have to consider the extra amount of space it takes to draw your pool stick back when taking a shot. If the space is too small, the butt end of your cue will hit the wall every time you draw it back. This makes playing pool frustrating and unenjoyable.
Before you buy a table, you need to make sure you have enough room for it and be able to take shots comfortably from every side of the table. Doing this first will save you a lot of time and frustration in the even you have to move your table to a larger area after realizing it was to big for the space you put it in.
To figure out if your room is big enough, you simply take the length of the table and add to it the length of 2 pool sticks (one for each end of the table). Standard length cues are 58” so two of them equals 116” take 116” and add it to the length of your table. Write this measurement down. Then do the exact same thing for the width of the table. Add 116” to the width of the table and write that measurement down as well. These two measurements are the room dimensions needed for your table.
If you need assistance figuring this out, check out my article What Size Room do You Need For a Pool Table? (With Chart). There I have a chart that shows the minimum recommended room dimensions for all table sizes.
Style of Play
Another thing to consider when buying a table is your style of play. If you’re a casual player like myself, you probably don’t have the same pool table requirements that a professional has and vice versa. Most tournaments are played on slate tables so it makes sense for the advanced player to practice on the same table he will be competing on. Casual player who just want a table for fun and entertainment may not find it necessary to spend a ton of money on slate and typically an MDF table suits their needs just fine.
Trying to find the time to do anything outside of work, chores around the house, spending time with family, and sleeping is difficult for a lot of people. Most of us have super busy lives and making time to do something fun often just doesn’t make it on the to-do list. And although have a personal table is appealing to pretty much everyone who plays pool, buying one and then not having time to use it is quite frustrating.
Before spending your hard-earned money on a personal table, make sure you’ll have enough time to play to justify it. If not, you may find yourself using it as an oversized storage shelf instead of a source of fun and entertainment. If this happens, your table will most likely end up for sale on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace and we all know how frustrating and time consuming it can be to entertain potential buyers from these sources.
Deciding which table is right for you ultimately comes down to what you intend to use the table for, how long you expect it to last, and your budget. Here is a quick re-cap of the pros and cons of each table.
- Last Longer
- Warp Resistant
- Higher Quality
- Better Playing Surface
- Higher Resale Value
- Difficult to Move
- Easy to move
- Lower Quality
- Shorter Lifespan
- Lower Resale Value
I hope this article has helped make your decision a little easier. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out or check out our other helpful articles for all of your billiard related questions.