What to look for when Buying a Pool Table: An Imperial Guide to Pool Table Purchases

A pool table is an investment, but when chosen carefully, the right pool table will provide years of entertainment for your friends and family. Pool tables, whether they be commercial or residential, classic or contemporary, all share the same core characteristics. These key characteristics are what make a table look, and more importantly, play the way that a pool table should — smooth and precise. In this guide, we outline the main things to look for when shopping for a pool table for your home.

Recreational vs Commercial

Home versus commercial pool tables: What’s the difference?

Before beginning your search, it is best to consider the type of table you want for your home.

Recreational or "home" tables are most commonly used in residences due to their relatively lower costs and furniture-style appearance. Home tables are typically made of wood, finished, and sized appropriately to make them ideal for home living spaces. Home tables can sometimes also be equipped with conversion tops, like dining tops for quick transformation to a dining surface, or alternate gaming tops to easily turn your pool table into a tennis table. Another huge perk for home tables is that they can often be paired with matching furniture, like storage benches and bar sets to make a complete game room.

Commercial tables typically appear in pool halls, bars, game rooms, or in professionally played billiards events. Rather than made primarily of wood, commercial tables are often composed of composite materials that allow the table to be more durable and last through extensive use. Commercial tables feature more complex tuning and leveling systems to maintain regulation playing conditions. We recommend commercial tables to more experienced players or those who want to practice for tournament play.

Home vs Commercial

Measure Space

How much space do you need?

One of the most common issues first-time purchasers face is not having enough space for their pool table. We recommend leaving at least 4.5’ (or 54”) of space on all sides of the pool table to allow for optimal playability. Pool cues are typically 57 or 58” long, so tighter shots require more space to accommodate a full stroke and protect your walls from damage. We also suggest contacting your dealer before making your purchase to verify that an installer will be able to successfully bring the table into your chosen room for installation. Occasionally installers will run into problems when doorways or hallways don’t allow enough space to transport table pieces through your home into your desired table room.

If space in your home is an issue, you can also consider an outdoor pool table. Outdoor tables are made of weatherproof components and can be kept outside to play in your yard or on your patio.

Pool Table Size Guide

Components & Accessories

After you decide what type of table is right for your space, it is important to understand what goes into the making of a pool table in order to better determine which tables are of the highest quality and will provide you with the best value for your purchase.

1. Slate:   Arguably the most important component when it comes to playability, slate is what sits underneath your cloth and allows the balls to roll smoothly about the playing surface. There are three standard thicknesses for slate, 3/4" slate, 1" slate, and 1-1/4" slate, however, the BCA (Billiard Congress of America) requires a minimum of 1" slate on tables used in official billiard tournaments, so 1” slate is typically the most commonly used thickness for pool tables. We recommend 1” slate as it is the most versatile thickness and provides optimal ball rolling. Imperial tables typically ship with 1” backed K pattern slate.

Components of a pool table: the slate
Components of a pool table: the frame

2. Frame:   The pool table’s frame is what supports the table and its slate and determines the table’s overall stability. Without a sturdy frame, the table and slate can suffer warping or cracking, creating an uneven playing surface. The larger the table and the heavier the slate, the more support the table will require. Quality home tables feature solid wood frames with support beams to keep the slate level and maintain playability through extended use.

3. Cabinet:   The Pool Table’s cabinet is what people see first when looking at a pool table, as it determines the style and shape of your table. It also contains most of the table’s weight, so it must be sturdy and durable. Most commonly made from solid wood, the cabinet can be simple and rustic or more artistic and intricate like some antique tables. The first thing we recommend when considering the look of a pool table is what will look best to you when your table is assembled in your home space. Pool tables can feature a variety of different woods and finishes, creating very unique and diversified styles, especially when paired with room décor. We believe it is best to consider the room that will be the pool table’s home and compare different style tables with how they will complement your game room.

As touched on above, it is also very important to consider the size of your table. Most home tables are either 7’ or 8’ sizes. If space is less than ideal, shorter pool cues can be used to make playing easier.

Components of a pool table: the cabinet
Components of a pool table: the rails and cushions

4. Rails and Cushions:   Table rails and cushions are what ensure ball rebound. When a ball strikes a rail, quality cushions will provide a very precise threshold of rebound that players rely on when planning their shots. Cushions made from synthetic materials can dry out and cause “dead rails,” meaning a rail that provides little to no bounce. High-quality cushions such as K66 cushion rubber use natural materials to produce rebound and are overall more reliable than synthetic cushions. Imperial tables come standard with K66 cushion rubber for true rebound.

