A solid wood frame is considered best on a pool table for two reasons: 1) the overall strength and 2) the screw holding capacity. When you consider that the frame is supporting as much as 500 pounds, the strength of the frame is crucial. Solid wood is without a doubt the strongest and most desirable frame.
Screw holding capacity is also very important because the frame either screws or bolts together and the slate screws down to the frame. If the frame does not have good screw holding power, it will not maintain its rigidity. Solid wood has better screw holding capacity than either plywood or particle board.
The design of the frame is also extremely important. If the table utilizes frame supports that go both the length and width of the table, make sure the frame supports the slate on all surfaces of the frame. Beware of "stacked" frames where only part of the frame touches the slate. The frame of many tables consists of the table cabinet and cross members. Tables built in this manner should have cabinets sides and ends of at least 1" thickness to permit slots to be routed to receive and support cross members. Cabinets of insufficient thickness generally have blocks attached to act as supports for the cross members.
There is a vast difference on the market today among top rails. Most top rails are made either of particle board or solid wood. Solid wood rails are the best for many reasons.
The cushion rubber glues directly on the surface of the rail. After years of play, should the cushion rubber need to be replaced, a particle board rail usually chips and becomes unsuitable for re-gluing when the old cushions are removed. This problem does not exist among wood rails.
Solid wood rails are also better than particle board rails when it becomes time to replace the cloth. Featherstrip grooves tend to "spread" on particle board rails, which may make it impossible to replace the cloth. Solid wood rails hold staples more securely on the underneath side of the rails where the cloth is stapled. Particle board simply does not have the staple holding power of solid wood.
Balls will also rebound faster over a longer period of time with solid rails. Solid wood rails have livelier playing characteristics than particle board rails.
Laminated Top Rails
If you are purchasing a table that has laminate on the rails, make sure the laminate is burn and scratch resistant high pressure laminate. A high pressure laminate will give added years to the life of your billiard table.
Two Piece Rails
Tables that have a two-piece (rail cap and rail base) wood rail often times have a pine rail base. A rail base made of poplar is far superior because poplar is stronger than pine and it holds staples better. Rail caps should also be from a hardwood so that they don't scratch or dent easily.
There are three important features to look for in a cushion. First, the cushion should be a full profile K-66 cushion. Second, the cushion should be canvas-backed. The canvas on the back of the rubber helps adhere the cushion to the rail and the canvas on the top of the cushion controls the action of the rubber so that more accurate and consistent play is achieved. Finally, the cushion should be a good grade of rubber, preferably Grade A. The higher grades of cushion rubber provide excellent rebound quality. Many tables use an inferior B or C Grade.
Diamond-Honed Slate Playfields
Most slates available today are three-piece diamond honed matched and registered. Diamond-honing results in a smooth, level playing surface. Matched and registered simply means that the three individual sections were cut from the same slab.
Historically, slate playfields have come from a variety of countries such as Italy, Portugal, Spain and Brazil. Italy for years was the primary source of most of the slate playfields imported. In recent years an increasingly higher percentage of slate is being brought in from Brazil. Tests conducted in 1992 by the University of Missouri Department of Mining Engineering at Rolla, Missouri, indicates the Brazilian slate is of superior strength and possibly more suitable for pool table playfields.
Generally, the thicker the slate the better. 3/4" slate on seven and eight foot models usually provides an adequate playing surface, but 1" slate if preferred on larger models. If the slate is framed (has a backing glued and screwed to the back of the slate) make sure the backing is solid wood and not particle board or plywood. Slate is heavy and the weight can cause the particle board or plywood to compress, resulting in an uneven playing surface.
Cloth - A Wool/Nylon Blend is Best
A wool/nylon blend billiard cloth is generally considered best. Nothing has proven to wear better than wood and nylon and still maintain the professional playability. Usually a 20 oz. cloth with an 80% wool and 20% nylon content is desirable.
The entire weight of a billiard table rests on its legs. For this reason, solid leg construction is a must. Generally, most tables have either four individual legs or two pedestal-style legs. If pedestal-style legs are utilized, make sure they are framed with solid wood and not particle board or plywood. If four individual legs are used, make sure the legs are of sufficient strength to manage the weight of the table. Finally, examine the method of which the legs attach to the table. This can determine the rigidity of the entire table.