Today is off-topic day, so I have...a photo essay.
Hmm, that doesn't sound quite right. Is a photo essay really off topic? Sort of, because it has a subject matter, but sort of not, too.
I recently bought a pool table. (Actually I've been working on that project since last April, but that story, as my father used to say, is "longer than it is interesting.") If you've ever wondered how a high-quality modern pool table goes together, here is a visual account of the used pool table I bought from Larry Schwartz being installed in my beautiful custom rec room. (For those of you who might be wondering, the still-operational darkroom is in the other corner of the basement.) I took the pictures for my own amusement, but if you're the type who likes watching other people work, or if you've ever wondered "how do they do that," you might find this interesting.
Jerimy Chambers bolts the heavy timber subframe to the two leg assemblies as Larry Schwartz looks on. Larry writes a column about 8-ball for Billiards Digest and coaches pool at Northwestern University, among other things.
The frame being leveled, using a machinist's level. The square Plexiglas plates under the table's brushed-chrome feet are there because the floor occasionally gets damp in the springtime.
Next, Jerimy says, "I'm about to make it heavy...."
Here come the slates. Larry's friend John (right), who is helping, is a retired Chicago police officer. He looks remarkably young for his 64 years—Larry, spoofing me, told me both Jerimy and John were 40 and I saw no reason to comment.
John served on Chicago's crime-ridden South Side for more than 40 years. He was ready to keep working but was "forced out," in his words, at the mandatory retirement age of 63. His nickname on the force was "Babyface."
All three slates, which are backed by thick, dense masonite, weigh the better part of half a ton. [UPDATE: In response to a number of queries, I checked with Jerimy, who says that each section of 1-inch slate weighs approximately 250 lbs. —Mike]
Seams are filled with pure beeswax. My table, an eight-foot pro size Diamond Professional model, came out of a chain of sports bars called "Fox and Hounds," and the slates have some damage—here's Jerimy filling a gouge with wax. An eight-foot table has a 44x88-inch playing surface, while an eight-foot pro or plus table has a playing surface that's slightly larger at 46x92 inches.
After the seams are filled, the wax is shaved level with a blade.
Using the tabletop as a workbench, the rails are laid out facing right-side up, and shims are cut to size. The shims fit into a groove in the rail just behind the cushions (the cushions, which are roughly triangular in cross-section, are the black and white strip you can see at the front edge of the rail. The edge where the ball hits is called the "nose" of the cushion).
A strip of cloth is then laid top-side down on the rail and press-fitted into place using the shim in the groove.
Once everything fits, the shim is pounded into the groove with a rubber hammer to affix the top edge of the cloth to the cushion. The excess is trimmed off.
In the final step, the rail is flipped upside down and the other edge of the cloth is stapled to the underside of the rail. The process looks simple when Jerimy does it but requires a fine touch and lots of practice.
Here's an out-of-sequence shot of the finished table showing how clean the edge is between the rail and the edge of the cushion. I always wondered how they did that...now I know.
(And a side note to pool aficionados—at my request, the nice folks at Diamond switched out the table's original red label and installed the [current] blue label, because the blue label tables are easier to resell on the used market, should I ever need to do that. Since the table was fully refurbished by the factory to up-to-the-minute 2013 standards, with new pockets and new cushions, the new blue label is accurate. Pretty nice of them to do that for me, huh?)
In preparing the surface for the cloth Jerimy checks for any irregularities both by touch and by sight. You can see the cloth folded on the chair in back of him.
Billiard cloth is woolen cloth (never "felt") that requires many steps in manufacturing. The best cloth is made of "worsted," which is long-fiber woolen weave that can be sheared very flat and hard (competition-level pool tables are fast, just like the greens at professional golf tournaments are fast). The leading billiard cloth company, Iwan Simonis of Belgium, has been making billiard cloth for more than 300 years. A piece large enough to cover a pool table can cost $250. This is Championship (that's the company name) Invitational (that's the brand name).
