|I wrote this a while back after
I went to Barringer’s web site and saw what he had
posted about CNC vs. Hand-Made Cues:
"Just put it in the CNC and go get a
cup of coffee. When you finish the coffee a new cue has been
Nothing could be further from the
Any Cuemaker who states that his cues are
hand made does not know the definition of hand made (which
happens to be made by hand without the use of machines). The
truth is that every cue I have ever seen was made on a lathe
(a machine). To state that their cues are hand made implies
that cues that are machine made are inferior when they are
ALL made by machine.
How the wood is processed, the assembly technique,
and the precision of the work is far more important than a
handful of empty words. It is plain and simple – nobody
in this world (in their right mind) would try to build a cue
by hand (without the use of machines). The amount of hand work
that is necessary does NOT change from one cue maker to another – it
is the same regardless of who makes the cue.
There is a lot of hand work involved in every
cue; deburring, sanding and wrapping and polishing are a few
of the operations that are accomplished by hand. Whether a
couple of inlays were cut out with a CNC milling machine or
a pantograph mill makes no difference whatsoever. Inlays are
NOT cut out with a Dremmel tool, chisels or Exacto Knives because
it is too primitive. If they say that is the way the work was
accomplished – then I do not believe it. The level of
cuemaking has reached the point that the inlay work must stand
up to examination by a 10 power jeweler’s loupe. I see
cues scrutinized closer than diamond rings that cost a lot
more money. Welcome to the real world.
There is also a large misconception about
CNC machines and their relationship to cuemaking: “all
you do is lay the cue into the CNC machine and flip a switch,
go have a cup of coffee, come back and it's done -- it's done.
This rumor was started by a cuemaker who did not have a CNC
machine, did not possess the intelligence to learn the various
computer assisted drawing (CAD) programs, the computer assisted
machining programs (CAM) and computer numeric control (CNC)
programs, or just did not have the money to make the investment
in new technology. Rather than join this century they would
rather justify their own existence by demeaning those of us
who have made this enormous financial investment and sacrifice
in time and effort to bring you a more beautiful cue at a better
price. CNC is precision at a level that cannot be repeated
by the human hand. My CNC machine will repeat the same function
within .0001 of an inch. I cannot even measure anything that
precise with a standard micrometer.
A fine cue is more than a couple of inlays.
Whether the pockets were cut by pantograph or CNC machine makes
absolutely no difference in the cue whatsoever. Precision work
can be accomplished with a pantograph but it takes more time
to do the actual cutting and mistakes are more easily made.
It certainly has nothing to do with how the cue was assembled
or the amount of effort that went into the cue. However; CNC
machines represent extreme accuracy in the inlay work and once
the programs are written and proven and some experience is
gained it saves some time.
A few years ago I was under the misconception
that CNC machines did all the work. The phrase I heard over
and over was something to the effect “walk away and have
a cup of coffee – come back to a finished cue”.
Well there is nothing I know of that is further from the truth.
The CNC Milling Machine cuts the pocket for the piece that
is going to be inlayed. It also cuts the piece to inlay into
the pocket. These pieces and pockets must be deburred by hand
fitted whether made by pantograph or CNC milling machine.
The cuemaking process starts many years before
any given cue is actually assembled. The cuemaking art must
be learned which takes many years of hands on experience. Learning,
trial and error, frustration, joy, and failure and if one is
determined enough success finally arrives.
We start with a piece of seasoned wood (for
us that takes 3 to 5 years). It is cut to 1' by 1' X
18” and allowed to rest for at lease 1 year. The edges
are trimmed off and it becomes an octagon. After another year
it is turned round and allowed to rest another year. It is
finally reduced in size to 1 5/16 and allowed to rest at least
another year or until it is used in a cue.
Each cue consists of handle wood, butt sleeve
and forearm, and shaft. These four pieces must be joined together
so perfectly that it hits like a single piece of solid wood.
This process is accomplished by the cuemaker one cut at a time
and CNC is not involved.
Our basic cue butt consist of at least 21
facings (a facing is to machine the end of a piece of wood
or other material perfectly flat), 3 holes bored to within
2 thousandths of an inch accuracy, the handle wood tapped (threaded)
and the forearm tapped, and five pieces glued and clamped together.
Two black linen based fiber (LBF)collars are made and installed,
a silver ring, and rings before and after the wrap. The butt
cap and butt sleeve must be made and installed (hole bored
and faced and glued and clamped with epoxy glue). After all
this (remember this is the most basic cue) it must be tapered,
hand sanded, sprayed at least 4 coats (hand sanding in between).
