(Pool, Snooker and Carom Tables)
What do you look for when purchasing a Billiard, Pool, Snooker or Carom (I'll call all of these tables "Billiard Tables") on eBay, through calssifieds or from a Billiard Table Shop?
Just as there are quite a few games that are called "Football" and all being quite differant games from each other, so to there are a few differant games that are "Billiard" games. The games have slightly differant balls, and tables upon which they are played. However just like "Football" where a game of soccer could easily be played on a rugby pitch, or Aussie Rules on a soccer field, so too, we can play most "Billiard" games on most of the tables available.
Here's a few statistics about Billiard table to keep in mind.
Measurements are always in feet and inches (just one of those things) and a table is always half as wide as it is long eg. 3'6" x 7', 4' x 8' etc. So often people may just refer to the length of a table when describing size as the width is always given as being half.
Slate size is given as a thickness in inches. A general rule is the thicker the better (yes, this means heavier, but with tables heavier means better!) Smaller tables eg. 6', 7' and 8' tables generally have 3/4 " slate, the bigger tables are usually an inch or more thick. 12' tables can have slate as thick as 2"!
Table cloth or felt can come from various locations but generally English is best. The cloth has what is called a "nap", which can be best described as being like stroking a cat. Stroke a cat the right way and the fur lies down (head to tail), the wrong way and the pissed off cat has it's fur standing up (tail to head). This is true also of Billiard cloth, it will always run from the head ("D" end) to the tail. Cloth needs to be cared for and brushed in the correct way often to last a long time and provide good game play. Cloths can cost from $300+ to replace, so if buying a table this is one of the things to pay attention to.
As previously discussed there are differant "Billiard" tables. These can roughly be divided into 2 differant types, being Snooker and Billiards. The main differance in these tables being the set up of the pockets. A Billiard table will have cushions that have straight angled cuts that form the pocket mouths. Snooker tables have cushions with curved mouth to the pockets. Most tables found in Australia are Snooker tables, but are generally refered to as Billiard or Pool tables. Don't stress too much though, as you can play all games on all tables, unless of course you're a professional player playing in the world championships!
Now that I've imparted a bit of useless information on you I should just list the main things to look for, be warned about and generally keep in mind when looking to part with hard eaned cash for a Billiard Table.
Size: - Make sure you match the table to the room or area in which it will be. A common mistake is people will buy a table TOO BIG for the room. No one wants to play with little cut off cue sticks, dodging furniture etc. Allow a good 8' - 10' to the table dimensions to take into account the area needed for playng shots with a full size cue stick with drawback. If size is not an issue buy as big as you can afford!
Cloth/Felt :- Felt will last 20+ years if looked after. If looking to buy a table with rips/tears/worn patches etc don't neccessarily rule it out, however allow an extra $500 to have it repaired (rough guide only, price varies on supplier, size etc). Billiard cloth does not like being wet, exposed to direct sunlight, neglected, being dusty or dirty. If a table is exposed to these conditions expect to be replacing the cloth sooner rather then later.
Cushions:- The cushions can go "dead". The cushions are made of a rubber material and over time they will lose their ability to rebound the ball correctly. If the cushions are "dead", the balls when bounced against them will make a dull thud and will not bounce back onto the playing surface with any sort of vigour. If this is the case they can be replaced, however this also means a re-cloth (see above) as well as the cost of the rubbers. As a general rule the timber cushion rails are considered more expensive the wider they are. So a table with ample timber rails would fetch more money than one with really skinny ones.
Table Top :- Slate (mentioned above) and timber are used as the playing surface of Billiard tables. Slate is obviously better, with timber (usually partical board or MDF) being used on budget tables. When purchasing a table without a personal inspection (eBay, classifieds etc) make sure the table top is what you are after! If you specifically want a slate table make sure it is. An expensive mistake to buy a table to find out you've paid a grand too much for a cheap timber top table! When buying a slate top table, if you can, check to make sure there are no major cracks in it. This will entail getting underneath the table and looking up to check for cracks. Larger tables are usually made up of multiple slate pieces, so don't mistake the joins for cracks. A join will be a dead straight cut, with a crack being jagged and irregular. Small cracks can be repaired if they don't extend to the full thickness of the piece, however I'd avoid a table if I found a crack in the slate. There is nothing wrong with timber top tables and if buying a cheap table for the kids, or a table for a patio etc these can make ideal tables. Things to look for are warping of the surface (slate never warps!) and if made of partical board that it isn't breaking down if exposed to excess moisture.
Table:- The table cabinetry can come in so many variations it would be impossible to describe them all. Common sense prevails here though, if it has major dings, scratches gouges etc. it has obviously had a rough life and should be viewed as suspect or offer a low figure. To have a table renovated or restored can be a costly exercise if you get someone else to do it, or time consuming for DIY. Most people tend to look after these tables though as they are generally viewed as costly and significant household items. Check for shoddy carpentry, missing screws and bolts. A table once leveled should not be able to moved if bumped or shoved from the side. If a table feel rickety leave it alone! Most tables are coated in a stain/epoxy blend, unless they're quite old in which case they may be french polished (if you find one of these you're very lucky indeed!). These are difficult but not impossible to make minor reairs to in the event of scratches etc. However it all adds up in the dollar department.
Legs:- Various shapes and constructions. Generally thick turned legs are constructed from several pieces of timber glued together before being turned. Check these for defects with the glued joins. Some tables have adjustable feet (for table levelling) check to make sure they turn as they should.
Pockets:- A table can have drop pockets (a basket typye arrangement suspended from the cushions on a metal or plastic frame), empire rails (similar to drop pockets, however have open bottoms which direct ball to an external rail setup that runs along the table) or have no pockets and are referred to as ball returns (the tables found in pubs are an example). When looking at drop pockets and empire rails check for stretching of the netting and obvious defects of the hardware. Pockets are designed to be replaced when worn out and can be done by anyone (although at a cost of course). I have seen pockets last as long as 20+ years and as little as 5! When moving Billiard tables, NEVER, pick them up by the pocket hardware! They are not designed to take the weight of a table. If you have to move a table pick it up by the cushion rails.
Accessories:- Often a table will come with Cue sticks, balls etc. Consider these a bonus but be aware sometime you might be better off buying new. Old Billird balls, if the have snicks and slight cuts, will damage the cloth on a table . The minimum equipment needed to play a game on a table, and maintain the table would be 2 or 3 five foot cues, 1 four foot cue (if space an issue), 2 Jigger cues (those cues with the funny looking things on the end), the balls of choice (most commonly pool balls), cue chalk (try and match color to cloth color eg. green chalk - green cloth) appropriate triangle (differant sizes depending on balls being used) and a brush. The brush is very important and I would recommend purchasing a good one if the one supplied is a bit dodgy. A good brush, used properly and often will extend the life of a Billiard cloth by many years.
Summing up the main things to keep in mind are:- Heavy = good! Slate is better than timber! Cloth, cushion rubber and pockets can all be replaced..... at a cost! If it feels rickety walk away! And if buying privately allow another couple of hundred dollars to have it moved by Billiard Table movers (recommended). Either that or have 3 or 4 burly blokes to give you a hand.
I hope I have been of some assistance