All I wanted was a decent pool table on which to practice and have friends over for an occasional game. I looked through eBay for a used table I could afford when I noticed the BilliardEx ad for new "top of the line", "tournament quality", "furniture grade" Spencer-Marston tables with a "lifetime warranty". When I visited the BilliardEx web site, I noticed that all their prices ended in $xx99.99. Normally, I wouldn't do business with a company that plays that pricing game, but everything else looked okay. Even the Spencer-Marston web site looked good.
I ordered the 8' Catania table with the deluxe play package and a "shorty" cue stick. The price including delivery and installation was $2009.97. It was to be delivered 5 weeks later.
Five weeks later I called BilliardEx and asked about the status of my order. A "funny thing" had happend which caused my table to be delayed two more weeks. I didn't see the humor. Two weeks later the installer called to set up a date and time.
The installer showed up (after a 2+ hour drive) in a family-style van with a helper and my 1000 lb. table. It must have been an exciting drive! He proceeded to bring box after box labeled "Made in China" into my house. I was not happy. There was no mention of anything being imported on either of the two web sites. There wasn't much I could do since if I had refused it, it would have cost me $1184 to return it!
I showed the installer where to place the table and went about my business. One and a half hours later, the installation was complete and the installer was gone. Once I'd cleared the area and looked the table over, I noticed that it was not straight within the room. One leg was 76" from the wall and the other was 79". The legs span 82", the same height as a standard door frame, so it was like having a door installed 3" out-of-square! In order for the pool table to be moved, the rails (cushions) and slate (three 175 lb. pieces) would have to be removed, the frame moved, and the slate & rails replaced and leveled.
The first thing I noticed when I started using the table was that the balls made noise when rolling on the felt. I've played in some quiet areas but I've never heard balls roll. The balls themselves played very differently, although it's difficult to describe; they didn't seem to carry the same momentum. The balls wouldn't stay where they were placed on the new felt. It was impossible to get a tight rack. I figured that was just temporary. The balls were bright and shiny!
The cushions had quite a bit less bounce than the tables I was used to and the corner pockets didn't play anything like any table I'd ever used. I was unsure whether this table would help or hinder my game.
Included in the "deluxe" play package:
o A mechanical bridge whose stick end was not threaded and a bridge head which was threaded. I quickly discovered this was not a self-threading wooden stick and that wood is stronger than Chinese metal; the metal threads broke away.
o A Roman style cue rack whose 8 cue positions were spaced differently at the top than at the bottom! Worse yet, the cues fan inward at the top instead of outward. In addition, the clips at the top are too tight and have sharp (not rounded) edges which can actually damage a cue by scraping off its finish.
o Two useless, flimsy, plastic 8 & 9-ball racks. A rack, by definition, should be rigid!
o A set of 16 Spencer-Marston "premium" billiard balls. You'll hear even more about these later.
The "shorty" cue I received was laughably warped. Closer inspection showed that half of the cue (the end with the tip) had not been varnished.
Within two weeks of use the felt around 3 of the 4 corner pockets had split, exposing the bare slate. The 4th pocket was about to split. The two side pockets showed no damage at all. I called BilliardEx and was told, "That shouldn't happen!". I was instructed to take digital pictures and e-mail them along with a brief description to the Warranty department. I did so that day: 12/26/07. I received an almost immediate reply stating that Warranty was very busy during the holidays and a response may take some time.
Four weeks later, I had begun to loose my patience. I e-mailed Warranty and asked the status of my complaint. I received an almost immediate response identical to the one I had received a month prior! Did this Warranty department even really exist? I called BilliardEx and left a voice-mail asking Warranty to return my call. Nothing happened. Several days later I called again and spoke to an employee from another department who said he would try to help. The table was really starting to look bad.
