September Issue 2002

Q:

I am a bar owner in Washington and just put in 3 new tables. After about 4-5 months I noticed the rails are spongy. I asked the person who supplied the tables about it and was told that it didn't really matter on a bank shot, is this true? Why are the rails spongy and what can I do about it? I don't play pool myself and I've seen your columns in On the Break, can you help?

A:

For this question I go back to a previous article, worth repeating! This is a subject that really gets my dander up. Bad rails are bad rails. "Doesn't matter on a bank shot"? When does it matter then, I ask? I do not know whom you bought the tables from but he is flat wrong or lying. Why would the industry put so much time and effort in hyping their particular rubber, i.e., Superspeed, AccuFast, etc. Lately I have spent more time and money replacing worn or bad rubber than I care to admit. Last month at the BCA trade show I brought up this problem with several suppliers. The only thing I can say now is that it appears there are improvements on the way.

But, I regress. For your problem, there are a couple of things to examine:
1. You say the tables are new. If they are new they should have rubber that is not spongy. Have you had the tables recovered recently? Some "clever" technicians will swap your rails for a set they have previously recovered in their shop. This sounds great, saves time on the job, but your brand new tables could have 20-year-old rubber on them. If you haven't recovered recently insist that good rubber be put on the table. If they have been recovered, quiz your tech and insist he either finds your rails or replaces the rubber and NEVER swaps them again. He can be replaced! There are techs out there like myself who will do your rails on site and it is worth the extra time.

2. Did you really mean "new" tables, or could they be older than 5-6 years? As I said above, I have recently been replacing a lot of rubber that isn't much older than that, especially Valley and Dynamo tables (coincidentally, the easiest to swap rails on). This should not be the case. I have an antique Brunswick from 1910 that still has the original rubber AND it is still in good playing shape. This does not mean every set of rubber should last 100 years. There are different qualities of rubber like anything else. There are other factors like how well the table is cared for, storage conditions and how knowledgeable technicians are in recovering the table. Glue should never touch your rail rubber. Some people use backed cloth and have to remove the backing when doing the rails, leaving a film of glue which melts the rubber causing them to get gummy and crystallize.

Bottom line is that if the rubber was good when you got the table, it should not have gone bad that quickly. My guess is a technician foul up. I hope this helps and if you need further help please feel free to call or e-mail us: playpool@leohancockbilliards.com phone/fax - 253-638-0008




October Issue 2002

Q:

A lady in southern Oregon writes that she had bought a pool table years ago that didn't look so great but the playing surface was in excellent shape. She said she got the table really cheap. Now she has a crack in the slate. She's wondering what if anything can be done for the table.

A:

You can fix most slates. How depends on the type of crack. You will be working with either super glue or bondo and you will have to work fast. These products need to be used in a well-ventilated area as well. Also, any jagged pieces of slate can be very sharp. Take my word on it! Be careful not to cut yourself.

For this, I am assuming that you have a single piece slate or unbacked three piece.
1. If the crack is not all the way through the slate, simply ooze some type of super glue (liquid, not gel) down into the crack until it is completely filled and let it set. Use a razor blade or sand paper to remove any residue.

2. If the crack has gone all the way through and you actually have more than one piece you will have to get the slate on a flat surface. I have the luxury of putting it on top of another slate. Put wax paper under the area to be glued. Set the slate pieces tight together and ooze the super glue down the crack as above. Make sure they are as tight as they can go and use a pipe clamp to hold them together if you can. Remove residue as above.

3. If the crack is angled through the slate somewhat horizontally, you want to really make sure the whole area is covered with glue. Let it seep in good and then put some kind of weight on it from above.

4. If you actually have chunks or small pieces that have come off the top of the slate you can glue these into place if they have clean edges. If they don't, or the pieces are missing it is time to get some bondo, the kind you fix car bodies with. Use the bondo according to directions and work fast. Fill in the missing areas and let dry. Sand to smooth.

If you have a three-piece slate with or without wood backing you are probably going to need the help of a reliable tech in your area. The slates will have to be re-leveled and set and that is something you should have done by a professional. A wood backed slate may have other potential problems that would be difficult to go into here. You should call your tech anyway if you don't think you can handle the problem. Slate is expensive to replace but it can be fixed fairly easily if it hasn't completely shattered.




December Issue 2002

Q:

Sent over the internet by Erik Miller - I am a college student on a very limited budget and was wondering if you would help me out with a few tips on recovering a table. We have a 3 piece .75 inch 8'x4' table and just need to cover the flat table and not the rails. Could you just answer a few questions I would be very grateful.
1. Is the 3M spray adhesive a good adhesive to use?

