How to Care For Your Pool Cue
Now that you’ve purchased your very own pool cue, and hopefully followed some of the advice from earlier articles before doing so, you’re going to want to take care of your investment. A good cue is relatively durable and forgiving, but all cues require care and a little bit of maintenance. We’re going to be talking about wood pool cues here, graphite and fibreglass sticks are virtually bulletproof and require somewhat less care.
Cases. You are going to need a case in order to carry your new cue to the pool hall. I would think that would be obvious but yet I constantly see people coming in carrying their new cue in their hand. Come on now, you just spent your money and took the time picking out a pool cue that you love, but you can’t spring for some sort of case? Basic cases are vinyl or soft-sided material. These will protect your cue against minor drops and dings, but not much else. I highly recommend hard cases just because they offer so much protection. Some cases are tested by driving a car over them without damaging the cue inside! Your pool cue can take a lot of damage in your car, in your house, and even at your billiard hall so protect it as best as you can.
While we’re on the subject of transporting your cue – never leave your pool cue in your car, especially in the trunk! Wood is highly susceptible to temperature changes and to humidity, so avoid storing your billiard stick in your vehicle at all cost. The wood will expand and contract which could lead to warping, loose joints, and cracked points.
The Tip. The tip of your pool cue (the part that hits the ball) is the most important part of the stick. You can shoot pool with a tree branch or a broom handle – or the most warped stick in the house, if the tip is solid and properly shaped you can play with it! No joking! Screw- on tips are a serious no-no, so don’t even go there. “Real” tips are glued on and come in a variety of hardness. Soft tips hold chalk better and are better for applying “English” but they wear out and mushroom quickly. Extremely hard tips last forever but need constant re-chalking. Some say they make for a more accurate shot as well. A medium hardness tip should be fine for most players. The tip must be able to hold chalk, so periodic scuffing is necessary. The roundness of the tip should be maintained with a shaper. Most players compare the roundness to that of a nickel, though some prefer the tightness of a “dime curve”. Shaping and scuffing too often will cause your tip to disappear quickly, so only shape and scuff when necessary. The sides of the tip should be even with the ferrule, not mushroomed out. Get yourself a scuffer/shaper and take care of that tip!
The Shaft. When you first purchased your pool cue the shaft was nice and smooth, and slid through your bridge hand ever-so-easily. That didn’t last long, did it? The sweat, oils, and dirt from your hand will gum up on your shaft very quickly, making it sticky and not so smooth. How do you prevent this, and how do you clean it up? First, you cannot do much to prevent this from happening aside from washing your hands often and keeping them clean and dry. Some people use powder, like baby powder, on their bridge hand and on the cue. A tiny amount of powder that has been thoroughly rubbed in to your hand is okay – it makes your skin softer, but powder should never be used as a lubricant. Wash your hands! Powder will cause your pool cue shaft to gum up more quickly, and powder ruins the felt on the pool table. Nothing looks worse or plays worse than clean green felt with white baby powder all over it because some idiot thought that they had to dump powder all over themselves in order to shoot better! It just ain’t so – so don’t do it. It is bad for your cue and bad for the table. Have some respect, huh?
Wiping the shaft of your pool cue down with a soft cloth in the course of play will limit the amount of crud that builds up on it. Not eating or drinking with your bridge hand is a good habit to get in to as well. Using a very light leather burnishing pad occasionally is a good idea. In time however, the pores in the wood of the shaft will become completely crammed full of dirt and oils and it will need a thorough cleaning. I’m going to tell you how I do it, just remember that if you screw up you could ruin your cue. Forever. The first step is to completely wipe down the shaft (not the ferrule) with a soft cloth and some rubbing alcohol. You don’t want to soak the wood with it, use just enough to clean the wood. Continue wiping with alcohol until you don’t see dirt on the cloth. The alcohol removes the dirt and oil from the wood and opens the pores of the wood. Now you want to just let it sit and dry for several hours. Now it’s time for wax! That’s right, I said wax. You need to use 100% carnauba wax for this. Car wax is fine, as long as it is 100% carnauba wax. Just like waxing a car, apply a coat of wax with a soft cloth or applicator and let it dry to a haze. You cannot let it dry too long, just let it sit awhile and have some patience. Once the wax has dried thoroughly you’ll want to wipe it off – and immediately start working the shaft with a leather burnishing pad (or a plain piece of thick leather if you don’t have a burnisher – which you should have anyway). Wrap the leather around the shaft and stoke it up and down as fast as you can (yes, it sounds dirty). The more you rub and the faster you rub the hotter the wax will become, which allows it to work into the pores of the wood. When you are finished you will have a beautiful, smooth shaft once again – but you’re not finished just yet! You are going to need to run through all of the steps again, except for the alcohol part. Apply more wax, let it dry, rub the heck out of it, repeat until you have at least 3-4 layers of wax thoroughly worked into the wood. Now take care of the tip and go shoot some pool!
