If you’re in the market for a pool table you’ve probably quickly realised that there is a tonne of choice available which can make it hard to choose the best option. In this article, I’ll explain the different types of pool tables and who they are suitable for, so you know exactly where to go from here.
Types of Pool Table
The two main types of pool table are slate-bed and MDF. Slate bed tables offer a better playing experience whereas MDF pool tables are cheaper and more portable. Pool tables can also be categorized by game type, the two options being American pool tables and English pool tables.
There are different ways to categorise pool tables which can really add to the confusion buyers often experience when trying to select the best option. However, there are two main angles we can go from when discussing the different types:
- The type of game the table is designed for
- The material the bed of the table is made from
The first decision you’ll need to make, is what type of game you want to play on your pool table.
Categorizing Tables by Function
There are two main types of pool tables which are separated according to the game they are designed for:
- American Pool Tables
- English Pool Tables
English vs American Pool Tables
You may already know which game you want to play, and if so, skip ahead to the next section. But first we’ll go through the differences between English and American pool tables.
English pool is played with smaller balls than American pool, hence the table is smaller. A full-size English pool table is 7′ x 4′ and a full-size American pool table is 9′ x 4’2″. You can purchase smaller pool tables than this for both games though. The most common English pool table sizes as 6ft and 7ft whilst the most common American pool table sizes are 8ft and 9ft.
The pockets on an American pool table are larger than an English pool table to fit the larger balls. This is why it’s important to select the correct set of balls for the type of pool table you’re playing on.
The shape of the pockets are also slightly different. On an English pool table the pockets are curved, compared to on an American pool table where they are more angled with sharper corners. The cushion on an American table is solid and also angled, whereas on an English table the cushion is flatter and hollow.
American pool table cloth has no nap which means you can feel the weave, whereas English pool table cloth has a nap which needs to be brushed in a particular direction. American cloth plays faster than English cloth. The extra speed causes more friction which means American cloth is more susceptible to “burn marks” which are small white marks caused by the heat produced when the ball accelerates quickly.
|English Pool Table||American Pool Table|
|Full size is 7ft (6ft also are common)||Full size is 9ft (8ft also are common)|
|Curved pocket corners||Angled pocket corners|
|Hollow cushion||Solid cushion|
|Napped cloth||Cloth has no nap|
Pool Dining and Multi-Game Tables
You can also purchase a pool dining table or a multi-game table to give the space more functionality. Pool dining tables are more expensive and usually end up costing at least double the cost of a similarly sized standard pool table, whilst multi-game tables usually cost at least 50% more than standard tables. However, you do get some additional functions.
The main difference between the pool dining table and standard pool table is the depth of the cabinet. The pool dining table has a shallower cabinet which allows you to fit a bench or seat and sit comfortably underneath. The pool table aspect is the exact same and you can find American and English versions.
The standard pool table will usually have either a drop-pocket or ball-return system, with the latter resulting in the deeper cabinet. On pool dining tables, you can get a drop-pocket design or a drop-down system which pulls down from underneath the table and returns the ball.
When you want to switch from the pool table to the dining table, you simply place the covers on top of the surface. The only issue is with the slight gap between the cover and the table which may allow liquids to pour through onto the table surface if a drink is split when using it as a dining table. However, you can get a cover to solve this issue.
|Saves space||More expensive|
|Cheaper than separate tables for both functions||Spills can pour through onto the table|
Check out this Hathaway multi-game pool and dining table on Amazon for the current price.
This image links to Amazon.
Check out my complete guide to pool equipment to make sure you get everything you need to get the best playing experience.
Categorizing Tables by Bed Material
The second way to categorise pool tables is by the bed material. This is independent of the function as described above, as you can find slate bed American, English and Pool Dining tables for example. So you should consider this as the next decision you need to make.
There are 2 main types of pool table according to the bed material: slate and MDF. The bed is the part of the pool table that is placed on the frame and covered in the cloth so it heavily influences the playing surface.
Slate bed pool tables usually cost at least $1000 and are considered the highest quality as they result in the best playing experience and levelness. The thicker the slate, the better the playing experience, with most slates ranging from 18mm to 30mm in thickness.
There are two types of slate tables: split-slate and single slate.
Split-slate tables are constructed using 3 sections of slate and cannot be moved once installed because the slates will shift and not properly rebalance. It is possible to re-install the table, but only a professional will be able to do this and it cannot be attempted otherwise. The advantaged of split-slate tables is that they are easier to get into the home through doorways and upstairs.
Single-piece slate tables can be moved however this should be done with caution and will require quite a few people as they are very heavy.
The thickness of the slate is an important factor to consider. Check out my comparison of different slate bed thicknesses to learn more and find the best option for you.
MDF tables are are usually under $750. The main advantage is that they are light-weight making them easy to transport. Some MDF tables will have folding legs which are not possible to have on solid wood and slate bed tables due to their weight.
The more expensive the table is, typically the thicker the MDF will be. It ranges typically from 12mm to 18mm, with the thicker tables being much higher quality and resulting in a better playing surface. Thicker MDF is also less susceptible to humidity changes which can cause warping.
Which is Best?
|Slate Pool Table||MDF Pool Table|
|Best playing experience||Lightweight|
|Better frames and cloth options||More portable|
Other Ways to Categorize Pool Tables
The main ways to categorise pool tables are by the bed material and the game they’re designed for. However, you can split them up into different types if you look at different aspects and features. Here are the most common.
- Location (Indoor and Outdoor)
- Mechanism (Drop Pocket and Ball Return)
- Commercial or Home-Use
We’ve already touched on this earlier but pool tables range in size to suit different games and spaces. The most common sizes for English pool tables are 6ft and 7ft, but you can also get 5ft and mini pool tables as well. For American pool, the most common sizes as 8ft and 9ft, which require a significant amount of space.
Most pool tables are designed for indoor use, but you can get some outdoor pool tables as well. Outdoor pool tables usually have metal frames (instead of wooden) and tougher and coarser felt which is more durable but plays slower. Outdoor pool tables still must be kept undercover though when not in use and are almost always supplied with protection covers.
When you pot a ball, there are two ways to types of mechanisms that are designed to allow you to retrieve it: drop pock and ball return. Ball return mechanisms allow the pocketed balls to be delivered to a point underneath the table for retrieval. Drop pocket tables have a thin cabinet since there is no mechanism inside and you simply pick the balls out of the pocket when you want to retrieve them. Ball return tables are more expensive but more convenient.
Commercial or Home-Use
There are a few differences between commercial and home-use pool tables:
|Commercial Pool Table||Home-Use Pool Table|
|Always use a ball return mechanism||Can use a ball return or drop pocket mechanism|
|Coin operated/ contactless card payment||No payment option|
|Usually only function as a pool table||Option of dual-function pool dining table|
Check out my guide to indoor vs outdoor pool tables to learn about the differences between these types of table.