Next it is wrapped and the final touches are made prior to
shipment. CNC machines have nothing to do with this process.
Our most basic shaft requires 12 different
facings, two tenons, 2 holes bored to within 2 thousandths
of an inch accuracy and five pieces glued and clamped together.
The shaft must be tapered and hand sanded. CNC mills have absolutely
nothing to do with any aspect of this process.
In a nutshell; the most basic cue requires
hundreds of separate machining and hand operations that must
be accomplished by a human being. Fine cuemaking is very labor
As to the CNC aspect of cuemaking. First
of all I had to decide on which CNC milling machine to purchase.
I talked to lots of different people; some cuemakers and some
machinists. I spoke to salesman, software manufacturers and
tooling people. I spent a couple of years researching CNC machines
before I actually made the purchase. Now I wish I had not bought
the machine I bought. Nothing like experience.
After I received the new CNC Machine it did
not work – it would not run. I spent some time asking
for technical support and he would not answer my calls. Of
course he had already been paid. I had to find someone locally
to help me get the machine running and that took a couple of
months and about $2,000.00 more. By the time I got it running
I had pretty much forgotten all I had learned. The software
I was provided turned out to be demo’s only and I had
to buy all the software over again. That was only a couple
of thousand more. Talk about learning curve and I still haven’t
run a single part or cut the first pocket. Thanks Chester.
I get the software I needed and then I could
not make it work – I buy books, tutorials, videos and
ask all the questions I know to ask and still don’t know
what to do correctly. Buy more software, pay for private tutoring,
more software, more tutoring, more tutoring. That is only about
three thousand dollars more.
It is now three years later and I have finally
run my first part and cut my first pocket. I have now spent
over $15,000 for my first Ivory inlay and spent 3 years of
every spare moment studying and learning. Now remember – just
put it into the machine and go get a cup of coffee.
At this point it is time to write programs
for each inlay design. Not only do I get to design the inlay,
I get to make a program for the pocket. Now I need a program
for 4 pockets, one for 6 pockets and one for 8 pockets. I also
need a program for cutting out the pieces. Before I can cut
the pieces I need to acquire the Ivory stock, cut it into slabs,
mount it on a board and clamp the whole piece on the table
of the CNC milling machine. You mean that the clamps, t-slot
nuts don’t come with the machine? Order more tooling.
I can’t wait to throw it into the machine and go drink
a cup of coffee.
Now I am ready - Where are the end mills
(that is the part that does the cutting)? Order more tooling – Its
How Much? Now I am ready – Wow, these little end mills
break easy. Feeding too fast – go back and rewrite the
Now I am ready – Wow, these little
end mills break easy. Overlapping too much – go back
and rewrite the programs.
Now I am ready – Wow, these
little end mills break easy. Plunging too deep – go
back and rewrite the programs.
Now I am ready - What’s
wrong now – nothing fits? Had a slight
power outage and it messed up the program. Go buy battery backups for the
computer and the CNC machine. Heck this is only another $400.00.
I am ready: Wow, these little end mills break easy- Should
have paid more attention setting my Z Axis.
Now I am ready:
Wow, these little end mills break easy – Bumped it
with my hand – broke the end mill and cut myself to
the bone – It
is only a few stitches.
How much is that per stitch? I should have
gone to Medical
Now I am ready goes on and on and on and
on and on and on until one day I realize that I would have
been far ahead if I had
Now I am ready: It works great – It
cuts the pieces and pockets perfectly. All this sacrifice to
put in 4 little ivory diamonds. Lets see: $15,000.00 divided
by $20.00 per inlay = 750 inlays. If the average cue gets 8
inlays I only have to inlay the first 93.75 cues to pay for
the machine and training. Forget the time it took to learn
the entire process, the cost of ivory or pay for the labor
of the actual inlay work. A cuemaker friend of mine was asked
what he would do if he hit the lottery? He replied: Heck, that’s
easy – I would just keep on building cues until it was
I still have to assemble the cue to start
with – just like I always did. I have to make all the
parts just like I always did. I have to taper everything just
like I always did. I have to sand everything just like I always
did. I have to spray and polish everything just like I always
did. I have to wrap the cue just like I always did.
Cindy – Please bring me a cup of coffee
so I can keep working.