W&WP March 2003

‘Cueing’ in to CNC

CNC gantry milling machine helps McDaniel Custom Cues reduce production time by 75-80%.

Switching to CNC milling has reduced the time needed to cut pool cue points and the female pockets they fit into by 75 to 80 percent, says Bill McDaniel, president of McDaniel Custom Cues, a high-end cue manufacturer based in Jackson, TN.

Gaboon ebony, snakewood, tulipwood, bird’s-eye maple, ivory, silver and gold are used in the manufacturing of the cues. McDaniel’s cues sell for $1,000 and higher.  

The cues are used by professional and top amateur pool players. They include: Kun-Fang Lee, winner of the Challenge of Champions; Ismael Paez (Morro), winner of the European World 9 Ball Championship; Nick Varner, winner of the Year 2000 WPA World 9 Ball Championship and the Masters Senior Tour; and Karen Corr, a recent winner of the Women’s Pool Billiards Assn. championship.

The decorative inlaid cues use a variety of materials, including gaboon ebony, snakewood, tulipwood, bird’s-eye maple, ivory, silver and gold. They sell for $1,000 and higher.

“There’s nothing easy about making pool cues,” McDaniel says. “One of the most challenging tasks is the inlay work.”

Switching to CNC
“We used to produce inlays and the points from patterns on a pantograph-type mill,” McDaniel adds. “Now we design the points in CAD and then cut out both the prongs and the inlay on the mill. The new method reduces cutting time, is more accurate and provides unlimited design flexibility.”

The points, typically 7.5 inches in length, are inlaid around the circumference of the 29-inch long butt. In the past, McDaniel’s firm had to make a male pattern for the points themselves and a female pattern for the butt inlay, which took between one and three days, depending on the complexity of the design. This process had to be repeated whenever McDaniel produced a new design, which occurred several times a month.

It was during a visit to a furniture manufacturer that McDaniel saw a CNC mill at work. “The company used CAD system to create patterns on the computer. Then the router followed the CAD designs. Despite the fact that the parts being produced were nothing like pool cues, I felt certain that I could make this technology work in my business,” McDaniel says.

New Process for Points
The Techno Isel milling machine made it possible for McDaniel Custom Cues to adopt a new approach to product development. Now, engineers begin the design process by using the CAD capabilities of the CNC programming package to sketch out their 3-D designs. By manipulating the model on-screen, they can validate critical dimensional relationships. Also, dimensional changes on profiles can be made in seconds on the computer, as compared to two days to build a new pattern. As a final step, McDaniel Custom Cues technicians watch a simulation of the toolpath on the computer before the part is cut.

Once the designs are validated, a prototype is produced. For each inlay pattern, the operator rotates the butt to put another section into position. The time required to produce a cue is about one-fourth the time needed on a pantograph mill.

“Overall, this machine has been great for me,” McDaniel says. “The machine has helped me improve the quality of our cues while saving money. Since then I have purchased a fourth rotary axis for the first machine and a second machine that is performing just as well as the first. I have already discussed purchasing a third machine for a certain specific operation in our factory.”

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