Leading cue expert Dominic Dale with some helpful advice about the most important tool of the snooker trade…
Dominic, what would your advice be to someone about to buy a snooker cue?
My biggest piece of advice would be to follow what Joe Davis said in his book ‘How I Play Snooker’: the cue should be as “stiff as can be, at the weight you fancy.” You want a little bit of ‘give’ in the cue which allows you to get a better reaction out of the cue ball and to help to feel the strike of the ball. If it’s too stiff, it might throw the cue ball off line, for example on the break-off you might hit the reds too thick. Most players these days use cues which weigh at least 17 or 18 ounces. Some of the three-quarter cues are a bit heavier, like Barry Hawkins’ which is over 19 ounces. He’s had it for a long time, it’s a very reliable cue which has stood him in good stead. Many players from the 1980s and 90s started off with a cue which might have been bought by their parents for Christmas, and they just got used to it. Those cues might be considered unreliable for the modern game though . They may be too whippy or the tip size may be wrong for today’s game.
Is it better to use ash or maple?
They are both very good timbers and I couldn’t express a preference for either. Generally speaking, maple is a denser wood and is harder than ash. If you wanted a maple cue to play like ash, you tend to need a slightly smaller tip diameter. If you had two cues identically built, both with a 10mm ferrule, and you play shots with side spin then you could find the maple throws the cue ball off more. It would need to be around 9.5mm to play more like the ash cue. Ash has a very visible grain whereas maple is more plain to look at and possibly easier on the eye. Stephen Maguire swapped from ash to maple because his stubble used to get caught in the grain of the cue which could bring tears to his eyes. Lots of others use maple, including Stephen Hendry who won seven world titles and made nearly 800 centuries using a Powerglide Connoisseur.
What’s the ideal tip size?
If you play a lot in clubs, you might find that a 9mm or 9.5mm tip size is ideal, so you can get good cue ball reaction on worn cloths. If you are playing on the cloths that we play on, which are super-fine and silky smooth, you don’t want anything over 10mm. There’s not much friction, so when you play shots with side you can hit them a bit too straight because the cue ball doesn’t grip so much on the cloth. Most professionals use anything from 9mm to 10mm. John Higgins uses 9.75mm. I use between 9.8mm and 10mm, depending on how my cue plays with the tip. The cue I have now is perfect for a 9.8mm tip so that’s what I’m using.
Who is the best cue maker?
In my view, the best cue makers in the world are in Thailand. I’m a brand ambassador for Maximus Cues in Thailand – I use one of their cues and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are so well made – the quality of the workmanship excels anything made in Britain, with the exception of a few bespoke cue makers. Most of the British cue makers will tell you that it’s hard to get good ash these days. Because of the growth of snooker in Asia, the cue makers there are buying colossal amounts of ash, and they are able to sift the good from the bad. Most of the ash comes from North America. In the old days of Burroughes & Watts, they used to use English ash, but our climate varies year after year and ash grows at different rates, therefore the grain wasn’t always good and the wood was sometimes too soft, full of knots or worm casts. The stable climates of North America tends to produce the best ash, although some of it also comes from Russia, Denmark and a few other places.
A lot of professionals use the same cue for their whole lives, and others suffer if theirs become lost or damaged. How important is a cue to a player’s career?
It’s very important. Every player can envisage how he wants to the cue ball to move with side spin over distance. If you have a cue which doesn’t achieve that, then you will have to spend time getting used to it, or try another one. If I’m trying out a new cue, if I’m still practising with it after 10 minutes then it’s got a chance. If it doesn’t suit me, I’ll know within five or six shots and I won’t even try it after that. You know instinctively if you like a cue. When Hendry was 14, his cue was bought by his father Gordon. It was in one of those Riley display cabinets with a light on top, and the light caused enough heat to bend the cue, so for years he was playing with a cue which wasn’t straight. It was also very springy. I once asked him if I could play a shot with it, and he replied ‘You don’t want to play with that, it’s rubbish.’ Only he could have played with it. Which just shows that what matters most is finding a cue you like and getting used to it. Young players find it much easier to get used to a cue than seasoned professionals who have spent years getting used to something else. If a professional’s cue gets damaged, he might not have time to get used to a new one before the next tournament. Even if you feel ok with it in practice, when you play your first match you are very aware that you are using a new cue and that adds extra pressure.
Do you get nervous when you fly to overseas events and have to put your cue into the hold?
Often a player’s cue can go missing and won’t turn up on the correct flight, and then it arrives on a later flight and gets delivered to the hotel. There have been incidents of players having to borrow a cue to get through the first round – in fact Matthew Stevens used three different cues in his first three matches when he got to the final of the Haikou World Open last season. Most of us now use ski tubes, mine is endorsed by Lindsay Vonn, which will hold three cue cases, and you can split the cost of excess baggage three ways. Without them we might see a lot more damage done to cues.
Peter Ebdon and Steve Davis have tried using non-brass ferrules. What do you think of them?
The white and black fibre or resin ferrules are great, but the problem is that snooker players have been accustomed to using brass ferrules for so long that it would be very difficult to get used to anything else. The phenolic resin or fibre ferrules do not carry as much power as traditional brass ferrules but can create great amounts of spin on the cue ball. Peter has experimented with a black fibre ferrule, while Steve played for a while with a white one, similar to those of the nine-ball pool players. You could use an 11mm resin or fibre ferrule because it throws the ball just like timber due to its lack of weight and mass – it’s as if you haven’t got a ferrule on the cue at all. With my own experimentation, I found they played a lot like a brass ferrule at about 9.5mm. When you play a shot with right-hand side, you get an initial movement to the left – the Americans call it ‘squirt’. With the resin or fibre ferrules, you don’t get that nearly as much. If you start off in snooker using one you would be fine, although they may not be as durable as brass ferrules and can become misshapen over time.