Pool Cue Maintenance 101
Like all good things in life, your pool cue needs a little special care in order to ensure it looks and plays its best for years to come. Always remember: a pool cue, even a very expensive pool cue, is made out of wood and wood needs to be taken care of to retain its value and playability. If taken care of properly, a pool cue can last for years – for multiple generations, in fact – and is often an item that is passed down or kept as a collector's item.
To properly maintain your cue, you need a few specialty items:
a pool cue case, chalk, a tip shaper, and shaft cleaner.
"Never leave your pool cue anywhere that gets really hot... or really cold... Extreme temperatures swings make your cue expand and contract, which in turns makes the joints move, warping the wood and leaving it wobbly and crooked."
Always break down your pool cue and store it in a proper pool case (or cue rack) after play. A case envelops your pool cue, keeping it free from dents, nicks and scratches. Pool cue cases also keep pressure off of your cue, which prevents warping and denting. Good cue cases are also lined with fabrics or foams designed to get rid of excess moisture for storing.
You want to get a well made case that is specifically made to hold a pool cue. Cases can be soft or hard and are made for every type and style of cue – from playing cues to jump and break cues. Case sizes vary from ones that carry one butt and one shaft all they way up to models that carry enough cues for a dealer to bring to a trade show. The size of your cue case is up to you, but you want to make sure to get one that is of good quality. For more information on selecting the right cue case, see Choosing the Right Pool Cue Case.
Never leave your pool cue anywhere that gets really hot (like your car in summer) or really cold (like your garage in winter), as extreme temperatures shifts affect overall straightness and inlay adhesion. Extreme temperatures swings make your cue expand and contract, which in turns makes the joints move, warping the wood and leaving it wobbly and crooked. Most modern pool cues have been treated with some sort of wood stabilizer that reduces the natural movement of wood due to temperature, but it's better to be safe than sorry where your cue is concerned.
Chalking, Tip Maintenance & Shaft Cleaning
Making sure your cue is properly chalked and your tip is taken care of are simple little things you can do to not only improve your game, but to keep your cue shaft looking (and playing!) newer for longer.
To properly chalk your cue, first make sure that you have a flat surface of chalk (or if your chalk is new, that the tip indention isn't too deep). Take the chalk in hand and lightly brush it on the tip, making sure to cover the entire surface. Do not grind the chalk or spin it onto the tip. This might feel satisfactory while you're doing it, but it will give you an ugly chalk stained line around the ferrule where the fibers have been scratched. Light brushing is all you need.
Proper chalking won't do a bit of good if your tip isn't shaped properly. Great tips come in many different hardnesses, are usually made of leather (generally either pig, boar or water buffalo) and should be slightly rough on the surface. This surface roughness gives the chalk something to hold onto, which in turn creates friction between the cue tip and the ball. It is this friction that causes spin and allows the tip to grab the cue ball, propelling it in the direction you were aiming. Not having that chalk to help build friction leads to miscueing, and that isn't the way to win a match.
Keep in mind that the tips on most brand new pool cues right out of the packaging have not been shaped or roughed up at all. You will need to scuff your tip before playing with it, and reshape and re-scuff it whenever it starts to flatten out or you start to miscue more often. A harder tip will last longer than a soft tip, but a soft tip will grab the cue better.
There are a number of tools on the market that can help make tip care easy. Tip tools range from very simple discs that simply shape your tip to a dime or nickel radius like a Willard shaper or Brad Scuffer; all the way up to shapers that do it all like the TipMaster 6-in-1 tool that shapes, scuffs, burnishes, picks and taps your tip into perfect shape. When shaping your tip it is important to not let the tool you use scratch the side of the ferrule. Tip shapers should only be used on the face of the tip, never the sides. You would use a rasp or burnisher to prepare the sides of your tip to prevent mushrooming. These same tools can also be used to scuff the face of your tip in a pinch, though a dime or nickel shaper is generally much nicer to have.
"Over time dirt, chalk and sweat will build up on your cue shaft, making it annoyingly sticky and preventing a nice smooth stroke. This is very easy to take care of with a cue cleaner or burnisher."
Over time dirt, chalk and sweat will build up on your cue shaft, making it annoyingly sticky and preventing a nice smooth stroke. This is very easy to take care of with a cue cleaner or burnisher. Burnishers like a Q-Wiz cleaning disc or Nick's Edge burnishing papers remove grime and polish your cue to a nice luster without damaging its finish. Be careful not use any kind of brillo-like pads or heavy grade sand paper on your cue. This might seem like a handy option, but will whittle your shaft down, changing the taper (and throwing off your game) and destroying it over time.
Cue cleaners like Smart Wipes or Cue Silk Cue Cleaner are nice to keep on hand for more stubborn buildup or every-once-in-awhile deep cleaning. Keep in mind that any moisture you apply to your cue should be immediately wiped away.
A microfiber hand towel is also handy to keep on hand to clean off your shaft between uses.
Taking these four simple steps – chalking, shaping, cleaning and properly storing your pool cue will keep it looking and playing just like new for years to come.