Most people know about snooker and pool tables but there are many others out there such as circular tables some which revolve, “L” shape tables, bar billiard tables, baggatele tables, 3 cushion or canon tables with no pockets – scoring is by canons only.
A full size snooker table is 12ft by 6ft but there are a few larger tables out there built in the early 1800s, often just to show off or to fill a large room – tables up to 15ft in length are not unknown!
I have personally come across a 14ft x 6ft 6inch table, which created a problem as the cloth is made to fit 6ft wide tables. By the time we had finished it was probably the tightest cloth in the country! Even now after over 40 years in the trade we come across tables we have never seen before, sometimes from makers we have also never heard of. In the early days tables were often commissioned by wealthy clients using furniture companies, not just billiard table makers, so there are a lot of one-offs out there. Often a furniture company would be commissioned to build the whole billiard room including all paneling, furniture and fixtures and fittings.
There are basically two types of cloth fitted to snooker and pool tables. Either napped or directional cloth (like dralon – smooth one way with resistance the other way) or nappless cloth often referred to as “speed cloth”. Snooker tables are normally fitted with a napped cloth whereas pool tables can be fitted with either napped or nappless cloth.
Napped cloths allow more control of the cue ball due to the extra grip, whereas nappless cloths are faster but offer less cue ball control.
American pool tables are usually covered with speed cloth. Napped cloths are available in several different grades for heavy duty use, through to superfine finish competition grades. There are not nearly so many grades in speed cloths.
Most people know the bed of a snooker table is made of slate, with the frames and cushions being constructed of timber. However in the mid 1800s a firm by the name of E.G. Magnus made quite a few tables with slate being used for the frame and cushions!! Many were shipped to tropical countries due to termite and beetle attacks on the timber. Wooden frame tables often had plates of paraffin placed underneath them which due to the smell was hardly an ideal solution.
There are some very notable tables both in Queen Victoria’s Osborne House on the Isle of Wight and Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, North Wales – though this particular table has a mystery surrounding the actual maker. These tables have enamel paint and inlays applied to the rather dull slate surface to enhance their appearance.
I have only ever come across one of these tables in the UK which we had to move to a new site. Weighing in at over 3.5 tons (normal tables weigh around 1.5 tons) it was a very difficult, long job, bearing in mind slate doesn’t bounce well! Drop one of the legs or frame parts and it’s game over as slate just shatters into thousands of little pieces. There are a few parts of slate framed tables made of timber such as the cushion cappings but even the internal bearers on this particular table were made of slate. Rare beasts indeed.
I am sure we have all seen shots on the televised competition tables that would never have gone in on our club tables?
Well firstly you are seeing shots from angles on TV that you don’t normally see – the recent innovation of slow motion also adds to the confusion.
There is no doubt championship pockets have been getting more generous in the last few years – an admission of this is the tightening of the middle pockets in this year’s 2019 World Snooker Championship, though the corners remain easy compared to many much older club tables.
There were over 100 centuries in this years tournament, beating the previous record of 86 which is quite telling. Certainly the large number of competitive competitions has raised the players standard but the pockets do play a part. Ultimately, it’s down to television and the sponsors, big breaks make good TV and easier pockets bring lesser known players into the game giving them a chance against the better players.
That’s in no way to decry the ability of the top players – if pockets were 3 times the size on my local club table and I practiced 8 hours every day I would never get anywhere the standard of the top 100 players, I know, I’ve tried!
As a final note there is talk of tightening the pockets up a bit more next year, we shall have to wait and see!
You’ve probably noticed that even in a snooker hall with several seemingly identical tables, they all tend to play slightly differently?
The answer is in the materials used to construct a snooker table. Almost every part is made from natural materials, the frame and side rails are wood, the bed is slate, cushions are rubber, cloth is wool, pocket nets are cotton, pocket plates are covered in leather. All these natural substances vary slightly.
The most significant factor is the cloth made from sheep’s wool. Now to you and I all sheep might look alike, but they are not. They are individuals just like us – hence the quality of the wool varies season by season, certain weather conditions make the wool much finer, which makes for a better quality cloth. We usually try to select a roll of cloth with a finer finish if possible but even then it can vary over the individual roll. Even the championship tables with their heaters, air conditioning etc. don’t provide the same conditions every time.
The cloths in major tournaments are often changed after every round or even every session, and players will take time to adjust to different speeds and rolls of the cloth.
I am often asked if a particular table is either a billiard or snooker table – simple answer is they are both the same. So how come the confusion?
Originally the game of Snooker didn’t exist but Billiards did – played on a Billiards table. With the advent of Snooker and its increasing popularity, due in no part to it being an easier game to play (Billiards is difficult to become proficient at), people began to call them Snooker tables.
Though the dimensions of the tables and materials has remained the same, there are some differences between older tables and more modern ones. The pockets on older pre-1900s tables tend to have tighter pockets and the pocket plates, especially the middles can be quite close to the slate fall, often making power shots “jump” back out on to the table bed!! Later tables have easier pockets with the plates set further back.
The standard size of a full size snooker table is 12ft by 6ft 1.5 inches. This is the size of the slate bed, the actual playing area is less as the cushions project inwards over the slate. The overall size is slightly larger as the cushion timber projects outwards from the bed. The cushions are “T” shaped in section.
During the 1980s there was an attempt to produce a standard metric size table – however, rather than just use metric measurements to match the imperial sizes, these were made 3 inches shorter and 1.5 inches less in width, no idea why, but they did not prove popular though quite a few were made. We usually only notice these tables when marking them out only to find the blue spot way out of line with the centre pockets!
