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The How and Why a Kilby Cue is Different?

How (and more importantly, “why”) are Kilby Cues different?

 

Wood Joint:

Aside from the aspect that traditional carom cues have wood joints, a wood joint contributes significantly to the overall performance of the cue. Those among us who have played pool or billiards for many years embrace an old axiom that we all are looking for a two-piece cue that hits like that great old house cue we remember from our favorite pool hall. We treasured the way that cue felt when we hit the ball – the particular way the vibrations traveled from the tip to our hand, though we probably didn’t think of it in those terms, back then.

 

When we got our first Master Stroke or Willie Hoppe we thought those were wonderful, though many of us always made sure we knew where that particular house cue was racked if the game got serious. Then, the brass joint ring and screw often didn’t match up with the shaft very well, but we accepted this minor flaw of mass production just to get our own two-piece cue for $17 or $20. A few of the old timers had early two-piece cues with wood joints; we thought they weren’t very modern, but they wouldn’t part with them even if asked. In their view, these new cues didn’t pass their primary test – did it hit like a one-piece cue, as their wood jointed cue did! As technology advanced in the latter 20th Century, cuemakers in America, production houses as well as the relatively few custom makers, settled into two camps – those who built piloted joints with a metal collar, and those who built flat-faced “wood-to-wood” joints. The only element of the joint they shared was the use of a metal screw to connect the shaft and butt; the once popular wood joint was abandoned because it was too time-consuming to produce, and it required a longer shaft blank.

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Kilby sides with the European cuemakers, whose steeped traditions in wood craftsmanship extend centuries, that form follows function. Whatever artistic embellishment is done is secondary to the primary function of the cue – to be a sensitive accurate instrument. They never abandoned the wood joint (though some have added “modern” joints to promote sales to America). Kilby shares their belief that the “one-piece-feel” is best duplicated in the traditional wood joint. Kilby produces his joints individually, but shafts are interchangeable among all his cues. Very recently, machinery has been developed which permits mass-production of wood joints. As a result, Asian companies produce large quantities of wood jointed cues. (Note, he uses a similar joint between forearm and handle.) Now the focus becomes the materials.

 

Select Materials:

Initially both the piloted and flat-faced joints were developed for reasons of economical and structural efficiency. Fifty years ago the industries producing glues and plastics were just beginning to develop materials and processes to join dissimilar materials, such as wood and plastic or steel. Commonly, joint screws were held in place by a cross pin under the metal collar, which was mechanically connected (threaded) onto the butt section because the adhesives used weren’t really suitable for the job. Finding one of those old cues today still in good condition is quite rare. Even as technology gave us improved materials, production efficiencies adopted them simply as modifications to the now standardized manufacturing process, with little thought to truly address GOAL number one – make a two-piece cue play like a one-piece cue.

 

Kilby has been working wood more than fifty years. He is retired from one career, so woodworking isn’t simply a business – it’s a passion. In addition to building cues, he loves building classical guitars, and would be hard pressed were he forced to choose between them. In general, luthiers have much greater knowledge of wood properties than cuemakers, if for no other reason than their art has benefited from formal study and training. The interactive characteristics of wood and metal and adhesives and finishes are analyzed and documented in numerous guilds and associations, a treasury of information most cuemakers do not investigate. Kilby uses only “instrument grade” primary woods in his cues; this wood is more select (and expensive) than the commoner grades. Kilby readily accepts the tradeoff that his production is less and his material expenses more than some of his competitors. The end result, a cue that plays with the sensitivity of a fine musical instrument, justifies the decision. For example, Kilby uses instrument glues with very low water content to minimize swelling and joint expansion. Forearms and handles are built from tone-woods, those noted for suitability in accurately transmitting vibrations to one’s hand, contributing to the “feel” of the cue. Kilby uses no CNC equipment in his shop; he prefers traditional techniques and styles -- just because....

