This site and many of the articles here are written for the DIY person on a budget. My advice is based on over 15 years and over 7000 pool tables of experience. If you have a bit of patience and some attention to detail you will be able to follow these steps to level your own pool table. However, if that doesn’t describe you, then there are certain things that you may want to pay a professional billiard technician to do. The leveling of your pool table is perhaps the most important step in the assembly of your table, there have been numerous tables that I have spent well over an hour on just shimming and leveling the slate. It isn’t rocket science but there are lots of little things to pay attention to, things that can cause big issues if they are ignored.
Besides the experience of a good table technician, they are going to have the tools necessary to do the job right. Acquiring these tools would probably cost you as much or more than hiring a professional to do the job. However, if you have the tools and you want to give it a go, the following steps and youtube video are for you.
Leveling a pool table is a two step process. First, you need to level the table to the floor by shimming under the feet, or adjusting leg levelers if it has them. Second, you need to shim between the slate and the table frame to align the 3 pieces of slate into one flat plane. If you have a single piece slate table than you will generally just shim or adjust the feet as there is usually little you can do to manipulate the slate itself.
This is not a comprehensive list of all the tools needed to assemble a pool table but just those that I use in the leveling process. If you want the full list of tools, refer to this post. When considering all the tools necessary, you may find that it’s much cheaper just to hire someone to do it.
Of all the tools I own, the most important (and most expensive) is my 12″ Starrett machinist level, it’s probably much too expensive for a single use, but it takes all the guess work out of leveling your table. You can price it here on Amazon. In addition to my machinist level, I carry a 6′ carpenters level, which I just use as a straight edge. The difference in accuracy of a machinist level and a carpenters level is tremendous. These two levels used together show me everything I need to know to level the slate.
A cordless drill is very handy in loosening and tightening the slate screws, a #3 phillips head is the most common style of slate screw, but be prepared with a flat head bit as well. Especially if its an old Brunswick. If you don’t have a drill than you could do it with just a screwdriver if you have to. I also keep a masonry bit the same diameter as the slate screw holes for certain scenarios, you will definitely want a drill for that.
I use a hammer and flat head screwdriver to raise the slate so that I can insert shims where needed.
My bag of shim material. This includes wedges, playing cards and different thicknesses of medium density fiberboard and balsa or bass wood. I also have rubber shims of different thicknesses that I use on tile and hardwood floors to keep the table from sliding around. My shim bag is constantly being depleted and then replenished as I go from one job to another. It’s hard to say exactly what you will need for your particular table until you get the level on it.
A compound to seal the slate seams and fill in any slate screw holes on the playing surface. I use beeswax as my preference, however I carry bondo with me for certain scenarios. You can read the pros and cons of the different materials in this article along with some of the more bizarre products I have seen people use. Along with the beeswax, you will need a propane torch and a long handle paint scraper.
A damp towel or rag. I always wash the slate down before I start. Used tables are usually covered with chalk dust and new tables are covered with dust from shipping. You don’t want anything on the slate to throw off the machinist level (yes, it’s that sensitive) and you don’t want any debris between the slate and the cloth.
Step One – Leveling the Table to the Floor
I have seen lots of videos of people doing a pre-level of their table frame before the slate goes on. I have found this to be a waste of time. True, it is a lot easier to lift a table without slate, but until the slate is on the table and SCREWED DOWN, you won’t really know where and how much to shim. Sure, you can do a rough level, but I can just about guarantee you that you will be adjusting those shims after the slate is on, might as well just do it once. Screwing the slate down is also important to really know where and how much to shim.
So, with the slate on the table and screwed down, I place my machinist level length ways on the center piece of slate, right in the middle of the table. This will tell me which end of the table is high and low. I then place the level width ways on the end piece of slate at the high end, I place the level about 6 inches in from the end of the table, middle of the width of the slate. This will tell me which is my high leg. I do the same thing at the low end of the table. The object now is to bring the other 3 legs up to the height of the high leg. If you have leg levelers, this is just a matter of spinning the levelers up or down to bring it level. However, most home tables do not have leg levelers so you have to place shims under the feet.
