Pool Sticks - Do You Know Their Parts And Functions?

Get Familiar With The Components That Make A Great Cue

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Cue sticks have a long history of functionality and decoration. Photo courtesy of All About Pool

Although I often write for About.com with instruction articles on stance, stroke and aim, which taken together make for a great pool player, I want to give you details today on the components of a fine cue stick. A great pool stick will enhance your confidence, and more often than not, most of your shot making.

Why Buy Your Own Cue Stick?

Cue Stick's Tip: This is the sole most important component of a great playing cue.

Stick a good tip on a broom and I'll run the table then sweep the floor after.

If your tip or mine is not in round, however, we'll miss shots in all directions since a blunt or squared tip will strike the round surface of a cue ball in a different spot than we've aimed. (You aim the center of the tip in many cases, but a rectangular tip will strike on the edge on a different spot along the cue ball. You want your cue tip rounded like the shape of a U.S. quarter coin, which is quite close to the actual curvature of a cue ball, the ideal curvature for a tip to meet it.)

Tips range in width from 11.5mm to 14mm depending on the taper of the shaft (see below for more). Typical tips are made of hardened, compressed leather and attach to the stick with glue. Softer tips provide more chalk retention and softer feel, but I use a hard tip for enhancing power shots, to keep the tip in round and consistent for a far longer duration, and to save money on changing tips.

Ultra-hard phenolic resin tips are common these days on specialty break cues, so that the cue ball takes off immediately upon impact and provides maximum break force.

Shaft and Taper: The shaft of the pool cue is the second most important component in a great pool stick. Shafts are most frequently made of hard maple for stability and longevity.

Fiberglass and composite graphite have come into vogue in recent years as well.

Why You Should Only Buy A Wood Pool Cue Shaft

There are three varieties of tapers, standard, pro and double tapers. The standard or "European" taper is thinnest near the cue's tip and gradually widens along its length, providing added feel through the stroke and bringing any long follow through to a natural stop as the shaft widens to fill the bridge hand.

The pro taper is the same diameter from the tip for a foot or more along the shaft length before it then widens. (It's a cheaper and easier shaft to produce so calling it "pro" is a little misleading.) The double taper narrows from the cue's tip and then widens again, requiring a delicate, skillful touch to manipulate this very thin shaft through the stroke. It is of extra cost; play test different types before you settle in on any one choice for your own new cue.

The Ferrule: The ferrule is that little white piece that shock absorbs the strikes on the cue ball, providing a softer stick feel and extending the life of the shaft and tip. It can be slipped, glued or threaded onto the shaft.

Today's ferrules are made of composite materials. Old school cues used ivory for ferrules before elephants were hunted to near extinction, but there is little benefit to an ivory ferrule today.

Engineers can provide fabulous composite substitutes.

Feel: The ferrule, tip hardness and shaft flexibility characteristics combine to help provide "feel" for the shot. Pool jargon like "this cue hits a ton!" indicates a particular cue sends the cue ball a long way or skids it a long way with a gentle, short stroke. The problem is some top players love a cue that hits a ton, while others desire a soft feel and some a rock hard cue, regardless of "hit".

In Search Of The Holy Grail Cue To Make You Play Like A Champ

A soft or "vibrating" cue may help you get added feel and "touch" on shots to control minute distances with the cue ball. And a hard-hitting cue will likely help beginners and intermediate with shot making accuracy but can also provide extra-unpleasant results on off-center hits and strikes using english.

Whether a cue is soft or hard in feel (vibrations transmitted to the player's hands) it should always feel like utterly one unit when its two sections are brought together for play.

Next article: More cue component goodies to help your game.