Slate vs Wood Pool Tables: All the differences you need to know

A pool table is essential to every man cave but the without a doubt the biggest decision you need to make is whether to buy a slate or wood table. Underneath the felt of a pool table is the bed, and the composition of this bed will determine everything from how well the table plays, the cost, how long the table lasts and also the weight of the table.

The table bed must be extremely flat so the balls roll straight and true.

What is a slate pool table?

A slate pool table consists of 1 or sometimes 3 pieces of slate (or machined rock) as the bed of the table. Slate can be ground and polished into a perfectly flat surface fairly easily, which is why it is sought after for billiard tables.

The slate usually ranges from 3/4 to 1 inch thick and weighs between 450 and 600 lbs. To make it easier to transport, the slate can be split into three slabs, weighing between 150 to 200 lbs each.

What is a wood pool table?

The wood that is commonly used in wood tables is MDF (Medium-density fibreboard). MDF is a combination of hardwood and softwood fibres that are glued together with a resin. An MDF bed can be machined very easily to the required size and is a lot more cost effective than slate.

How are wood and slate tables made?

Slate table being made:

How to compare Slate and Wood tables

The differences between slate and wood pool tables can be categorized as one of the following:

  1. Cost: How they differ in price
  2. Warping: How a pool table bends
  3. Longevity: How long will each last
  4. Game Play: How each table plays
  5. Weight/Portability: How they differ in weight and portability

1. Cost

Slate is a natural material that is expensive to source and machine into a true flat surface making it expensive compared to MDF. It must first be mined from the ground. Once a piece has been mined, it must then be cost to size and leveled. All of these labor costs as well as high freight costs add to the table price of a slate table. A slate bed table is normally 25% to 50% more expensive than a wood bed table.

2. Warping

The bed of a slate table typically will never bend or warp. The same unfortunately cannot be said for wood (MDF) tables. An MDF will absorb moisture over time. Changes in humidity and temperature will accelerate this process. Wood table warping will only be noticeable after a long period of time, sometimes years. At some point, every wood table will bend to a degree then the ball won’t play true.

3. Longevity

Most manufacturers of slate tables will provide a lifetime warranty. This will not be the case for a wood table. Wood tables will absorb liquid so humidity or spills will cause bumps or waves in the playing surface.

The quality of the frame surrounding the bed also is a major factor for how long a table will last. Slate tables are usually built with higher quality frames. These frames not only support the heavier bed but also add to the overall quality of the table.

Performing “jump shots” or downwards shots will also cause divots on the wood table but not a slate table.

4. Game Play

Wood tables generally play a little “slower” than slate tables. If you are used to playing on slate, you will get a different feeling when playing on wood.

Playing on slate will give you the real deal every time you play. The surface is level, the balls roll true.

All major 8 and 9 ball tournaments are played on a slate table. All players will tell you it feels much better to play on slate.

5. Weight/Portability

Moving a pool table does take some planning, more often than not the table will need to be disassembled to be moved. Depending on their size, some wood tables also need to be disassembled before moving.

Before buying a pool table, consideration as to where the pool table will be located has to be done. It’s pointless buying a table if it won’t fit through the front door. Many slate tables are professionally installed at their destination. The weight of pool table changes depending of the size of the table and the type of bed it has.

Wood pool tables can be easily dismantled, transported and assembled due to their lighter weight. If you don’t like to position your table is in then simply pick it up and move it.

How thick should the slate on a table be?

Typically, slate pool tables are either built using 3/4” slate or 1” slate. One inch slate tables are better if you plan on moving the table around.

1” slate means the ball will roll smoother, have a more consistent bounce while the table won’t move, be easier to level and more durable.

One piece slate vs three piece slate

Pool table installation:

What’s better: one piece slate or three piece slate? Well this all depends on how you use the table.

Many pub and bar owners prefer one piece tables that can be moved around easily. Most other slate tables are manufactured using three pieces of slate. These tables can still be aligned precisely to produce a true and flat table surface. Three piece slate tables are cheaper to produce and transport compared to one piece tables.

Three piece slate tables tend to be at least 1/4″ thicker than one piece tables. These pieces start out as one piece, then cut and matched to provide a perfectly level playing surface.

A three piece slate, leveled properly, will without a doubt give you superior play.

Three piece slate tables are usually made from the same original slate piece, just cut into three pieces. This makes transportation and installation easier and ensures that all three pieces “match” so that they are the same size. Leveling a three piece table is also easier as the installer has multiple sections of the table to adjust.

How to work out if a table is slate without taking it apart

A quick test to work out if a table is slate or wood is to try and pick up one end. If the table can’t be picked up then there is a good chance it is a slate table. If the table can be picked up then it definitely is not a slate table. Be careful not to hurt yourself!

Another way is to look underneath the table. If it is slate, then it will be a gray color and feel like stone.

Slate Alternatives

Because of the cost and weight of slate, a number of bed alternatives are available. Apart from wood (MDF), there are a number of other “composite” materials that are used as a bed of a pool table.

Plasmaslate

Plasmaslate is a very lightweight and resilient option. It is composed of particleboard with plastic sheets layered in the middle. It has a smooth surface like slate and can withstand a great deal of force. The downside is that it doesn’t last as long as slate and is susceptible to damage from water.

Honeycomb

Honeycomb beds are also another cheaper alternative to slate. These lightweight beds consist of a stiff honeycomb material that is sandwiched between to layers of plastic sheeting. The downside of this material is that it is prone to warp or wear over time. Honeycomb beds are sometimes used underneath MDF in order to keep the surface from warping.

Slate vs Slate Core vs Wood Slate

Now things get very messy!

Over the years, pool table terminology has been introduced in order to “muddy” the definition of what a slate table really means.

Some quick definitions will help clear things up:

“Slate” table is what it means… solid rock. Dug from a slate quarry. Slate can be found all over the world but major exporters are Italy, Brazil, India and China. Many would argue that the best slate comes from Italy.

“Slate Core” table is usually wood mixed with concrete. This mixtures provides a sturdier surface than wood.

“Wood Slate” is basically a wood (MDF/Plywood/Particle Board) table and has no real slate rock in it.

What makes a slate pool table so great?

Slate is the only play surface material that can be precision leveled to 1/10,000 of an inch so that the pool balls roll in a straight line on every shot.  If you don’t care if the balls roll straight, then save yourself some money and buy a wood table.

If money is the issue, professionals will always say that it’s better to buy a used slate than a new wood table. Don’t be fooled by the fact that both types of tables will look almost identical.

There are actually a lot of specifications when it comes to tournament pool tables that don’t just concentrate on the type of slate used. 

An enjoyable game of pool requires an extremely level playing surface.

We can recommend some great pool tables on amazon. 

“It’s what’s under the felt that counts!”

Happy buying!