Pool tables, billiard tables and other tables upon which cue sports can be played are major investments on the level of a baby grand piano, grandfather clock or other heirloom-quality pieces. Pool tables can run anywhere between $900 and $5,000 offering many variations of slate, felt, cloth, wood and more. To ensure your investment is safe and sound for many years to come, use this buyer's guide to educate yourself on pool and billiard tables before you make a purchase.
The History of Billiards, Pool & Other Cue Sports
The game of pool (sometimes referred to as billiards) is a cue sport played with billiard balls and cue sticks made of wood or synthetic material. Historically, sports played on pool tables have been known as billiard sports and include snooker or English billiards, typically played on a table with six pockets, carom billiards, usually played on 10-foot tables without pockets and pool, the most common billiard sport, generally offering six-pocket tables of various lengths. In addition to these pool tables there are further types, such as bumper pool tables and others that offer various playing surfaces, obstacles and table configurations, but are not as popular as the standard billiard or pool table game.
The development of indoor cue sports such as pool is linked with outdoor stick games popular in Europe during the 15th century such as golf, croquet and bocce. A version of outdoor billiards was played with cue sticks on a field; this cue sport was eventually moved inside to be played on indoor pool tables.
The first recorded indoor pool table was built by King Louis XI of France, and the new game's popularity among French nobles helped spread it to virtually every French cafe by the middle 1700s. These early tables were built by furniture makers, while early balls were made from ivory, clay and wood.
The earliest games were carom-style games played on tables without pockets with three or four balls. The various games in this style relied on striking the cue ball to either bounce off of rails into other billiard balls or bounce a billiard ball into other balls without hitting the rails or other obstacles; pockets were developed initially as deathtraps to balls, but eventually became targets to earn points.
By the end of the 1800s games played on billiard tables and pool tables became so popular in both Europe and America that these games were now referred to as "sports", with tournaments, rules and regulations. The Billiard Congress of America (BCA) was formed in 1948 and currently is the governing body for professional tournaments in the United States.
Prior to 1961 all BCA approved tables had a minimum of 1" slate and double center main beams (more on slate and beams below), and most pool tables, regardless of the level of play, offered this type of slate. This changed in 1961 when the movie The Hustler was released starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason (pictured right), which followed a young pool hustler (Newman) being mentored by pool master Minnesota Fats (Gleason).
This film increased the popularity of pool and prompted the industry to make pool tables more affordable to the general public. To achieve this aim, the industry introduced 1/2" and 3/4" slate. Frames, cabinets and legs were downsized to cut costs and double center main beams were eliminated as the slate was not as heavy.
While initially these changes were good for the billiard industry, increasing the number of sales, the long term impact was bad. Due to the fact that the tables were now much lighter, the playing characteristics suffered. Tables were vulnerable to racking and warping.
After a few years the sales of billiard tables declined. This decline would last until 1986 when The Color of Money, another billiard-themed movie but starring Tom Cruise, was released. Demand once again increased, and 1" slate made a comeback.
This time pool table manufactures did little to beef up the now downsized frames to support the reintroduction of the heavier slate. Needless to say, the tables failed due to uneven weight distribution and lack of support for the slate. This caused issues such as bowing or sagging slate.
Today the best pool table manufacturers have addressed these issues, but low-quality versions still exist from manufacturers searching for a way to make a quick dollar. Keep reading below to learn how to identify a high-quality pool table from inferior options.
What to Look For When Buying a Pool Table
There are six aspects of a pool table you should consider:
The Billiard Table Buyers Guide
There is no substitute for a pool table made with slate. Common substitutes include plywood, fiberboard, slatex, permaslate, slatron, slatine and honeycomb, but none of these alternatives offer the smooth experience and accuracy of slate. What is slate? Slate is shale or rock made over thousands years from volcanic ash or clay that is mined, quarried, cut and leveled into smooth flat sheets perfect for cue sports such as billiards or pool.
Pool table slate is divided into categories by thickness, with the standard sizes being 3/4" slate, 1" slate and 1-1/4" slate. The Billiard Congress of America (BCA) recognizes 1" slate as the most accurate slate available and requires at least 1" slate on tables used in tournaments and competitions. Many dealers will substitute 1" slate with 7/8" and still market it as 1" slate. Be sure to ask that the slate is truly 1" thick and not 7/8" thick.
