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The key differences between English and American pool tables

The key differences between English and American pool tables

For decades now, English and American pool tables and made up a core part of our offering here at the Games Room Company, so it’s fair to say we know our way around them. We’ve even started developing our own, such as the Pembridge. If you’ve been browsing our range of pool and billiard tables right here on our website, you may be wondering: what’s the difference between English and American pool tables?

Now, there are several significant ones – some more subtle than others – both in terms of design and construction. Interestingly, as with many of the games and luxury pieces we stock here at the Games Room Company, the designs of US and UK pool tables have been strongly influenced by their respective cultural heritages, neatly encapsulating the attitudes and values of their makers.

For example, the classic English reserve and modesty is reflected beautifully by a smaller, unobtrusive table which accommodates a calm, thoughtful game. True to form, the Americans prefer their tables bigger, bolder and more energetic, with a general design that has larger pockets, larger balls, and faster nylon cloths, plenty of rebounds and ricochets. American tables are also the more likely of the two to be sporting more vibrant and experimental designs and liveries, standing in stark contrast to the British preference for time-honoured, traditional designs, with turned or straight legs.

 

English pool tables

The original pool table, and the base design from which the American pool table evolved. Famously described as ‘the noble game’, English pool tables have been around in one form or another for centuries, with their predecessors being popular resorts for nobility and royalty. They remain a popular favourite for games rooms across the UK.

Size

English pool tables are generally between 6ft and 7ft. It’s partially this relatively modest stature that makes them a games room favourite, especially given that buyers have to factor in required space for manoeuvring the cue into their interior measurements, too.

7ft tends to be the most common, and it’s the size used in professional settings and tournaments. It’s possible to get an English pool table in 8ft, but generally if you want this size you’d be better opting for an American table anyway.

Balls and cues

The balls used for English pool tables are notably smaller than those used for American pool. Specifically, they’re about 56mm in diameter, or 2 inches in imperial. These smaller, lighter balls are best suited for making measured, tactical shots, fitting in well with the calmer, more precise nature of the English game. Equally, English pool cues tend to have smaller tips, no larger than 11mm.

Cushion

The cushion of an English pool table is designed to provide a wide, flat surface, with the cloth stretched down over it all the way to the bottom. Overall, the cushion profile is L-shaped, which provides a moderate rebound – especially helpful for players looking to snooker their opponents, rather than make long shots down the table.

Pockets

The pockets of an English pool table are distinguished by curved jaws (or ‘shoulders’, depending on your preferred terminology), as opposed to the straight angles of American pool tables. This makes corner shots for an English pool table more challenging, as the balls are liable to ricochet off the pocket jaws. The two side pockets in the centre of the table are typically easier shots.

The small size of the pockets means that players generally can’t fit their hands into them, so consequently English pool tables also tend to have internal ball return systems. In games room tables, these systems might be vestiges of their coin-operated days, or still actively used in commercial environments.

Cloth

English pool cloth is made of wool, with occasionally other synthetic fibres woven in. The chief hallmark of its design is its ‘damping’ texture, in the form of a directional weave known as a nap. It’s a velvet-like texture that’s fuzzy to the touch, and serves to slow down the ball speed during gameplay. This promotes accuracy over raw power, rewarding players who engage in a calculated, methodical game.

American pool tables

These tables have a hazy kind of history, which can broadly be traced back to the 1700s, with a group of American cabinetmakers who decided to put their own (back)spin on the game. One of the defining design aspects of American pool tables are the diamond markings along their rails, helping players to better judge the angle of their shots – especially helpful with the sorts of long-shots that American pool tables are designed to accommodate.

Size

American pool tables are much larger than their English counterparts. 8ft to 9ft is the standard, with 9ft typically used in professional tournaments and settings. The larger playing surface helps facilitate the use of larger balls, and often frenetic gameplay that follows.

Balls and cues

As we’ve touched on, the balls for American tables are slightly bigger, at 2¼ inches. The increased size and weight gives them an extra forward momentum, and the slightly larger cue tips (12mm) helps to give a more powerful shot; ideal for sending the balls for long distances up the length of the table.

Cushion

The cushion, too, has been constructed in a way that helps to preserve the momentum of the heavier balls. It takes the form of a long triangular block around the inside edges of the table, with the nearside sloping upwards and outwards into a ‘blade’, for balls to bounce from with better force and power.

Pocket

The entry to each pocket is cut with straighter edges, making potting to the corners notably easier than English pool tables, as the edges help to channel the ball inwards. The sharper design also promotes shots from a greater distances, encouraging longer shots. The vast majority of American pool tables don’t utilise the ball return system of the English pool tables, instead using simple drop pockets to store the balls until they can be easily retrieved by hand at the end of the game.

Cloth

Unlike the wool used for English pool table cloths, American pool cloths use nylon, a fabric which provides a low roll resistance since it lacks the napped texture of wool. This in turn means reduced friction for the balls, which – combined with their weightiness and the raw powerful playstyles that the table rewards – means that American tables are normally home to particularly fierce, fast-paced games, with long shots aplenty.

One final difference…

Due to their smaller size, English tables have a single-piece slate, but American tables instead have a sectional slate in two or three pieces. As you’d expect, a 8ft or 9ft billiard slate would be a big job to transport and handle – it is still rock, albeit exquisitely honed! Some American tables also have slate adjusters which can be used to make precise changes to the level of individual slates. In practice though, these don’t make a huge amount of difference to the construction or playstyle between British and American tables; it’s more trivia than anything.

So, which one should you choose?

That’s really up to you! We’ve got a fantastic range of both American pool tables and English pool tables at the Games Room Company, so you’ve got no shortage of choice either way. Compact English tables like the Brooklyn or the Sandringham are often preferred for games rooms, but if you’ve got a fair amount of space, an American table can make for a centrepiece like no other. Besides size, it often comes down to a matter of preference – which game do you prefer playing?

We’re always here to provide as much or as little advice as you may need here at the Games Room Company; if you’ve got any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask our specialists! You can browse your favourites right here on our site, or alternatively pop into our expansive Weybridge showroom to see them for yourself!