A lot has been made about different shaft materials, and certainly this isn’t news, but it has definitely been discussed a lot very recently in the circles I’m apart of. It’s something that I’ve been interested in, even before I started this - my most recent and most expensive hobby to date.
Before going into the different materials, think about how the equipment that you used when you first started playing really good at a sport. I remember my best round of golf, I was hitting my 588 Cleveland gunmetal wedges incredible by even pro standards for a very memorable stretch of holes. How they felt, how they sounded, and the spin I got was just perfect at the right time for how I was picturing each shot in my pre-shot routine.
Back to pool. I started playing better pool shortly after I bought my first aftermarket shaft, which was a Predator 314-2 maple shaft. It was at this moment in time when I had just bought a house and set up my pool table and really dedicated a lot of time to playing. I practiced drills and played the ghost maybe close to a few hours a day on average for a stretch over the winter months. What made me better? Was it the new shaft? Was it the practice? Was it an aiming technique? Was it luck? I’ll give you my opinion later.
Maple. You may not even know it, but if you live in the USA, you probably love maple. Why do I say this? Because it is the material most used in cue making. You likely grew up playing, or you game grew up while you were holding a maple shaft. Most people can tell the difference even if they can’t explain it. It’s like holding an apple (maple) in one hand and an orange (oak) in the other. The way they sound, the way they feel when you tap it against a table, the texture even.
Kielwood. What is Kielwood anyway? Well, it’s maple. It’s been modified to be slightly lighter in weight, maybe around 10%, yet it is stiffer, and is much more stable - in other words it it unlikely to warp under normal conditions. It sounds like maple but not quite the same. I’m not an acoustics expert, so I’m not sure which characteristic it is that causes it to yield a slightly lower tone. Do you remember ever playing with a bar cue that was made of oak. Maybe you can recall a lower “thunk” type of sound. It’s probably pretty similar to kielwood if you were to compare.
Carbon fiber. While most solid 30” maple shafts weigh close to 4 ounces, and most solid 30” Kielwood shafts weigh close to 3.5 ounces, a Carbon fiber tube weighs around 1.75 ounces before it’s actually turned into a playable shaft. The lower weigh allows for lower deflection. Exactly how much less deflection depends of the engineering done while it’s made into a playable shaft. How is it filled, the ferrule material and size, etc...
Kielwood, Carbon fiber, and even maple can all be made with varying degrees of deflection. The variables come from the engineering that is done at the front end of the shaft. Standard ferrule installations on maple and kielwood shafts will allow the weight differences in the materials to determine the amount of deflection imparted onto the cue ball.
Deflection. This maybe the most discussed, the most incorrectly discussed, and the most insufficiently discussed word in cue sports. Deflection is not constant. It depends on how much side English you are applying, how hard you are striking, the weight of the cue ball versus the front part of your shaft, how clean or slippery the finish on the cue ball is combined with the speed of the cloth. Softly struck shots with lots of side spin on fast cloth with a clean cue ball may deflect ire than you expect.
Deflection, Feel, Sound - These are all things we are used to, even if only on a subconscious level. Changing these by changing to different shaft materials will result in temporary discomfort.
I think we all have systems we use, and when we find a shaft that fits how we expect most of our shots to behave, that’s when we strike gold. So let’s say you find the perfect shaft that fits your systems. It sounds different but you decide you will accept it and get used to it. It feels slightly different but again, you decide you’ll get used to it. And eventually you will.
So looking back on that past improvement - what made me better?
Was it the new shaft? Was it an aiming technique? Yes and Yes - I performed certain shots better...eventually but not at first. Over time, I adjusted my aiming systems to fit the deflection of the new shaft.
Was it the practice? Yes - I definitely had been playing more in order to get used to the shaft or because of the novelty of having anew table and new shaft.
Was it luck? Maybe. However, I’d like to think it was willpower and dedication. I took notes so I don’t have to remember the failures along the way. If I would have given up and gone back to the old shaft, would I still have gotten better? Great question. We’ll never truly know of course! Would I have had the same willpower after the disappointment of switching back to the old shaft? Would changing back to the older aiming systems been a lateral back and forth move?
You’re answer are surely different than mine, but if you’ve noticed an improvement, then isn’t that all that really matters?