The Butt. The butt of your pool cue shouldn’t need much maintenance at all. Keep it clean and wipe it down with a soft cloth during and after play. Don’t hit things with it and don’t drop (or throw) it on the floor. The joints will loosen up, the wood will crack, and parts will separate if you do. Then you’ll have to buy a whole new cue.
“Dings” in the Shaft. Nothing is more annoying than working your pool cue through your bridge and feeling little “dings” in the wood. As hard as we try to take care of our pool cues these little dents always seem to show up – as if by magic. Here is a method I learned that will remove small imperfections from your pool stick’s shaft. First, you need to wipe the shaft down with rubbing alcohol just like in the paragraph on cleaning the shaft. This will open the pores of the wood. Next, find a spot where you can place the shaft where it will not roll, and where it won’t get bumped. Lay the shaft (horizontally) down with the dings that you want to remove facing up. Now, soak a very small piece of tissue with water and roll it into a ball (think miniature spitball) and place the tissue ball directly on the indented spot on the shaft. It is important that the tissue ball not be larger than the actual indent on the shaft. Let that set until it dries completely – what happens is that the wood in that one tiny area absorbs the water from the tissue and swells, bringing that spot level with the surrounding wood. In a perfect world the “ding” will have disappeared, but what usually happens is that the “ding” becomes a small “bump” – which is fine because bumps can be worked out with a burnishing pad fairly easily. Once you have all of your “dings” up to level or slightly above level it is time to wax the shaft. Follow the instructions above for the proper method to do this. Of course another way to remove dings and dents from your pool cue would be to take it to a professional, but where’s the fun in that?
NEVER USE ABRASIVES. Ever. Period. That means no sandpaper, no scouring pads, no wet/dry paper, nothing. If it was designed to remove wood than keep it far away from your pool cue! You never want to remove a layer of wood just to make it smooth – you want to clean the existing wood to maintain the shape, balance, and feel of the cue.
Your pool cue represents an investment on your part, so keeping it clean and in good condition will make it last a lifetime – now that’s a lot of pool playing!
After prolonged use of a cue, it inevitably loses its perfect smoothness, shape, cleanliness, and feel. Tips usually start to mushroom if they are soft and they start to hold less chalk. Ferrules become the “blue-ring” infested house cues in pool halls and bars. Shafts develop a distinguished blue tint and aren’t as smooth as when they were new. The glossy and shiny parts of the cue become dull, oily, and full of fingerprints. Wraps develop scents of smoke and sweat, and may even start to disentangle and come loose. The butts of cues may start to rattle and the bumpers on the end may be absent.
Various tools are used to maintain the domed shape of the tip and its rough texture, enabling enough chalk to be held on the surface. First trim the edges of the mushrooming excess leather that is over the diameter of the ferrule with a knife, razor, or specially designed tool. If a tip is left mushroomed, the shots will be less consistent and may lead to more miscues and scratches. Also, imparting spin on the ball is less accurate as opposed to a well-maintained tip. Then reshape with tip shapers (such as Williards Tip Shaper, ATROX tool, sandpaper, or other tools) which reshape the tip to look like the preferred curvature. Finally, use a rougher sandpaper, a tip scuffer, and/or tip pick to roughen and perforate the tip, respectively. Scuffers and sandpaper are known to reduce tip size over time if used too liberally (periodically). That is the reason tip picks were designed; they poke holes into the tip so that there are perforations for chalk to be embedded into. This serves the same purpose in allowing more chalk to be held on the tip. Though these tools are useful, it is not recommended to use them too often. Usually one wants to “tune-up” the tip after it has started to mushroom, or poor performance is noticed, or before an important game such as a tournament. Using tip tools too much decreases the lifetime of the tip. Chalk is naturally abrasive to the tip and if chalked periodically (every turn), it should keep the tip rough enough. Tips should be replaced before its side wears down to not less than 1 mm from the ferrule. Using a tip thinner than this risks damaging the ferrule, a potentially more expensive repair than a new tip. A replacement tip generally costs from 25 cents to $25, excluding an installation service charge, which usually costs $10 or less.
