There is something to be said about buying the right pool table. Buying a pool table is really similar to buying a car. In many ways you can relate the entire billiard industry to the car industry. It is astonishing, how many lessons our pool table manufacturers and retailers can learn from the o-so-trusted car industry. There are dozens of different manufacturers in different countries. Then, you have to choose where you are going to purchase your pool table. Will you decide to purchase from an authorized dealer or a small timer in his garage? Inside that, you'll notice that there are several different designs and sizes. There are a wide range of options in raw materials it's built out of. Even more you have to decide what options you want including: stains, cloth, sights, and accessories. Are you going to buy new or used? And the list goes on and on.
The recommendation to purchase new is always the best one. Why? Forget for a moment, the different qualities and brands available. Now really consider the disadvantages of buying a new pool table. There simply is only one real disadvantage, price. If you are considering buying a pool table and you are motivated on price and price alone; then it may be best suited for you to just settle for something used. However, if you can wait, if you can take some time to slow down the impulse of purchasing now; then you will notice that you would be giving away all the advantages that come along with buying new. Remember there are numerous brands and qualities. You would be abandoning the customization, quality, generational passing, warranties and guarantees. Need anything more be said? It's obvious.
Buying a pool table is a huge expense. You shouldn't have to simply settle, whether that is for a used one or a retailer's stock, because it is cheaper. You wouldn't settle for the car you don't want just because it's cheap, right? Perhaps, but you know what you want. You know what you like. Build it and be a part of the process. This is going to be something that you can pass on to your children's children. However, there are certain occasions that buying in stock inventory or used items might just make more sense. Just know what is right for you.
Alright, then what is the best pool table available? That's up for debate. I have worked on, and seen, pretty much everything out there over the years. Some are great others are firewood. Generally, speaking I would recommend that you purchase something made in the United States, uses a hardwood in the construction, and contains either a Brazilian or Italian slate in the three-piece form.
As a side note: Tables from China just aren't good. Slate from China just isn't good. If you think slate is just slate; then tell that to the numerous customers that made the mistake of buying these and needed frame rebuilds, slate replacement, and new parts that ended up costing them more money than what they paid for the whole table brand new. Chinese slate is rigid and hard not allowing it to flex so it cracks and breaks with ease. Their pool tables are mass-produced on "the line" with sprayed on stains and finishes. Sure they look great. They might even play OK for a little while, but those finishes crack and the cheap woods used, warp. It doesn't take long for that to happen either.
There is also a difference in MADE IN THE USA and BUILT IN THE USA. There are many stateside companies that claim made in the USA but are actually only assembled here. I'm not buying from someone like that. Do the research, talk to the right people and educate yourself. I can list many American manufacturers for you but that would be settling and taking away from the value in product research. Let's try to remember that this is a process more than it is an impulse purchase.
One piece slate tables are out dated for the home. In bars they are nice, but that isn't what you want in your home. First off, who wants to move it? Nobody does. Secondly, they just can't get the same kind of precision level that a three-piece slate table can get. General leveling is all you get with one piece slate and three pieces of slate not only gives you that, but also adds a fine tuning element that will hold that level for longer and resist warping as well.
Finding the right manufacturer and retailer will take some time. Find the best ones that fit your budget and, more importantly, fit your needs. The internet can give you the ideas, but you have to get out there and actually see the product. Take your time. Find what works best. Remember it's your money.
Size and style are completely up to you. There isn't anything here that anyone can do to influence these. How much room do you have? This will help you gauge what size will fit into your current home. Think about this one carefully though. Remember, as American's, we move often. What may fit in your current home may not fit in your next one. What decor do you have and present in your home? Does a traditional look, contemporary design, or tournament style fit you and your home? There can be options on a pool table from the legs, the frame (arched, no arch, double arch), and rail edges (routed, plain, scalloped). All of these things should be considered. Get out there and look at them!