By the way, while Jerimy is working steadily and efficiently along, the rest of us were having a high old time, cracking jokes, talking pool, telling stories, and listening to old jazz records on the vintage stereo I have set up in the basement.
When I put on a rare original of an old vinyl record, Larry, who is a jokester, said, "Oh, I know a lot about jazz. I can recognize that...give me a minute...right, that's 'Topsy' by Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh, on Atlantic Records, from 1955." I stared at him in disbelief. Turns old ol' Larry was suckering me—he has a very nifty app on his smartphone called "Shazam" that can "listen" to any music that's playing and identify it. It even showed the album cover! Very cool app, which I had no idea existed.
Meanwhile, Jerimy applies spray adhesive to the cloth, using one pass like a primer. He'll apply several layers of glue to the cloth and the masonite backing underneath the slate then use it like contact adhesive.
Once the cloth is all stretched and glued, it's time to deal with the pockets. So what are those odd-looking little flag-like things littering the table?
Turns out that's not a Diamond thing—it's a pure Chambers touch, something he learned from a 1960 Brunswick he restored once. After he cuts, folds, and stables the table cloth around the inside of the pocket, the bottom edge looks a bit ragged. So he staples these stays in place...
...Then folds the cloth down and staples it tight. This shot of the inside of the pocket on the finished table shows the result. There isn't a hair out of place on a Chambers table, even in the places you can barely see. (I used an LED flashlight to light this shot!)
[Continued in Part II; all the comments, however, are here.]
Original contents copyright 2013 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Rob Graves: "I thought (foolishly) that they'd just carry in the table with a few burly men and maybe level it for you. What a production. I've found this most interesting and there's more to go!"
Edward Taylor: "Just for the record, I think your off topic posts are really interesting and I enjoy reading them very much. This one is especially interesting. This is something I would probably not have any exposure to otherwise, and it brings to light some modern day craftsmanship. It's nice to know that there are people like those putting your table together out there. They are experts in a field with narrower reach than photography. Who knows how long you'll be able to get expert craftsmen to come to your house and perform their miracles."
Robert Roaldi: "One guy working and three others cracking jokes listening to music. A perfect guy day. Congrats on the table."
Benjamin Marks: "I was going to post a jokey comment along the lines of 'what ƒ-stop is that corner pocket?' but the sheer coolness of watching this unfold quashed my inner snark to a fare-thee-well. It is fair to say that the chances of having a bunch of professionals install a pool table in my no-doubt-damper-than-yours Vermont fieldstone cellar are preeety close to zero. But how cool is that? I am happy just to know it was done somewhere. My only suggestion: a dehumidifier for the non-frozen months. Congrats, Mike. She looks a treat."
Mike replies: Dehumidifiers: I have two very good ones down there. I need them even without the table.
David Dyer-Bennet: "Great example of master craftsmen at work. I love watching the loose cloth turn into the impossibly smooth perfect playing surface. Pool is a great game for teaching physics students that, while the physics completely and totally controls the game, it's not the simplistic 'spherical cow of uniform density' level of physics; even with the very dense well-polished spheres and the expensive uniform table and cushions, all sorts of nasty real-world complications are vital to understanding what happens on the table."
Mike replies: Very true. For instance, on this table, with the cloth I have on it, the cue ball gives a tiny but distinct wobble just as it comes to rest, because this weave can't be sheared as smooth as a worsted.
Here's a video you might like, that shows some of the lesser-known physical forces at work in the game, such as "squirt" (deflection off path when striking the cue ball off center). In the "Spin Around the Clock" section, the cue tip is striking the cue ball in different places (low = 6 o'clock, right English = 3 o'clock, etc.), allowing you to see the subsequent effect on the path of the cue ball. Note that the ball stays on the tangent line in the 9 o'clock shot, but with all the other shots it wants to start on the tangent line before the effect of the spin takes over.