Next item down is the ferrule. If one looks around at most house cues in pool halls and bars, one will notice distinguished blue rings around the ferrule (if the chalk used is blue). This is because of poor chalking technique. Many beginners tend to chalk their cues too hard and in a circular motion. In general this would be ok, but the problem is they do not know when to use a new chalk. Chalk should be replaced when it has a hole that is relatively deep. When people use chalk that has a large hole in it and rotate the chalk in a circular motion, it makes the ring around the ferrule. This ring is usually hard to get rid of unless taken care of early. Different chalks have different stain factors and powdery breakdown that can determine how hard it is to remove the stain. For light stains, one can quickly wipe it away with the fingers or a tissue; it is best to refrain from using damp products near a cue because if moisture gets into the wood it can ruin it due to the expansion and contraction of the water. Certain cleaning products can also be used to clean the stain, but it is best to prevent the stain in the first place. When chalking, one should do a light circular motion as well as scraping the whole chalk cube across points that are not covered well with chalk. Done correctly over a substantial time, the chalk has a shallow hole and is relatively flat. This is because one is chalking lightly and not grinding the chalk into the tip, as well as scraping, so that even if there were high walls around the deep hole, they would wear down after some time.
A heavy chalker will usually also have a blue tint shaft (from blue chalk, other colors for other colored chalk). Exceptionally powdery or stainable chalks trickle down from the tip down to the shaft and as one strokes, one spreads the chalk on the shaft and stain it over time. This cannot be helped in some places where it is dirty and players place chalk incorrectly on the table, thus getting it on the hands and table cloth even more. After chalking the cue, one should place the chalk facing up so that the process of putting the chalk down does not fling powdered chalk onto the table, thus lessening the amount that gets on the hands and subsequently on the cue, or put it in a pouch (snooker players). Good chalk etiquette also lessens chalk on the table cloth, which can damage the cloth over time by the balls rolling and carrying chalk with it as it rolls and cuts microfibers in the cloth, eventually giving it a fuzzy feel. Basically it will prolong the life of the pool table as well. To clean the shaft after it has been stained, use a very slightly damp cloth/tissue and wipe it down and then dry it right away. That should remove surface stains, but if the stains have gone without care for a long time, one may need to use very fine sandpaper and/or steel wool, or even a toned down (household)vinegar solution. This will actually remove a tiny layer on the shaft and get rid of the stain, but it will also open up the pores in the wood of the shaft to be more susceptible to future staining or damage, which is why one should burnish the wood to close up the pores. This is a home remedy, and is not as good as a professional cleanup on a cue lathe. These methods are also good for regaining the smoothness lost from dirty hands, chalk, and dirt buildup on the shaft. Another way to keep the shaft clean is to keep the hands clean by washing them frequently, since hands usually get sweaty after playing for a long period of time. Some players like to bring a towel with them to tournaments, allowing for them to wipe their hands as well as wipe down their cue; tissues and napkins work just as well if they are clean. One might even bring two small towels: one wet, the other dry.
A cue’s joint sometimes is not perfectly sealed and can get moisture in the wood if it is exposed. In humid areas with large temperature changes, this might ruin the joints and thus the cue itself. To protect the joints, one can purchase a cue case or joint protectors that cover the joints for added protection. Joints are also a frequent place where grease is attracted, especially in brass versions. To remove this grease, fine wool wire can be used (grade 0-0), or simply Brasso(tm). A bit of graphite (pencil) is put on the male end, to prevent any loud squeeks.
The butt end of the cue requires the least amount of maintenance because players do not touch it much outside the wrap. A quick wipedown with a slightly damp cloth on the areas with a wood finish (not the wrap) followed by a dry wipedown should get rid of any dirt, oil, and fingerprints. Using a bit of linseed oil prevents it from becoming brittle. The wrap may smell or become loose. The smell is from wherever one plays as well as sweaty or dirty hands. Although it cannot be washed, it can be replaced. As with the other maintenance issues, prevention is better than replacement of a cue part. Certain materials for the wrap fare better than others. For instance, Irish Linen will not loosen like other wrap materials because it gets stronger as it gets wet.
Rattling butts are normally due to bad construction (the joint, or a crack in the butt end, or a new tip) and there is nothing can be done about it besides live with it or buy a new cue. It should not affect game play except psychologically.
Preventing the loss of bumper is easy; do not play around with them and they should not come loose. If a bumper does become loose, tighten it up again, possibly using a screwdriver.
Cue Care in General
To minimize the risk of warping, a cue stick should not be leaned on its tip against anything, and it should be kept in a place that varies little in temperature. Normally, a cue is kept in a soft or hard cue case for easy transport and protection from moisture, the elements, and sudden temperature changes. An abrasive sandpaper should not be used on a cue with a protective finish, as this will scratch or remove it.