There are the more common types of woods used to make pool tables. Generally, you will see particle board with veneer and laminate over it, poplar wood (or tulip-wood), oak (white or red), hard white maple, hickory, walnut, mahogany, or some other exotic woods. There are tables out there made out of marble, car parts, metal, and other strange materials. Your standard hardwoods, however, will be oak or maple for most traditional models and a laminate will typically be used on your tournament style modern corner tables. General rule of thumb: stick with the standard woods and work your way up.
Which of these are important to you? Which aren't? Generally, your domestic hardwoods are going to last a really long time. Just another important note on "hardwoods", poplar is technically considered a hardwood, but most don't recognize it that way. It's soft and warps easy even if you press it together in layers. Don't be fooled by the salesperson. Tournament style tables are pretty much all made from a particle board wood with either a high, or low, quality laminate. Don't let that keep you from buying one because particle isn't that great. It isn't, but some good name brand stuff makes a good table out of it.
There are a multitude of different stains and finishes available these days. The stain is basically the color that they make the wood while the finish is what goes over that for protection and shine. The stain colors range from natural and light colors, all the way to dark and blacks. Finishes will generally be available in only a few different options with matte, semi gloss and high gloss being the most popular. These two items are related to your personal desires and decor. Check them all out, especially against your cloth color options.
No longer are the days of the traditional green cloth. There are dozens of colors available now and you aren't limited to the greens and blues of the past. There are different types of cloth though. They will fall into two types: woolen and worsted.
Woolen cloth, or nap cloth, is your standard in home and recreational cloth. Most retailers include this type as the standard cloth on a table purchase. Very rarely will you see it in a pool hall unless the owner is cheap. This cloth is usually a nylon and wool blend. It's sometimes referred to as nap cloth because it has micro-fibers that stand up similar to carpet. Professionals stay away from this cloth because, it doesn't pull on the slate as tight for less speed and accuracy, it tends to pill, balls will indent grooves, and gives it the "wiggle".
Worsted cloth is also a similar blend with, a much, higher wool content. This stuff is the best of the best. It's elastic enough to stretch to unbelievable tightness which gives the game extreme accuracy and speed that is consistent enough to allow professionals to maintain position throughout their game. It doesn't pill and rip, like its brother woolen, and it's heavy and durable which extends its life in most scenarios. If you have the extra cash, get it! Don't skimp on cloth, but know that there really is only one true manufacturer and the other brands of worsted wool are just cheap knockoffs.
Sights come in many different materials and styles. You'll see round and diamond-shaped sights made from plastics, mother of pearl, abalone, and metals like brass and chrome. You can have them be different colors or have a double diamond look to them. The most common double diamond style will consist of a mother of pearl sight surrounded by abalone. This gives a pool table a completely different look and feel.
Then we come to the accessories. They are what they are and most often than not you are going to get a kit with your table that comes straight out of China and generally suck. That's OK though because these are starter items. Naturally, you want the best you can get with the purchase, but don't let one guy tell you his table is better because he has better accessories. Once you learn the game and get more involved you will appreciate, and understand, the value of upgrading the equipment over time. Personally, if the balls aren't Aramith and the cues aren't of American decent; then I don't want them. However, they get pricey and aren't as necessary until after you get the feel for the game and desire better equipment.
So the last thing to mention while you search for the perfect pool table is the warranties and guarantees. Why is this important? Simple, if the manufacturer doesn't back their product up for a lifetime, and a retailer doesn't support his work with a lifetime guarantee; then what good is the product and service being provided. Remember that generational passing? How can you be expected to do that if the maker and seller don't even believe in their product? It's hard to find the right manufacturer to dealer combination, but they are there. If you can't offer these two simple things then you shouldn't be in the business at all. Forget them.
If the brand is right then call the manufacturer and tell them you want their product without the retailers' involvement and tell them why. It the retailer is right and the brand is wrong then you might need to explore other options with them or find another brand.
This is all about you and this is the insight for your analysis. Ultimately, you are the one who needs to decide what is right for you in brand, cost, quality and style.