Though I've played pool for many years, I've never before shaped a tip or even knew the importance of a well-shaped tip and its ability to hold chalk. Most of the books you read about billiards will contain information about tip shaping. The reason you need to know about shaping cue tips is that the new cues that come with your new pool table will have flat, unshaped tips on the ends. Tip shape is a personal preference, so most folks prefer to shape their own tips.
Opinions vary on the particular curve that a cue tip should have. Within the United States, the curve of a cue tip is most often compared with a U.S. coin--usually a dime, nickel, or quarter. The nickel seems to be the most popular--a dime being more pointy and a quarter being more flat.
With the butt toward the floor, hold the tip of your cue stick at eye level. If the leather tip is new, it will be flat on top. If you hold a coin flat against the side of the cue stick so that the top edge of the coin is aligned with the top of the cue tip, you will see the curve that you should strive for when shaping the tip.
Some tips are hard, some are soft. I like to think that the better quality tips are harder, but that is strictly opinion. Soft quality tips also exist--it's another personal preference thing. Knowing that we would have to shape the tips of our new cues, we bought an inexpensive (yes, cheap) cue tip kit at a local department store. It comes with a shaping tool, fine sandpaper, a roughing tool, chalk, extra tips, and extra ferrules. The cheap chalk disappears quickly. Aside from the cheap chalk, the only thing we've actually used from this kit is the sandpaper. Our other tools include a steel file and a Tip Pik.
The steel file is one of those heavy things, about nine inches long, that everyone seems to have in their tool box, tool drawer, or tool shed somewhere. It's usually rusted. The Tip Pik is a commercial device made specifically for poking cue tips. With the lid on, it resembles a skinny tube of lipstick. Removing the lid reveals an array of needles that would hurt like the dickens if somebody jabbed you with it.
Update: Bought a handy gadget called the Ulti-Mate Cue Tip Tool. It has indentations in it for shaping a nickel and a dime tip, a combination scuffer/tapper, a trimmer to keep the sides of the tip flush with the ferrule, and a burnisher, which I'm not too sure about. A burnisher keeps the sides of the tip smooth and shiny. Read below to find out how I use the Ulti-Mate tip tool to shape my tips.
Not that I actually have a technique, mind you. This is just the way I do it, and I am but a mere novice.
Using the Ulti-Mate Cue Tip Tool.
- Sit in a chair.
- Put the tip tool on the floor with the indentation for the desired shape facing up. I keep the tip tool from moving around on the floor by embracing it between my feet.
- Hold the cue vertically in front of you, tip down into the indentation.
- Keeping your hands fully open and the cue vertical, grasp the cue between your palms.
- Rotate the cue in the shaper by moving your hands in a forward and back motion. Kind of like rolling spaghetti strings out of Silly Putty.
- Don't put any downward pressure on the cue while you do this. The only weight on the tip should be the weight of the cue. Check the shape of the tip after a minute or two and keep working until it's right.
The old steel file method. (A newer approach using a product called the Ulti-Mate Cue Tip Tool, is described above.) Holding the cue in front of me, butt on the floor, I rough out the general shape of the tip using the steel file. Sometimes I stroke the file up and down, sometimes I stroke the file only down. Down is the safest direction because if you stroke up, you risk stroking the tip right off the cue! It has never happened to me, but it could. By the way...always, always be careful not to touch the ferrule with whatever tool you are using.
As you are holding the stick and filing, rotate the stick so that you uniformly shape around the entire tip. Check your progress by holding your coin-of-choice up to the tip as previously described. When you have the desired shape, put down the file and pick up the sandpaper.
Finishing Touches. The inexpensive kits we bought come with a holder for the sandpaper. The holder is an oblong, curved thingy that the sandpaper fits into. It looks kind of like what you'd get if you took a small plastic tube and sliced it in half the long way. The sandpaper fits up into the curved portion. Hold the thing from both ends and smooth the rough edges off your newly-shaped tip. Again, rotate the stick as you work and be careful not to sandpaper the ferrule.
Finally, use the Tip Pik (or your weapon of choice) to roughen the end of the tip enough so that the chalk has something to grab onto. With the Tip Pik, I jab like crazy the entire sloped end of the tip. Now the tip is ready for chalk.