One of the most crucial elements of the game of pool or snooker is also one of the smallest – the tip on the end of your cue will often determine whether the shot is a good one or not.
Here we have a closer look at your cue tip; what it is made from, how it is made and how it affects the shot played.
Basically, the tip on a pool cue is a hardened, rounded piece of leather that makes contact with the cue ball during a shot. Usually made from pig leather, because it is tougher than other animal hides, the tip varies in length, width and shape but affects the outcome of every single shot played irrespective of whether you are a first time social player or a seasoned professional.
Why hardened leather? Soft leather would be too spongy and would affect the shot by absorbing much of the power of the shot. Some cue tips are made from a mixture of leather and artificial polymer resin to give extra durability.
Tournament pool players sometimes prefer to use a cue with a tip made from phenolic resin to ensure that the full force of the stroke is transferred to the cue ball. This type of cue tip is much harder and has very little absorption in it. Many American pool players will use a separate cue with this special hard tip to break with as they do not wish to damage their main playing cue. A hardened resin tip is much more difficult to control and is not recommended for regular play or for snooker which requires a higher level of control and accuracy.
Why is the tip rounded? This allows smooth but firm contact between the tip and the ball. If the tip had a squared edge which stuck up from the end of the ferrule there would be too much contact between tip and ball therefore increasing the chance of a miscue. You would have less control over your shot.
The Ferrule is a plastic section between tip and wood of the cue – it prevents shudder transferring to the wooden cue shaft and stops damage to the wood which can split if hard shots are used on cue ball. Ferrules are made from hardened polymer plastic or nylon.
American pool players tend to have a slightly longer and wider ferrule which is 13mm, possibly because most pool players hit the ball hard though the typical ferrule width in English pool is 8.5mm.
Snooker cues also have a much shorter ferrule than US pool cues probably because most of shots are softer so ferrule width of 9.5mm is sufficient. The subtler style of play in snooker also affects the type of tip fitted to cues. More on this below.
There are two types of leather tip
1. Solid leather hardened, cut and shaped
2. Multiple thin layers of leather glued together, then shaped
Layered cue tips are more effective at putting spin onto the cue ball. I don’t know why but comparative tests prove this is true beyond any doubt.
Cue tips also come in 3 levels of hardness. A soft tip allows longer contact with the ball which makes it easier to impart spin on the cue ball. Soft tips also wear more quickly and will need to be replaced more frequently. A hard tip, as you would expect, has less time in contact with the cue ball but does not produce the same amount of control during the shot. Hard tips also last longer.
Most players would not be able to notice the difference as we are talking milliseconds here but a professional player undoubtedly would be able to feel the difference in shot and would choose a tip which suits their style of play. Some Pros even have 2 or 3 different cues each with a different tip.
The majority of cues on sale will have a tip with medium softness as a compromise between feel and wear. Only by changing the tip yourself or by specifying the type of tip required will you be able to get a specifically hard or soft tip. Custom made cues are quite expensive, as you would imagine, so for 99% of players it’s cheaper to fit a tip yourself. It’s fairly easy as the video shows and it’s a good skill to have as it is advisable to change your cue tip every couple of months.
Why do players chalk their cue tips? So the tip doesn’t slip when it hits the ball. It controls the friction between the tip and the ball.
Cue tips get damaged during play. Small pieces of leather fall off. Flat patches appear. The typical dome shape found in most tips wear down and flatten out. This wear and tear is natural and cue tips can be attended to during a game. Chalk allows a rougher surface on the leather of the tip and increases the friction between the tip and the ball. This reduces the chance of a miscue if the tip slips or does not make clean contact with the cue ball. This is especially true when a player is trying to put spin on the cue ball.
In previous times (19th Century / early 20th century) chalk was rather like blackboard chalk – almost raw carbonate of lime however, modern cue chalks do not contain any real chalk.