2. I read where you do not want to glue the felt to the slate. Does this mean that I am only supposed to glue the felt to the underside of the slate and stretch it over the rest of the table, or am I supposed to spray some adhesive down first?

3. Any stretching techniques or tips would be appreciated. If you can answer any of these questions I would really appreciate it.

A:

The subject of do it yourself table recovering comes up around here quite often. It usually makes me cringe because there are so many things to take into account. There are different types of tables and different types of players. For this writing I am assuming that you are someone who actually cares a great deal about how your table plays. I can't really give you a "How To" either due to space restraints, but I can give you a run down that may help those who already have a way with this type of work. It is a little like getting a grandmothers recipe; a pinch of this, a dash of that. You really have to see and do to get good at it.

Recovering a pool table is not like recovering a chair. Don't think of your table as a piece of furniture. How your table is put together and maintained is like tuning a fine instrument. The better that the cloth is installed, the truer your ball will role and bounce. Sloppy cloth makes for sloppy english. At the BCA trade show I was witness to a trend in cloth from California; faux fur rails! I was told it was all the rage. Maybe they use their tables for something that doesn't include the kind of ball control most pool shooters want.

First - bed covering. Clean off slate well, make sure there is no glue or any other substance on playing surface. Cloth needs to be tight on the bed so that atmospheric conditions and wear don't contribute to slack. On a good three piece table with wood backing you staple, pull, and staple the other side keeping the tightness as even as possible (already you can see how experience comes in to play). On a single piece slate I use a very good contact adhesive. I glue the sides of the slate only. Then, I use a short 3" or so roller to apply the glue to the edge of the cloth. I stick the cloth to one side, pull, and stick to the other. On both applications you need to get the cloth square with the table and stretch very tightly and consistently. At the pockets, you notch the cloth, glue in place or staple to wood.

Rails are where we are going to have the most difficulty. On tables with feather stripped rails you are going to attach the cloth on the visible side with feather stripping, draping it over and tapping it in place with a rubber mallet. Then, you will stretch it over starting at one end, stretch the cloth smoothly over the pocket area (where the ball will not be in play) and staple. Continue to staple along the bottom of the rail, pulling to snug but not so that you miss-shape the rubber. Again tuck and smooth the cloth at the final end and staple. Other rail styles will incorporate either glue and/or staples. I am not able to detail every type, but look at what is already there and use it for a visual aid. DO NOT ever glue directly to the rubber. Do not use backed cloth on the rails, even with the backing pulled off. The glue residue will ruin the rubber.

I hope this helps somewhat and if nothing else, helps you understand why a good service tech is worth every dime he gets.




May Issue 2003

Q:

I need some insight into the steps I should take to do a professional recover using Simonis cloth. I have a standard 8-foot table with 1 inch slate. Tell me if this is a logical progression and if there are nay "expert secrets" to consider. By the way, I am replacing carpet with hardwood and that is the reason for the tear down, etc.

Balance table frame
Replace slate and level (any suggestions?)
Fill in screw holes in playing area (what should I use?)
Re-cover table (start on the end or the side? Staple felt how often?)
Replace rails and tack in pockets etc. - Any ideas would be helpful from: mike@golfmediagroup.com

A:

If you are recovering a table with "Simonis" cloth, my best advice would be to pay a seasoned technician to do it for you. Simonis is a very expensive billiard cloth. I would hate to see you "screw it up" and have to either throw it out or play on a less than perfect surface. If you are serious enough of a player to want this then you should "please, please" get an expert. If that doesn't convince you, then go to the retailer where you got the cloth and ask for a set of instructions. Many cloth manufacturers supply them with their cloth. Simonis is put on as any other cloth (hopefully without any glue!!!) To give you a really good set of instructions here would take more space than the folks at "The Break" would be able to give me.

Which bring me to my next couple of questions, the ones I ask every customer who says they want Simonis cloth. "Are you sure you want Simonis? Have you played on it much?" The reason I ask is simple, a lot of people have heard of this cloth but don't understand it. Simonis is designed for professional players. It plays fast. Sometimes I run into people who say "my friend is a really good player and he says it's the best." Well, it might be for him, but it won't be for you unless you are used to it. If you have played in billiard halls, then you have probably played on it or a like cloth made by another company. If you are not sure, then ask what is on the tables.

