American pool tables are larger than UK tables and typically range from 7-8ft in size, whereas UK pool tables are normally just 6-7ft. Each table has six pockets, rebound cushions – known as rails – around its edges, and is normally supported with four or more legs. Some commercial pool tables house a ball dispensing mechanism to release the balls upon payment and trap them as and when they are potted. Domestic pool tables or those for use in a more controlled environment (i.e. pool halls) have cups or netting beneath the pockets to capture the balls. Some tables have a series of rails within the cabinet that directs potted balls to a central storage area – typically at the foot of the table.
The crucial element of any pool table is its playing surface. High quality American pool tables have a slate surface over which the wool playing cloth is stretched. Slate is an excellent natural material to use, as it is both flat and heavy and does not vary with changes in temperature or humidity. A high quality slate surface will typically be in excess of 1-inch thick and will ensure a very consistent roll across the entire table. In addition, by adding weight to the table, the slate ensures that there will be little or no ball movement if the table is accidently bumped or knocked. The edge of a pool table comprises angled rubber rails that are designed to consistently rebound the balls without causing them to bounce or leave the playing surface.
The slate playing surface, rails, pockets and wool cloth are broadly similar looking from manufacturer to manufacturer, with each boasting its own unique selling points. However, the structure into which the playing surface is set varies enormously. A pool table is essentially a piece of furniture and tables come in many difference designs, colours, and construction materials. Almost all tables feature some degree of adjustment – typically in the legs – to allow the user to achieve a perfectly level tabletop. A well-built good quality pool table will have a hardwood support for the slate tabletop and a lot of structural support around its legs. It should be aesthetically pleasing and weigh in excess of 250kg if it is to be resistant to light knocks during play.
Slate pool tables are both heavy and expensive to buy. Entry-level tables with an MDF playing surface allow players to enjoy the game with far less of a financial outlay. Such tables are cheaper to manufacture and owning to their weight, require less in the way of support. Some tables feature folding or removable legs; allowing the table to be stored in a cupboard or under a bed. Of course, the disadvantage of a lightweight table is that the playing surface is less reliable and more prone to variations in temperature and humidity. In addition, while their lighter construction reduces costs and makes for a more practical piece of furniture, it is all the easier to cause movement of the balls by knocking the table.
As you might expect, there is a pool table out there to suit every budget and to make a positive contribution to almost any room.