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All About Pool Table Slate (and Why It’s Better)

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So you want to know more about pool table slate? You came to the right place. It’s actually a really interesting topic that goes back to the 1820s.

Sure, learning about slate won’t make you play better pool – but it might give you better respect for the sport!

What is a Slate Pool Table?

The logical first question, what is a slate pool table? If you didn’t know, “slate” is the type of material that is used to make the pool table. It’s a bluish-gray rock that’s found in nature. A pool table is, obviously, the table you play billiards, or pool, on.

There’s much more to know about how these tables are made, why slate is the preferred material of construction (and why it’s better than other, cheaper materials), and other considerations, so let’s dive in to the details. 

How is it Made?

Natural Slate
Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

The slate naturally breaks into big chunks. The manufacturer will first take a chunk of slate and do a “rough cut”. A rough cut is when you cut a piece into roughly the final dimensions.

For example, for a pool table that’s 88 inches long by 44 inches wide, the manufacturer might rough cut it to 96 inches long by 58 inches wide. Rough cuts are quick and work to reduce the overall size and weight.

After that, the manufacturer will cut it to the correct dimensions.

Next, they’ll polish and grind the slate so it’s square, smooth, and flat. Holes will be drilled in the corners and on the sides for where the pool table pockets will be. Other holes are drilled through the slate which will help in final assembly to the table framework.

Due to the size and weight of the slate, some manufacturers will opt to break the slate into three pieces so it’s easier to ship around the world.

There is a wood backing that goes under the slate. The manufacturer will stretch felt along the top of the slate and staple it to the wood backing.

Where Does the Slate Come From?

Pool table slates
SMcCandlish / CC BY-SA

Since slate is a naturally-occuring mineral, it comes from the great outdoors. A few countries have a much larger supply of slate and are the top exporters of this material.

The top four exporters of slate are Brazil, China, India, and Italy.

For slate snobs, the Italian-produced slate is considered the highest quality. If you see a marking on your table that says “OIS”, good news! It means it’s Original Italian Slate.

As odd as it might sound, the slate that comes from each country actually differs in material composition. For example, Brazilian slate is more durable and Italian slate is softer and easier to work with.

Why is Slate Good for Pool Table Construction?

There are a couple big reasons why people use slate to construct a pool table.

The material is really inexpensive, and it’s super easy to work with. Tables can be mass-produced with slate, the problem is the time it takes to achieve the flatness desired.

Slate is also very smooth, and like most rocks it is easy to smooth it further. This means the playing surface will be nearly perfect.

Another natural advantage of slate is how durable it is. Wood tends to warp and bend over time, but the slate will retain its shape for much longer. It’s actually so durable that there are a lot of pool table manufacturers that will give a lifetime warranty for their slate tables.

How Much Does it Weigh?

The weight of the slate depends on how thick it is. Typically the slate on a pool table weighs between 400 and 600 lbs. The weight is a big downside of the table because it makes it a lot harder to move. But the weight also makes the table a lot more robust, so it’s a catch 22 for slate pool tables.

What is the Thickness of Pool Table Slate?

The thickness of the slate on your pool table will range between three-quarters of an inch, and one inch. If they opt for a piece that’s too thin, it will quickly crack and crumble. If the piece is too thick it will be too heavy to be used. This measurement also comes from tradition, there are some table manufacturers that opt for thicker pieces.

Slate Pool Table Vs Non-Slate Pool Table

Cross Creek Slate Pool Table w/ Dining Top, 8ft Pool Table w/ Dining T
Slate Example: Cross Creek Slate Pool Table w/ Dining Top, 8ft Pool Table

There are three common non-slate pool table types. Permaslate or Slatron are synthetic materials that are essentially just layers of plastic on top of a particle board.

Honeycomb is another option, it’s a hard plastic honeycomb pattern between two sheets of hard plastic. The geometry of the honeycomb is very strong.

The last option is Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF). This is a material you might have had exposure to in the past. It is constructed by squeezing pieces of wood together and gluing it all into one board. This is the most commonly used non-slate pool table.

How to Tell if a Table is Slate or Non-Slate

The quickest way to tell if a table is slate or non-slate is to look underneath. The bottom of the table is not felted, so the raw material will be showing. If the bottom of the table is bluish-gray, then it’s a slate table.

If you don’t want to look under the table then hit a few balls and look at how they move. If there’s any inconsistency to the velocity, if the ball takes an unexpected curve, or the path is not straight, it’s not a slate table.

Major Differences Between Non-Slate and Slate Pool Tables

Of course there are big differences between slate and non-slate. For the sake of argument we’ll use MDF as our non-slate table material, since it’s the more commonly-used material choice. Let’s take a look at the biggest differences.

Price. A low-end MDF table is around 7 times less expensive than a low-end slate table. In fact, a high-end MDF pool table is still less expensive than a low-end slate table.

Quality. The quality of MDF is not great. The tables will warp over time, and if they’re in a humid environment, they will be unplayable in no time at all. The path of the balls will be unpredictable and they will curve when they’re hit along the table.

