There are pool table specifications for league and tournament play, however, there are still a range of pool tables available for home and recreational use. Most obvious is that pool tables come in different sizes, however, there are some construction differences that will affect how the table plays and how easy or difficult trick shots can be performed on it. Some of the more reputable manufacturers include Brunswick, Olhausen, Diamond, and Gabriels.
Pool table sizes and dimensions
American pool tables typically come in four different sizes with dimensions listed below. The playing area is always a 1:2 ratio.
|Name||7 foot||8 foot||Oversized 8 foot||9 foot|
|Size||3.5 x 7 ft||4 x 8 ft||4 x 8 ft||4.5 x 9 ft|
|Playing area||38 x 76 in||44 x 88 in||46 x 92 in||50 x 100 in|
The naming convention is a little tricky, but here's my best explanation at it. The playing area is the surface between the noses of the cushions. From the small width, they add 4 inches to cover the width underneath the cushions. With the exception of the oversized 8 foot table, this brings all of the short dimensions to the proper measurement in feet. Then they just tack on the proper 1:2 ratio to get the long length and the number that is usually referred to.
The exterior dimensions of the table depend on the width of the rails and cushions. Officially, the total width is specified to be between 4 and 7-1/2 inches. Commercial style tables will typically be on the wider end while home style tables will be narrower. This can affect how well you can make a bridge on the rail if the cue ball is close to the cushion.
As far as fitting a pool table into a room, the general rule of thumb is to have 5 feet (60 inches) of space around each side of the pool table since a typical pool cue is 58 inches long. For round numbers, a 3.5'x7' table would need a room 13.5' x 17' and so on. In nitty gritty details, 116 inches (58 inches times 2) should be added to the playing area since the balls won't likely be on top of the rail (unless you're shooting trick shots, of course). Add a few inches to account for your backswing, or just be prepared to jack up the back end of your cue every time the ball is near the rail!
The 7 foot pool table is often referred to as a "bar box" because this is typically the size found in bars and pubs. Most home tables tend to be 8 foot. High level tournaments generally use 9 foot pool tables. For real cheap thrills, there are also 6 foot tables available, but these are very low quality.
Most trick shots can be made on any size pool table. They will take a little adjusting going between sizes and certain shots will definitely be easier on certain size tables.
UK pool tables
UK pool tables are measured by their exterior dimensions and are usually 4 x 7 ft or 3 x 6 ft. Regardless, they still have a 1:2 ratio for the playing area, so most shots should transfer as far as the angles are concerned.
Also, the rails on UK pool tables have rounded corners going in to the pocket. This makes it a little more difficult to pocket balls in the corner as they won't rattle in, but rattle out. This is usually accommodated for by placing a small row of balls coming out from one of the corners of the pocket to help guide the object ball in.
Another unfortunate difference is the lack of diamonds on a UK pool table. This will make it a little more difficult to setup and aim shots as I use the diamonds frequently for both. If you have your own table, you can mark your own diamonds in even increments around the table. Otherwise, you'll just have to keep a good eye out for where your aligning everything.
Finally, I'll mention real quick that there are also snooker tables which tend to be 6 x 12 feet. At least these are 1:2 ratio although the larger size can eat up a lot of the roll of the balls. Most shots should be adaptable, but the table may end up just being too big for some of the tricks.
Pool table materials
The material the playing surface, or table bed, is made out of makes a huge difference, particularly in jumps and masses. I'll cover that in a little bit. First off, slate is the preferred material, and it comes in different thicknesses. One inch thick slate tends to be the quality standard, but some manufacturers will use thinner slate to save on costs and weight. Italian and Brazilian slate are also preferred. Slate is fairly immune to moisture and temperature extremes and fluctuations, so it will play truer for longer. About the only concern for slate is that because of the weight, there are usually three pieces to make up the table bed. Quality installation is a must otherwise the seam between the pieces will cause aggravating bumps and rolls.
Cheaper pool tables use slate substitutes such as wood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). These materials are sensitive to moisture and temperature and will tend to warp over time. Also, these softer materials absorb a lot of energy when you strike down into them, such as with a jump or masse shot, making these less effective unless they are also really springy, in which case jumping is a breeze.
Another important part of the construction is the rails. High quality rubber will last longer and play truer so it will be easier to calculate banks and kicks. If they're not installed properly, they may also play "dead", absorbing more of the impact rather than rebounding the ball.
Billiard tables are pocketless tables used for games of carom billiards. These tend to be 5 x 10 feet although the Korean version is 4.5 x 9 feet, like a pro pool table. Verhoeven and Gabriels are notable billiard table manufacturers. Some imagination is needed to adapt certain trick shots to carom tables or vice versa, but it can be done. I've seen a couple shots on billiard tables that I've adapted to a pool table.