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From Rails to Cushions: A Deep Dive into Pool Table Terminology

The world of pool and billiards is rich in history, culture, and—of course—terminology. While the game itself might seem straightforward to an observer, beneath the surface lies a lexicon that speaks volumes about its evolution and nuances. This article delves into the intricate terminology associated with the pool table itself, illuminating the intricate details that often go unnoticed.

The Anatomy of a Pool Table

A standard pool table might look like a simple rectangle, but its components come together in a symphony of precision and craftsmanship.

1. Bed or Playing Surface

This is the flat surface upon which the game of pool is played. Traditionally made from slate due to its durability and flatness, the bed is covered with cloth, commonly referred to as "felt" even though it's typically made of woven wool or a wool-nylon blend.

2. Rails

Rails, often mistaken for cushions, are the wooden perimeter that frames the playing surface. They are not only structural but also offer players a surface to lean on or rest their cues during shots.

3. Cushions

Attached to the rails, cushions are the rubberized buffers that the balls bounce off. They play a pivotal role in the game’s dynamics. Their responsiveness and consistency determine how predictably the balls rebound, influencing gameplay strategy.

4. Pockets

Located where the rails meet, pockets are the receptacles into which players aim to sink balls. A standard pool table has six pockets—four corner pockets and two side pockets.

Material Matters: Delving into Composition

1. Slate

Slate remains the gold standard for pool table beds. Its weight and consistency make it the preferred choice for professionals. Some tables use non-slate alternatives like Slatron or Honeycomb, but these lack the precision and longevity of slate.

2. Cloth

Often colloquially called "felt", pool table cloth varies in its blend and weave. Worsted cloth, like Simonis, offers a smooth, fuzz-free surface and is preferred for professional play.

3. Rubber

The type of rubber used in cushions can drastically affect gameplay. Natural gum rubber cushions, for example, tend to offer consistent rebounds and have a longer lifespan than synthetic alternatives.

Pool Table Styles and Their Unique Components

Over the years, various pool table styles have emerged, each with its unique components and design philosophies.

1. Drop Pockets vs. Ball Return Systems

While drop pockets are stationary receptacles where the balls remain after being potted, ball return systems use a series of chutes to direct all potted balls to a central collection area, usually at one end of the table.

2. Coin-Operated Tables

Commonly found in bars or arcades, these tables require players to deposit coins to release the balls. They typically use ball return systems and have a locked ball tray to ensure payment before play.

3. Carom Tables

Used for games like three-cushion billiards, these tables lack pockets entirely. Their design focuses on the bed, rails, and cushions, optimizing for rebound shots.

Technical Terminologies

Delving deeper into the world of pool, several terminologies are centered around the table’s intricacies:

1. Rail Sights or Diamonds

These are the inlaid markings found on the rails. They serve as reference points for players and are crucial for bank and kick shots.

2. Nose of the Cushion

This is the front part of the cushion that the balls contact. Its shape and consistency are vital for predictable rebounds.

3. Apron or Skirt

The decorative, usually wooden, panel that runs along the table's perimeter below the rail level. It hides the table's structural elements and adds to its aesthetic appeal.

Preservation and Maintenance

A pool table is an investment, and understanding its components aids in its maintenance.

  • Brushing and Cleaning: Regularly brush the cloth to remove chalk residues and other debris. Use a specialized pool table brush with soft bristles to prevent damage.


  • Rubber Care: Over time, cushions can harden. Exposing the table to natural sunlight or using cushion-facing replacements can revitalize old cushions.


  • Leveling: Ensure the table bed remains level for fair gameplay. This might involve adjusting the table legs or placing shims beneath the slate.

The Nitty-Gritty of Table Construction

1. Table Frame

The backbone of a pool table, the frame ensures the table's stability and supports the weight of the heavy slate bed. High-quality tables usually have frames made from solid hardwoods like oak or mahogany, ensuring longevity.

2. Cross Beams

These are essential for tables with a slate bed, particularly those using three-piece slates. They provide additional support to prevent the slate from sagging over time.

3. Leg Levelers

Often found on modern tables, these adjustable devices on the bottom of table legs ensure an even playing surface, crucial in settings like basements or garages where the floor might not be perfectly flat.

The Science Behind the Bounce

The rubber used in cushions is vulcanized, which means it's been treated to enhance its elasticity and strength. When a ball strikes the cushion, the rubber compresses and then rapidly expands, returning the ball to the playing surface. The angle of reflection is equal to the angle of incidence, following the laws of physics. The consistency and speed of this rebound are essential for players to predict ball paths accurately.

Cloth Considerations

1. Nap Direction

Unlike worsted cloths, napped cloths have a direction to their weave. Playing "against the nap" can slow the ball down, while playing "with the nap" allows it to roll more easily. Seasoned players consider this when planning shots.

2. Cloth Thickness

Standard pool cloths vary in thickness, influencing ball speed. Thicker cloths, often seen on snooker tables, can slow the ball, while thinner cloths found on pool tables often enable faster gameplay.

In Conclusion

Behind every shot, every rebound, and every strategy in a game of pool, lies the silent, steadfast pool table—crafted with precision and purpose. Its components, each with its terminology, tell a tale of heritage, engineering, and passion. Whether you're a seasoned player, an enthusiast, or a casual observer, understanding these nuances elevates your appreciation of the game. So, the next time you approach a pool table, take a moment to admire its rails, cushions, cloth, and pockets. They're not just parts of a table; they're chapters in the grand story of pool.

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