Now that you've purchased your very own pool cue, and hopefully followed some of the advice from earlier articles before doing so, you're going to want to take care of your investment. A good cue is relatively durable and forgiving, but all cues require care and a little bit of maintenance. We're going to be talking about wood pool cues here, graphite and fiberglass sticks are virtually bulletproof and require somewhat less care.
CASES. You are going to need a case in order to carry your new cue to the pool hall. I would think that would be obvious but yet I constantly see people coming in carrying their new cue in their hand. Come on now, you just spent your money and took the time picking out a pool cue that you love, but you can not spring for some sort of case? Basic cases are vinyl or soft-sided material. These will protect your cue against minor drops and dings, but not much else. I highly recommend hard cases just because they offer so much protection. Some cases are tested by driving a car over them without damaging the cue inside! Your pool cue can take a lot of damage in your car, in your house, and even at your billiard hall so protect it as best as you can.
While we're on the subject of transporting your cue – never leave your pool cue in your car, especially in the trunk! Wood is highly susceptible to temperature changes and to humidity, so avoid storing your billiard stick in your vehicle at all cost. The wood will expand and contract which could lead to warping, loose joints, and cracked points.
THE TIP. The tip of your pool cue (the part that hits the ball) is the most important part of the stick. You can shoot pool with a tree branch or a broom handle – or the most warped stick in the house, if the tip is solid and properly shaped you can play with it! No joking! Screw- on tips are a serious no-no, so do not even go there. "Real" tips are glued on and come in a variety of hardness. Soft tips hold chalk better and are better for applying "English" but they wear out and mushroom quickly. Extremely hard tips last forever but need constant re-chalking. Some say they make for a more accurate shot as well. A medium hardness tip should be fine for most players. The tip must be able to hold chalk, so periodic scuffing is necessary. The roundness of the tip should be maintained with a shaper. Most players compare the roundness to that of a nickel, though some prefer the tightness of a "dime curve". Shaping and scuffing too often will cause your tip to disappear quickly, so only shape and scuff when necessary. The sides of the tip should be even with the ferrule, not mushroomed out. Get yourself a scuffer / shaper and take care of that tip!
THE SHAFT. When you first purchased your pool cue the shaft was nice and smooth, and slid through your bridge hand ever-so-easily. That did not last long, did it? The sweat, oils, and dirt from your hand will gum up on your shaft very quickly, making it sticky and not so smooth. How do you prevent this, and how do you clean it up? First, you can not do much to prevent this from happening aside from washing your hands often and keeping them clean and dry. Some people use powder, like baby powder, on their bridge hand and on the cue. A tiny amount of powder that has been thoroughly rubbed in to your hand is okay – it makes your skin softer, but powder should never be used as a lubricant. Wash your hands! Powder will cause your pool cue shaft to gum up more quickly, and powder ruins the felt on the pool table. Nothing looks worse or plays worse than clean green felt with white baby powder all over it because some idiot thought that they had to dump powder all over themselves in order to shoot better! It just is not so – so do not do it. It is bad for your cue and bad for the table. Have some respect, huh?
Wiping the shaft of your pool cue down with a soft cloth in the course of play will limit the amount of crud that builds up on it. Not eating or drinking with your bridge hand is a good habit to get in to as well. Using a very light leather burnishing pad occasionally is a good idea. In time however, the pores in the wood of the shaft will become completely crammed full of dirt and oils and it will need a thorough cleaning. I'm going to tell you how I do it, just remember that if you screw up you could ruin your cue. Forever. The first step is to completely wipe down the shaft (not he ferrule) with a soft cloth and some rubbing alcohol. You do not want to soak the wood with it, use just enough to clean the wood. Continue wiping with alcohol until you do not see dirt on the cloth. The alcohol removes the dirt and oil from the wood and opens the pores of the wood. Now you want to just let it sit and dry for several hours. Now it's time for wax! That's right, I said wax. You need to use 100% carnauba wax for this. Car wax is fine, as long as it is 100% carnauba wax.
Just like waxing a car, apply a coat of wax with a soft cloth or applicator and let it dry to a haze. You can not let it dry too long, just let it sit awhile and have some patience. Once the wax has dried thoroughly you'll want to wipe it off – and immediately start working the shaft with a leather burnishing pad (or a plain piece of thick leather if you do not have a burnisher – which you should have anyway). Wrap the leather around the shaft and stoke it up and down as fast as you can (yes, it sounds dirty). The more you rub and the faster you rub the hotter the wax will become, which allows it to work into the pores of the wood. When you are finished you will have a beautiful, smooth shaft once again – but you're not finished just yet! You are going to need to run through all of the steps again, except for the alcohol part. Apply more wax, let it dry, rub the heck out of it, repeat until you have at least 3-4 layers of wax thoroughly worked into the wood. Now take care of the tip and go shoot some pool!
THE BUTT. The butt of your pool cue should not need much maintenance at all. Keep it clean and wipe it down with a soft cloth during and after play. Do not hit things with it and do not drop (or throw) it on the floor. The joints will loosen up, the wood will crack, and parts will separate if you do. Then you'll have to buy a whole new cue.
"Dings" in the Shaft. Nothing is more annoying than working your pool cue through your bridge and feeling little "dings" in the wood. As hard as we try to take care of our pool cues these little dents always seem to show up – as if by magic. Here is a method I learned that will remove small imperfections from your pool stick's shaft. First, you need to wipe the shaft down with rubbing alcohol just like in the paragraph on cleaning the shaft. This will open the pores of the wood. Next, find a spot where you can place the shaft where it will not roll, and where it will not get bumped. Lay the shaft (horizontally) down with the dings that you want to remove facing up. Now, soak a very small piece of tissue with water and roll it into a ball (think miniature spitball) and place the tissue ball directly on the indented spot on the shaft. It is important that the tissue ball not be larger than the actual indent on the shaft. Let that set until it dries completely – what happens is that the wood in that one tiny area absorbs the water from the tissue and swells, bringing that spot level with the surrounding wood. In a perfect world the "ding" will have disappeared, but what usually happens is that the "ding" becomes a small "bump" – which is fine because bumps can be worked out with a burnishing pad fairly easily. Once you have all of your "dings" up to level or slightly above level it is time to wax the shaft. Follow the instructions above for the proper method to do this. Of course another way to remove dings and dents from your pool cue would be to take it to a professional, but where's the fun in that?
NEVER USE ABRASIVES. Ever. Period. That means no sandpaper, no scouring pads, no wet / dry paper, nothing. If it was designed to remove wood than keep it far away from your pool cue! You never want to remove a layer of wood just to make it smooth – you want to clean the existing wood to maintain the shape, balance, and feel of the cue.
Your pool cue represents an investment on your part, so keeping it clean and in good condition will make it last a lifetime – now that's a lot of pool playing!