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I make handcrafted pool cues in my shop on the Clifton Estate in Maryland on the Eastern Shore. The estate is an historic site of 112 acres on the Chesapeake Bay. The shop has been a never ending project, and is still not quite done yet, but here are some pictures of the shop.
This is where I make the cues. The shops inside dimensions are 31' X 21’. The garage door is an insulated 2” x 12' X 8' Clopay. The door is used for bringing the road lathe in and out, as well as bringing in new machinery and wood. Sometimes it even gets opened on nice days, weather and humidity permitting. Originally, this was a three car garage, with three doors, and was an unfinished shell with cedar siding only. Everything from the floor, electric wiring, windows, drywall, on up to the ceiling and the exterior vinyl siding had to be done...and it was work!!!
The shop is kept at approximately 70-75 degrees and 45% humidity year round. This atmospheric control is what I consider to be necessary for cues to be brought from raw materials to functional art. The office/lounge is upstairs. This is me next to the precision lathe.
It is also necessary to have very accurate equipment in order to meet the exacting specifications desired for cue making. This lathe is a Smithy 12” x 36” metal lathe with a 6” x 6 jaw Bison set true chuck. The spindle thru-hole is 1.417" or so. The lathe has the capability to do single point threading on metal, as well as live tool threading of wood. All of the high precision drilling, tapping, and facing work is performed on this lathe as well.
This is a picture of the traveling repair lathe I take to various tournaments. The lathe and box are mounted on an ambulance gurney...the legs collapse and it loads right into a 5' x 8' enclosed trailer for easy hauling back and forth to tournaments. Organization is crucial for easy use. The light collapses down to fit flush with the box, and there is a top and back that lock up for security at the shows. This lathe still gets lots of work done in the shop; wrapping cues, turning tenons, shaft cleaning, etc.
The milling machine can be used to make just about any part, fixture, or jig needed in a cuemaking shop. This is where the V-groove for the points gets cut into the front, handle, or butt sleeve. The milling machine uses a 90°, double angle cutter for milling in the point grooves. There is a fixture on the milling table that holds the front of the cue between centers that is indexable while the point grooves are being milled. This is also the machine where the slotted ring work is made.
This is the saw where all the point stock is cut precisely square for joinery into the fronts, handles, and butt sleeves. The fence on this saw is an aftermarket saw made by Shop Fox. It is a much more accurate fence than the one that came with the machine. On the left side of the table are some mitered veneers that are glued up and waiting to be glued into the fronts along with their points as well.
Machinery can be quite complex, and very simple at times. This band saw is one of the simple ones. I have just purchased this machine a few moths ago, and am quite impressed with its functionality, though I do not do any large ripping on it. Mostly it gets used for cutting veneers, and small pieces of wood. I have decided that when I step up and purchase a larger one, that I will keep this one around for just this purpose.
This is the Delta belt sander, another fine tool that performs many tasks on a daily basis. It is used for everything from sanding the backs of tips, to doing some pretty trick stuff with veneers. This shop could not make cues without this great machine.
Some work can be accomplished with even the most rudimentary woodworking machinery. However, with just a few modifications this standard wood lathe has proven to be among the most valuable machines in my shop. This lathe is where all the shafts are sanded to match the butts, buffed and polished, then sealed and waxed before delivery.
This lathe is the same as the shaft lathe, except that this one is used for sanding all butts to match up to the shafts. It is also where the wet sanding, buffing and polishing of all butts is done as well. After the cue has been wet sanded and polished, it will be wrapped with Irish linen, leather, lizard or ring lizard here as well.
This neat machine is where the inlays and pockets are cut into the cues. The machine is a Scripta tabletop pantograph with a Haas digital indexer. It has a cue stick mounted in it right behind the template table. There is also a vacuum table that is used to hold down the inlay material for cutting parts. In the bottom right hand corner is a little piece of the vacuum table, sitting on top of one of the dehumidifiers. On the wall behind the HAAS control box is a humidistat and thermometer. There are also three more humidistats around the shop to ensure that the readings are accurate.
This is a turning assembly mounted atop a Powermatic 66 table saw. It has interchangeable templates for the front, handle, butt, and shafts. The machine uses a special ground 60 tooth flat grind saw blade. The wood that comes off of this machine it is very smooth. The turning assembly is made of aluminum, and has a feed screw that drags it across the saw blade while the wood stock is turning at a rate of 60 RPM. A pass on a 30" piece of stock takes about 5½ minutes.
