While inexpensive boards are appealing, inferior materials, such as fake slate or cheap felt, and expensive features such as a ball return system, can reduce the lifespan of the surface. The first considerations should be the size of the board.
While most billiard shops list their slates at 7 foot, 8 foot or 9 foot, there are specific measurements that denote the slate type. Surfaces that measure 3.5 feet by 7 feet are barroom sized, while slightly larger surfaces measuring 4 feet by 8 feet are common in homes.
Pool halls typically use boards that measure 4.25 feet by 8.5 feet. Regulation-sized tables used in professional tournaments are larger yet at 4.5 feet by 9 feet.
Consider your room size when deciding on a table, as there must be enough room to accommodate the reach of the billiard cues. Overseas, people want to know whether they should use “American” or “English” for their base pool table size.
The main difference with these terms is board dimensions and equipment sizes. American billiard slates usually employ balls that are 2 1/4″ in size.
There are no official standards for the sport, although 2 1/4″ is typical. English billiard uses 2″ balls.
Also surface sizes differ, with your best challenge on the American table of 4′ x 9′ and the English pool boards are really mini-tables, even diminutive 6-footers. The minis tend to crowd the balls together excessively into little clusters that create frustration when you attempt to pry them apart.
Of course, the pockets on American slates are larger to yield wiggle room for the bigger object balls. The old English pool boards hit the Brit pub scene during the 1960’s.
Lounges were already wall-to-wall with darts players, drinkers, conversationalists and smokers. The sport flourished and there are now British tournaments run by the English Pool Association.
The British also use smaller cue tips of only 8 to 9 millimeters in width for play and up to 11 mm for break cues. Most Americans, however, use 13 mm tips for pool.
As 8-Ball and 9-Ball have grown in popularity in Britain, the bigger American tables have also. You should definitely do your research to decide which size would be best for your personal use.
Commonly known as the felt, the fabric stretched across the billiard surface can be worsted wool or a wool-nylon blend. Worsted wool has no nap or “fuzz” which slows play down, unlike the less expensive wool-nylon blend.
The bed, also called the slate, is the hard surface beneath the felt. While cheaper surface options are available, real slate is the preferred surface.
At each of the four corners and two at the center of the surface, the pockets on a billiard slate can either be self-containing or part of a ball return system. Boards with the return system conveniently gather the billiard balls at the foot of the slate while returning the specially-weighted cue ball to the head.
On the other hand, they increase the board’s initial cost and may require future maintenance. Individual pockets require players to retrieve balls from each of the six pockets; however, pockets that become loose or damaged are easily replaced with minimal expense.
Board rails refer to the raised wood around the slate, or playing area, to which the cushions are attached. Usually manufactured from synthetic or vulcanized rubber, the cushions cause the billiard balls to rebound off the rails to allow for accurately angled shots.
Pool tables come in a variety of designs, from classic to contemporary and plain to ornate, with the latest design option being a completely clear surface that does not incorporate a felt. For a more traditional, yet personalized look, you can order custom designed felt with almost any professional logo or personal design.
Adding free-hanging pockets of netted leather or fringed fabric further enhances the style of a pocket billiard board. The more fancy you get, the more it will cost you, but a quality billiard slate will last you years.
Jack R. Landry has played professional billiards for the last 19 years and written hundreds of articles about billiards and pool tables.
Jack R. Landry