Billiard Cushions

DAYS OF OLD No. 4 -(October 1982)

Billiard / Snooker Table Cushions

We have in the previous article on the development of the billiard table referred to the introduction of the slate bed. The next important improvement to produce the table as we know it today was to the cushions.

The first type of cushion as previously described was just padding around the wooden rim of the table, it was probably the obvious thing to do to reduce the noisy impact of the balls. This type of protective padding was improved and the cushion known as the "List Cushion" was used in conjunction with the wooden bed tables.

Billiard Table List Filled Cushion

It was made up of layers of cloth either list or felt which were then covered in billiard cloth (see illustration), but it was not until 9 or 10 years after the introduction of the slate bed and followed the introduction of rubber to europe from South America that a rubber cushion was developed. Again it was John Thurston, with the opinion of Edwin Kentfield to support his experiments, who introduced rubber cushions in 1835.

The first rubber used was pure natural rubber, as vulcanising had not yet been invented. Sheets of rubber about 1/8th inch thick were cut into strips and built up into layers (see illustration) in the same manner as previously arranged by using layers of felt or list to form the cushion nosing.

Built up Strip Rubber Billiard Cushions

On the centre section you can see the strips that have been bonded to-gether

John Roberts, Snr. remarked about the new rubber cushion "Thurston's Cushions are Simply Perfect". Generally the rubber provided much improved playing conditions except during cold British winters - before central heating!! Natural rubber becomes very hard - almost like wood - at moderately low temperatures i.e. Around 0°C the new style rubber cushioning lost all their resilience so many players, including some of the professionals, proclaimed that stuffed list cushions were still the best. To overcome this problem hot water pans were made in zinc measuring about 6ft.. long 1 1/2 inches. square (see illustration) and shaped to fit against the nose of the rubber cushion. A set of 6 hot water pans were required and during cold weather they would be filled with boiling water and placed in position on the table against the cushion rubber so that the table could be used later. (There were even hot water pans for the pocket openings!)

Billiard Cushion Hotwater 'Bottle'

This difficulty was eliminated when, using sulphur, the process of vulcanising rubber was invented, as vulcanised rubber retains most (but not all) of its resilience at lowest temperatures. Once again John Thurston was the first billiard table maker to use vulcanised rubber for billiard table cushions, this being in 1845 when he had obtained Letters Patent for this improvement. One of the first tables to be so fitted was for Queen Victoria's Billiard Table at Buckingham Palace and the new so called "Frost Proof" cushions were also fitted to a rather special billiard table which still stands in Queen Victoria's summer residence, Osborne House, on the Isle-of-Wight The supporting underframe of this table is made entirely of slate, the work of Mr. Eugene Magnus, the proprietor of a slate works at Pimlico, London. He also worked with John Thurston making this table and other similar special slate framed tables which are still standing in Penryhn Castle, Bangor, North Wales and in the Duke of Wellington's seat at Stratfield Saye, Nr. Reading.(See article Days of Old No. 7)

It should be mentioned to our readers that although vulcanised natural rubber is described as "Frost Proof" its resilience is still slightly reduced by low temperatures, therefore to ensure good playing conditions the temperature in all Billiard Rooms should be maintained at a reasonable level say 18°C (65°F).

In 1886 a patent was filed in December of that year (see illustration) by a Mr. W. Buttery for fitting a steel plate into the cushion body. Mr. Buttery worked for Burroughes & Watts, the comapny who promoted this type of Billiard Cushion.

1886 Steel Block Billiard Cushion Patent

This was the first "Steel Block" cushion, the idea was to give a more rigid ground work for the rubber. It is true to say that for cushions on old tables with a thin cushion rails of light construction the steel block does improve the playing characteristic of the cushions Other makers tried other methods one of which was to include slate blocks (Thurston Adamant Cushions) in the cushion body however there is really nothing better than a good heavy wooden rail of hardwood such as mahogany or oak; etc. or the modern resin bonded laminate cushions rails.

Thurston Adamant Billiard Cushion

Coss section of a Thurston Adamant Cushion showing the inlaid slate section

Otherwise costs are unnecessarily increased on new tables and on all future service visits during the long life of the billiard tables. Billiard cushioning made by building up layers of rubber to the desired shape were still generally accepted as producing the best performance up to the late 1930's - although during this decade moulded cushion rubbers were introduced and gradually became accepted. During World War II - by Government Order - rubber for billiard table cushioning was not permitted as rubber was such an important strategic material for the War effort and so by the end of the war in 1945 there was a tremendous "backlog" of cushion renovation work - for a year or two only synthetic rubber could be used but this was quite unsatisfactory. When Vulcanised Natural Rubber cushions again became available it was all of "the moulded" type, and has remained so ever since.

Typical modern billiard cushion body

Cross section of a 'modern' cushion showing the moulded rubber shape

Modern billiard (snooker) cushions are frequently described as being 'Low', 'Fast', 'Frost Proof" followed by the particular Brand Name of the manufacturer.
(This was still just about true when Norman wrote this article but these terms are no longer used) - "Frost Proof we have already explained. "Fast" in in a way self explanatory players do demand a good response from cushioning, the greater the "running speed" or "Distance travelled" by the ball for a given strokes the happier they are. but tables can be too fast making it extremely difficult to secure the desired position for the next stroke.

'Low' this description will most easily be understood by reference to the illustrations. The original style or shape of cushions nosing sometimes referred to as "Bull Nose" was so high that when the cue ball was close to or touching the cushion the player had to raise the butt of the cue to a near vertical position in order to strike the halls as time want on, although the height of the point of contact between the ball and the cushion remained almost unchanged the upper surface of the cushioning was made progressively flatter and lower so that the cue did not have to be raised to any extent.(see illustrations)

 Billiard Cushion circa 1800  Billiard Cushion circa 1827

           Billiard Cushion circa 1838        Billiard Cushion circa 1870


Billiard Cushion circa 1889

The last image shows a very similar profile to a current billiard (snooker) cushion but this illustration still shows bonded strip rubber


© Norman Clare 1990. © E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2018/19/20.
Reproduction of this article allowed only with the permission from

E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.

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