As you probably already know, billiards is a sport that tests your skill as well as testing your mental fortitude. There is no replacement for solid, consistent practice and training. This is, however, a sport where equipment choices can make a difference. Choosing the right pool cue tip is one of the most important choices you can make to help improve your game.
A famous story about billiards legend Willie Masconi was that you could give him nothing but a broom, with a good cue tip on the end. He would run out all of the tables and sweep up the joint when he was done. It's not that he actually did it, the point is that he would need to have a good tip on the end to control the ball. Many of us have spent countless hours, and money, adding that latest and greatest cue to our arsenal, in hopes that we would suddenly be running the tables in the next APA championship. Most of the time, the cue tip was never given a second thought. You simply used the tip that came with the cue. When it came time to change it you simply replaced the tip with something "standard".
While a good player can benefit from a better cue, especially true for a high performance shaft, most players will benefit immediately from choosing the proper pool cue tip (and maintaining it properly). We won't discuss the proper maintenance of the tip in this article. We will cover that in a later post. It is an important part of developing a consistent strike and playing style. The good news is that selecting the right pool cue tip is not too hard, as long as you understand the basics.
There are 4 main things to consider when selecting the next tip for your pool stick. We will discuss each of these throughout this article.
- Size: The diameter of the tip must be at least as large as your shaft's diameter.
- Hardness: Tips come in a variety of harnesses, from super soft to super hard.
- Material: Laminated leather, single-piece, or even bakelite and phenolic options are available.
- Brand: Here's the hard one. Which cue tip brand should you choose?
Tip Size (Diameter)
The first thing to consider, and probably the easiest, is what size tip do you need. This choice is driven completely by the size of the end of the shaft you are using. Generally, standard shafts will come at a 13mm diameter at the tip end. Most major cue manufacturers will offer these as standard, unless a different size is requested. In most cases, they may allow you to have the shaft "turned down" to a smaller diameter. The available sizes will vary from one to the other, but they will typically be somewhere between 11.5mm and 13mm. Tips are usually available in sizes from 12mm to 14mm. A wider tip must be turned down to match the diameter of the shaft.
The effects of having the smaller diameter shaft is beyond the scope of this article. In general, a smaller diameter tip will provide a tighter hitting surface and allow you to put a bit more spin on the ball. The smaller tip may also be more unforgiving of mishits. Some people like how the thinner cues feel in their hand as well. It is a matter of personal preference.
The important part here is that the tip you choose must be at least as wide as your shaft. It is OK if the tip is larger, but it can't be smaller. Simple.
Pool Cue Tip Hardness
The second thing to consider when selecting the right pool cue tip is how hard of a tip do you want. Tips come in a variety of hardnesses, ranging from super soft to super hard. How do you know which one is right for you? It depends on a few different things; will this cue be used for a special purpose (such as breaking or jumping), and what is your level of experience and playing style.
As you go down the scale from hard to soft, the tips provide more cushion on the hit. The additional deflection provided from the tip allows the tip to remain in contact with the ball for a fraction of a second longer. This, in turn, allows you to have more control over the ball. It will generally become easier to apply english to the ball, and control your shots more precisely. The downside is that they will lose their shape more quickly and require more maintenance and more frequent replacement.
Super Hard and Hard Tips
For breaking or jumping, you will generally want a harder tip. This is because a harder tip will impart the most force through to the ball, allowing you to get a much more solid hit. This is important when breaking and jumping. There are some super hard tips available that are actually just as hard as the balls, which will transfer the maximum amount of force from the cue to the ball.
The hard tip will not deflect as much as the softer tips, which means that the tip will be in contact with the ball for a very short time. Most of the force will be applied directly to the ball. Because of this, you may find that you have less control over spin (or english) on the ball and the tip may be less forgiving of miscues. Also, a harder tip will generally keep its shape longer and require much less maintenance than a softer tip.
Medium Cue Tips
Most pool cues come with a standard medium style pool cue tip. These medium tips are a good compromise for an overall playing cue. It allows you to get solid hits, with reasonable maintenance, yet still be able to provide some control over the ball. This works well if you use a single cue for breaking, jumping and playing. It may also be the right choice for your style.
Soft and Super Soft Tips
The softer tips available will generally allow you to provide more spin on the ball. There is a pretty wide range from soft to super soft, each manufacturer has their own formula and specs. In general, once your game progresses to the point where you are actively controlling the ball, you may start to look at getting softer tips and using separate cues for playing, breaking and jumping.
As you become really good, you may even start to carry multiple shafts with different tips based on the playing conditions you expect to encounter. Each table can play differently, based on the cloth type and condition and other environmental factors. Top professional players will tune their setup to the specific requirements of the venue they will be playing.
The softest tips are more appropriate for a skilled player playing on a high quality surface, such as a new table (or cloth) in a tournament setting. The additional deflection these tips provide can take a bite out of the strength of your strike and may be difficult for the average player to hit on that old, worn table at your local spot.
Experiment to Find the Right Tip
The most appropriate way to decide which hardness is right for you is to try them for yourself. Every player has their own style, skill level and stroke. While a soft tip may be best for one player, a medium or hard just may be the right for another. You need to consider how hard you hit, how straight you hit, and how much you actively try to control the ball.
One way to do this is to gather a few cues (or shafts) with different hardness tips and experiment. Line up a striped ball and strike it down the length of the table so it comes back to your cue. Pay attention to the wobble in the ball and the control you have over the distance. Do this again with the other tips and you should see a difference based upon your individual striking style. Try other experiments that apply to your experience and style. Curve the ball in ways you typically would use. Test the various tips on breaks, jumps and other situations. All of this will help you determine which hardness is appropriate for you.
