Material Elements of A Custom Cue

Wood

Wood is the most important part of any cue and Paul does everything he can to assure he has the best wood for his cues.  Many of his suppliers are people he has been dealing with since the 1970’s and he knows he can trust. He doesn’t expect to be able to just place an order and get the perfect wood but he knows that with a good dealer he will be able to find the perfect woods are part of what is shipped to him and the rest is just stuff to be gotten rid of.  Shafts are the best example of this.  The best shafts that are gotten out of a log are typically 5%-7% of the log but this isn’t a problem because he isn’t buying the whole log.  His Canadian supplier sells only finished maple products including shaft blanks and they don’t sort for specific customers.  Instead, they select the best logs then saw the log for straight-grained boards, select the sawn boards for the best boards to use for shafts and saw the boards the best way to get the straightest grained shafts then reject the shafts with any problems.  What is left is put through a dowelling machine and sold as billiard cue shaft blanks. Paul orders these in late winter and then sorts through what he receives, typically keeping about 60% to use as shafts.  These get turned smaller once a year and by the time they get to the final stage it is 7 years later and the numbers have been reduced to about 35% of the original order.  This 35% represents the best 5% of the log.  His handles also get a lot of periodic turnings particularly where the tenons protrude. The other woods also go through the once a year process,  Today he has a backlog of wood that is sufficient for the next 5 years without another purchase, That isn’t going to happen because Paul is always on the look out for better  wood.

100 year old wood

Regardless of where logs are cut, they have to get to the mill for processing and as often as is possible, that trip is down rivers or across lakes.  When the country was growing and expanding in the 1800’s, entire forests and states had the trees cut down for lumber.  In the fourth quarter of the 19th century it was Michigan’s turn to be cut and the logs were often floated across the great lakes.  It is estimated that about 10% of these loge became waterlogged and sank to the bottoms of the lakes where they lay for the next 100+ years before being found and brought to the surface by divers who sold the logs to  companies that air dried them and milled them for lumber.  This was possible because the cold fresh water at the bottom of Lake Superior is lacking in oxygen  so the logs didn’t decay. The  wood did change some with the water soluble components mostly dissolced and gone but it ended up  as very useable lumber. On average it is about 5% lighter than new shafts but it might be a little stiffer.  It is darker and has more chatoyance plus it stays straighter.  Paul bought 1,000 board feet of the lumber and processed it for shafts, some of which he still has left.

 Shaft taper

Paul has spent 20+ years arriving at the taper he uses today.  It is, like many others, a modified pro taper, but it is longer than most and is possible because his shafts are as seasoned as they are.  The hit is solid but not stiff and has been very well received by all of his customers. In fact he is frequently asked to make shafts for use on other makers cues.

 Ferrules

Paul uses Aegis II phenolic as his standard ferrule material of choice.  He likes the way it plays as well as the way it looks plus it stays clean and is nearly indestructible.  His number one optional material is Ivory, which has always been the top of the line ferrule material of choice.  It plays great and looks even better, polishing easily and always just a wipe away from being clean.  It is, however, subject to cracking, mostly from temperature change but also abuse as well.  Melamine ferrules tend to have a harder hit than he likes and water buffalo ferrules are prone to cracking and fraying.

 CUE TIPS

Since Paul began playing pool more than 50 years ago, he has been searching for a better tip.  It wasn’t that there weren’t great tips around, it was just that you never could tell, until after you had a tip on for a month, whether it was good or not.  In the late 60’s the Champion tip was the best but not for all games.  Then Le Pro came on the scene and it became the standard for the next 15 vears, but as time passed, quality control seemed to slip and it became harder to get a good Le Pro.  Then the Moor1 tips arrived from Japan and it was a new day.  Laminated tips took over the market and today there are many great tips suited to every player.  Paul has used Talisman PRO tips on almost all of his cues since 2000 and feels they are as good as anything out there and suited to most players games.   For those that want a slightly softer tip, Paul uses Ultra Skin medium tips.

JOINT MATERIALS

Over the years, Paul has tried all the normal joint materials as well as horn, antler and wood and in the end he feels that if it is not metal, a joint should have a phenolic collar at the joint.  It provides strength to the cue at its weakest point.  Paul’s ivory joints are sleeved over phenolic as are all the wood rings he might use in shaft rings.  Paul also fabricates nickel silver joints from rod as well as his nickel silver rings. His metal joints have precisely machined polished holes to allow for compression fitted piloted shafts.

 FINISHES

The purpose of a finish is to protect and show off the wood.  Paul has tried everything he could over the last 50 years and today’s automotive urethane clear coats are head and shoulders above anything that came before. Modern cars are as shiny as they are because of changes to the chemistry and molecular structure of the clear coat. This same chemistry also makes the finish as tough as it is and resistant to pretty much anything you spill on it. This is the material Paul uses for his cues.  Applying the finish to a cue can be done properly in two weeks but a month is better as that allows the curing finish to shrink before it is sanded and polished. It is applied in sets of 3 coats at a time with four or five days between sets and sanding, Three sets is often enough, but in the end it takes as many coats as is required to get a perfect finish.  Occasionally, on a particularly open grained wood, Paul will apply coats of UV cured polyester finish until the pores are filled.  He doesn’t use this for final coats because it doesn’t shine as well as the urethane.

WRAP

On his wrapped cues Paul uses Irish linen, which is tightly wound and pressed with nothing applied to the linen that would interfere with its ability to absorb moisture.  He uses regular cowhide for his leather wraps be it embossed lizard print or any of the other styles. 

 BUMPERS

Unless specifically ordered, Paul installs a bumper on every cue.  The bumper serves three purposes, it protects the butt cap, it absorbs the shock generated when the cue strikes the cue ball, and it behaves like a muffler, deadening the sound.  Depending on the style of cue he either uses a plug in bumper or a screw in type.