Here is a picture of the shaft machine close up cutting a shaft from a top view. In this particular pass, it is cutting a round dowel from 1" to .900" at the tip with my taper. This is only one of about 24 passes that will be made on the shafts for my cues. This pass is the deepest cut the shaft will get. After this, the cuts will all be .025" each time.
This is a side view of the shaft machine in action. In the picture you can see the saw blade is lined up directly under the shaft, and the shaft is being dragged in parallel across the blade. Notice all the micrometers and the air nozzle that keeps the sawdust off the roller bearings.. This is a very nice machine, and they are not cheap!
The galvanized steel pipe on the wall in the previous picture is for the Delta 1.5 HP drum mounted vacuum system. Pictured at left is the vacuum itself. It has a separator that collects dust as small as 5 microns, and sucks the bigger particles into the can. This type of system is called a cyclone, and generally gives better results than a regular vacuum system.
This is where the cue parts are assembled. The handles are joined to fronts, the points are glued in, the ferrules glued on, joints and butt plates, and every other form of gluing goes on here. There are many kinds of adhesives used in the making of a cue, including epoxy, polyurethane glue, white glue, yellow glue, super glue, and contact cement.
All custom pool cues must have a finish applied. This booth by Paasche was designed for just that. It has an explosion proof motor, and 18" duct work that sucks out something like 2000 CFM. It also has a wood lathe that has been modified to variable speed for rotating the cues while the finish is being applied. This is all done to give a glass smooth, high gloss finish that will stand up to years of use.
The compressed air dryer removes all moisture from the air system. This is yet another step taken to provide the best possible finish. The finish used is a high gloss urethane automotive finish. Each cue has at least 6 coats of finish applied before the final buffing stage. After buffing, the finish is very high gloss and free from defects.
Billiard Cues require proper drying in order to season the woods properly. Some of the ways this is accomplished here is with the right airflow, temperature, and humidity . All wood for the billiard cues that is turned round is hung from the ceiling after the first turn. There is plenty of room around each piece to guarantee proper airflow. There are also fans keeping the airflow moving on a year round basis.
This is where all the shafts for billiard cues are stored. There is room for about 600 shafts in this room. The shafts are also dipped in a stabilizer that helps prevent the wood from taking on or releasing moisture at a rate that will cause problems such as warping. Shafts are turned at least 20 times throughout the process of building a cue. All these steps are done to insure that the cues I build will remain straight for a lifetime.
These are the many laminated handles and cores in the works. There are about 300 of these that have had the tenons turned on them. The handles and tenons get turned at least 6 times before being joined to the front of the cue. After it is joined to a front, it then gets the butt sleeve, and then another half dozen turnings and a dipping or two.
These are mostly fronts that are in the works. The fronts that are on the first six rows are all have laminated cores for stability as well. There are also five curly maple handles that are cored with laminated handles for stability as well. The fronts are turned at least a dozen times before they get the points milled in or get joined to a handle.
Here you can see some of the point stock for billiard cues being stored in these oak shelves that are about 20' long, and are full of all kinds of exotic woods. Some of the woods are purple heart, cocobolo, bocote, rosewood, ebony, Amboyna burl, Thuya burl, snakewood, pink ivory, kingwood, birdseye, fiddleback or curly maple, redheart, tulipwood, etc. Hanging from the shelves are ebony, birdseye, and curly buttsleeves.
The red tool box and the oak box it sits on are my traveling set-up. All tools that are used for any kind of repair are kept in this tool box. The oak box underneath has a compartment on the left for a custom air compressor that is very quiet. The drawers in the oak box hold tube and rod for ferrules, joints, and butt plates. It also carries stuff that is sold at tournaments, and also it is where extra emergency parts are stored for my cue repair lathe in case of breakdown. The box is on casters and has doors that lock up tight.
This toolbox is used to house all the tooling for the pantograph. It is made of oak, and sits on a metal cart that rolls around the shop if needed. Underneath is a 5-C collett holder for the milling machine and Haas digital indexer on the pantograph. The toolbox was a gift from my dear friend Gene Isaac, the owner of Cue & Cushion Billiards in Newark, Delaware.
These boxes are called Moppe boxes, and can be purchased from IKEA. This is where all the small cue parts are stored. It is very convenient storage as the boxes are mounted on a shelf that hang on the wall.
The office is upstairs above the shop and is about 300 ft2. This is where the website is maintained on my out of date 400mhz computer, but it does the job fine. As you can see in the picture, there is a nice sofa for relaxation when needed. All design work is done here for the ivory cues to be made in the shop.
Posted 8 July 2004
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