Protection Matters:

Ok, let's talk about what "protection" means to me and you will see my reasons for being such a stickler in this area.

A pool cue is a fairly fragile instrument as far as sports equipment goes.  It's long and thin and held together in three pieces or more by glue and pins.  Cuemakers go to great lengths to make all those parts fit together with close tolerances.  They spend a lot of time figuring out ways to make all those parts stay together as well.  Wood likes to move, it's a natural cellular thing that expands when it's hot and contracts when it's cold.  It doesn't play well when glued to metal and plastic which are all elements of most cues.  A modern pool cue is in fact a well engineered piece of equipment.

So naturally it's not a good thing when this fairly fragile piece of equipment with it's three or four joints is banged around like drumsticks.  When a cue case is not padded inside to prevent excess movement it means that every time the case is jostled then the cue hits the walls of the tube or other cue parts.  Imagine hitting a pothole while driving and your cue is in the case in the back seat of the car.  Your cue just bounced hard against the tube walls several times.  So don't be surprised when it develops a little noise here and there from the hairline cracks at the joints.

So the first thing I do is wrap the cue in padding that keeps it from moving excessively.  So the cue and the case move in unison and the cue stays firmly in place when the case is moved. 

Now some folks maintain that protection doesn't matter - looks of the case are more important as long as the case does an adequate job of holding the cue.  Well we defintely disagree on what "adequate" is.  In my mind when you are building a cue case and you can make sure that the cue is held securely then you SHOULD do it.  Some of my case making colleagues who build stunning works of art don't really pay that much attention to the interior.  For some reason a lot of case makers consider it a real chore to build the interiors and so consequently they don't put a lot of effort into it.  Then they go on to justify the way they make the interiors as either "good enough" or invent reasons why they do this way or that way.  Things like the cue should breath so that's why we let it rattle. - Yeah, that's why cases for violins and guitars are always form fitted right?  That's why the best cue makers transport their cues in flight cases where each cue is sitting in form-fitted layers of foam rubber.  Try telling a person who owns a high end camera that it's ok if his camera bounces against the hard walls of a box while the car is bouncing down a dirt road.

I find it funny that people will buy and use padded cases for gear that costs a lot less than high end cues and then turn around and put their very expensive cues in a case that allows it to rattle around and fall out if the case is inverted with the lid open.  I think that they do this for two reasons, one is that they assume that the case maker thought about this and provided proper protection, and two they don't make the connection between finish problems, hairline cracks, and warpage with their case.  They never look at the case with a truly critical eye and ask themselves, is this case really protecting my cue as well as it should?

Ok so what kinds of things does a cue case need to protect a cue from?  To me these are the main things;

Impact - fairly simple here, you can't play well or at all with a broken cue.  So a case should provide padding around the cue to make sure it has some cushion. 

Temperature Change - sudden exposure to different temperatures can wreak havoc on a cue.  The last thing you want is the cue rapidly expanding or contracting due to sudden exposure to heat or cold.  A good case provides some insulation against sudden temperature change.

Humidty - This one operates in conjunture with temperature change.  You want to keep your cue at a constant humidity level, not too dry, not too wet.  When you put your cue into your case at room temperature you want it to retain enough humidty to stay stable, not take on excess humidty and not lose much either.

Accidental Removal - this is my pet peeve.  I like the cue to be held snugly in the case so that it won't come out until you deliberately pull it out.  In the event that you case should become inverted you don't want all your cues clattering on the ground.  Of course this doesn't happen often but when it does and your case doesn't stop it you will think about what I said here as you are looking at a major ding or scratch or joint pin damage, etc.....

So, if you really value your cue and want to keep it in pristine condition, internally and externally, then you will take a moment to inspect the cue cases you own and see if they really are taking care of your cues in all situations.

Protection Matters.  There are tons of pretty cases out there.  Very few of them protect cues as well as they should and a lot of them actually harm the cue.

On that note let me put this warning out to those of you who are considering buying knockoffs of major brands.  I am speaking of knockoffs of Instroke, Whitten, and Justis specifically.  The people who make these knockoffs don't care about your cue at all.  Their focus is to make a knockoff at the lowest possible price so that they can sell them far cheaper than the orginals.  This is alright for the buyer when they are buying a knockoff T-shirt.  The shirt might be a little uncomfortable and might fall apart in the wash after five washings but it isn't going damage anything unless the color bleeds all over your best jeans......  but a poorly made cue case can do some real damage to your cue internally and to the finish. 