Finally (1/29/08), I got an e-mail reponse from Warranty stating that my table "needs adjustment" by the installer, whom they will contact. However, 13 minutes prior to getting this e-mail, the installer called on the phone. He insisted that the splitting felt was normal, but that he'd come and replace the felt as long as I paid for everything. I told him simply replacing the felt wouldn't help; it would just split again. I also told him I was not about to pay several hundred dollars twice a month just to keep the table looking presentable. He never mentioned any type of adjustment that could have been made.
At this point, I just wanted to get rid of the table and buy a decent one. Within the two months I'd had the table, I had managed to damage the "hardwood" rails several times either by bumping with a cue or accidentally dropping a ball from a height of an inch or so while removing balls from their pockets. There did not appear to be any type of protective finish (wax, poly-u, etc.) on any of the wood surfaces.
I called BilliardEx (on a Saturday) to find out how much a new set of rails would cost. If I were to sell the table on eBay, I wanted to be up-front with the potential buyers about any damage. I, instead, ended up speaking with the General Manager (GM) for one entire hour...
I began explaining to the GM why I had decided to sell my table. Among the points he made were:
o The Chinese now make good quality products. I disagreed, citing the poor quality of the play package and the fact that they're not proudly disclosing the country of manufacture on their web sites.
o The felt splits in the pockets of all pool tables, both home & commercial. I disagreed, stating I had never seen it happen anywhere in the 40 years I had been playing.
o The wood used on the rails was harder than oak or maple. I disagreed, stating that I had dimpled the rails already by accidentally dropping billiard balls from only an inch or so and that I had done the same thing to several pieces of my own furniture as a test with no damage at all.
o The table is furniture grade. None of my furniture bolts together, nor does my replacement pool table which has no bolts holding it together.
o The reason the felt had split was because I had been playing "too hard" on the table. The GM claimed that balls should roll & drop into the pockets and if a ball hits the back of the pocket (and bounces back and splits the felt at the edge of the slate), it is considered "abuse" of the table. All of this is stated in the maintenance manual which has yet to be written! Wait! Didn't he just tell me splitting felt was normal? Does this mean I'm abusing the table by breaking a rack? Why did an 8 & 9-ball rack come with the play package? A 4' stop-shot is abuse? If all this was true, then I simply didn't want the table and would sell it. I had not been playing hard and I knew it. He (the GM) would do what he could to resolve the situation. He did.
A couple days later I received another e-mail from Warranty stating that the table had been abused by "hard play" which voided the warranty. They would, however, make a one-time exception and pay to have the felt replaced. I replied by repeating my request for the price of a new set of rails.
Then the situation became worse; much worse. While playing on the table one day, I nearly tripped over my cat and bumped against the table. The 1000 lb. table visibly shook. It wasn't on the verge of collapse, but it certainly seemed susceptable to collapse. That was the last straw! The table was placed off-limits until I could have it removed.
The following day I hired a professional billiard table mechanic to remove the rails and slate from the table and store them and the frame in my garage. During the process of disassembly, the following was noted:
o None of the 64 bolts/screws on the frame had lockwashers, but all had flat washers.
o Two of the three screws/bolts on each of the 4 legs were missing (8 total). This left the entire table perched on four legs, each with a single approx. 3/8" bolt holding it to a metal bracket. One of the legs rotated when the frame was lifted, indicating that its one remaining bolt was loose.
o Two of the three screws on each of the 4 wooden corner wedges were missing (8 total).
o The remaining screw on three of the four corner wedges was loose. All this happened within 6 weeks!
o Four other bolts had loosened themselves in the wood frame (again, within 6 weeks).
o The joist hangers were of an inferior design which cause damage to the joist if the frame is twisted.
o The wood backing on the slate (so the slate can be held in position with wood screws) was made of fiberboard! When removing the staples for disassembly, a 1" x 3" piece of the fiberboard broke off.
o The slate was not centered over the frame, adding to any imbalance.