Simonis wears a little differently as well. I have had people call me and tell me cloth that was installed only months ago is wearing out ... sorry, it is just breaking in! Simonis gets more burnish marks and many people don't like the look in their home. Often a good 21 or 22 oz cloth will play just fine if you get an installer who knows how to stretch the cloth the right way, and doesn't put glue on your table. I have had folks call me wanting to find out if I put some special cloth on a table at a particular location. They want to get it on their table at home. Would you believe that often it turns out to be the same cloth that they already have? I use Simonis on most pool hall tables, I aslo use a good 21 oz cloth on almost every home or bar table, I just stretch it right.




BUYING POOL TABLES AT A DISCOUNT --
THE HIDDEN COSTS
August Issue 2004

Unfortunately, I have not been able to contribute to this fine periodical in the past year. Fortunately, it has been because I have had to spend a lot of time getting our own retail business up and running. I have learned a lot! In doing research for products besides our standard billiard offerings, I went to the internet. I needed to learn about everything from darts to poker chips. The first thing I learned was that there is so much misinformation on web sites that I thought my head would explode trying to unravel it all. It became apparent that a lot of these businesses did not have any clue about what they were selling. They just wanted my money.

For years now, the traditional way of retailing has been changing drastically. Many businesses have felt the pressure of the warehouse store and the internet. Resellers of high ticket items like electronics hired knowledgeable employees who could offer the expertise and service that consumers needed to make a wise investment. I think back to the first computer I ever bought. I went to a popular computer store that offered many brands and had folks working there who could explain the differences and help me decide which was the best for me. Then when I had problems, I could go back and get my questions answered by someone who understood and who wanted my business.

Selling merchandise this way is not the cheapest way to sell. Employees need to be paid for their knowledge and time. They have to be more than cashiers. You have to stock many types of merchandise to offer a wide selection; eliminating the ability to buy at huge quantity discounts. Another secret; service and warranties don’t come free. Manufacturers and venders will replace faulty products but they still have to be received, repacked and reshipped. The time involved goes to overhead and thus the final costs of merchandise. If a product needs service by a technician, that time and any materials need to be paid for somehow; more overhead.

Deep discounts have to be paid for somehow: lack of selection, lack of quality, lack of service. Ever see the line on beauty products that say the warranty is void if not sold by a salon? That is because you may be buying something that is wrong for you without the advice of a knowledgeable reseller.

Now we have the internet. Anyone with a computer can set up shop and sell anything under the sun. The problem is you have no way of knowing which of these people actually have any kind of knowledge of what they are selling. My mother used to say that paper is flat and you could write anything you wanted on it, even lies. Today’s paper is the web page.

This is where I finally segue into billiards. Many of you know that we have been in the billiards service business for almost 20 years. About five years ago we began to see a few pool tables being bought from both the warehouse stores and the internet. Customers would call us to put them together. Many of these we refused to work on. The tables were so poorly built that we would not take on the liability. Others were complete knock downs that would take all day to put together and the cost was so high that many customers would send them back. Then about 3 years ago we began seeing the tables from the internet auction sites. Toss the dice…sometimes they would come to the customer just fine but without any cloth. Other times the customer received the table but it was the wrong style or the wrong size. We still assemble these tables and it has just gotten worse. Bad hardware, bad finishes, shipping damage, but the worst thing I have seen is that many of these so called “power sellers” and the like have disappeared along with the lifetime warranties they offered.

We also began retailing pool tables and accessories a few years ago and last year moved to a full retail, bricks and mortar store. We hear the claims of internet and warehouse prices all the time. We also see the buyers’ remorse after they talk to us about details no one told them about up front. In order to defend our business and our customers we started doing some more investigation. I want you to be educated before you buy. If you have the facts and still want to buy this way, fine. My experience, however, is that once people really weigh the pros and cons they almost always end up buying from a billiards reseller who has expertise in the field and can stand behind their product AND the installation.

THE TABLE
First, remember that buying a pool table is NOT like buying a kitchen table. If you are buying what I call a REAL pool table; real slate, real rubber, real wood, then it is going to be heavy. You are going to have a three piece slate which has to be leveled and seamed. You are going to have very expensive cloth that needs to be put on properly so that balls roll and bounce true.

BEWARE: Many internet tables are advertised as solid mahogany, cherry or such. Most of them are not! This is where the knowledge of the seller comes in. We know that most of these tables are imports from China, not necessarily a bad thing but they are almost all made of maple or oak and STAINED a mahogany or cherry color. Many of these sellers don’t know anything about wood, they are presuming or lying. They may or may not be completely solid wood. What we have found is that one set of specs for a site is being used to describe every table that seller has. Some of the tables are solid wood and some of them are not.