Fitting a Tip
Fitting a tip to a cue is relatively easy but some simple guidelines should be followed to ensure a satisfactory finish. Choose your tip. Glue it to the end of the ferrule using a good quality gel-like glue (nothing special required here, just get a clear tube of glue from a local hardware store) and apply a small blob the flat end of the tip (or the ferule if you prefer). Don’t use super glue as it sets too quickly and will not allow you to re-position the tip if it is not quite right. A gel like glue takes about 10-15 minutes to set and allows you to adjust the precise position of the tip during the setting process.
You need to make sure that the tip is held in position during the setting process. There are clamps you could use but this is not necessary as you can hold it in place with your thumb or simply stand the cue on its tip in a vertical position and apply gentle pressure for 15 minutes.
Next you need to trim the tip so it is flush with the ferrule. Use a sharp modelling knife to trim away the edges of the tip. Never cut horizontally through the tip as you will weaken the structure of it (especially if it is a layered tip), Cut away from the ferrule until the tip and ferrule edge are flush with each other.
Further trimming and shaping is done with abrasive paper. Create a rounded dome effect. This can be shaped by using a rough or medium grade of sandpaper. Always stroke down from the centre of the tip, never upwards.
How much should the tip stick up? That is up to you and depends on your style of play. All tips wear down eventually but more effective shots are played with shallower tips than deep ones.
Here is a great 3 minute video showing how to fit a new tip; How to Fit a new Cue Tip
Tip shape and depth is down to personal preference but most players stick to the dome model. The surface of the leather dome should be rough not smooth so that chalk will cling to it easily.
There are several types of shape that are popular
Very common tip and has a neat large dome on the top of the tip, this is certainly the tip shape that is most widespread.
Oversized mushroom shape that some players prefer for control and spin
Similar to above but smaller with less overlap; note that edges are not burnished in line with ferrule
Smaller, flatter tip but still slightly domed; edges are burnished in line with ferrule
Burnishing is the term given to trimming the edge of the new tip around its’ outer edge or circumference. The best way to do this is to stick some masking tape around the ferrule so the edge of the tape level with the end of the ferrule where the new tip touches it. Now use some fine grade sandpaper or a tip tool to smooth the edge of the tip so it is in line with ferrule. The masking tape protects the ferrule so you don’t scratch it.
Now you have a good tip that is perfectly shaped you can use it to put spin on the cue ball.
Types of Spin
It is possible to control the cue ball during a shot by putting spin on it to help position it for the next shot. Back spin used to make the cue ball roll back after contact between the cue ball and object ball. Top spin makes the cue ball roll forwards after the shot and side spin makes the cue move left or right. Back spin is the most used to stop the cue ball or make it roll backwards.
Experienced and skilled players may use a combination of spin types to gain a favourable position.
How to impart spin.
Putting spin onto the cue ball is not easy and takes a lot of practice to get it right. When playing a long shot, where there is a large distance between the cue ball and the coloured ball, the cue ball picks up forward motion from the felt on the table therefore the cue ball will naturally roll forward after it strikes the object ball. This is the most common cause of players ‘following the ball in’ to the pocket with the cue ball, especially if the shot is straight and the cue ball doesn’t rebound off the object ball at an angle. Putting back spin onto the cue ball prevents this happening but it is difficult to control, especially on long shots.
Tip Care and Maintenance
Cue tips are critical to accurate shots and a consistent game and should be treated with care and respect. Ongoing maintenance is permitted during a game at all levels. This usually involves maintaining the shape of the tip and ensuring it has a rough surface that accepts and retains chalk. Almost any tools that can be used simply are allowed and many professionals have these as part of their equipment.
Two popular tools are shown here, however most players (including experienced Pros) will always have a piece of emery board or a nail file handy to adjust their tip when required.
Here are some typical cue tips. Notice the layered structure of the leather which usually comes from pig hide.
Below is a simple pool cue tool with various parts used for shaping, trimming, roughing and burnishing the leather tip.
This tool is used for roughing up the surface of the tip; it is made of a series of hardened spikes and is very effective.
The tip of your cue is possibly the most important part of the cue so look after it and it will help you make consistently good shots.