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It's not inconceivable that you'll eventually buy a cue stick that costs several hundred dollars. That's a pretty substantial investment. Like all investments, you'll want to take measures to protect it and retain its value.
The easiest way to protect your cue is to keep it in a sturdy case. Assuming you buy a two-piece cue, take it apart as soon as you finish playing and store it in your cue case. Whether you have a two-piece cue or several one-piece cues, remember, the cue stick is wood - and wood warps. Careless handing of your cues is the fastest way to ruin them. Don't ever leave your cue leaning against a wall for extended periods. Keep your cues in a case or in a cue rack. Also, don't store cues in places that are subject to temperature extremes - like the trunk of your car, your garage, or near a window.
Aside from those fairly basic rules, your cue requires very little maintenance. Only two areas of your cue need more than passing attention: the shaft and the tip. The shaft of the cue tends to acquire a sticky buildup over time. It can even get a tad on the unsightly side. To remedy the situation, you can wipe the cue down with a damp cloth. Just remember to dry the stick off immediately. Another way to return the shaft to a slick, smooth surface is to fold a hundred-dollar bill in half, wrap it around the shaft, and slide the bill up and down. The bill will clean off some of the grime and tends to give the shaft a slick, polished feel. (Okay, in reality, the denomination of the bill makes no difference. But, psychologically, bigger bills do seem to add greater luster to the shaft!) If the shaft is particularly sticky or dirty, a last resort - but be very careful here - is to gently stroke the shaft with a very fine grade sandpaper (400 or 600). Never allow the paper to touch the ivory ferrule that separates the wood shaft from the cue tip. It scratches very easily. And don't stroke so hard that you reduce the diameter of the shaft. You'll wind up with a pencil in your hands!
The part of your cue that will require the most attention is the tip. A seemingly harmless little chunk of leather, the tip may just be the most important element (functionally) of the $250 cue you just bought. All of the glitzy ornamentation in the world won't save your game if you try to play it with an inferior cue tip. The cue ball responds to the tip, and nothing else.
How important is the tip? Anytime you hit the cue ball off-center, the tip must grab that cue ball and impart on it the spin you desire. A bad tip - one that is flat, too round, too worn, or too smooth - will cause a miscue. (A miscue occurs when there is no friction between the tip and cue ball. The tip simply slides off the cue ball.)
A good leather cue tip should be somewhat rough. The roughness allows the tip to hold chalk, which in turn is what causes friction with the cue ball. In essence, the tip grabs the cue ball for an instant, allowing the desired spin to be transferred to the cue ball.
It's important to realize that the tip on your new cue probably has not been shaped properly. It will be free of chalk and will look a bit flat. That's normal. But don't chalk up just yet! You have to shape your tip.
What you are searching for when shaping your tip is a curve similar to that of a nickel. To achieve this, file down the edge of the tip with 200 or 400-grade sandpaper. As always, be careful not to allow the sandpaper (or file) to touch the ivory ferrule. The edge of the tip should not hang over at all. By the same token, don't make the tip too round-like the head of a bullet. A tip that's too round will glance right off the cue ball.
Once you've shaped your new tip, scuff up the top of the tip with a coarser sandpaper (60-grade) or a rasp (a piece of metal with indentations). Again, this is to create tiny pores so the tip will hold chalk. Most billiard supply stores stock what we call "tip tappers" or "scuffers." They're small metal rasps made especially for cue tips.
Your new tip will likely have to be reshaped after a month or so of play. The natural compression the tip endures from striking the cue ball causes it to lose its shape. If you have a good, hard tip, you should only have to reshape it that one time. After that, it should last for quite a while. If you find that your tip is losing its shape too frequently, you may have a soft tip. Most pros prefer hard tips. If you'd rather have a hard tip, take your cue to a qualified cue repairman and have him change it.
Now that you've spent all that effort shaping your tip just so, make sure you chalk it properly.
I've seen countless beginners and amateurs walk into a poolroom and grab a house cue. If it has a super-round, glass-smooth tip, they think it's great. Then they go to the table and search out the piece of chalk that has a nice, deep groove in it. If it fits over the tip of the cue like a hat. Stop right there!
For starters, we already know that a tip that is too round isn't good. Also, if the tip is so smooth that it won't accept any new chalk, you need to scuff it up. Finally, that worn-out piece of chalk won't do anything except put an ugly, blue ring around your ferrule!
When chalking your cue, remember that you want a nice, even surface of chalk. The chalk should be granular, not cakey. New chalk tends to be too hard. The best piece of chalk is usually one that's just partially used.
The proper way to chalk your cue is to gently brush it onto the tip. Don't chalk from side to side. Don't spin the tip into the chalk. With your left hand, hold the cue just beneath the ferrule. With your right hand, hold the chalk at a slight angle and brush it against the tip. And don't chalk while looking at the table or in another direction. Keep your eyes on the tip to make sure the entire tip is holding chalk.
As with the sandpaper, try not to touch your ferrule with the chalk. If you develop a ring around the ferrule, you're not chalking properly.
- From "Steve Mizerak's Complete Book of Pool," by Steve Mizerak and Michael E. Panozzo
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