(The image above shows the shafts below when under black light. Notice the black locust glows…. Also, some time during this read you’ll want to see the table at the end. The terms are defined shortly before the table.)

Folks are generally concerned with both the look of the shaft and the play. I’ll address both, while acknowledging that I’m at the beginning of the journey on testing all these species, and these thoughts comprise my best combination of research and personal experience. My views are not definitive, however.

Black locust varies in color the way walnut does. The stuff I have now is sapwood, less dense and lighter in color than heartwood, which looks more like walnut. It glows under a black light. The hit is similar to hard maple (sugar maple). Black locust has a cool name and a great story and great play, but unless you play under black lights, my stuff looks very similar to the other light colored species, with a slightly translucent/reflective effect similar to the chatoyancy you get from curly wood, but without the curl.

The images also show a few shafts I haven’t listed on the site, yet: curly maple and curly walnut. I include them because you mention looking for character. I haven’t shot with either, but variations in stiffness due to the nonlinear grain would be smallish, case by case, and not nearly as pronounced as when comparing one species to another.

Curly maple would play much like regular maple. Curly walnut would play like walnut – softer, lighter, suitable for fast tables and shooters who like roll shots and who rarely hit hard.

black locust, walnut (the x indicates it has one warp so far. If the next turn stays straight, we move on. If the next turn warps, the shaft meets a new end: joint protectors at the fat end and fire bin at the short); walnut, curly maple, hickory

I’ve played quite a bit with walnut with a 12 mm medium-hard tip (Le Pro) and find it gives me a lot of control for those nuanced, short-end-of-the-table shots where the goal is to move the ball a few feet, get good English, and set up the next shot pretty much anywhere on the table. Walnut is excellent for folks who want more control and less speed on fast tables, as you have less mass connecting with the ball, producing less energy in the hit. That said, if you need to hit the ball hard enough to get a full diagonal table length of draw, you’re going to also get more deflection than the species with higher MOEs (indicating less flex; more on that below). Hard hitters who apply English would not prefer walnut or any of the lower MOE species over birch.

My birch is all straight grained, plain, and boring. It is also the best hitting. A look at the numbers in the table shows why: High MOE, lower Janka, average specific gravity.

The most radical looking grain I have is shagbark hickory. It has black streaks. Gorgeous stuff to my thinking, but the hit is only suitable for regular play if you’re a hard hitter and like every shot to feel like you fired a rifle. Slow and easy shooters, folks who like roll shots, and folks who play on fast tables will not like hickory for regular play. A soft tip can dampen that a little, but not as much as a person might think. (Soft tips transmit less energy, miscue less because they hold chalk better, and require more force for big draw shots than harder tips. They also deflect less. Tip hardness has more to do with deflection than species, as the tip is the contact point with the cue ball.)

Hickory always plays firm. That said, I know several guys who sometimes use even purple heart for regular play (much stiffer and denser), so it all comes down to what a person likes and learns to play with. All shafts have something or other to get used to – even super low deflection is something to get used to. 

White oak has a golden color that stands out, but I doubt it would look good with hickory, which is quite white.

The lighter colored species don’t vary much in appearance. Birch is indistinguishable from maple for most folks, and even when you know what to look for, it can still be hard to tell. Ash is light with subtle dark areas that can be interesting (like snooker cues), sassafras is also light colored. They all play slightly differently, (sassafras quite a lot differently: very light wood, lots of flex, less mass = less energy into the ball) but few would notice they aren’t maple based on appearance. The more experienced a shooter, the quicker he or she will notice the difference in play between birch, maple, and ash. The birch would stand out first. (With a skinny tip the English is best of all the species I’ve shot with.)

I’ve read from a master cue builder that the reason maple is the standard shaft species these days in the US is because its play is very good and it can be bleached bone white, and that was vogue for a while.

I had a highly skilled friend take a few dozen shots with maple, birch, walnut and cherry, and it was interesting watching his face. The birch waaay outperformed on heavy English shots, but he liked the walnut best. All that’s to say, any species in the middle ranges of MOE will require almost no getting used to, for folks used to maple.

Shaft wood in order of the table below, arranged by MOE, or stiffness. The ends have a splash of CA finish on them, to demonstrate finished color.

The extremes at either end, both density and stiffness – produce profoundly different play, though, and style of play really determines whether a person would enjoy shooting with the species.

So on to some numbers:

Modulus of Elasticity (MOE) measures stiffness – how easily something bends – but only in the elastic range, meaning, without deforming the wood after the load is removed. The higher the number, the less it bends, and the less deflection you should get.

The higher the MOE, the less bend when the tip strikes the ball, and the less deflection, in general.

Specific Gravity – density — at the tip also affects squirt (deflection). The more end mass, (the higher the specific gravity, roughly) the more squirt. This factor is less important than stiffness and tip choice.

So the density and stiffness work together and against each other. Purple heart is dense and stiff. The density produces some deflection while the stiffness reduces it. That’s why some cue builders drill the tip end of a wood shaft to reduce the mass. Another way to do it is to drill the tip 4 inches, insert a less dense wood, and mount the ferrule to that. As long as one works with strong wood, then the reduction in strength shouldn’t ever be a factor. (Doesn’t make sense to do this for a break shaft, though.)

Incidentally, this is why carbon fiber shafts are the rage: very stiff, very low end mass.

Janka is another density measurement having more to do with how resistant a wood is to dents and dings, and is found by measuring how much force it takes to push a .44 inch steel ball half way into the wood. The higher the number, the less dings and dents.

The bottom line is that the middle ranges are safe. The extreme at the high end is more for breaking/jumping or consistently hard hitters or very slow tables. The extreme at the low end is more suited for soft, slow play or faster tables.

Choosing a species with numbers similar to maple is a safe bet.

My shaft prices are $300 for curly maple, curly walnut, and carbon fiber. This is due to the cost of acquiring the material and time involved in turning it into a shaft.

All the other species are $200.

JankaMOESpecific Gravity
Purple heart252020.260.9
Birch (sweet)147014.970.74
Black locust170014.140.77
Maple (hard)145012.620.71
White oak135012.150.75
https://www.wood-database.com/ — a phenomenal resource for the numbers above, definitions, articles, you name it.

Have you shot with different species, or have a different take on any of the above? I’d love to know what you know! Share it in the comments!

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