There are many different manufacturers of desktop cue lathes and equipment for building cues. Over the years we've purchased many pre-owned models from all three manufacturers and resold them to new cue makers. As such we've toyed with them and each prove to be viable for making cues. We thought we'd offer you our experience with them so you can make a sound decision as to your needs.
From the list of popular manufacturers there are the Porper Model B Q-Lathe, Chris Hightower's line of Cue Smith Lathes and last but surely not least is Unique Products Cue Making Equipment.
To start off with, the photo's you see here are actual machines which we currently use in our shop. None were purchased new. We'll relate a sad but true story. One of our clients called us one day and told us he was quitting making cues. As such, he had the Unique Products line of cue making equipment. He had purchased all three machines new from Unique. He purchased the Taper Shaper with the quiet router and an assortment of parts and tooling as well as the inlay machine attachment (cost new was almost $5500). He also purchased the Cue Maker Lathe with all the bells and whistles (cost new was $4300). Here he spent almost $10,000. We purchased the entire package for a fraction of the original cost. When we got the equipment, the inlay attachment was brand new as it was never used. The taper shaper was also new and never used. The cue maker lathe had minimal use on it. So, what is the moral to this story? The purchasing of equipment is a very serious decision and much thought should be given to it. Read and learn as much as you can. Talk to cue makers as cue building, while as rewarding as it may be, it surely full of pitfalls, let downs, mistakes, problems, time consuming and an expensive proposition. You are not going to get the equipment on a Monday, cut wood on Tuesday, put the cue together on Wednesday, finish it on Thursday and sell it on Friday. It's not going to happen! Make sure this is what you want to do or try out before you invest thousands into something that will be nothing more than dust collectors in your shop.
We receive numerous phone calls from newbie cue makers who want advice on what cue making equipment to buy. To relieve ourselves of repeating the same thing over and over again to callers, we've decided to put this page up. Now for a review of each so perhaps you can make a better decision. We have not been compensated for these reviews and they are totally our opinion based on our experience with all three manufacturers.
Joe Porper makes a really nice machine that is fully capable of making cues. It's large and fairly stable. There are many different attachments for all the various tasks of making cues. The cost of his unit is almost $4000.
Chris Hightower makes what we believe to be the best cue making equipment for both ease of use, accuracy and cost. His Deluxe Cue Smith� lathe is a dynamite piece of equipment. To start off with, he actually uses one in addition to other machines to build his own cues. That in itself speaks volumes on his behalf. The headstock is machined to very high tolerances and everything is fixed so nothing needs adjustment. Additionally, his headstock has a rear chuck to hold work pieces dead on center. This feature is invaluable for precision. His taper bar is a little cumbersome to set-up but once you have it dialed in, it never needs adjustment. The machine is stable and solid. The cost is only $2700 with all the bells and whistles.
Unique Products builds a fine line of cue making equipment. Their Taper Shaper is a dynamite piece of equipment and does an excellent job of tapering shafts and butts. We've found this machine to be the best on the market for taking passes on wood. The base price is $2895. While the cost is high, the quality and precision is equally as high.
Unique also makes a Cue Maker Lathe that is rock solid and extremely accurate. Like the Hightower lathe, the Unique has a method of holding the work piece on center and the machine does a multiple of different tasks. If you add the automatic cutter feed, it does a super job of taking passes. The base price is $3195.
So what's all this mean? If you're just starting out with a limited budget, we highly recommend Hightower's machines. His equipment is fine for those of you just starting out and you won't outgrow it. It's a very useful machine, one that will return it's cost over and over again.
At some point, as you gain experience, you can move up to floor lathes, milling machines and even perhaps a CNC. Start out small and slow until you gain more and more knowledge. If you have limited room, you can add the Unique Taper Shaper as an additional machine so you would have a dedicated tapering machine. The Unique Taper Shaper does a better job than the Hightower in cuts but only comes with a standard taper. The Hightower can be adjusted. We like the Unique line of equipment but the cost is considerably higher. If you have the money, go for it as you will surely not be disappointed.
Well, that's about it for now. We do hope you've found this interesting and that this proves useful to you in making a decision. Good luck!