Attempts have been made to replace the beds with steel [rust stains the cloth], concrete [almost impossible to get level], glass ([too expensive], plastics [not heavy enough and prone to warp]. So slate continues to be used as it is heavy, relatively easy to machine and provides a very hard smooth flat surface. Because the grain of slate runs sideways it does not warp or sag so long as it’s thick enough.
Brian John Anthony – the current owner, is one of the original founders of Anthony and Pykett, along with Michael Pykett. He has this to say about his time in the snooker business:
When we first started, both myself and Mick were working at Elston & Hopkins – an old, very well established company in Nottingham. We decided to go it alone, nothing wrong with Elstons – they were a fantastic company to work for. John Hopkin, the owner was as good a boss as you could ever get. We just felt we had gone as far as we could with this particular company. The early years were hard, working from a selection of rather dim double garages, before finding success as the snooker boom took off in the 1970s and ’80s finally finishing up with our own large workshops in Old Nottingham Road, Basford.
Expansion continued into the 1980s with the opening of two snooker clubs both in Leeds at Crossgates and Woodlesford snooker centres.
When we opened Woodlesford we had a very shy young 17 year young man playing in an exhibition – I think it cost about £700 which seemed a fortune then! That young man’s name – Stephen Hendry. I doubt we could get him for 20 times that now.
However we could see the writing on the wall – there were so many clubs opening – 6 clubs opened up, all within a few miles radius of our own. The same was happening throughout the whole country. The bubble had burst, we sold both clubs and got out just in time.
As clubs went out of business, work declined, all those companies who had moved in when the snooker boom took off were scrambling for survival. Whilst we managed to survive, much to my regret my partner Mick decided he’d had enough and moved on successfully to pastures new. With an amicable split I retained the Anthony and Pykett name.
Whilst I have other business concerns including a modest collection of classic cars and motorcycles, along with property interests, the snooker business still has a special place in my heart. You are always somewhere different – you can be in a mansion one day and a prison the next and the satisfaction of a job well done with a happy customer has never left me – Brian Anthony
There’s a misconception about snooker tables that they must be perfectly level. Whilst a good fitter will always get the table as level as possible, you should note the expression used by fitters is “to level table to best advantage”. This is because a perfectly level set of slates is quite a rare thing – if you spend enough time slowly rolling balls all around a snooker table the odds are you will find an area with a small amount of “drift”. This is not just down to the slate but also the cloth as different areas wear at dissimilar rates – the black spot end gets more use, so gets more finger, scuffs and tracking marks. New cloths can also cause minor movement due to the finishing process.
The nap of the cloth which runs from the Baulk or D end of the table also plays a part, balls going against the nap from the black end to the baulk end when played slowly will drift slightly, a pink potted into the yellow pocket will drift to the left – so on a slow shot aim for the inner jaw of the pocket. A pink potted into the green pocket will drift right so again aim for the inner jaw. It’s the same with potting a ball from the pink spot area – aim at the far jaws.
I should point out this only happens at slow speed and modern cloths have very fine naps, some of the older heavier napped cloths could roll several inches when played slowly against the nap of the cloth.
Incidentally this is why potting a ball along the baulk cushion is harder than potting a ball along the black spot end cushion as the nap can push the ball away from the baulk cushion. At the black end the nap helps the ball stick to the cushion. If you run your hand down the table from the D end to the black spot, the cloth will feel smooth, run your hand the other way you will feel the nap of the cloth a bit like dralon. This is assuming the cloth is not completely worn out of course!
Modern balls can become dirty with use – chalk dust, oils from the hands and general use can all lead to them losing their shine.
For most modern balls, you can use a very mild soap and warm water to clean them. Definitely do not use a dish washer unless you prefer all your snooker balls white or faded, hot water should be avoided too. The best way to clean them is to use a proprietary snooker ball cleaner, this puts the shine back in them. You can also use car T-Cut followed by car wax polish. Solvents or glass cleaners should never be used.
Lastly, it’s advised you replace a set of balls every 10 years if in regular use, as it may surprise you to know they wear at different rates. The white and black end up slightly smaller (and I do mean very slightly) as they get more use than the other balls – well the white certainly does , the black depends how good you are at snooker !!! However as most of the club’s I visit seem to think the balls last forever I wouldn’t let it worry you too much :)!
Early billiards balls where made of Elephant ivory, huge numbers of these magnificent animals were killed just for their tusks. Shockingly, only a few billiard balls, maybe two or three at most could be made from a single tusk.
Billiards was played with two whites, one with a black dot at each pole of the ball – this was actually the nerve running though the tusk ! The one red ball was coloured with red vegetable dye. Estimates vary from 250,000 up to 2 million Elephants slaughtered just to keep the empire playing billiards.
No one in the world needs an elephant tusk but an elephant.
With the advent of snooker needing 22 balls the hunt was on for a composite material to meet the demand for this increasingly popular game. Early balls were bonzolne and crystalate based on a cellulose nitrite composition – not far removed from nitro glycerin!!! This led to early rumours of exploding balls!! – never proven – perhaps just a myth?
What is in no doubt, the search for a replacement for ivory led to the direct development of better high explosives, so maybe the Elephants had their karma when you consider the impact these explosives have had on the human race.
The other irony is the modern phenolic resin based ball plays very similar to the original ivory ball both in weight and response. Though the temperature does not affect the modern ball to the same extent and you don’t need to send a man out to true your balls up!!! – yep that’s true – Ivory Ball Trimmers and Turner’s was a highly skilled job.
If you ever come across a set of very rare ivory balls they are worth a lot of money, never be tempted to wash them in water as the vegetable dyes used will simply run away, which explains why most of them end up white.