Why Do Pool Table Rails Get Hard?

why do pool table rails get hard

Pool table rails can become brittle or hard due to extreme heat, cold, or moisture. It is also possible that the manufacturer used low-quality rubber, so buyers should check for a guaranteed rubber compound from a verified manufacturer before purchase or replacement.

Look for seals on products, such as the BCA (Billiards Congress of America) Instructors Seal of Approval, which indicates that a panel of instructors reviews the products before purchasing. For more information on the BCA and its approval system, you can check out this article on the BCA Seal of Approval Program.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at how you can check if your rails have gone bad and how best to replace and maintain them.

How Long Do Bumpers Last On a Pool Table?

Pool table rails can last anywhere between 20-50 years if properly maintained and the table is stored correctly.

That’s quite a range, I know. An exact timeframe is hard to pinpoint since it depends significantly on whether the pool table is in a sunny, dry area or a cool, moist area. Avoid rooms with direct sunlight or placing the table near a heating vent, as this can accelerate the ageing process.

However, the lifespan is only 5-10 years with low-quality rubber or if you rarely use your pool table. Even high-quality rubber needs to flex to maintain its spring, so a table that is used very little will most likely need its bumpers replaced. Most pool tables sold for at-home use under the $1,500 price rag will likely be using lower quality rubber.

One way to know if there is low-quality rubber on your pool table is to check the color:

  • High-quality rubber is amber or tan
  • Low-quality rubber is pink.

A well-known inferior rubber is the K-66 profile which has this pinker hue to it. It is easier to check with the methods shown in the How do you check a pool table rail? section of this article since you will not be able to check the color of the rubber while the felt is covering it.

Some brands with a history of low-quality rubber on their rails are American Heritage Pool Tables, Artisan Pool Tables, Beach Manufacturing and Golden West Pool Tables. None of these tables are bad in and of themselves, but the quality of the rubber bumpers is not always as high as it should be.

How Do I Know If My Pool Table Bumpers Are Bad?

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The best way to check when to replace your bumpers is to bounce a pool ball against them. If it does not rebound or there is a deep thudding noise on impact, a sign that the ball has it the rail instead of the cushion, then your bumpers need to be replaced.

If the ball bounces back but stops rotating or rebounds in unexpected ways, this is also a sign that new rails are needed.

However, inconsistent rebounds or the ball hopping can also result from the rail cloth or cushions being pulled too tightly while being installed. Improper cushion installation can occur when a certified pool table mechanic has not installed the cushions. Some second-hand tables may not have had their cushions appropriately installed, so be sure to check before replacing the rails.

The rail’s bolts used to secure them to the slate play surface can become loose on the rails either due to vibrations or not getting the proper torque when assembled.

Loose bolts will result in the ball not rebounding correctly, which can be misinterpreted as the rubber in the rails no longer being good. Loose bolts should be the first thing you check before deciding to replace the rails.

This set of Pool Table Bumper Rails by Ozone Billiards is the most common type of bumper used for 8 foot pool tables and is a great replacement set.

How Tight Should Pool Table Rails Be?

The best tightness for pool table rails is 65 inch-pounds of torque. Overtightened bolts in the past could cause the bolts to have dug into the wood. Adding washers before tightening will ensure there is proper spacing.

To learn more about the proper measurement for tightening and installing pool table rails, check out this article on Cushion Rail Information.

How Do You Check a Pool Table Rail?

  • Bounce: The ball should bounce 3-4 times. It should also rebound in a consistent angle to the angle of incidence.
  • Feel: Run your hand under the rails to check for any grooves worn into them. If there is damage, then this will affect how springy the rails are. You can also squeeze your table’s rail cushions, and they should compress between 1/8″ and 1/4″.
  • Spin: Shoot a ball with a moderate topspin straight ahead at the rail. If the ball jumps more than an inch or stops spinning, then consider replacing the rails.
  • Sound: Hearing a thud sound when shooting the ball at the rails means that the cushions are no longer good, and the ball is making contact with the railing itself.

How Much Does Replacing the Rails Cost?

It can cost anywhere between $750 to $1,500 for new pool table rails and cushions, but this will depend on the quality of the materials and whether you are hiring someone to replace them for you. Keep in mind that a new table can cost around $3,000, so replacing the rails when the rest of the table is in good condition can be a better investment.

Make sure that if you choose to hire someone to replace and fix your rails, you are choosing someone who is appropriately certified.

You can check with the manufacturer of your specific table or find a specialty retailer with repairing services. These retailers have incentives for doing the job correctly, so there is a better guarantee that you will have your rails appropriately installed.

How Do You Recover a Pool Table Rail?

Remove Rails and Felt:

  1. Unscrew the rails to remove them.
  2. Remove the feather strip by running a razor knife along the groove inside the rail, which keeps the felt in place.
  3. Use pliers to remove staples, and any felt you were not able to by hand.

Remove Facing and Glue:

  1. Remove the facing (or end cap) and pry off the old rubber railing.
  2. Remove glue and remaining rubber elements with a scraper to ensure a clean surface for the new rail.
  3. Apply 3M Scotch-Weld Contact Adhesive-10 glue to rail and cushion and wait until the glue becomes tacky to ensure the new bumper stays in place.

Align New Rail:

  1. Use your hand to guide the rail into the correct position as you place it on top of the wood. Re-do this step as needed because the placement of the rail can affect gameplay.
  2. With a straight edge, mark the ends of the cushions.
  3. Follow the angle of the top of the rails to place your new facings. Use a sharp knife to make a clean and consistent cut at the ends of the rails.

Install New Facings:

  1. Glue on facings making sure that they are flush with the rails.
  2. Use the contour of the cushion to measure excess and remove it with a knife.

Stapling and Final Touches:

  1. Place new rail cloth over the channel with the feather strip, leaving some excess fabric on the ends so the felt can be stapled in place.
  2. Lay the feather strip and use a hammer to knock the feather strip into the channel gently.
  3. Make a slight relief on the ends of the rail to make stapling the fabric in place easier.
  4. Make sure the feather strip is in place with a woodblock. It will not be flush and will rise a little higher than the rail. Then trim the excess felt off the feather strip.
  5. Fold the felt over the contours of the rail and keep tight while stapling in place. You want the felt to be tight but not so tight that it compromises the rail’s shape.
  6. Continue to staple along the bumper until you have reached the other end.

Tools to Maintain Your Pool Table’s Rails

It would be best if you always covered your pool table when it is not in use. A cover will prevent moisture and temperature changes that can damage the rubber bumpers.

It is good to have a vacuum and soft towels to clean the table’s surface and the pool balls, as debris and dirt can cause damages to the pool table.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’ve had your pool table for years or are thinking of purchasing one, chances are you will need to replace dead rails at some point.

By investing in the right kind of rubber for your rails and storing your pool table in a cool, moist environment, you can lengthen the lifespan of your rails. Regularly using your pool table will also help maintain the quality of it’s rails (yes, having fun actually pays!). Still, it is essential to know when and how to replace them when the time comes.

Hopefully, this article helped you understand how to test your rails and gave you the easy steps you need to install your new rails.

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