There seems to be a great debate in pool today with regard to the use of specialty cues for specialty shots. There are those amongst us who may not see a need to carry a separate stick for a jump or a break shot. The argument might be that Earl Strickland does not advocate the short jump stick, or that Shane Van Boening does not need a separate break cue. Those people would be correct—if you are the best in the world you will have a likelihood of winning even when placing yourself at a disadvantage.
For those of us who struggle to get in the money, grinding nightly at home or out for the night, it can sometimes be beneficial to learn and use the latest in pool technology. Things like the low deflection shaft, the short jump cue, and the layered and phenolic tip have found their place in many of our bags and our games. For each person at my weekly league that has a trusted old full splice that they rely on to aid their game, there is someone with a shiny new shaft with a logo displayed like the insignia on a super hero’s chest.
Likewise, having a special cue for the break allows a player to take advantage of many tricks of physics and of personal feel that, at best, are likely to improve their breaking results and, at worst, are unlikely to hurt their break.
When you ask yourself why you may want to have a separate stick for your break, we can start the examination where the cue meets the cue ball—at the chalk. I like to use a different chalk for my break. I will often use Blue Diamond or Predator chalk for my normal game stroke, but for my break I like something grittier. I keep some silver cup around just for this purpose, and would hate for that chalk to become mixed on the tip of my playing cue.
Next, the playing cue and the break cue have different tips in my case. The cue that I shoot with has a soft layered tip that would quickly deform if I were to repeatedly hit it with the hard stroke that I use to break. The J. Pechauer breaker does not have a phenolic tip on it, but it does have a tip with a phenolic core, made by Tiger; this tip is much harder than the one that I would use If I was intending for cue ball position and english to take precedence over power and angle.
My break stick has a wider taper that gives me a larger sweet spot on the tip, and makes the cue more forgiving with a wider margin for error to accommodate a faster and less accurate break stroke. The trade off for this is less ability to impart english on the cue ball when compared to how I have my playing cue set up.
After the tip, the next major difference between my break cue and my playing cue is in the shaft. I play with a P+Pro laminated shaft to take advantage of it’s low deflection properties, but the laminated design has been known to have issues in other shafts. I have heard of more than one account of laminated shafts splitting apart after extended use.
Although I have never seen it myself, it does stand to reason that everything has a point of resilience after which it cannot be hit anymore without material failure—and no matter if that is one hit or one million strikes of the cue ball, we get closer to that failure with every use. For the salvation of my wonderful laminated shaft I take my powerful break strokes with a different shaft entirely.
Now that we have established a fair case for why one might want to have a different setup above the joint for a break shot, it is entirely reasonable for the critical to argue that the need for a different stick stops there, and that one need not have a different butt for any reasonable purpose.
I would say that there are many good reasons to reconsider this opinion. My playing cue and my break cue have the same pin, but I could imagine a condition where I had a g-10 pin on my playing cue that I would view as less than desirable for breaking when compared to a steel pin for my break cue.
The next thing to consider would be the joint. The feel that I prefer is to have an implex joint for my playing cue. I think that this gives me more delicate feedback that allows me to more precisely impart english on the cueball. The same physics that allows the implex joint to give and flex for this feedback also removes some of the efficiency with which power is transferred across this joint and into the cue ball.
For the break I prefer the solid energy transfer that one gets from a stainless steel joint. I feel this joint does not give me as good of an ability to control my cue ball, but it allows me to most efficiently transfer force from my arm through the cue and into a waiting rack of balls.
Next is the most important difference between a playing cue and a break cue, in my opinion. In a playing cue you will often find a weight pin towards the back. This allows for the bumper to be taken off and the pin to be changed out to allow one cue to take on several different weights. This method of weighting the cue gives a very pleasant balance point that is towards the front of the grip area under your hand.
The J. Pechauer break cue has a balance point that has been repositioned to be much more forward in the forearm of the cue. This gives you a distinct feel when driving through a rack of balls. The feel of the forward weight will drive you through your stroke with acceleration that seems to be lead from the tip of the cue through the cueball. I find this to be a very desirable feel, and often will choose my break cue to continue my run just due to the deadline I feel when down on a shot behind a cue weighted in this way.
My Pechauer break cue has a diamond pattern inlaid in white implex and a matching butt cap. This cue has a J. Pechauer branded rubber bumper to finish off the stick. My breaker is a 19 oz. with a 13mm tip and is 58 inches overall.
There has been some discourse in recent years regarding the advantages of a lighter cue for breaking. The sales pitch is that if it is lighter you can accelerate it more quickly, thereby generating more force at the point of cueball impact. I contend that, although there are shades of truth here, it would be nearly impossible for a person to reap this reward.
The reason behind why is complicated. There are two factors that enter into a calculation of how much force is produced. These two factors are acceleration and mass. It is true that if a mass is accelerated more quickly it will generate more force. Where this theory falls down is also two fold. First, if you have to reduce the mass to increase the acceleration then you are reducing the force along with the mass.
Second, the limiting factor to break speed has always been how fast you can accelerate the cue. If you reduce the mass of the cue significantly then you must snap it more quickly. In the human body there are special muscle cells that are activated to create this snap. It is often the case that these muscles are not well developed. Some sports, like boxing, place an emphasis on developing these muscles, but this is seldom part of a pool players training. This can often mean that a breaker will lose power when using a lighter cue.
What is desirable is to have a slower stroke overall for the break while maintaining the same rate of acceleration over all. This can be done by increasing the mass of the break cue to a great enough size that your stroke is slowed down (this is for increased control and accuracy) but you can still accelerate at a given speed.
Another consideration is that the mechanics of the pool cue and the force that it generates will never exceed the force that your arm puts into the cue. For this reason it is important to do everything that can be done to maintain any energy that the arm generates and transfers into the cue. This is where things like a hard tip and ferrule as well as a steel joint can help by transferring energy instead of allowing it to be used up in the form of a cushion on a soft surface. For some people this energy conservation is not an issue, for others it is the small edge that puts them on top.
Cons: This cue is mighty plain jane and comes with a premium price tag. At a cost of around $300, the J. Pechauer break cue is a steep premium to lay out for just one shot. At that rate there is a solid argument against this cue that goes something like this; “I already make a ball nearly every time with my playing cue.” If the cue was under $100, you could justify buying one anyway but at $300 it has got to come across with something very impressive to be worth the expense. Pros: This cue has great engineering with an eye to the physics of the break stroke. With it in hand you do not have to have a math degree to create awesome force and transfer that force with efficiency into a rack of balls. For the person that wants to have every advantage in their corner, this cue will provide an edge when breaking. What you do with the rack from there is up to you.
If you are a person who believes that, “It’s not the arrow so much as the indian”—only in the event that the indian has a decent arrow in the first place—and you also think that when two identically matched indians meet the quality of the arrows may play their role after all, then it may be time for you to set your player aside when you break.
If it is time for you to take that plunge I would highly recommend the break cue by J. Pechauer as an example of quality American workmanship by folks who care about their product. This cue was engineered correctly with all the bells and whistles that one would expect to find on any quality break cue, but this one is made by hand in Wisconsin and is served at a very reasonable price.