I usually start with the lowest leg and shim it so it is level side to side on the low end. Remember that every leg you raise pushes down the opposite corner. So it’s not uncommon for your high leg to change, especially if it was fairly level on the length to start with. I then check the high end, sometimes leveling the low leg will level out the high end as well, it will minimize the amount of shimming needed at least. So I shim the low leg at the high end to bring it level as needed. I check the middle of the table again to see how far off we are on the length. Both ends should be pretty level on the width at this point, so it is just a matter of placing an equal amount of shims under each leg at the low end to bring the table level on the length.
Don’t get discouraged, this can be a time consuming ordeal where you feel like you are just chasing your tail. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because the adjustments you will be making in the second part of the leveling process are likely going to change the reading of the slate. Just get it close you can go back and fine tune it later.
I use flat shims to level under the legs. I have these in different thicknesses, from half-inch when I’m leveling a table in a garage to a playing card for the slightest adjustment on a wood floor. I use rubber shims or a non-slip grip when shimming on wood, laminate, tile, linoleum, concrete or any other slippery surface where the table might likely slide around. It is perfectly fine to place a pool table on carpet, it will compress the the carpet and padding over time but they tend to settle pretty evenly.
To lift the table, I generally will crawl under the side of the table frame with my head close to the leg I want to shim and lift up the table with my back high enough to slide the shims under. Sometimes the frame sits too low, in which case I lock my knees under the frame close to the leg and lift up and slide the shims under. The safer, although longer method would be to use a scissor jack under the frame at the end of the table, and lift one end at a time and shim accordingly. Be sure to use a block of wood . to protect your frame from the metal jack.
Step Two – Shimming the Slate
Once your table is level to the floor, you can begin leveling your slate, because you know the level is now reading the level of the slate not the your floor. This is where I bring out my 6′ level to use in conjunction with my machinist level. Starting at either side of the table, I place the long level across the three pieces of slate just on the other side of the slate screw holes. I place the machinist level length ways in the middle of one of the end pieces of slate just on the other side of the long level. This will show me if that end piece of slate dips to the middle of the table or the end of the table or is perfectly level, 9 times out of 10 it dips to the middle of the table. I use the long level as a straight edge, tipping it back slightly, I look for daylight under the level which should confirm what the machinist level is telling me.
When I know which way the end piece dips, I release the slate screw at the low end and shim accordingly. I may use a tapered shim if it needs to come up a lot, or a playing card or two if it’s pretty minimal. I use a hammer and flat head screwdriver to raise the slate up off the table frame and insert my shims and then screw it back down. I then release the slate screw on the center piece of slate and shim it up even to the end piece. I repeat this at the other end of the table and then the other side, again realize that every adjustment you make will affect other areas of the slate. So often I will leave the first side I do a little low, knowing that when I raise the other side of the table it will bring up that end piece of slate some more.
At this point I go on to check the middle of the table, the slate often dips down from the side of the slate into the center of the table. I place the machinist level width ways the along the slate seam, from the screw hole in towards the center of the table. I do this on both sides of the table. If they both read that the slate dips to the center, I tap a tapered shim under the table between the slate and the crossbeam and raise up the middle until it reads level, I shim the center piece of slate in the middle as well to bring it even. I then repeat the process on the other end. The long level can be used again here as a straight edge, it will show you visually if the seams are even. If you get a different reading like the first side dips to the middle and the other side dips to the edge, that tells me that I need to check the end of the table again and will likely need to shim up one of the legs again. At this point go ahead and check the middle and both ends again and shim under the feet as needed. I then do a final check of all three pieces of slate, side to side and end to end. Again, with a machinist level it doesn’t have to be perfect, a half line or even a line off is really not that significant, often you have inconsistencies in the honing of the slate that cause bigger differences than that. Just make it the best you can with what you have to work with.
