Everything you wanted to know about pool tables but were afraid to ask.
Hi, I run the website http://www.snookerbilliardspool.co.uk/, and we sell a good deal of pool tables, and I am frequently asked "what's the best pool table I can get" and usually the stock answer is "how much do you want to spend" . So I'll go through the options there are, if you are considering buying a pool table.
(By the way if you get to the end of this article, there is an amazing trick shot video to watch, which is simply brilliant, don't miss it)
Cheap Pool Tables.
So the first thing is why are they so cheap? The answer is that they are made from a very cheap material called MDF, or Maximum Density Fiberboard. This is related to the fiberboard we hang on the wall to stick notes on etc at the office. Normal fiberboard is very light and you can lift a standard 8 x 4 sheet by yourself, but the MDF is very heavy and it would definitely take 2 of you to lift a sheet. MDF is basically fine sawdust compressed with water resistant glue to produce a smooth strong and warp resistant product, which is water resistant as well, so a good all round material ideal for pool table surfaces. MDF is also very easy to work with and can be sculpted into other shapes as well as the normal flat sheet. Pool table legs for example.
The pool tables are usually made from 12-18 mm MDF sheet to form the playing surface and the cloth is glued to the surface. The side rails that have the cushions are then bolted to the surface and the pockets are screwed onto the rails to complete the playing area.
The legs can be metal, which can cause the dreaded wobble if brushed against, or from MDF again which give the table more stability. (Though knock it hard enough and it will wobble as well)
The other reason they are so cheap is that practically all of them are made in China.
There are two types of cheap table, fold away tables and domestic or fixed leg tables. As the name suggests the one type has legs that can be folded underneath the table so it can be folded flat and stored away when not in use, and the other type has fixed legs and are designed to stay up permanently (although you could unbolt the legs of course)
These tables start in sizes from 3 foot to 5-foot which are usually fold away or folding leg pool tables. These are basically children's toys and have small balls and pockets. They are for the keen 5 to 11 year olds who want to play the game. They are very cheap and cheerful and usually have metal legs so they are prone to wobble if brushed against. They are not meant for adults to play on and definitely not for adults to lean on. Price range £39 to £130 ($80 to $260)
The next size up in the MDF tables is the 6 foot pool tables. The best of these tables are very good indeed and are almost up to the standard of the small slate bed pool tables. They are basically the same size as most pool tables in the pubs and have almost the same ball size at 1 7/8 inch. Again they come in two flavors, folding or foldaway tables and fixed leg or "domestic" style pool tables. These tables are made for the older children and adults. The folding design of table have 2 types of folding mechanism; metal legs which are the cheapest sort, and again are prone to the dreaded wobble and a new pool table which has a special folding wooden leg design which is less prone to the wobble, but more expensive. The wooden folding leg tables also fold vertically and have castors to wheel the table away after use, a nice extra. (See piccie below) Price range £140 to £350. ($280 to $700)
The biggest size of MDF table is 7 foot There are a few wooden top pool tables in this size, most noticeably the "black cat" from BCE, which is probably the best quality wooden table, you can get and I have seen a folding leg 7 foot table, but you would probably need 3 or 4 people to move it. These are excellent tables with 18mm MDF bed and full size 2 and a quarter inch balls with pockets to match. Price £540 ($1080) These are not so cheap!
Slate Pool Tables
The slate bed pool tables start at 6 foot and are so called because the playing area or "bed" is made from slate. Because of this they are considerably heavier than their wooden or MDF cousins. The typical thickness of slate is ¾ inch for the small tables. And absolutely no wobble here, they are "rock" steady and can be leant on, sat on etc. These small slate bed tables are often referred to as English pool tables as this particular size of table was developed for the English pubs in the 60's and 70's when pool became a popular pub game and every pub had a coin op or coin operated pool table that brought in the customers. And even today there are lots of pubs with pool tables as it is still a very popular game. (The American tables are usually 8 or 9 feet in size in contrast).
The ball size for English 6 and 7 foot tables is 2 inches. Slightly smaller than the standard American pool balls.
Now as you might expect, the slate tables you buy are exactly the same as the tables in the pubs and just as good to play on. Look on the net for a discount to keep the price down. Price range £800 - £2000 ($1600 to $4000)
Now we get to the bigger pool tables for sale in the slate range the 7 foot and above sizes. These are quality pool tables with prices to match. Indeed the English Pool Association which runs the English pool tournaments specifies the 7 foot table as the regulation size for all tournaments in the UK. Price Range £1000-£2200 ($2000 to $4000)
American Pool Tables
These are bigger tables at 8 to 9 foot and the ball size is the full 2 ¼ inch. Now quite often these tables are made from steel with plastic laminate, in fact one of the most popular is called the K-Steel which you can see in Riley's clubs in the UK. The tables are too big for a single piece of slate and typically there are 3 pieces of slate butted up together to form the playing area. Also the slate is thicker at 30 mm or so. Prices from £2,500 to £4000 ($5000 to $8000)
With the two types of pool played, American vs English, the pool cues are slightly different as well. The English pool cues usually have 9 mm tips, whereas the common tip size in American pool is 13 mm to reflect the fact you are cueing larger balls at 2 ¼ inch for the American game. There is also a "jump and break" cue available which is gaining in popularity for the UK game , which has 2 shafts, one for breaking with a larger tip (11 mm) and the other shaft has a smaller tip (8 or 9 mm) for normal play.
Outdoor pool tables
Why not play outside as well? There are tables made either with pressure treated wood or fiberglass and having water resistant cloth that can be kept outside and used to play on when the weather is OK. Some of them can even be converted to an outdoor dining table with benches so you can sit down when having your barbecue. That's my idea of garden furniture. Prices from £1400 to £3500 ($2800 to $7000)
Pool Dining tables
As you might expect, these are indoor pool tables that can be converted to dining tables and provide a happy compromise between a games room and a dining room. So you can invite your friends around for dinner and then clear the table and have a game of pool and a few drinks, sounds very convivial to me. Price Range £3500 to £4500 ($7000 to $9000)
Luxury pool tables
Then there are the Italian made luxury pool tables which are simply gorgeous to look at, hell you'd want one just for the piece of furniture, they look that good. You can even have a custom pool table made to order with English size pockets instead of American for example. These are all slate bed tables and require specialist installation, often having multiple slate pieces. Prices start at £3000 - £6000+ ($6000 to $12000+) Picture below, it's worth a look.
Also don't forget, the tables can be expensive to deliver, especially if you live outside of the mainland UK, like Northern Ireland. The slate bed tables weigh in at 250 kgs for the 6-foot size to 500 kgs for the larger sizes, and usually have to be delivered by specialist companies, the normal couriers won't take them. That puts the price up considerably, typically £70-£100 for the heavy tables.
Used Pool Tables
What about used or second hand pool tables? This can be a great way to get a slate bed table, (do not go for the wooden tables, they are prone to warping after a couple of years). You could buy privately, but you are taking a chance; the rubber cushions and cloth may be worn out. Better go for the reconditioned tables from companies that specialize in doing just that. They put on new rubbers and cloth, and apart from the look of the table you wouldn't know it wasn't new, it will play just like a new table.
Ball Return System
Some pool tables have a ball return system, which collect all the balls after they have been potted. Basically the balls run along a rail after they have been potted then fall into the holding area. (see picture below ) When the game is finished the balls can be released again by pressing a lever and set up for a new game. This is a nice feature to have and even some of the wooden 6 foot tables have this built in. If you want this feature check that the table you are considering has it.