The cabinet of a pool table holds 90% of the overall weight, which means this amount must be supported by strong legs. When players take shots, lean or sit against the pool table it adds even more stress. There are two types of legs: post or "perfect" legs and two-piece or "industry standard" legs. The post legs are considered "perfect" because they are made from solid pieces of wood, from the slate down to the feet. They are reliable and will prevent a lowering of the gameplay experience as time progresses.
There are two types of two-piece or "industry standard" legs; these leg systems attach the legs to the cabinet with anchor systems and avoid a solid leg. The first type is the single anchor system which uses a single nut and bolt combination; this type of system will loosen overtime and affect the playing experience. The second type is the quad anchor system, which offers four nut and bolt combinations, and is the more secure of the two types of two-piece legs.
The slate of a pool table is only as good as the wood frame, since a lack of support can cause the slate to sag, crack and become uneven. A high-quality pool table will offer slate that has been framed with wood glued to the bottom, along with cross beams that add support. You will find a review of three types of frames below on this page.
The type of frame beams needed depends on the size of the slate. Pool tables that offer 3/4" slate can get away with utilizing two cross beams. But larger slate, such as 1" and up, should be using quad-beam construction that offers two cross beams and two long beams. Just remember with larger slate more framing is required, and to ask about the amount of beams below the slate.
Modern billiard cloth or pool table felt is typically made from a wool and nylon blend that's been coated in Teflon. To determine the durability of a cloth look at the ounce weight per yard of the felt; we recommend between 18 and 22 ounces per yard for a maximum life.
While durability can be an issue, many players are concerned about speed and traction on the playing surface. Worsted cloth typically made from wool offers fibers that are combed before they are spun which will help with speed and accuracy.
The cushions or rails of a pool table are normally made from either synthetic materials or natural gum or gum blends. The synthetic options routinely rely on clay filler to form the rails; this clay will dry, out, lose its bounce and become a "dead rail".
But rails or cushions with the standard K-66 profile use natural gum materials; these types of rails provide a predictable bounce that will last as long as you own the table. We recommend natural gum rails over synthetic rails. An in-depth review of rails and cushions can be found below.
Playing Equipment / Accessories
While the pool table itself is probably the single most important aspect that will determine the playing experience of the games, the playing equipment is quite important. Here's a quick rundown of billiard equipment and accessories:
Pool Table Installation
Pool tables are normally delivered in pieces; assembly is required and can become a headache. To ensure your new pool table offers accurate play, level surfaces and a great experience, Family Leisure recommends homeowners hire an experienced pool table installer for the installation. Of course, if you purchase a pool table from Family Leisure we will install the pool table ourselves or find a reputable pool table installer in your area to perform the installation. But many people choose to install their pool table themselves. If you fall within this category our Pool Table Installation Video will walk you through the process.
How to Install a Pool Table
A Review of Pool Table Frames
The CHOICE Frame by Leisure Select
The three main components of the Upper Interior of the Choice Frame are:
The three main components of the Lower Interior of the Choice Frame are:
The ELITE Frame by Cannon
The three main components of the Upper Interior of the Elite Frame are:
The three main components of the Lower Interior of the Elite Frame are:
The Ultra Frame by American HeritageThe three main components of the Upper Interior of the Ultra Frame are:
The three main components of the Lower Interior of the Ultra Frame are:
Rails & Cushions: An In-Depth Review
Now that you understand the importance of owning a well-engineered pool table, it's time to look at another aspect of the table that plays an equally significant role. Since the rails and cushions are the area of the table which receives the most contact and use, it's vital the rails and cushions are engineered to the same high standard as the rest of the table.
Pool Table Manufacturers and Brands
When it comes to pool table manufacturers and brands, homeowners have choices. Here's a rundown of the brands and manufacturers and a review of their pool tables for sale:
Leisure Select: Well-priced pool tables in the classic, heirloom-style that can be passed down through following generations. Leisure Select incorporates antique furniture designs and motifs that will never go out of style such as claw-and-ball feet, cabriole legs, dentil molding and much more. Leisure Select features exquisitely-carved solid wood with various finish choices, such as dark amber and antique walnut. They utilize tri-beam construction, pro-series rails, mother of pearl diamond sights, K-66 super speed cushions, 1" slate and many choices of felt colors. View Leisure Select Pool Tables.