It is also important to realize that there is no standard for the tip hardness ranges. One manufacturer's medium may be another's hard. Similarly a soft tip from one brand may be softer than a super soft from another brand. We will list out the relative hardness of a number of brand name cue tips later in this article.
Pool Cue Tip Materials
Today's pool cue tips come in a variety of materials, depending on their intended function. The most common material used for cue tips is leather. The manufacturer usually applies the leather in various layers. They call these laminated leather tips. You can find anything from pig skin, cow hide, and even bore hide, depending on the manufacturer and tip model. In many cases, they apply the leather in layers. This layering of the leather helps to support the strength of the tip, and allows it to keep its shape better. Each manufacturer may also use different methods for gluing the layers together. Some may claim their process is better than others for one reason or another. For the most part, most modern laminated leather cue tips are similar in construction, although there may be big differences in the quality of both the material and construction.
Some specialty tips, especially ones used for breaking or jumping, may be made of other, much harder materials. A tip made from Bakelite, or other non-leather, phenolic tips may be as hard as the ball you are hitting, which keeps deflection to a minimum and will transfer the most power to the ball and require very little, if no maintenance. Dedicated break cues and jump cues may come with one of these tips. Some local pool halls, leagues or tournaments restrict non-leather, phenolic tips from being used. You should check with them before purchasing, just to be sure.
Pool Cue Tip Brands
The final choice you need to make in selecting the best pool cue tip for your playing skill and style is what brand to buy. Like most products, most people have their own preferences based on experience, brand loyalty and other factors. Most brand discussions can quickly turn into a war as everyone has their reasons for supporting their favorite brand. We are not going to start a war, but just want to provide some basic information on the brands available and provide a summary based on experience and comments from players. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of cue tip makers, but should provide a pretty broad overview of what is available. The brands are provided in no specific order.
Moori Billiard Cue Tips
Moori Tips are made in Japan using 8 layers of pig skin leather. Many players consider these to be some of the best tips made. This has made them one of the most popular tips on the market due to their high quality and reasonable price.
Over the last few years, some people have complained that the quality has fallen off, but that is most likely due to a number of "fakes" introduced in the market. Moori has recently changed their logo and packaging in an effort to discourage these fakes. A genuine Moori tip still has the high quality they have been known for. Moori tips are available in soft, medium and hard hardnesses and are all 14mm in diameter.
A recent addition to the Moori tip line is the Moori Jewel. This tip is black, and provides exceptional ball control. The tip appears to be somewhere between the Moori soft and medium tips in hardnesss.
Kamui tips are made in Japan using top-grade pig leather. They gained notoriety in 2007 when they where introduced at the BCA Super Billiards Expo and have been popular among players and pros ever since. Many players feel these are the top pool cue tip on the market today, but everybody has their own preferences. There are currently four main types of Kamui tips available:
- Kamui Original Tips - These tips are light brown and provide better chalk retention and less mis-cuing. They are great quality tips.
- Kamui Black Tips - These black pool cue tips have all of the Kamui quality construction in more elastic (bouncy) tip that provides better ball control than the standard (original) tips.
- Kamui Clear Original Tips - These tips are similar to the original tips, but they are made with more exacting process that produces flatter layers and a shielded bottom to reduce the amount of glue needed to install the tip. This process also minimizes the amount of glue that is absorbed by the tip, providing a more consistent tip.
- Kamui Clear Black Tips - These have the additional elasticity of the black tips, with the enhanced construction process of the clear tips.
Tiger Products makes a variety of good quality pool cue tips, as well as a variety of cues and other accessories. They generally have individual, specialized tips that come in one hardness, rather than having different hardness levels of each tip. Their standard laminated pool cue tip is the exception.
Tiger Laminated Tip - These tips feature 11 layers of pig skin or cow hide leather (depending on the hardness) and provide consistency and maximum ball control at a great price. The tips are available in soft, medium and hard.
Tiger Icebreaker Phenolic/Leather Tip - This is Tiger's phenolic break tip and gets some great reviews. It is somewhat of a hybrid though, utilizing a laminated leather core with a leather contact surface. This allows for a great chalk adhesion than typical phenolic tips. It then has a phenolic collar that provides the ultimate in hardness and suppresses tip expansion on impact.
Tiger Jump/Break Tip - This is a super-hard laminated leather break tip, for those who don't (or can't) go with the phenolic tips. This tip comes in 15mm diameter and provides great action for breaking and jumping.
Tiger Dynamite Tip - The Tiger Dynamite tip is made from 5 layers of pig skin leather and provides a good, consistent hit with good ball control. This tip is considered hard, but gives the playability of an overall tip rather than a dedicated break tip.
Tiger Sniper Laminated Tip - Players LOVE the Tiger Sniper pool cue tip. As a medium-hard tip, it provides a great deal of control and consistency while minimizing the amount of deflection. This is a great all-around tip that holds chalk well and won't mushroom.
Tiger Onyx LTD Tip - The Tiger Onyx is a limited release, medium pool cue tip. The tip uses the same leather as the Sniper tips, but is treated slowly under ground, rather than using chemicals. The process takes up to a full year to complete. These are made in limited batches each year.
Tiger Everest Tip - The Tiger Everest tip is a sophisticated, durable and advanced cue tip that shapes like a hard tip, hits like a medium, but has the ball control of a soft tip.
Tiger Emerald Tip - The Tiger Everest medium-hard tip is made from 10 layers of recycled pig leather. They are also laminated with custom water-based adhesives to get maximum strength. Environmentally friendly, economical cue tips.
Samsara Ultra-Hard Leather Break/Jump Tip - The Samsara tips are extremely popular among players and pros. These ultra-hard tips provide solid contact for big hits, yet still provides good grip to control the ball. These tips are top notch.
There are, of course, many other brands of pool cue tips available. feel free to check out our full selection for more.