To make matters worse, you can buy what appears to be the same exact table from two different businesses and get two different quality levels. We found this out first hand. A table offered on the internet appeared to be exactly the same as a table we offered. Upon installing a couple for customers that had bought them on an auction site, we found they had a lower quality, thinner slate; end rails that did not come up high enough; mismatched wood with lots of filler and faulty hardware. After asking our own supplier about this we found out that the same manufacturer in China was building them under a separate contract for someone else… a cheaper contract!

THE TRUE COST
No matter who you are buying from you need to know the actual costs. The table price, the delivery price and the assembly price. Resellers like us will always have these prices. They may break it out individually or they may have a combined price, but you will be able to get the info up front. Many of the internet sellers, especially auctions have these prices buried in the fine print or not at all. I have seen some auctions that advertise “no shipping” but upon closer look they will have crating charges or other charges tacked on. Warehouse stores and department stores may offer inexpensive delivery but do not offer assembly. If they do…

BEWARE: We get many calls from these companies wanting us to bid on assemblies. They always want the lowest bidder, not the best service. Many people out there performing these services don’t have any experience with pool table installation and are guessing. We recently reassembled a very expensive table that a local “technician” put together for $350. He probably did $500 worth of damage to the table and on top of that the client had to pay us close to $500 to fix what we could. YOUCH!

ACCESSORIES
Next cost, accessories. Every table needs balls, sticks, chalk etc. I can’t tell you the number of internet sights that I have seen offering a “FREE ACCESSORY KIT WORTH $500” or more. I say “NO WAY”. If you could tell what the quality of these accessories were and then went to price them individually, you would be lucky if you could come up with a fourth of that. Most of these cues are cheap ramin wood. Two piece or not, they aren’t worth more than about $15 a piece. The chalk is the cheapest on the market. The balls are soft polyester that will first loose the cheap lacquer finish and then become scratched and marred in less than six months. And who really wants a cheap thin plastic cover for their beautiful new table.

BEWARE: You don’t get anything for free. Look for cues that are made from Canadian maple with leather tips, balls that are cast resin and polished like Belgian Aramith and chalk that is fine textured like Masterchalk or Silvercup. If the accessories are less than this, fine, but you will probably need to replace them within six months. Bad cues with cheap chalk are responsible for a lot of rips in cloth. Scratched up balls will wear the cloth much faster and don’t play true.

WARRANTIES & SERVICE Is there one? Most tables offer a limited lifetime warranty, even if they don’t say “limited”. The warranty should cover at least the slate and the structure. Many do not cover the rubber and most do not cover the pockets or cloth, these are called consumables. However, a reputable dealer will offer a standard 90 day or so guarantee that these will be free from manufacturers’ defects. Finally, the install, this is usually up to whoever puts the table together whether it is the dealer or an outside company. If there is a warranty, in effect, it will usually be limited to cloth application and slate seams.

Here is where the types of companies split. Name brand tables have a company besides your dealer who is enforcing the warranty, not that these are easy to get honored without the dealer who wants to keep your business. “No Name Imports” also have a manufacturer’s warranty, but these are between the dealer and the manufacturer, so you have no one to go to but the dealer. It is one reason the imports cost less. (I use the term imports here loosely, many of the so called American tables are now manufactured, at least partially outside the US but they have an American company here in the states that markets and labels them.) In the end it is the dealer who is going to make that warranty work for you, look at the fine print and ask if the dealer has his own guarantee that the product and service will be honored.

BEWARE: Internet sites offer warranties too, but they say that you must ship them the part at your expense. Then, if they deem that it is their fault they will reimburse you and ship you the new part. Sometimes they say that they will reimburse you for the expense of having a local tech disassemble and reassemble your table but, as I said before, you have to ask yourself if they will even be around after the sale!

That brings me back to where I started. When you are spending $2000.00 and up for a decent table after you pay for the item, the delivery and the assembly, don’t you want someone standing behind the product? The internet & auction sites have people going in and out of business all the time. Often it is the same folks “recreating” new businesses and avoiding their old customers’ complaints. One of the biggest resellers of pool tables on the net a couple of years ago had it’s site touting all the positive feed back it got and showed copies of articles written about how wonderful they were. They are gone now and so are there warranties. In the end it was nothing but a computer, a warehouse and a shipping clerk. No one with actual billiards experience, no customer service. That’s bad.

At a warehouse or department store, you at least have the option of going back and demanding a return or replacement if the product is not what you thought. Many of them have very liberal return policies. That is good.

In my humble opinion, if you are even a little serious about having a nice pool table that plays well, you will seek the advice and help of someone who knows about pool tables. Someone who will help define the kind of table you need and keep you from spending money on things you don’t need. Someone who will spare you the embarrassment of bragging about the price you paid when the table plays badly. Finally, someone who will be there when things go wrong. That is the best!




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