This will be a dual post on the topic of cue-care and shaft maintenance. Mike S has offered his opinions and following those I will add my thoughts.
Hustler walks over to the broom closet to pick out a twig to smack the balls with. The old saying any one off the wall will do. HAHA that’s far from the truth now. What really is inside of that wood plank we protect with our lives and will reach out and fly to the floor clamoring to try to protect our baby from a ding or knick. I know I have been the weird guy walking into work in the dead of winter or crazy heat of the summer with my cue case getting that, “What’s that?” look. Some like maple, some love ebony, others pick any $100-200 colorful option at the local cue shop, or I even know a league player that uses a $40 Budweiser promo cue. What’s the perfect combination for you? (This could be a very a long conversation because shafts, standard maple or low deflection, haven’t even been mentioned. The reason this blog post is being written because cue maintenance seems to be a secret or underground process of taking care of easy things like getting a tip replaced, changing the wrap from linen to leather, fixing a shattered butt-cap or designing a cue from the ground up. We know who to call and will gladly share that information with you.)
Have you ever been down on the last ball to win your match and the shaft of your cue seems to be ungodly sticky or gummy. There is a reason for that. In my experiences so far 90-95% of cues off the shelf have a coating sprayed on them to seal the wood of the shaft for a longer shelf life. This coating protects the wood from moisture and the outside elements but it also collects the dirt and grime from chalk and your hands. NO matter how many times you wipe it down or wash your hands this feeling won’t go away. In the heat of battle this stickiness intensifies tenfold and then comes the baby powder and FUCKING GLOVES. (I hate gloves, I will gladly play just about anybody $20 against their glove) BUT, for a minimal cost, this coating can be sanded off and the wood resealed to a wonderful smooth as silk feeling you will fall in love with and become a more frequent visitor of the local cue makers we have in St. Louis, MO to keep your shaft ding-free and playing great. Another point to be made about cues off the shelf either made here in the USA or abroad the tip that comes on them is a piece of shit, usually. Again this is a simple $12-40 upgrade. Right now I’m playing with a Zan tip from Japan, medium density. It is a 8 layer tip and I really like how it plays and the funk it can put on the ball amazes me sometimes. A quick shout out to Sharik Sayed for the access to these tips from his sponsorship and Dan Otto for hooking me up with the tip. Layered tips are here to stay, some of the most popular are Kamui, Talisman, Moori, Onyx, Tiger, or Sniper. I have tried about half of these very popular brands and they are available in different hardness’s. A layer tip is comprised of the best of the best of the pig hides laminated together and when shaved to a curve allows for a nice amount of surface area for gripping the cue ball and chalk to adhere to. My favorite part about playing with a layered tip is the minimal maintenance or no maintenance at all. All that is needed is a liberal application of chalk and don’t break with it hard. Tip picks or tapping the tip with an abrasive tip tool is a no no and for a good reason. The layers are glued together and scuffing or picking these layers apart drastically shortens the life of the tip or can completely compromise the tip. Mushrooming of the tip is well-known from the tip being hit at a hard pace often and the only thing the leather can do is get out of the way and go to the sides, this I have not experienced with a layered tip in about 6 years, but that’s just me. The local cue makers here in St. Louis have their preferences but usually have more then 2-3 options at a time that you can try on a cue not just look at. Asking never hurt anybody. Which leads me right to the elephant in the room.
How does the shaft feel in your hands? Does it feel a little too big for your hands, meaning you can’t comfortably apply a closed bridge because of the diameter of the shaft? Or do you love how your playing cue feels but the new or old break cue you have is like a red-headed step child and completely uncomfortable. Let’s fix that. Again for a minimal charge, starting around $15 the diameter and taper of the shaft can be adjusted to your liking My fellow teammate and long time league player just mentioned to me a few days ago after an initial adjustment that her break cue just wasn’t feeling like her playing cue and she switched back to breaking with her playing cue. This is death to a $35 tip. I recommended she give our buddy a call and make a plan to take her playing shaft with her to have the shaft measured and the dimensions replicated on the break shaft. These small changes are quick fixes and in a few days your investment is starting to feel more of an extension of your body then just a pool cue.
Also a quick note about break cues, the Samsara break tip hits like a ton of bricks. You might have an extra cue or recently upgraded your playing cue and adding one of these very hard break tips can save a little bit of money in the short term but also help decide if investing in a dedicated break cue is a necessity. New players are quick to drop a hundred bucks on an Action or Players jump/break cue usually with a phenolic ferrule and tip and are quick to find out they are harder to control then they seem. It’s very true but in my experience with the Samsara an 80% solid hit on the cue ball is more controllable and the ball flies off the table less frequently. At this point you might have one of these cues in your bag, but don’t worry the “tip” or rounded nub on the end can be flattened on the lathe and one of these wonderful break tips can be installed. I think they are around $25.
