Cuemaking

Thomas Wayne

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NOTE: Chuck Woo wrote a response to a message from Sherm Adamson (cuemaker from Ohio) about how to make cues. Thomas Wayne (cuemaker from Alaska) wrote a response to Chuck's message:

Chuck Woo wrote:

Hi Sherm. actually, I've been kinda curious about a few things concerning cuemaking, ever since a couple weeks ago when someone at one of the places I play at got a Porper Q-Lathe Model "B" (the one with the attachments). In particular, you could talk about the equipment needed to make (a) simple cues with no inlays, and (b) inlaid cues. Last year's P&B Mag Annual Cue Issue purported to describe cuemaking machinery, but I found it was utterly confusing and not very enlightening. If you want to give up all the secrets, you could also discuss how a full splice is made, how balancing is done, how wood should be aged, how finishes and wraps are done, and of course all the different kinds of woods and their properties w/ regards to pool cues. Heck, any one of the cuemakers around here could (should? ;) write a book on the subject.



Thomas Wayne wrote:

What is the minimum equipment required to make cues? In my experience: a pocket knife! Years ago I met a fellow in a small Alaskan bar/pool hall (3 Valley coin-ops) with a homemade one-piece cue. He was a "bush" gold miner, and had CARVED this cue from a small Alaskan Birch tree (presumably while sitting around a campfire singing traditional campfire songs :-]). The grip section had several dozen concave divots carved in for texture and he had flame hardened it full-length; it was burnt-black from butt to tip. He had polished it with boot oil, and it had pieces of boot leather attached at each end, one for a bumper and the other for a tip. He carried it around in a long denim tube (recycled Leviís, no doubt), and he played a fairly mean game with it, I might add (in fact I DID add). When he discovered what I did for a living, he talked me into adding a moose antler ferrule and "real" tip. Though it was remarkably straight, hand fitting was still required. Out of this we became good friends, till he disappeared a few years ago.

My first cues were built using only a floor model drill press. As a child, my father taught me woodworking on a first-generation Shop-smith (his father bought it when they first came out; my father -now in his mid 80's- still uses it). For those not familiar with the Shop-smith, it's a combination machine that can serve as a table saw, sander, lathe, drill press, and lots more. The [Shop-smith] lathe and drill press modes are very similar, so (years later and thousands of miles from home) when I needed a lathe -which I didn't have- I saw a simple way to modify the drill press that I DID have. I fitted a salvaged ball-bearing into the hole in the drill press table and used it for a "live" tail-stock. To the whole thing I added particle-board and drywall screw technology to create router guides and tool rests, etc. With this odd looking contraption I built a number of cues, and I'm proud to say that they were all stunning! (Ok, ok...they were less than mediocre). Having truly caught the bug, I decided to get a real lathe or two, and the rest -as they say- is hysterical (that is what they say, isn't it?).

A well-known Alaskan pool aficionado known by the nickname "Junkyard Jim" (he specialized in salvage work) decided, several years ago, that he wanted to build pool cues. He spent a lot of time hanging out at my shop, but his finances and general frugality prevented him from buying much in the way of "real" equipment. Typical of his necessary ingenuity, his sanding and wrapping lathe was built up from a used military 16mm film re-winder! He is no longer in cues -or Alaska, for that matter- and is hopefully on to bigger and better things.

The late Russ Waldo, of Seattle, first showed me how to build cues (before the drill press episodes). Russ used two Rockwell bench model wood lathes. He also had a tiny table-top metal lathe that he used to make joint pins and inserts, but all the cue work was done with just the two wood lathes. He had devised a number of router guides, tool rests and other gizmos and gadgets for getting the job done; this is where I learned to make similar improvisations. Russ is gone now, but his son may still be making cues. I haven't heard from him in quite a few years.

Until very recently there has never been any machinery or tooling dedicated specifically to the art of cuemaking. For that reason, all of the more "established" cuemakers (that I know) have experiences and stories similar to those given above. We all had to experiment, test and adapt to succeed (or fail) at our goals. The modern history of cuemaking is rich with examples of imagination and innovation. Following past greats (Martin, Balabushka, Szamboti, etc.), Richard Black, Bill Stroud, Ernie Gutierrez, Dan Janes, Bill Schick -and many others- are all living pioneers, responsible time and again for finding methods and techniques where none previously existed.

Today, there are any number of vendors who offer machines, tools, parts and instructions for repairing and/or building pool cues. Probably the best known (and most user friendly) is the machinery offered by Joe Porper of Creative Inventions in Canoga Park, California. Joe's machines, as well as the other brands, are meant to give the aspiring cuemaker a running start at a fairly difficult craft. But just having the "right" equipment is nowhere near all it takes to succeed as a cuemaker. The general perception is that if a guy just had a shop like -say- Mike Bender, or Jerry McWorter, he could punch out incredible cues, almost in his sleep. The reality, however, is very different. I have helped several people set up cuemaking shops with all the best equipment they could afford, only to have them be disappointed when they couldn't just shove lumber into one end and have finished cues fly out the other. I have (in my shop) some of the most sophisticated cuemaking equipment in existence. All of which I designed and built myself. NONE of it is "store bought", because you can't buy this kind of stuff anywhere. And you will find this to be true of virtually all the top cuemakers. But having this equipment alone would never be enough to succeed at cuemaking. Along with the correct tools, the other necessary ingredients for successful cuemaking are desire (most important), ingenuity and imagination. All the top cuemakers I know, to a man, have these qualities in abundance. And you can't buy that at the store either. As the old gospel preacher said: "You gotta have a 'want to'!".

As I've stated in other postings, Joe Porper is a close friend of mine. So naturally, I'm a little biased. That not withstanding, I know ANY product Joe puts on the market will be of the highest quality possible -he wouldn't settle for less. I have personally bought two of Joe's lathes (for other businesses), and always recommend them when people ask me about cue lathes. By the time Joe first brought his lathe to market, I had already fully equipped my shop (you can accumulate a lot stuff in almost 30 years of being a "tool junkie"). If I was just starting out today, however, I'd be thrilled with one of his fully equipped lathes ("model B"). What a head start that would be. If you're a creative, artistic, or craft-oriented type, cuemaking might be just your thing. And maybe I'll see you at an ACA meeting someday. If, however, you're a pool junkie (no shame in that; I am, too) and you figure cuemaking might be a great way to make loads of money without having to get a "real" job, I think you're going to be mighty disappointed. Cuemaking -especially in the beginning- can be hard and unprofitable work. Over the years I have watched a number of 'pool-junkie-turned-cuemaker' types who became disenchanted with the rigors of the craft and eventually went back to being just pool junkies. I encourage these guys, because they're always a great source of used equipment, after the "honeymoon" is over.

If you have the dedication, patience and perseverance necessary to succeed at cuemaking, you could do a LOT worse than a Porper lathe. If you DON'T have these attributes, maybe you should save your money...


TW
(P.S. Sorry for the length of this post; I have a passion for cuemaking, and passion is a hard thing to conceal...)

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