How Does a Pool Table Return the Cue Ball Separate From the Other Balls?

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This weekend I decided to go to a bar with a couple of friends to play a round of pool. My friend accidentally hit the cue ball into one of the pockets and to my surprise it came out of the side slot rather than go into the shelves where all the other balls were going to. I decided to do some research on how a pool table can detect the cue ball from the other balls.

There are many different ways that pool tables are made to distinct a cue ball from all of the other balls. Some tables use light reflection while others use things like a metallic core, a weight mechanism, or a size differentiation detector. All these methods will be covered in detail beneath. 

Magnetic Detector

In a pool table there are metal balls that lead the balls to the center of the table. When the balls get to the center of the table there are three different metal bars that give the balls two different tracks to go down. While the cue ball is going down one track it will trigger a magnetic mechanism that will send a physical barrier in between the cage and the ball.

Inside of the cue ball is some sort of magnetic metal. This can be a full metal core, a steel bar pushed through the middle of the balls, or metal particles mixed in with the resin. These metallic particles are detected by a sensor that moves a gate in the cue ball’s path and pushes it over to the other path leading it to the side slot.

This is probably the most preferred method of cue ball return. Most players enjoy the metal core method over the steel bar or the mixed resin. The steel bar makes for an uneven weight and the mixed resin often causes the ball to be uneven. The metal core has the same density all around.

Light Sensor

A lot of these cue ball detecting techniques require the cue balls to made in a special way. The light sensor detecting technique requires the cue ball to have a finish that gives it a fluorescent pigment.

When the ball goes into the shoot there’s a ray of light that points towards the ball and the ball reflects wavelengths back to a mirror. This mirror sends the wavelength to a sensor that only responds to the fluorescent pigment of the cue ball. If the cue ball is present, then certain mechanisms will make it go down a different track.

These are probably the least popular of cue ball detectors. Because it requires different types of sensors it can get expensive if they need replacing. It makes for a more complex system and can be affected by dings made in the cue ball or cracks in the cue ball finish.

Weight Detector

The weight detector is really made up of two mechanical pieces; the micro switch and the solenoid. When the billiards balls go down the shoots towards the ball cage they first go over a tiny metal bar. This is called the micro switch.

Depending on the weight of the ball the micro switch sends a signal to the solenoid which is located right at the ball cage. If the micro switch senses the heavier cue ball then the solenoid will physically block the way to the ball cage and send it on the other track to the side slot of the table.

This is one of the most commonly used methods today. Diamond Billiards is known for their production of arcade and bar coin-operated pool tables and this is the system that they use for their tables.

Radius Gauging

The differences in the sizes of the cue ball and the regular billiard balls for this method only differ by about ⅛ of an inch. This seems to be an insignificant amount but a lot of professional players so they can see the difference in their playing and therefore don’t like this ball separation system.

This is probably the most simple concept of all the methods. The smaller balls are small enough to fit into a smaller shoot while the cue ball is slightly too big. It’s then reverted to a second shoot that sends it to the side compartment of the pool table.

Related Questions:

What’s the Difference Between Pool and Billiards?

In today’s world, billiards and pool are the same thing. However, historically they are two different games completely. Pool tables are what we play on today and with the ball sets we have today. Billiard tables are actually tables that don’t have pockets and just have the rails and bumpers.

Billiards is an older game that involves a total of 3 balls that include 1 cue ball for each player and 1 striker ball. The objective of the game is to hit your opponents cue ball with the striker ball by hitting it with your own cue ball.

How Long is a Professional Pool Table?

A tournament-sized pool table is 9 feet long and 4 feet wide. Other tables come in a wide range of sizes but the other two most popular sizes are 7 feet long and 8 feet long.

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