The cue that I play with has seen better days but I love it and I plan on buying another from the same cue maker. I love my cue because of how it feels when I strike the cue ball, the extra length of the shaft, ivory ferrule, and the magical Zan tip. This combination right now really leaves me with me a huge smile on my face when all is going well on the pool table. And when it’s not I for surely know it’s not my equipment that is fucking up. The cue that you play with is your choice and what it looks like doesn’t matter, how it plays and the control that can be applied to the cue ball is far more game changing. Take a look at your equipment and assess where you stand with your game and if making one of these small adjustments could make a huge difference for you.
On that I will leave you with the contact info of the three best local cue makers in no particular order and how weird is it they all start with the letter J.
And here are my thoughts on the matter:
In addition to having your shaft professionally maintained, it’s important that you do your part in keeping the shaft in good shape between services. I have tried a variety of methods for this, including cue wax, shaft slickers, sandpaper, brown paperbags, dollar bills, magic erasers, strips of leather, alcohol wipes and q-whiz products.
All of them serve a purpose and most of them will do about the same quality of job. However, each of them have side effects you might not be aware of. The sandpaper, q-whiz and shaft slicker (which includes those plaid little sleeves with what feels like velcro inside, and those green-pads generally used for cleaning pots and pans) products do a great job at removing the outer layer of grease, funk, chalk, oil and other dirts from the shaft. However, the price you pay is that you are actually sanding off the outer layer of your shaft. So, in time you will shave your shaft down to 8mm (on a long enough timeline). These products are some of the most common out there, so it’s no surprise that people often complain about the size of new shaft. By the time they need one, they’ve sanded off a few millimeters so they’re used to a 12 or 11.5mm shaft and a brand new 13mm shaft feels like a baseball bat at that point.
Magic Erasers and alcohol cleaning products do a good job of removing the dirt while not sanding away at the shaft; but they introduce risk by way wetting the shaft, allowing the pores in the wood to open up enough to release the dirt particles. If done in moderation and in a controlled manner this isn’t too dangerous. Also, this type of cleaning sets up a great base for the next type of protection: burnishers.
Leather strips, cue wax, dollar bills, paper bags and the leather side of q-whizs are all about sealing the shaft after it’s been cleaned. Cue wax works just like car wax (in fact, a lot of people use Turtle Car Wax on their shafts); rub it on a clean shaft, uniformly, allow it to “set”, then buff it off. The Q-whiz simplifies this by essentially combining the waxing and buffing into one step by having a wax-coated leather facing, which you then use to buff the shaft (as if you were cleaning it with a green pad). The friction melts the wax just enough to allow it to transfer to the wood, while the leather beneath acts as the buffer and essentially seals the wax around the shaft. Simpler methods of burnishing the shaft which just heat the existing outer layer of whatever is there would be the leather strip, dollar bill and/or paper bag. All of them create heat through friction, the motion then redistributes the oils/particles and then seals the outer layer. These methods don’t do much of anything for “cleaning” the shaft so much as just making it smooth feeling again. Though the natural texture of the leather strip will naturally pull out some of the oils much better than any paper-based product.
There is one more method and it is quite possibly the simplest and most effective I know of: The damp paper towel. In the middle of any set there’s a point during which you might use the restroom either for natural need or for a mental reset – and you will most always wash your hands. Instead of tossing that damp collection of paper towels into the trash can, bring it back to the table and wrap it around the shaft as uniformly as possible. Then with a tight grip, in one smooth motion, wipe from the ferrule down to the joint. Turn the cue 1/4 turn and reset the paper towel to a “clean” part and repeat. You will see just how much chalk your shaft has picked up since the last time you wiped it down; instant results. This method both cleans and smooths the shaft immediately AND poses no threat to the integrity of the shaft as there’s not enough moisture to open the wood pores, and not enough heat to warp the fibers and there’s not enough friction to remove the outer layer.
I use the last method at least once per session (sometimes twice in dirtier or humid conditions). You can also, should you like, use the burnisher-side of a q-whiz after this wipe-down to help keep chalk out of the shaft and prolong that silky-smooth feeling.
And there’s my 50 cents on shaft maintenance. What about the ferrule you say? The magic eraser is the best at cleaning the chalk off of those, in my experience.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions and criticisms on the subject, if you have any.