Stephen Hendry won the World Championship using a £40 Rex Williams cue that he describes as “a cheap piece of wood”.
But, then, he’s Stephen Hendry. And we’re not.
The rest of us can only dream.
Yet knowing which snooker cue is best for you can get you quite a bit closer to your ambitions. Let’s have a look at the four main things you should think about when you’re choosing a cue.
Understanding which snooker cue is best for you: table of contents
- What should your cue be made of?
- Should you choose a one-piece, two-piece or three-piece cue?
- How long and how heavy should your cue be?
- What type of ferrule and tip should your cue have?
1.What should your cue be made of?
Think how many thousands of times your cue has to strike the cue ball, a hard, solid piece of resin, over the course of its life. It needs to pretty tough if it’s going to last very long. For that reason, most snooker cues are made of one of the hardwoods. You are most likely to be offered an ash or a maple cue, although Riley offer ebony cues, and rosewood cues are also available.
Ash and maple are the most common woods because of their straight, dense grain, which makes these two wood types extremely popular when something needs to be durable. For example, you’ll find both woods used for making oars, skis and baseball bats, and maple is tough enough to be used for flooring in sports halls.
Where ash has a slight advantage over maple is in its flexibility. Without getting too technical, a snooker cue needs to have a certain amount of flexibility; something players refer to as “whippiness”. This allows the cue to push the ball away after you strike it. Think of it as a kind of recoil. A completely rigid cue wouldn’t produce that small amount of extra impetus, so, despite the clever marketing, we’re not in favour of materials like graphite or carbon fibre.
Ash has a darker grain than maple. Often the patterns line up in a row of chevrons towards the tip. This can help in aiming.
Note too, that Welsh snooker professional, Dominic Dale, says (on the WST website) that maple cues tend to throw the ball slightly more and, for that reason, they require a narrower tip. We’ll talk more about that in section 4.
The butt of a snooker cue is usually spliced with a different kind of wood to the shaft. Walnut and ebony are widely used, mainly for their aesthetic appeal. The splice is hand-finished on premium cues, otherwise it will be machine-finished. Machine-finishing is so good now that it can be hard to notice any difference. In this regard, which snooker cue is best for you is a matter of personal taste.
On balance, we recommend that you choose an ash cue, with one caveat – ash, although cheaper, is not quite as sustainable as maple, and a walnut splice is a far more sustainable choice than an ebony one. So, which snooker cue is best for you may depend as much on your world view as it does on actually playing the game.
2. Should you choose a one-piece, two-piece or three piece cue?
Are you a traditionalist, or is convenience more important to you? How you answer that question will help you decide which snooker cue is best for you.
Some players like the sturdiness of a single continuous piece of wood and believe that they can “feel” the shot better. Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Selby are one-piece men. A one-piece cue will be slightly lighter because of the lack of a metal joint. However, there is no real evidence that a one-piece cue delivers superior performance. Don’t discount the psychological benefits of playing with a cue you believe in though!
Two piece cues come into their own when portability is taken into account. In tight spaces, like trains, transporting a long one-piece cue can feel like manoeuvring a settee around a corner on a flight of stairs. That’s the main reason most club players opt for jointed cues. A well-made jointed cue should offer just as much feel as a one-piece, and will be a jot easier to put on the back seat of your car.
If you’re more convinced by the practicality of a jointed cue, you’ll need to decide between a two-piece (split equally down the middle) or a three-piece, three-quarter length with a 6″ butt joint. Not so long ago, two-piece cues were extremely popular. However, the joint can appear in the line-of-sight when cueing. That’s the main reason that three-quarter length joints became more popular.
Lastly, the addition of the 6″ butt joint can be a real help in playing those shots by hand that are only just out of reach, helping players avoid using the rest.
As far as the debate over one-piece or two-piece cues goes, which snooker cue is best for you is a choice of practicality over emotion. There is no real difference between the two.
3. How long and how heavy should your cue be?
Steve Davis is 6’2″ tall; John Higgins is shorter at 5’8″. Their cues are custom-made to suit their size, but does size matter? When it comes to choosing a snooker cue, the answer is yes, it does. The average snooker cue length is between 57″ and 58″ long, which suits the average European male (who comes in at 5’11”) very well. People taller than Steve Davis might find that attaching the 6″ butt joint makes the cue more comfortable to use.
On the other hand, the average height for a European female is 5’6″, which makes a shorter cue a more suitable choice. Ladies’ cues are available from 48″ long to 54″ long.
Although it is important to be comfortable when cueing, you should also be aware that length affects the weight (obviously!) and the balance point of your cue (not quite so obvious). A longer cue balances nearer to the butt end, which greatly affects how the cue feels when taking a shot.
When it comes to weight, the answer as to which cue is best for you is very much a matter or personal preference. Snooker cues usually weigh around 18oz. Some players find that they can generate more power with a heavier cue and deliver it more easily in a straight line. That said, additional power tends to magnify any delivery errors. A heavier cue may also make decelerating on the shot less likely. However, a lighter cue helps with finesse. The quality of the cloth you’re playing on affects the speed of the cue ball just as much as the weight of your cue (read our blog about which cloth is best for more information).
The most important point is to find a weight that feels comfortable to you, and stick to it.
4. What type of ferrule and tip should your cue have?
The ferrule is the small tube that sits on the end of the cue, just behind the tip. It stops the thin end of the cue splitting apart from the repeated impact of hitting the cue ball, and helps create a solid base for applying the cue tip. Plus it’s traditional, and it looks good (apart from those horrid, white, plastic ones).
Most snooker cues are fitted with brass ferrules (pool cues use the plastic ones) but, recently, titanium ferrules have been gaining popularity. That’s because titanium is lighter than brass, which players such as John Higgins believe reduces the amount of throw when applying side-spin. At club level, choosing a titanium ferrule over a brass one is very unlikely to make any difference to a player’s performance.
What definitely does affect performance though, is the type of tip you choose to put on your cue. Cue tips are made from laminated leather and come in varying degrees of hardness. Generally speaking, a larger diameter tip will provide a little more power and a little less control than one with a smaller diameter (see section 1 regarding the different tips required for ash and maple cues).
A softer tip absorbs more impact and stays in contact with the cue ball for longer. For a club player, maintaining contact with the cue ball as long a possible on each shot is an essential skill to develop (see our blog on the 10 most common mistakes club players make). This makes controlling the cue ball and gaining position a little easier. The downside of soft tips is that they are prone to go out of shape quite quickly and need replacing more often. They also harden naturally over time, reducing their beneficial effect as they age.
The opposite is true of hard tips, which last a very long time but impart little spin and can cause miscues.
As is so often the case, most advice suggests that club players opt for a medium hardness to get the best of both worlds. Our view is that beginners and inexperienced players should start with a softer tip and move over to harder tips as their technique improves.
There’s a lot to take into account when deciding which snooker cue is best for you. It’s something worth taking time over because it’s the most important piece of snooker equipment you will own. We recommend that you buy from a shop where you can handle several different cues and see how they feel before you part with your money.