I don't know whether or not the missing hardware was ever shipped. Oddly enough, the hardware is excluded from the warranty. Were they already aware that the hardware could fail? The above issues were presented to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Council (USCPSC). I won't sell the table unless it's declared safe when properly installed.
Other problems noted during disassembly were:
o The slate had not been honed by the factory. Grinding marks were clearly visible. Running the back of the fingernail across it feels like a washboard. The slate on my replacement table is like glass. Now I know why the balls made sound when rolling on the table!
o The edges of the slate corner pockets varied from rough to sharp. They should have been sanded down by the installer. Unlike the two side pockets, the corner pockets were not chamfered. This added to the split felt problem.
o The corner pocket slate cut-outs are undersized. My replacement table's pocket cut-outs are 1.4 times larger than this table's! Spencer-Marston's claim that they don't cut corners during production is literally false! With smaller cut-outs, there is less room for the ball to be forced downward by the pocket, making it possible for the ball to bounce back and hit the top edge of the slate, thereby cutting the felt. I can't get that to happen (using a strip of carbon copy paper between two strips of thin white paper) no matter how hard I hit a ball on my replacement table. No wonder BilliardEx claims abuse.
o Two of the rails had come out of allignment due to an inferior type of compression washer which had slipped.
o The felt was obviously cheap junk when compared to other felts. The balls never did stay where they were put. I never could get a tight rack. You couldn't move a ball a very small distance; it would move back.
o There were numerous screwdriver pry marks between the rails and pockets.
o The slate had never been leveled! There were no shims used anywhere on the table.
o The felt had been improperly stretched and could be easily wrinkled with the push of a finger.
o The felt was glued in places instead of being stapled.
o The legs were unevenly spaced around the frame in an apparently random manner.
o No instructions of any type were supplied with the table or play package, not even a little slip of paper with "clean cloth wood wipe with".
After speaking with numerous reputable dealers from around the country, I have learned the following:
o These Chinese tables are commonly referred to as "Internet tables" or "Chinese junk tables".
o Dealers used to charge double ($600 avg.) to install an "Internet table" before many stopped installing them altogether. BilliardEx had to get an installer 2+ hours away who would perform the job, even though there are many very skilled installers in the immediate area.
o No dealer who buys & sells new & used tables would even accept the table for free! The most common quote was $-350. $300 to disassemble the table; $50 to haul it to the city dump. If you doubt this, call a reputable dealer and tell him you have a brand new Spencer-Marston Chinese-made top-of-the-line table that you must sell because you're moving.
I cut a quarter section from one of the "premium" billiard balls that came with the play package. Top quality balls are 100% phenolic, cheap balls have a phenolic covering over a Bondo-type filler. These balls were 100% filler! The sizes of the balls varied by several thousandths of an inch. That beautiful shine was completely gone within a few days of use and each ball now has numerous scratches from striking the exposed slate.
The "lifetime warranty" is for the life of the table, not the owner! What? You didn't know a pool table was alive? My guess is that if the slate warps or cracks a few years down the road, BilliardEx will pronounce the table dead and void the warranty.
In conclusion, I feel the following claims by Spencer-Marston/BilliardEx are fraudulent:
o This table is clearly not a "top-of-the-line" table. It is, in fact, a piece of junk that one can't even give away.
o This table is not "furniture grade". There simply is no comparison between this table and my replacement middle-of-the-line table.
o This table was obviously not installed by a "professional and reputable installer" as promised.
o There was no mention of anything being imported on either the Spencer-Marston or BilliardEx web site. Why not proudly proclaim it if Chinese pool tables are so great?
o The warranty is void if the table is abused "pursuant to maintenance instructions", but the GM admits the maintenance manual has not yet been written!
I'm leaving the safety issues to the USCPSC. However, if you already own one of these tables, check underneath for any loose or missing screws/bolts. If you see any problems, call a REPUTABLE dealer for help. A 1/2 ton table falling on your kid will ruin his or her day.