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RAVEN Custom Cues
Marion, IA 52302
How a RAVEN Custom Cue is made!
RAVEN Custom Cues are built by hand in Marion, Iowa. I am a cuemaker and a pool player who has a passion for precision, craftsmanship and artistic design. I love to play pool so I build cues for people who love to play pool.
My workshop is where the actual building of cues takes place. After each step in the process the cue is inspected and hung up to allow everything to dry, harden and stabilize. In the background is the spray booth and the laptop computer that controls the CNC milling machine.
I utilize many different pieces of equipment in cue building. I use three different lathes. There is a picture of one above. It features a six jaw chuck that has a repeatable accuracy range of .0005 of an inch and is set up with a quick scroll three jaw chuck for easily clamping shafts and butt sections. The accuracy is critical for correctly centering the joint pin and shaft threads.
The number of steps involved in making a cue can be staggering. In the picture below a
spliced forearm (or prong) is ready for assembly. On the far right are the individual
veneer strips. They had to be cut and dyed (a process that takes many hours) their
respective colors. After drying for days the individual veneers were glued together into 4
strips. It is critical that each strip thickness is within a few one-thousandths of an
inch of the others or the veneers in the points will be uneven. Once dry each strip is
specially cut to allow it to be folded and glued at a 90 degree angle. Here again any
significant error will be noticeable in the cue. The main point wood (Gaboon ebony in this
case) is cut and shaped to fit inside the slot created by the folded veneers. The point wood with the veneers will later be glued into the forearm. The bare Birdseye maple forearm
in the lower part of the photo has had 4 grooves milled into it to accept the finished
points and veneers. You guessed it. Those grooves also have to be within a few one-
thousandths on an inch tolerance. From start to finish this exacting process takes over a
week just to make the parts. You may be able to see the arrows drawn on the ebony point
wood. Each piece is hand sanded many times and checked time and time again with
calipers. Even with the tight tolerances to start with the various parts must be shaped and fitted to an individual
groove in the prong. Parts are numbered and an arrow drawn on each to prevent any
misalignment. The finished prong will look like the one in the upper
part of the picture.
The next picture shows an assembled prong. It is hung up and allowed to dry and rest for weeks or even months. When needed it will gradually be turned down to a size that allows it to be mated to a handle. Then it hangs again while other parts of the cue are made.
I thread or groove all wooden tenons. Above is a close-up of a four point spliced forearm. The hole for the tenon that connects the forearm to the handle is bored to size and has been threaded. There is another deeper threaded hole for the steel screw that will anchor the wrap or handle tenon into the forearm. The tenon on the handle has been threaded and a steel screw set through it and about an inch into the handle itself. It was more time consuming and difficult to thread this joint. I did it because I felt it was the most secure way to join these parts for this cue and still get the feel I wanted. The handle will later be wrapped with Irish linen or leather. Below is another picture of the handle, butt sleeve and forearm configuration of the three piece butt.
Some cuemakers, probably most cuemakers, build the forearm / handle joint only one way. I donít. Usually I run the tenon from the handle into the forearm. Sometimes I run the tenon from the forearm into the handle. I have threaded the tenon and receiving hole and I have cut them smooth (but so tight they make a popping sound when separated after a fitting test) and then put grooves in them for additional glue surface. I typically use steel or aluminum screws in the joining process for both balance and strength. I have used fiberglass and phenolic screws. In some cases I have also built the joint with no screw at all. Click here to see about the Solid Core construction method. Solid Core construction is how many RAVEN cues are being built now.
Just like I believe one size of cue doesn't fit all people, I also believe one method of building this joint (and other parts of a cue) is not right for every situation. There are different ways a shaft is constructed. Tips are made with different tanning processes, of different materials and have different hardnessís. Ferrules, joint pins, inserts and woods are all different. I choose the right method to build each cue, not what is most convenient.
Whether the entire construction method is Solid Core or the forearm is being cored to stabilize the wood or reduce weight, people have asked how we get such a deep hole that is so perfect? The answer is we use a Gun Drill to make a long perfect hole through the wood.
The forearm is turning in the lathe chuck and is perfectly aligned with the Gun Drill. The air hose blasts cool air into the hole to remove chips and keep the wood cool while the lathe carriage slowly advances the Gun Drill.
Click here for a video of the Gun Drill drilling a deep hole.
I use five to seven different glues and epoxies while building a RAVEN cue. Each is chosen for specific properties and bonding strength that make it the best choice for a particular job.
The two pictures below show the other end of the handle. This is the butt sleeve tenon. It is also threaded. Later the butt sleeve, stitch rings, trim rings and the butt cap will be installed on this tenon. This tenon will also be used as one end of the central axis throughout the entire process of building and turning the cue to size to insure symmetry.
The next picture is a close-up of the threads on the butt sleeve tenon. Even though they will never be seen again, I cut them as if they will be inspected. The parts of your cue that don't show get the same attention as the parts that do show.
Most cues contain ring work like the picture below. Each ring has been individually cut to size for that particular cue. Each ring is repeatedly hand sanded and matched to the ring next to it. This insures not only a tight fit but uniformaty throughout the cue. I've been known to spend as much as 2 hours just getting 1 set of rings to my satisfaction. Some cues will have six sets of identical rings.
pieces of the cue itself are assembled and turned down to size. Inlays are cut from exotic woods, ivory and other inlay material. Inlay pockets are milled into the butt sleeve, points or wherever they belong. They are epoxied into place and then turned down flush with the exterior of the cue. The final pieces of the cue like the butt cap, joint collars and the joint pin will be installed and turned down to final size. Next the cue will be sanded, inspected again and treated with a wood stabilizer and preservative.
There are three elements of most cues I consider user customizable. They are shaft taper, ferrule material and the tip. Sometimes the overall weight is also user customizable. Hopefully you love the feel and hit of your RAVEN cue just as it was originally made. But I know, from experience, no hit or feel of any cue is right for everyone. Some people want to tweak every possible aspect of their game. If you change the tip, ferrule or shaft taper of any cue you will change how it plays. I generally don't thread the ferrule tenon. The reason I don't is because the threads cut below the outside diameter of the tenon. Most often the person replacing the ferrule takes the tenon back down to the wood removing all previous ferrule material. If the threads were turned down that would reduce the diameter of the tenon to less than what I think it should be. I would handle the modification without reducing tenon diameter, but not everyone else does. Of course I will gladly thread the ferrule tenon on customer request.
I donít suggest you attempt these modifications yourself unless you have the equipment and experience to do it. If your cue is not already completed (when you purchase it) these aspects of your cue can be customized, to your specifications, before your cue is delivered. Even so, things sometimes change. Any competent cue maker or cue repairperson can fairly easily individualize these four aspects of our cues.
RAVEN cues are given at least 9 coats of finish. The final coat is wet sanded, by hand, a minimum of 8 times to 12000-grit micromesh! Before they are delivered to customers the cues are hand polished in another 3-step process that results in a mirror like shine. Each RAVEN cue has been previously engraved with the logo, date it was made, an individual serial number for authenticity. Earlier cues also had the initials of the cuemaker. Cues are photographed and cataloged for future reference. I've been asked why I don't just sign or initial the cues like other custom cue makers do? It just isn't my style. I will, however, initial or sign a cue by special customer request.
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