New players to the game of pool and billiards often wonder, how do I choose a cue stick? What kind should I use? What’s a good weight? Do I need my own stick? Are bar sticks any good? How do I tell what’s good or bad? Too many questions!
In my humble opinion, for the beginning pool player, the stick is not the most essential thing to worry about. It’s much more important to develop your smooth stroke and aiming technique at this stage of the game.
As long as you have a stick that is straight and has a decent tip on it, you are ready to play some pool. I have played with bar sticks for years and have beaten many players that came in with fancy pool cues. The talent is not in the pool cue. The talent and shooting ability resides in the player who wants to play well and takes the game seriously. Speciality cues, like pool jump cues can be purchased separately.
That being said, let’s get into some discussion abut what DOES make for a good pool cue. For diagrams of pool cue construction and more in-depth descriptions about the various parts of the pool cue, see this page.
Bar and Pool Hall Sticks
A decent one-piece bar cue is fine for learning the game. Cue sticks come in different weights, with 18 to 21 ounces being the weights you will most often see. I prefer a 19 ounce stick, but you should try all the different weights you can to make up your own mind about what feels good in your hands.
Some people prefer a heavy stick while others like them light. Whatever feels the best to you is what you should use. You may not always find your preferred weight of stick in a bar or pool hall, which is one good reason to buy your own stick.
As mentioned earlier, as long as the stick is straight, has a smooth shaft, and a decent tip, it’s fine to learn on. To check for straightness, lay the stick on the table and watch the shaft as you roll it around a little bit. A crooked stick will be very obvious when you do this.
The tip on the stick should be a dome shape and not totally flattened out. This will allow you to hit the cue ball at all angles without miscuing. It’s best if the tip is kind of roughed up also. The tip chalk will adhere to the tip better and give you more “bite” on the cue ball. Take a quick look at the ferrule and make sure it isn’t cracked.
Finally, grab the cue stick at the shaft and check out how easily it slides through your fingers. You don’t want any burrs or rough spots on the shaft that will interrupt the smooth slide of your stroke.
It’s very important that the stick glides effortlessly through your bridge hand during a shot. I like to use hand chalk to insure a smooth friction-less stroke.
Your Own Stick
After you get some playing time under your belt and you start to get the feel for the game, you may want to get your own pool cue. You can pay all kinds of money for a custom cue, but decent ones can be acquired from say $30 to $40 and up. Some may say that you can’t get a good pool cue for less than $200. It’s a personal preference.
One of the largest advantages to owning your own pool cue is that it will give your stroke more consistency. When you use the same stick all the time, your body gets conditioned to how it feels and how it reacts during the different shots you will take. This is a real advantage to giving your whole game more consistency as well.
If I had to name one part of my game that I would like to improve the most, it is my consistency. After a while, you know how to make the shots. Whether you make them often or not depends on your consistency. Here’s a tip – more practice = more consistency.
The definition of a good custom or production two-piece cue stick is similar to that of a good bar stick – straight, smooth shaft, a properly shaped and maintained cue tip, and the correct weight for your style. Fancier cues have several advantages over one-piece sticks, which I will now explain.
If you plan to use your stick at different locations to play pool, it is impractical to have a long one-piece cue to carry around. The two or more piece cue breaks down into smaller sections that you can put in your cue case for easier transport. Yes, you should have a cue case by the way to protect your cue stick.
Your own cue is far less likely to have dings and scratches on it than a bar cue will. Since you keep it protected and treat it well, it will stay straighter longer and the shaft should stay nice and smooth. You would do well to invest in one of the tools made for roughening up the cue tip. This will greatly increase your ability to finesse the cue ball and avoid miscues.
Speaking of the tip, there are various degrees of hardness available in cue tips. Players who rely on finesse may prefer a softer tip for more feel on the cue ball, while a break stick may have a harder tip to better withstand the abuse of repeatedly smashing the balls at the break. Ferrules, which the cue tip attaches to, are made of different materials as well, depending on user preference.
A production cue will often have what is called the wrap, which is a leather or linen wrap around the butt of the cue where your hand grabs it. This provides for a better grip and also prevents oils and dirt from the hands from staining and fouling the wood of the shaft.
The joint where the the sections of the pool cue screw together can be made of different materials, depending on the preference of the shooter for the feel of the stick. Steel, brass, assorted plastics, and even just the wood can be used at the joints to get the feel of the stick to be just as the shooter prefers. Of course this is probably beyond the needs of the average beginner pool shooter, but it just shows you what is possible as you progress in your game.
Probably the biggest difference in a custom or production cue compared to a bar cue is the appearance. This is where the cue maker’s art comes into play and where the beauty of a custom cue is very evident. The various inlays of exotic woods, semi-precious stones, different metals, abalone, and other materials all combine to make some cue sticks genuine works of art. A cheaper cue may just be painted, but even some of these can be very attractive.
I am always amazed at the variety of designs available on something as simple as a cue stick. You can spend a lot of money on custom cues if you are so inclined. There is a whole subculture of pool cue collectors who wouldn’t even think of playing a game with their precious, expensive cue sticks.
As long as you have a stick with the proper basics in place, you should be able to play good pool with it. Better workmanship and materials will bring you some measure of improved playability, but they are largely a matter of personal taste. In my opinion, as long as you’re willing to put the time in to practice and perfect your game, your choice of stick is not all that important.