Another big thing to realize is that slate tables can be re-clothed if need be. MDF pool tables cannot be re-clothed, the table has to be thrown out and replaced.

Water-proof. Imagine you spill a drink on a pool table. If it’s an MDF pool table, the material will be ruined and the table will have to be trashed. If it’s a slate table, there is no problem as long as the felt isn’t ruined.

In another example, if there is a spill and it only affects the felt, the outcome is the same. Since MDF can’t be re-clothed, you’d have to replace the table. With a slate pool table, you’d just need to have it re-clothed.

Gameplay. A professional billiards player will be able to tell if a table is slate or not after the first hit. In fact, tournaments are played on slate tables. The professionals love the flatness and smoothness of the slate. Ultimately it leads to a better experience and more professional-level gameplay. It’s saying something if all the professionals prefer slate tables.

Portability. As you read earlier, slate pool tables are really heavy. There’s no way to avoid it. Rocks sink, wood floats, that’s how the world works. Well, slate is a rock and MDF is made of wood.

For this same reason, it’s a lot harder to move around a slate table compared to a non-slate table. The weight difference is around 7 times; a slate table weighs 7 times more than an MDF table.

So that means that you can’t move a slate pool table once you place it. If you want to rearrange the room or move the table you’ll need to bring in professionals.

Other Considerations

Of course, that’s not everything you need to know about pool tables. If you go with a slate table there’s an option for a single piece table, or a three piece table. Let’s learn more about this then get into pricing.

One piece vs Three Piece Slate Tables

One piece slate tables are made with one giant piece of slate. Three piece slate tables will take that giant piece of slate and cut it into three equal sections. They’re installed independently and can also be leveled independently.

What’s the Difference?

Leveling. One of the biggest differences is a three piece slate table allows you much more precise leveling. If the table is going on an uneven floor or carpeting, the leveling of a one piece table will not be good.

Three piece slate tables can be leveled at each of the three sections with relation to the floor. That means the entire table will be parallel with your floor and you won’t get an unexpected ball path due to an unlevel table.

High and low spots. For tables that are used a lot, there will be natural high and low spots that exist on your table. The problem with a one piece table is there’s no way to shim the table to fix these spots. A three piece slate table allows you to fix these spots.

Weight. Think about it, the three piece table uses the same piece of slate and divides the weight equally three times. This means when you want to move the table it’s a lot easier to do so with a three piece slate table.

Seam. A con for using three piece tables is you might notice a seam between the three pieces over time.

Warp. The biggest complaint for one piece slate tables is you might see the table sag or warp over time. Since the table is so heavy and long, the weight will affect the middle. Three piece tables do not have the same tendency to warp.

Which is Better?

When installed by a professional, three piece slate tables are always better than one piece tables. Most professionals prefer three piece tables for the same reasons described above.

How do you Level a Slate Pool Table?

Leveling Slate Pool Table

To level a slate pool table you need a carpenter’s level. Put the level in the center of the table and measure in the x direction, then the y direction. Next, put the level on each side of the table and check those measurements too.

If any of these measurements say the table is not level, you’ll need to adjust the legs. You could have a floor that’s uneven, so it’s actually really common to adjust a pool table after placing it.

After these 6 measurements are all level, then move on to some flatness testing.

The first thing you can do is roll a ball down the table and look at the path it takes. If it favors one side of the table, you should adjust those legs.

Get a flat and smooth coaster, piece of plastic, or piece of glass. Grab a marble. Take these two things to your pool table and put the flat piece on the table in front of a pocket on your table. Put the marble on the flat coaster and look to see if the marble is stationary or if it rolls off. Repeat this process for each pocket, and also do it at the center of the table.

This will give you a more fine result for how level the table is. If the marble rolls to one side, adjust the legs of the table accordingly.

To adjust the legs, you’ll have to refer to the manual for the table, or find the manual online. Each table has a different method for adjusting the legs.

How to Move a Slate Pool Table?

The most desired way to move a slate pool table is to hire professionals who are trained in how to move pool tables. You can move the table on your own as long as you have tools, carpentry experience, and a group of helpers. These tables are really heavy.

Don’t make the mistake of moving the table as a single piece. Disassemble the table and label how to reassemble it after the table goes where it belongs.

Slate Pool Table Prices

Da Vinci Pool Table by American Heritage
Da Vinci Pool Table by American Heritage

A slate pool table price will range between $1600 to $15000. If you look at the price of a table in its 7 ft, 8 ft, and 9 ft orientation you might be surprised. For the most part, 7 and 8 ft tables cost the same. 9 ft tables are around $500 more than the shorter versions.

7 and 8 ft. The low end for a 7 or 8 ft table would be this table, priced at $1600. The higher end tables, like this one, retail around $8000.

9 ft. The low end for a 9 ft, three piece slate table is this table, priced at $2700. A higher end is this table, priced at $8500. The price goes above $10000 if you want a custom table.

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