American Heritage: A broad assortment of tables styles, materials and sizes. Choose between modern, contemporary tables that showcase clean forms and classic pool tables that appear like antique versions found in English gentlemen's clubs since the 18th century. Like Leisure Select, American Heritage incorporates antique furniture motifs such as claw-and-ball feet, cabriole legs, acanthus leaves, dentil molding and other intricate carvings and patterns. You will find double-center beam and cross-beam construction, 1" to 1.25" slate, mortise-and-tenon joinery, super speed K-66 cushion made from natural rubber, leather pockets, inlaid mother of pearl diamond sights and much more. Choose amongst several finish choices such as suede and brandy and over a dozen felt color choices to match any home's interior. View American Heritage Pool Tables.
Cannon Billiards: This manufacturer offers a limited line of pool tables that are designed to replicate the handcrafted billiard tables from the past. Great lifetime warranties cover the wood components, rails, cushions and slate, which comes in either 1" or 1.25" thickness. Each model features quality construction and techniques, such as transition plate technology, double-center-beam and cross-beam construction, four bolt locking leg design, super speed K-66 natural gum cushions, leather pockets fitted into die-cast side and corner pocket frames and much more (the Bradford from Cannon Billiards is pictured right). While finish options are limited, choose between over a dozen felt colors, from championship green and olive to charcoal and electric blue. View Cannon Billiards Pool Tables.
Imperial Billiards: Imperial Billiards offers high-quality pool tables with great features such as genuine slate, a ten-year warranty, full-profile natural gum speed rails, sturdy main metal beam construction, 21-ounce billiard cloth and much more. While these features are reliable and top notch, the main attraction of Imperial lies in their line of officially licensed professional sport pool tables. Pick a pool table that has the team logo and colors of your favorite professional football team; Imperial offers a version for every NFL team (32 in all, both AFC and NFC), so any game room or man cave gains a football-themed pool table that will satisfy the local fan base. View Imperial Billiards Pool Tables.
Brunswick Billiards: The most recognized name in the billiard table industry, Brunswick Billiards has produced competition-level pool tables and residential pool tables since 1845 when John Moss Brunswick, an immigrant from Switzerland, started the company in Cincinnati, Ohio. Originally Brunswick's creations were used in smoke-filled parlors of athletic, political and social clubs during the late 1800s. These early versions were quite extravagant and expensive; a Brunswick table was considered by the American elite to be the very best billiard tables available. Today they still offer these masterpieces of indoor furniture appropriate for mansions and estates, while also offering entry-level and medium priced tables. All Brunswick Billiard Tables, regardless of the cost, showcase supreme craftsmanship, superior style and incredible innovations. View Brunswick Billiards Pool Tables.Renegade Billiards: A themed line of pool tables from Legacy Billiards, Renegade showcases hardcore designs perfect for rockers, bikers and rebels. Handcrafted black finishes, metal studs, chain pockets, faux leather inlays and laser etched flames are just a few of the bad boy design touches found in these pool tables. Unlike other manufacturers who treat these themed tables as a gimmick, Renegade was created by Legacy Billiards based in Collierville, Tennessee. Because of Legacy each Renegade pool table offers professional-level quality. One-inch slate, a patented all wood corners and mortise construction all backed by the superior customer service at Legacy. The perfect centerpiece for a basement, game room or garage that is stuffed full of Harley Davidson gear and biker memorabilia.
Presidential Billiards: Based north of Houston, Presidential Billiards offers pool tables, billiard accessories, cues, game room furniture, game tables, billiard cloth, slate and various pool table parts. Their motto includes accuracy, beauty and stability and each Presidential item holds true to these three virtues. The quality comes from the trained hands that build their products. Presidential Billiards imports each from Wilson International, a network of skilled craftsmen and family-owned factories in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Their line of pool tables offers the same weight, wood, slate and style as more established American brands such as Brunswick. Bring home exotic African hardwoods at a fraction of the cost; Presidential cuts out middle men selling direct to local distributors. Each Presidential Billiard pool table is a special and unique piece of art, with hand-carved legs, custom pockets and so much more. View Presidential Billiards Pool Tables.
Family Leisure is the online source for pool tables and billiard equipment. Our pool tables for sale feature various manufacturers, sizes, materials, finishes and felt colors, so any new pool table will match an existing game room, basement or other empty area. Having trouble finding a pool table to fit your indoor space? We offer seven-foot pool tables, eight-foot pool tables and even nine-foot pool tables for sale. And we have the equipment to keep you playing, with pool chalk, racks, cues, table covers and much more found in our billiard accessories. We routinely offer pool tables on sale, and all of our tables come with free nationwide shipping.