John and Dave arrived at about 1:30, and carried the re-finished rails upstairs to the beautiful new pool room. The rails had been rebuilt, new rubber cushions covered with fresh Simonis 860 cloth. The brilliant blue cushions were tucked in tight against the wood grain of the rails themselves, the joint scribed straight and true.
The base came up next. I vacuumed fifty years of pool room dust from the inside of the case while John stripped rust off the threads of the flared chrome feet and spun them back into place.
The frame, four massive chunks of hardwood doweled and bolted together into a perimeter, then attached to the base. We centered that assembly into the playing area of the room, using a cue as a plumb bob to dowse the table's geometric center, using the boards of the wood floor as a measuring line. "I'm going to put the edge of the foot right on this seam between these boards," John said, and I matched that seam on my end. Then half a board back, and two inches toward me.
The frame was leveled carefully before the slate arrived. The chrome feet spin for a reason, each quarter turn moving that corner of the table upward or downward by a thirty-second of an inch.
Two friends had stopped by, and I was reminded of descriptions of 19th Century small towns, in which every novel event brought onlookers who needed relief from the endless familiarity of their chores.
John and Dave brought up the first of the three slates, 220 pounds of stone carried groaningly up a narrow stair and slid onto the frame. John used his utility knife to scrape old joint compound off the edges. It was the middle of the three, the one whose alignment would determine the others. We set the semi-circular pocket cut-outs above their paired cutaways on the wooden frame below, and John screwed that slate down tight.
Two other slates followed, each one treated as carefully, screwed down only after careful alignment and flush-edged with the master slate in the center.
Once all three slates were in place, a counter-intuitive move... each screw was loosened a turn or two. The level — a massive precision tool carried in a soft, padded case — was brought out again, along with a pack of small hardwood wedges. At every point of the slate not being exactly level, John drove a wedge between the slate and the frame, lifting the low spot — imperceptible to view but enough to move that spirit bubble fractionally closer to its home between the guide lines. Once satisfied, he screwed the slates down tight once again.
Next, a block of beeswax and a propane blowtorch. He melted wax down the seam between the slates, and then flamed the wax to a transparent fluid, letting it seep into the joint and find its level. Torch off, and the wax quickly became opaque again. He pushed the wax off the table with a push-plane, a curl of dried wax rolling ahead of the blade, leaving only what was below the surface. Each seam was waxed three or four times, along with any small scratches in the flat expanse of the slate itself, and what was segmented became unitary.
Tools away, the next step was to attach the cloth to the frame. John retrieved the clear plastic bag holding the folded cloth in Tournament Blue. That color — a rich, electric blue that looks like the high-beam indicator on your dashboard — contrasts more sharply with the balls, and is now used in almost all competitive circumstances. All of our poetics about the noble field of green will soon be anachronisms.
John unfurled that blue flag across the slate, ensuring that the playing side faced upward. (Yes, billiard cloth has two faces, one of which has been razor-shaved at the factory to eliminate any trace of lint. The Iwan Simonis company has been making billiard cloth in Verviers, Belgium since 1685, and are good at it.) The cloth was stretched to its full eight-foot length, and play was stopped.
I have a nine-foot table.
At some point in the order process, a small cascade failure occurred. I had specified that I have a nine-foot Gold Crown I, and when John fitted the rubber and cloth to the rails back in his shop, he used the size appropriate for the rails of a nine-foot table. When he came to the apartment in Medford on Friday, he carried the frame and slates out to his truck, and the slate segments fitted exactly into the jig he had installed onto the bed of the truck for safe travel. Everybody knew that this was a nine-foot table. But the factory had shipped an eight-foot length. The label on the bag had Simonis' three formulations — 860, 760, and Rapide — and 860 had been appropriately circled at the factory. Below that, 7', 8', and 9' were printed, and the telltale grease pencil circle surrounded the 8. So how that bag made it onto the truck without being caught is unclear. What was clear was that 99" of cloth was not going to make it to the end and around the corners of a 108" assembly.
John and Dave quickly packed their tools away into the truck and drove away for their four-hour trip back to Waltham. New cloth will be shipped from the US distributor in Illinois, and John will return alone in a week or so to finish the installation. Given that all the table's parts are in Vermont, he can drive his own car rather than the big box truck, and come alone. As an apology for the delay, John took the six chromed corners with him, and will re-polish them to eliminate some of the corrosion from three years in a basement.
I would have liked to have played pool last night. But I had an excellent afternoon nonetheless, watching and talking with someone who exercises painstaking care to maintain and restore a well-made object. And there is something about a nearly-completed object that inspires optimism. The foundation is firm and true, and the conclusion, although deferred, will be sweet indeed.