There are some really good things about being an empty nester and one of those includes buying expensive things you want and having room for them – like a pool table.
Granted, we didn’t want a pool table until we watched a billiard tournament on television but once we decided on that we’d really like to give pool a try, we were hooked. The learning curve was an interesting adventure with unexpected twists and turns.
This turned out to be the first one!
It’s All About The Brand
I had heard the name Brunswick associated with pool tables before I started the big search. My first hurdle was finding out where to buy one.
I headed off to a sporting goods store down the street from our house and lo-and-behold! Pool tables! They carried several different makers – Brunswick, Valley, American Heritage and Pharaoh. The only name I recognized was Brunswick.
The Brunswick label proudly announced “Authentic American” and the salesman pointed out these tables are made of solid wood with 100% rubber cushions and 1” slate. I nodded along like a bobbing-headed pup in a rear window of a hip car donning my best “I’m impressed” face and pretending I knew what cushions and slate were.
The model I was inspecting was priced on sale at $4500. I took one of the balls and rolled it across the table. ( I had seen one of the players in the tournament do that so I thought it looked like I knew something.)
I pushed against the sides and crouched down to look at the underside of the table. The only thing I noticed were the metal brackets near the legs. When I left the store, I decided it looked like a pool table.
The salesman told me that Brunswick was top-of-the-line and I had no reason to doubt his word. Since I couldn’t even begin to answer his many questions, I left without buying anything and felt confident that we would probably get the Brunswick model I saw after measuring the space and deciding on styling – felt colors, leg carving, ect.
In showing my wife the questions that the salesman needed answered, we did some research online. We learned the importance of solid hardwood frames, what kind of slate is best and why, the difference between woolen felt cloth and woven, woolen cloth and why the cushions should be 100% rubber.
With our education underway, I wanted to find a Brunswick table like the one I saw at the store to show my very own next-great-pool-player.
First stop: The official Brunswick site. They have a large display of tables and prices on their website. We spent some time exploring and comparing different tables to each other. Every one of the models that we checked out gave specs on finish, pockets, legs, slate, color and cloth type in generalities only. For example, Finish for the Mackenzie – an $8,000 model – says “Deep Madeira” and under Slate, 1”.
Even going to Brunswick’s Customized page for most of the tables, there were no options for wood, hand-rubbed staining, upgraded woven woolen cloth or choice of rail sights.
Second Stop: Independent Brunswick Pool Table Reviews. Review after review stated that Brunswick tables were still considered “quality pool tables” and included the mid-level tables such as the one I examined. However, “Independent” is almost impossible to find. I did find some but had to wade through dozens of forums first. According to the reviews that Brunswick was apparently not paying for, the tables currently made at every price point are crap – to put it nicely.
Snookered by Brunswick!
After tedious research, I discovered that Brunswick table parts are made in China, Malaysia, and Brazil. The more expensive models use solid wood but it’s softwood common to Asia and it’s only used on the top rails, not the legs or frame.
The less expensive models use composition wood, MDF or pine plywood. Remember the metal brackets I noticed when I looked under the table? Brunswick uses metal brackets and wood screws to attach the legs to the frame. Brazilian slate is harder than Italian and will warp and chip over time.
These Asian woods are sealed with a thin layer of laminate spray seal which is why the frame warps and cracks after a few years. Then, the table wobbles after a few years.
If we are going to spend $7,000 or $8,000 for a pool table, it’s not going to be for an MDF piece of junk.