On a top-loading cue case you cannot see below the surface and you can't see past the first couple inches of the interior.  The way they are built it is quite easy for the manufacturer to take all kinds of shortcuts and be negligent in the construction and you won't see it until your cue is damaged and you happen to make the connection that the case might be at fault.  You won't know that the handles are poorly done until the rivets begin to give way because the manufactuer does not realize that they need to reinforce those stress points and knows how to do it in the correct way.

You won't see a line of hard beads where the foam squeezed through the liner until you notice a funny series of dings in your finish.  The scratches on the finish could be caused by broken pieces of  foam floating freely in the case.

I had a beautiful unique Joss cue.  This was a cue made by Danny Janes just for me.  I wanted to take it to Mark Smith Cues to be refiinished.  I grabbed the nearest case to me which happened to be a Vincintore (Bentley) Whitten knockoff that I had taken in on trade.  This was a brand new, never used case.  I put my Joss butt into the case and the bottom came off and the cue slid through the open hole at the bottom through a ring of nail points, scratching it up from the buttcap over the wrap and into the forearm.  The bottom of the case was made with cheap particle board that had splintered from the nails being driven into it.

In contrast for example, we insure that the bottom of each cavity has EVA foam rubber in it to cushion the cue when it's inserted into the case.  The bottom caps are form fitted so that they make a nice seal with the tubes.  Then we glue the bottom into the case.  Then we drill pilot holes and use barbed nails to hold the bottom in place.  By making it a solid unit we insure that it will not fail and will not work it's way loose.  This is something that you do not have to worry about with cases which have earned a reputation for high quality.

With knockoffs you can be 100% certain that the makers have done as little as they can get away with to satisfy their customers, the importers who then prey on the ignorant.  At the end of the day you may save some money up front by purchasing a knockoff but sooner or later you will regret it with a repair bill for either the cues or the case.  With a quality orginal you get the protection and top quality workmanship from day one of ownership through the lifetime of the case.

It's a fact that whatever we build starts disintegrating from the moment we finish it.  Material is expanding and contracting and getting tugged on - stress points are being stressed - hinges are creasing - sewn parts are trying to come apart -

So we and all top quality case makers go to extra lengths to insure that the case can withstand all the stress that regular and even irregular use puts on it.  Knockoff makers don't do this.  They build cheap because they don't have a reputation to uphold, they don't have a responsibility to the consumer or his cues.

Okay, fine so what do we do exactly that makes JB Cases and JB designed cases "so much better" than everyone else's?

We care.  That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  We care about your cue, we care about your comfort, we care that you don't want to worry about your cue or your case.  Other high end case makers care too, but we really care. :-)

We reinforce all the stress points, we use soft but strong fabric that won't wear out and won't scratch or ding your cue. 

We put high density EVA foam rubber in the bottoms of the interiors to insure no damage

We make all the handles and straps comfortable to hold and easy to wear. 

We put grippy pads on the shoulder straps so the case stays in place on your shoulder. 

Our fabric doesn't absorb moisture like felt does. 

Our foam rubber is high grade and doesn't crumble and disintegrate. 

We make our own interiors from top to bottom and so we control the whole process. 

Our tubes are of a much higher grade than other case maker's tubes.

We constantly are inventing new and better ways to make every aspect of the cue case.

So that's pretty much it for my view on how a cue case should be built.  I am not in this to win beauty contests.  If you flip your car and are lucky enough to walk away from it I want your cues to survive it as well.  If you forget to latch your case and drop slip on ice outside the poolroom your cues should not fly out of the case into the snowbank.  If you forget to put the case in the car and leave it on the roof and it falls off and get run over then your cues should be ok.  If you get caught in the rain then your cues should stay dry.  If your 300lb wife gets upset and dropkicks your case as it is leaning against the wall you should expect that your cues will live through it.  These are all situations that are real and have happened to either my cases or my competitor's cases.

So although protection is relative and each person has different expectations of what is adequate there are clear differences in cue cases and those differences are worth learning about in my opinion.

What would I carry if I didn't build cue cases?  If Instroke had never existed then I probably would be carrying either my old Porper or a J.EF Q Case (also known as Jay Flowers).  Of course I woudn't turn down a Murnak, Justis, Whitten, Bonner, or any number of other great cases currently available.

No matter what you buy at least you know what I think is important and if you agree then you can make an informed choice.

Thanks for reading,

John Barton

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