A Common Leveling Issue
During the leveling process you will likely be loosening and tightening your slate screws many times as you adjust your shims, this coupled with the prior leveling of your slate if you have a used table, can lead to stripped out slate screws. This is a serious problem that if not corrected will likely lead to your seams popping and speed bumps appearing beneath your cloth. If your screws keep spinning when you tighten them down then the first thing I try is a longer slate screw, usually going from a 2 1/2 inch to 3 inch screw. If that doesn’t work, than you can try filling the hole with a dowel and starting over, however, I have found this to be less and less effective and have changed my technique over the years. Now I use a masonry bit and change the angle of the slate screw hole so that I can hit “new” wood altogether. I have found this to be much quicker and much less frustrating than filling holes just to have them strip out again and again.
Sealing the Slate
Once you have checked your level and make sure your slate seams match, it is time to seal the slate. The purpose for doing this is two-fold, first it floats out any inconsistencies in the leveling of the slate that you couldn’t shim out. Second, it fills in any chip outs and screw holes that are on the playing surface and makes a smooth transition from slate to slate so that the seam doesn’t wear a line in the cloth as the balls pass back and forth over it.
There are different products for sealing the slate. The most common are beeswax, water putty and Bondo. Each installer uses what they are comfortable with and there are pros and cons to all of them. I use beeswax as my preference, in my opinion it is the quickest and least expensive method and does a great job of staying put over time. It definitely needs to be beeswax and not candle wax or parafin wax. They are oil based and can bleed into the cloth, parafin wax is also much more brittle and just doesn’t adhere well to the slate. My one exception to using wax is antique pool tables, they generally don’t have crossbeams where the slate seams meet, leaving a gap that you can see the floor through, melting hot wax onto someones carpet is a bad idea. I will generally use Bondo when working on an antique. Antique pool tables are a different beast all together, if you are working on one or considering buying one, you should read this article first.
To apply the beeswax, I usually have a chunk of it stuck on an old screwdriver, with a propane torch I heat up the slate to run the moisture out of it, I then wax from the side of the table one half of one seam, I melt enough wax to leave about a 2 inch wide strip over the seam, starting at the middle of the table and melting it back to the slate screw holes, stopping about 3 inches from the edge of the table. I let it just cool and then heat up the blade on my paint scraper and scrape off all the excess. I usually go over it a second time before moving on to the other seam and then other side of the table. I then run my fingers over the seam and wax again if I still feel a gap. The key is figuring out the cooling time, cutting it off too soon will just cause you to do it again because it didn’t cool in the seam and there’s still a gap, waiting to long and you will have a hard time getting a clean cut off and you may leave behind little mounds of wax.
Certain brands of pool tables (Olhausen, among others) have slate screw holes in the middle of the slate to aid the the leveling of the slate. Many of the import tables have slate screw holes that sit out on the playing surface of the table. The rule I generally follow is to fill in any holes that are more than 4 inches from the edge of the slate, the curvature of the ball should give you another half inch plus of clearance beyond that but I fill them in just to be on the safe side. I fill these screw holes with wax as well. A good trick is to take the soft wax that you have just cut off the seams and ball it up and push it into the screw holes and then melt it and cut it off, you will definitely have to go over it a second and maybe third time. This is much quicker than melting hot wax into the hole, it takes forever to set and really sinks down, causing you to wax over it many times.
Ready to Cover
Once you are done waxing, wipe down the entire table with your bare hand, you will be able to feel every bit of debris and any drips of wax. Use a razor blade to scrape up any sticky bits and look over your slate when you are done wiping for any bits of debris you may have missed. It’s now time to put the bed cloth on, you can watch me do this here on youtube. This concludes the leveling portion of the pool table, I’ve had tables that took me 5 minutes to level and tables that took me an hour and a half to level. I am a bit OCD, so I spend perhaps more time than most on leveling, and in the end all this work is covered up with the cloth, but it is the most crucial part of having a table that rolls true and that you will enjoy playing on. So get the right tools for the job and take your time.