Updated September 2022
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Buying guide for Best pool tables

A game of pool provides great entertainment, whether you’re occupying bored kids on a rainy day or indulging in a few “friendly” games with pals — you know, the ones that always turn out more competitive than you intended.

However, choosing the right pool table can be more involved than you think. There’s tremendous variety, from those designed to tuck away in the garage when not in use, to those that form the centerpiece of a full-on game room. And it’s not just about dimensions. There are big differences in construction, both from an appearance point of view and how they play. Of course, there is a wide range of prices, too.

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Pool balls have been made of various materials, including clay, wood, and ivory (ivory is now illegal in many places). Modern versions are made of plastic or phenolic resins.

Key considerations


Pool tables range in length from a minimum of around 3 feet (many of them are tabletop models, but some have legs) to a maximum of 9 feet. Of course, you need to add space around the table to play comfortably. We can’t really advise you on the right size pool table for your situation because it depends so much on the space you have available.


What we can say is that if you’re looking for serious gameplay, where you can practice shots and improve your ball-control skills, you need stability. A folding pool table is fine if your space is limited or for an occasional bit of fun, but it doesn’t provide sufficient support for high standards of play. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on a sturdy table, but you do need to have a permanent location for it. If you can afford a pool table with a substantial frame and solid legs, you’ll almost always be rewarded with a better game experience. Most high-end pool tables have an underlying structure designed to offer additional support to the playing surface.


It’s absolutely key that you have some means of leveling the table. This is often as simple as adjustable feet on low-cost tables, but it can also be mechanisms hidden within the frame. Use as long a spirit level as possible when doing this job.


Playing surface

Plywood: Many cheap pool tables have a thin plywood playing surface covered with a nylon cloth. If it gets even slightly damp, it can warp out of shape, and, unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to get it level again.

MDF: Medium-density fiberboard gives fewer problems, and a 0.5-inch or greater thickness usually provides good, consistent play for several years.

Slate: Machined natural slate is far and away the best material. It’s almost completely unaffected by variations in temperature or humidity, but it is very expensive. The only disadvantage with such superior materials is weight. Slate in particular is very heavy (you might want to think twice before putting one upstairs). Pool tables using it come in numerous pieces — the bed itself can be three sections — and it’s usually recommended that you have them assembled by professionals who have the skills required to get that very level surface that you’re investing in.

Synthetics: There are a couple of synthetic alternatives, which, while not quite professional standard (they will start to move eventually) are an improvement over MDF.

Felt: The addition of wool to the nylon or polyester of the pool table cloth (also called felt, although, strictly speaking, it isn’t) reduces static and enables the ball to roll more smoothly. It reduces the inclination of the balls to skid when struck hard, particularly when applying spin (called “English”), which makes the cue ball change trajectory after it strikes the object ball.


These are probably minor considerations, but the response of the cushions (rails, rubbers, or bumpers) is important to the standard of play. On cheap pool tables, they are a simple rubber strip, but on better ones, they’re a fully contoured part of the table and made to a standard profile called K66.


Pockets can be nylon mesh or textile and leather combinations (which simply feel nicer). A few tables have a ball return like you find with tables in bars, but when you’re playing at home there’s no real advantage to having one.


Of course, with larger pool tables you also get a much wider choice of style. There are lots of traditional and contemporary designs to match your décor, from tables with hardwood surrounds to those with concrete legs!

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Did you know?
The history of billiards, snooker, and pool is complicated, but it dates back to France in the 15th century. Eight-ball pool appeared in the United States around 1900.


Cue rackIf you want to create that proper poolroom atmosphere at home, you need a nice stand for your pool cues 

Table cover: Protect your pool table between uses from dust and spills.

Pool table prices


The cheapest pool tables are tabletop models, which you’ll find for around $60 or $70. Small folding tables start at about $100 and go as high as $300 for a good-quality 6-foot model.


Robust 6- and 7-foot pool tables, including those with a table tennis option, run from $400 to $1,000, which can get you a solid, classically styled billiard table with a better synthetic slate playing surface.


Large 8- and 9-foot pool tables can easily top $2,000, and real bar or tournament models can exceed $5,000.

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Many home pool tables have individual drop pockets — you have to fetch the balls. Some have a bar-style ball return, but you’ll generally pay more for these tables.


Q. What size is a regulation pool table?

A. This is an interesting question because there’s more than one answer! In the United States, any pool table can be considered “regulation” as long as it’s twice as long as it is wide. So a 7 x 3.5-foot table (the common bar size) and an 8 x 4-foot table are both “regulation” size. (Those are external dimensions. The actual playing surface of a 7-foot table should be 78 x 39 inches, and an 8-foot table is 88 x 44 inches, still a ratio of 2 to 1.)

Official pro tournament tables are almost always 9 x 4.5 feet (playing area is 100 x 50 inches). They’re a great challenge to a player’s skill, but they’re too large for many homes. And to confuse matters further, pool tables in the United Kingdom have different proportions. For example, a 7-foot table is 4 feet wide.

Q. How do I work out the room space I need?

A. Ideally, you need to be able to use your full cue action from anywhere around the table, at any angle. You can find charts online that give minimum room dimensions for each different table size. If you want to visualize it in your room, you can mark a table size on the floor with low-tack tape, and walk around it with your cue. If you haven’t bought one yet, a broom handle is an acceptable substitute.

Q. What should I do to look after the pool table cloth?

A. The felt is a bit like carpet; it will pick up dust, hairs, and chalk, which will affect gameplay and eventually wear out the surface. It’s a good idea to cover the table when not in use, chalk your cue away from the table, and not place food or drinks on the table’s edge. Cleaning has been traditionally performed with a brush, working from the center toward the pockets. Special cleaning tools are now available. A low-power vacuum may also be effective, though it will pull on the cloth if it has too much suction.

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