 

Design:

Beyond using a wood joint, Kilby incorporates a number of features in his cues that contribute to their excellent play. Yes, the size of the joint matters, at least on a cue. Smaller joints permit the cue to flex much more than larger joints. Depending upon the hit and the mass of the cueball, that flex can become uncontrolled buckling. In any event, the more the cue flexes, the more energy from the stroke is absorbed by the cue rather than being transferred to the cueball. A larger joint means less flex where it is unwanted and more control of the stroke by the player. The most common joint diameter for piloted joints is .840 inches, for flat-faced joints .850 inches. Some production houses and a few custom builders go so small as .830 and .810 inches. Butt diameters are dramatically smaller than 50 years ago when they were commonly 1.30 inches. As cuemakers began to adopt phenolic tube materials for joints and butt caps in the 1960’s and 70’s, they found that most phenolic tube stock was in standardized diameters, e.g. 1.25 and 1.50 inches, because those were sizes that the principal market for phenolics, structural and electronics manufacturing, desired. Cuemakers initially didn’t command a large enough share of the market to support producing tubing to their particular needs. Using 1.50 stock was wasteful, so cuemakers, production houses in particular, marketed the concept that a smaller butt diameter, 1.25 inches, somehow made the cue play better and was certainly more stylish. Even when phenolic manufacturers began to produce tube sizes specifically for cuemakers, the smaller butt diameter remained because manufacturing processes were already standardized. Thus, most cues reflect an “as built” compromise heavily weighted to manufacturing technology rather than player ergonomics or cue performance.

 

Fortunately, as a low volume producer and fully custom builder, Kilby can focus completely on ergonomics and performance. Kilby uses a joint diameter of .880 for carom cues and .870 for pool (pool cues are nominally two inches longer than carom cues, hence a slightly smaller joint diameter.) The larger joint significantly stiffens the cue (see another section on carom versus pool cues); further, it helps place the shaft flex closer to the tip of the cue, similar to placing the kick-point on a golf shaft nearer the head to improve control and (for big hitters) power. (Carom players prize control and hit accuracy above all else, though power can be required to drive a ball more than an ounce heavier than a pool ball 60 to 70 feet to score.) Butt Diameters are larger as well, from 1.280 to1.300 depending on design. This increased size improves control by reducing “wristy” action which contributes to uneven English, hence loss of control. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of world-class carom players further increase the butt size by using a rubber sleeve on their cue; the rubber reduces slipping as well as further reducing any tendency to use one’s wrist to deliver the stroke. Finally, the larger butt diameters help place the balance of the cue “under the hand,” preferred by most world-class players to further improve their control.

 

Shafts:

Certainly no other aspect of cuemaking has received more attention, been the subject of more marketing hyperbole, and probably the object of litigation as well, than shafts. The comedic intensity of the debate has occasionally created such low drama as companies putting trade show booths within shouting distance of each other and spending several days doing just that – shouting at each other. No definitive analysis will be found on this site. Kilby produces three different shafts. His standard shaft is from AAAA maple, and is available for carom cues in a conical taper, a “modified American" taper with the center section somewhat thinned, and a Southwest-style taper for pool cues. He produces a segmented shaft of pie-wedge segments, which is much stiffer than the standard shaft and is available in the same tapers. Having grown in popularity for the last several years on the pool side of the industry, the segmented shaft has now caught the attention of the better carom players -- superior rigidity without the bulk of a Komori or some super-fat taper. Segmented shafts are his most popular option. He also produces a custom shaft, originally designed for Mazin Shooni, 2006 National Champion; it is very slender, similar to a pro-taper pool shaft, permitting a very snug bridge. His POOL shaft taper might appear at first glance to be a standard "pro" taper, but is in fact a true parabolic taper, sweeping continuously from the tip toward the joint, with no actually "straight" section anywhere. His view is that any shaft with a straight section produces an artificial node where flex and vibration are focused. He wants his shaft to distribute the energy of the hit naturally along the shaft so he builds the shaft to achieve that. Ferrules for carom cues are normally .430 inches long and from 11 to 12 mm diameter. Pool ferrules are normally 0.75 inches long and 12.75 mm diameter. Ferrules are Ivorine III, with ivory available. The standard tip is laminated, the superlative Talisman Pro (www.talismanbilliards.com) with other styles available. The range of shafts and tapers permits the customer to personalize their cue.