You probably put a lot of thought into your choice of snooker cue (read our blog on snooker cues if you’re about to buy one), but have you considered the effect cue tips and ferrules will have on your game?
Three times World Champion, Mark Williams, is known for preferring a rock-hard tip on his snooker cue; four times World Champion, John Higgins, believes that his game has benefitted from switching from a brass to a titanium ferrule. If these choices work for two giants of the game, should you simply follow their lead?
If only it were as simple as that. In this article I will tell you four things about cue tips and ferrules that will help you improve your game.
Cue tips and ferrules – table of contents
- What are cue tips made of?
- Should you choose a hard or soft cue tip?
- What diameter tip should you choose?
- When should you replace your cue tip?
- My recommended cue tip.
- What is the ferrule, and what does it do?
- Should you choose a brass or titanium ferrule?
- Cue tips and ferrules – the four things you need to know.
- My recommendation.
Why would Mark Williams want to play with a rock-hard cue tip? There could be a number of different reasons. We will look into them all, but keep in mind that Mark is an extremely skilled and experienced player who has honed his technique to near perfection over the years. It’s important to choose a cue tip that is right for your own stage of development.
Let’s start by looking at what a cue tip actually is.
What are cue tips made of?
Cue tips are nearly always made of leather; commonly pig skin or water buffalo. Some tips are made from a single piece of leather, punched from a hide, whilst others are made of several thin layers of leather glued together. These are known as laminated tips.
Leather is harder on the hair side than on the inside, which means the same is true of single piece, solid leather tips. Over time, the repeated impact with the cue ball will cause a solid leather tip to compress and, depending on its original hardness, become misshapen. Note that all solid leather tips become harder with regular use.
Laminated tips seek to overcome this characteristic, producing a more homogenous and longer-lasting cue tip by ironing out the inconsistencies in the natural leather. This makes them more durable and easier to maintain.
Should you choose a hard or soft cue tip?
When it comes to hardness, you can buy several different grades. Century Pro cue tips, used by Mark Selby, come in five grades, from very soft to very hard, for example.
What’s important to know is that a softer tip remains in contact with the cue ball for longer. In effect, its slight sponginess fractionally cushions the impact of your delivery. Softer tips also hold the chalk more readily. Now, if you’re a beginner, or a player who struggles with applying any form of spin to the cue ball, a softer tip will help with this aspect of your technique. Positional play, particularly with screw, will be very slightly easier.
However, a soft cue tip will become misshapen far more quickly than a hard tip. You’ll need to replace your cue tip as soon as you notice it begin to change shape, otherwise the risk of applying unwanted spin to the cue ball will increase. If you play a lot, you might find yourself replacing your cue tip every few months.
You should also think about the fact that a soft tip inevitably becomes harder as it is compressed by repeated striking of the cue ball. You are unlikely to notice this because it happens very gradually. As your technique improves, you may not even notice that your cue tip is not as soft as it originally was. Until you replace it that is…
Which brings us to the main benefit of using a harder tip – consistency. If, like Mark Williams, you favour a very hard tip, not only will it need replacing far less frequently, but each time you have to replace one, it won’t be such a noticeable change. In fact, that’s probably the main reason why Mark likes to play with a rock hard tip. The snooker season is long and he is likely to want to reduce performance variables to an absolute minimum.
What diameter tip should you choose?
Cue tips are made to a diameter of 9.5mm to 10mm. In my opinion, your cue tip shouldn’t overhang the ferrule, although you will occasionally see players with mushroom tips. That’s because they feel that having a cue tip with a larger surface area gives them a better chance of hitting the centre of the cue ball.
My advice is to choose a diameter that sits flush with the end of your cue. This will help you shape it more evenly and see the impact of your tip on the cue ball, thus striking it more consistently.
When should you replace your cue tip?
Take a look at the image at the top of this article. The cue tip is well shaped, but quite thin. You should replace your cue tip at this point, or as soon as you notice it has lost its original shape. Check your cue tip regularly. If it appears to have glazed, this is a sign of increasing hardness. You can use a cue tip scuffer and shaper to prolong the life of your tip, but if you prefer a soft tip, be prepared to change it regularly.
My recommended cue tip.
My own personal preference is for the Century G2 medium feel cue tip, for all of the reasons outlined above. I am happy to accept that I’ll need to replace it more often if I can get a bit more work on the cue ball.
What is the ferrule, and what does it do?
The ferrule is the short metal sleeve at the end of your cue, behind the cue tip. The tip of your cue has to withstand thousands of impacts over the course of its life. Without the protection afforded by this metal sleeve (pool cues are often fitted with cheaper plastic ones), it would soon split.
As well as its protective function, the ferrule provides a solid, non-porous base on which to fix the cue tip.
Because different materials have different properties, it stands to reason that what your ferrule is made from will have an effect on how you strike the ball.
Should you choose a brass or titanium ferrule?
Traditionally, snooker cues have been fitted with brass ferrules because it is softer, more malleable, and cheaper. It’s also attractive. Until recently, little thought had been given to making ferrules from any other metal.
However, brass can suffer from corrosion and be knocked out of shape. It is also one of the heavier types of metal, which means that the softness and additional weight at the end of your cue will definitely affect the way your cue ball reacts.
Titanium is a lighter and much stronger metal. A titanium ferrule will probably never need replacing, but players like John Higgins and Jimmy White use one not for that reason, but because of the way it affects the throw of the cue ball when they apply side spin.
Throw is the term used to describe the often imperceptible amount by which a cue ball hit with side swerves on its path to the object ball. Both John and Jimmy feel that a titanium ferrule reduces the throw, which makes aiming easier. In theory, you hardly need to compensate for side spin as you line up your shot.
Higgins feels that making a small improvement like this has resulted in a worthwhile marginal gain. As a former pro myself, I tend to agree. I find that I don’t need to adjust my normal aim as much when playing with side. I also seem to get a lot of spin reaction from the cushions without needing to apply as much side.
Yet not everyone feels the same. Some seasoned players find it too hard to adjust. Unlearning ingrained habits can be really hard and the marginal gain might not be worth it for some.
Nonetheless, if you are starting out, and you’re happy to pay the extra cost, a titanium ferrule is a wise choice. It should make aiming slightly more straightforward. But if you’re a seasoned player and you feel at home with your brass ferrule, beware of the change!
Cue tips and ferrules – the four things you need to know:
- Laminated leather cue tips provide more consistency and are easier to maintain than solid leather cue tips.
- Soft cue tips allow the cue to remain in contact with the cue ball for longer but need replacing more often.
- Your cue tip should be flush with your ferrule and replaced when it is thin or has gone out of shape.
- Titanium ferrules reduce the amount of throw and make aiming slightly more straightforward.
Cue tips and ferrules – My recommendation
The most common advice on cue tips and ferrules is that you should find what you like and stick with it. That’s fine, but misses some key considerations. My advice is that you should make your decision with all the facts at hand, according to where you are in your own learning process.
If you’re just starting out, I would recommend a softer cue tip on a titanium ferrule. This should make it easier for you to learn how to aim and how to apply spin to the cue ball. You can progress to harder cue tips as your technique improves.
More experienced players might also benefit from switching to a titanium ferrule, but should be aware that old aiming habits will need to be adjusted. In my opinion, the more experienced you are, the more important consistency becomes. For that reason I’m with Mark Williams in preferring a slightly harder cue tip to a soft one.
I’d love to hear your comments below.