5. Legs:   All pool tables need good legs to support the table and keep it level. Legs can vary in appearance, like ball and claw versus pedestal legs, but all legs should be able to support the table through years of play. Post legs are reliable as they are often solid wood and will maintain their stability for extended lengths of time. Imperial uses an array of leg styles, ranging from classic post to decorative steel legs, however, all our tables feature optimal stability from leg support.

Components of a pool table: the legs
Components of a pool table: the cloth

6. Cloth:   Another crucial component that influences ball behavior is the cloth or felt. Most modern pool table cloth will be a wool-nylon blend and that is coated in a material called Teflon, which protects the fabric and adds longevity. Cloth strength is determined by the cloth’s weight per yard, with the most common weights ranging from 18 – 22 oz per yard. For a focus on speed, worsted wool cloth is the best option for higher-level play.

7. Accessories:   Find all the billiard accessories whether it's balls, pool cue chalk, cue tips, tip tools or shaft cleaners and more.

a) Balls: The standard billiard ball set includes 15 numbered balls and 1 cue ball. Most modern balls should be made of phenolic resins, polyester blends or acrylic.

b) Cues: Typically, the pool cues used by each player will vary based on skill level and preference. For home or leisure play, the standard 1-piece house cue is great for beginners. For an in-depth look at pool cues, refer to our How to Choose A Pool Cue Guide.

c) Cue Racks: Cue racks should always be used to keep your cues secure and protected when not in use. Imperial offers both floor racks and wall mounting racks in a variety of finish options.

d) Table Light: Billiards tables need to be kept well-lit for aiming during gameplay. If possible, consider an overhead lamp to keep your pool table’s surface well-lit in any room. Imperial carries an array of billiards lamps licensed for an array of sports teams from the NFL, MLB, NHL, and college.

e) Maintenance: A cloth brush is great for routine maintenance of your pool table. We also recommend keeping your table protected by a table cover when not in use. For an in-depth look at pool table maintenance, refer to our Pool Table Maintenance Guide.

f) Other Accessories: Other accessories that are needed to start playing are ball racks and cue chalk. The most common games played in American pool are 8-ball and 9-ball, set up by their respective ball racks. Cue chalk is needed to add friction to your shots and keep your game accurate.

Imperial billiards accessories
The pool table installation process includes three steps beginning with determining the right location, and ending with assembling the table.

Installation Process

Once you determine your pool table's type, size, and components, you can order one and install it in your home. While you could install it yourself, pool tables arrive in multiple pieces and can be complicated to assemble, so it may be best to have a professional build the table.

Setting up a new pool table can take 1 to 2 hours, depending on who's involved and their installation experience. The tables are heavy, with some weighing 1,000 or more pounds, so whenever it's time to install your new pool table, ensure you have people who can move it into the right place.

The process of installing a pool table for home use includes:

1) Determining the right location:Before the installation begins, you need to know where you want the table to go. Choose a place in your home that has an even surface, plenty of surrounding space, and limited direct sunlight.

2) Reviewing the manufacturer's instructions:Regardless of whether you're assembling the table or having a professional installer complete the job, reviewing the manufacturer's instructions is a vital step in the installation process to ensure a stable setup.

3) Assembling the pool table:Once you or the installer knows where the table is going and how to assemble it, you or they can begin building it according to the instructions. The process often starts with making the frame and securing the slate to it. Then, the table's rails, felt, and pockets get installed.

If you decide to assemble your table, ensure you use the proper tools, take your time, and follow the instructions to ensure the best outcome. When you have a professional install your pool table, they already know which tools to use and how the assembly should go based on their experience.

How to Buy a Pool Table

Understanding the characteristics of pool tables and their installation process is only one part of the equation — the next step is to start thinking about buying one. To buy a pool table, you should determine a budget and speak with a pool table professional. Talking with a professional will help you further pinpoint the specific things you're looking for in your new table and ensure you gain the information you need to make informed decisions about purchasing the best one for your home.

Find a Dealer Near You

Are you interested in getting a new pool table for your home? Now that you know how to choose a pool table, you are ready to purchase the one of your dreams. Discover diverse designs and models at Imperial to help you narrow your choices. When you're ready to add one of these products to your home, connect with an Imperial dealer near you to browse our selection and get one step closer to spending quality family time around the pool table.