What is the difference between British and American pool?

If you’re buying a pool table, one of the biggest questions you might have is what is the difference between a British and American pool table. Let's take a look.

Overview

American billiard tables are physically larger. Fast, napless nylon cloths and pointed cushions make for a high-speed game with plenty of excitement. British tables (or English, as they're also known) are smaller and with napped, woollen cloths, provide more of a calm, strategic game. The compact British tables are preferred for home and venue installations, but if you have the space, an American table makes a striking centrepiece for the games room.

Read on for a more thorough outline of the differences between British and American pool.

An LA Pro American pool table

An LA Pro American pool table (From £2995) [ view in store ]

Gameplay

American pool tables are designed to give a fast, exciting game, with plenty of rebounds and ricochets. As a result, they are bigger, with larger pockets, larger balls and faster nylon cloths. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that American pool is easy, though – judging angles for long shots over an 8-foot table takes plenty of skill.

British pool tables are designed for the more strategic game of British pool, or eight-ball. The woollen cloth, narrow pockets and flat-sided cushions promote the use of tactics over raw shot power. The smaller table size means that you might try handicapping or ‘snookering’ your opponent by blocking their shots. Almost all pub tables in the UK are British tables, although you might find an American table in an urban sports bar or US-style pool hall.

An Winner British pool table

A Supreme Winner British pool table (From £975) [ view in store ]

Size

How do the tables differ in size? The short answer is that American tables are larger than British tables.

The long answer is that British tables are almost exclusively made in 6ft or 7ft lengths. This makes them the best choice for home games rooms, where space and cueing room can be limited. Remember that you don’t just want to fit the table into your space, you need room to walk around it and use a pool cue – ideally a full-size 57-inch cue – from any angle. Read our pool table room size guide for more details on cueing room.

American tables are much larger, usually ranging from 8ft to 9ft. Some 7ft models are now available, with a few 6ft oddities too. American 7ft tables tend to be larger than British 7ft tables – you should check the individual listing for precise table dimensions. This makes them a good choice only when the games room is big enough to host such a large table. Again, check your cueing room before buying.

The slates also differ between British and American tables. British tables have a single-piece slate, but American tables usually have a sectional slate supplied in two or three pieces. This is because an 8ft or even 9ft billiard slate is extremely hard to transport and handle, so it is supplied in sections which are joined by technicians during installation.

Some American tables have slate adjusters that allow very precise changes to the level of each individual slate, in order to obtain the perfectly flat playfield. But all American and British tables are generally levelled with the feet, using a spirit level.

Cloth

The billiard cloth is key in making American and British pool play so differently.

British and American pool table cloths

British (left) and American (right) billiard cloths

British cloth is made from wool, sometimes with other fibres woven in. It has a soft, damping texture – a directional weave that’s also known as a ‘nap’ – that is designed to add drag to the ball roll, slowing it down. It promotes accuracy over roll speed, and rewards players who play precisely and thoughtfully.

American cloth is made primarily from nylon, which offers very low roll resistance. It also lacks the nap of British cloth. This means that powerful shots can roll much further, usually off a couple of cushions, and make this a game that favours fast, exciting gameplay – and needs a larger playfield.

Cushions & Pockets

Even the cushions and pockets are designed differently. On British tables, the pockets are narrow with pronounced, rounded shoulders. This makes it harder to pot a ball, as the shoulders can rebound your shot in almost any direction, and promotes skill. The cushion profile is L-shaped, which gives a moderate rebound.

American and British pool table pockets

British (left) and American (right) pool table pockets

On American tables, the pockets are wide with straight-cut corners and a sharp point at either side of the entrance. This makes it easier to pot a corner ball from a distance, encouraging players to use the fast cloth and go for the long shots. Centre pocket shots can be tricky, though. American cushions are narrow and pointed.

American and British pool table cushions

British (left) and American (right) pool table cushions

British tables often have internal ball return systems, so after a ball is potted, it returns to a collection area at one end of the table. This is because British pockets tend to be too small to comfortably squeeze a hand into. On a British coin-op table, the white ball is separated and sent to a second collection area at the other end. American tables usually have simple drop pockets that store the balls inside the pocket until the end of the game, but are increasingly being offered with ball return systems, such as on the LA Pro.

Design

American tables have always been the more spectacular. This is partly due to their size, but also because of the more outlandish styling trends that have been used on these tables. In contrast, British tables have generally have a more traditional style, with turned or straight legs depending on your taste.

Today, things have moved on. Liberty Games are now able to offer some of our most spectacular American tables – like the Zen and Houdini – built to British spec, with British pockets and cloth in a 7ft size.

A selection of British pool tables

A selection of British (left) and American (right) pool tables

Balls and Cues

Bigger tables need bigger balls. So American pool is generally played with 2¼-inch balls – large and heavy, which gives them plenty of forward momentum when rolling. British pool is generally played with 2-inch balls which are lighter and smaller, again favouring the tactical game over speed.

American and British pool balls

British (left) and American (right) pool balls

British cues tend to have smaller tips – usually no larger than 11mm. This small tip encourages precise cue ball control. American cues can have tips of 12mm or larger, which is ideal for those long, accurate power shots to the far end of the table.

Most pool cues are 57-inch, with 48-inch cues being popular where cue space is limited. Smaller sizes are available for particularly tight corners or young players.

American and British pool cue tips

British (left) and American (right) pool cue tips

Now you know how these pool tables differ, you can make the right choice. You can browse our American pool tables and English pool tables to find the perfect one for you.

 
This article was written by Liberty Games staff member
Joe O'Mara
Sales Manager at Liberty Games. Pool table specialist & pinball wiz. Film & cinema nerd, with a mental database of every episode of The Simpsons ever made.
Liberty Games

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