RECOLLECTION CUES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
WITH MASTER CUEMAKER
MAY 20, 2012
©Copyright, 2012 Recollection Cues
Background. Dave Barenbrugge is one of the better, yet less known, cuemakers regularly making cues today. For many years almost all his cues went overseas while few people in the U.S. knew a lot about his work. He is best known for both his beautiful butterfly cues and his intricate ringwork. Now that most of his work is being sold here in the U.S. people want to know more about him and his cues. This interview will help.
Recollection Cues (RC): We’ve been looking forward to talking with you for some time, Dave. First, let me thank you for doing an interview with us.
Dave Barenbrugge (DB): Thanks, and I appreciate you taking the time for me.
RC: I think there are a lot of people who don’t know a lot about you or your cues, so I’m hoping we can enlighten them. First of all, where are you located?
DB: I’m near Apache Junction, Arizona, about 30 miles east from the Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix.
RC: When did you start making cues?
DB: I actually like to say 1996, although some planning and foot work started in ’95. I was playing a lot of pool back in the day and I had a friend, Jim Olms, who first got me interested. I had a chance encounter with him at a pool hall after not being in touch for a long time that was the spark of my getting into cue building. We talked as we shot some pool and I found out he was doing cue work and doing repair at tournaments in the tri state area of OH, MI and IN. After some playing time and conversation he then reached into his cue case and pulled out a merry widow that he just finished and handed it to me. It may sound crazy, but I was instantly hooked!
Already being an avid wood enthusiast and loving to create items made of wood, when he handed me that cue he had made, I felt transformed. I went home that night and told my girl friend Cathy I was going to build pool cues. She said great, how are you planning on doing that? I told her I wasn’t sure but wanted to find out everything I could about it. Almost 18 years later, she has been my number one supporter and partner ever since. Shortly after that encounter with Jim, I met Dennis Dieckman on another chance encounter when I was living in Michigan, and apprenticed with him for around 18 months. Dennis is an interesting guy, and is very knowledgeable in the game of three cushion. He introduced me to my basic cue construction knowledge before we moved to Arizona in 1998.
RC: Are you a member of the ACA?
DB: Great organization but I prefer to stay independent.
RC: Do you make cues fulltime?
DB: Yes. It’s my sole source of income. Throughout my life I have built houses, refinished antiques, climbed telephone poles, and built cell phone towers. But snowmobiles and motorcycles and sports were quite hard on my body, so I was looking for something less strenuous to do.
RC: Are you still a player?
DB: Some, but not much. I have a table at home, but my beat up body keeps me from playing as much as I would like. Falling off telephone poles and crashing snowmobiles was hard on me. I’ll be 58 soon, but at times, physically feel like I’m 88.
RC: When you were playing, what was your preferred game?
DB: Mostly bar box -- eight ball mostly, and I messed around with a few 9-ball tournaments, but never put enough time in to advance from more than an average player.
RC: Well, it’s better to underestimate your ability than to overestimate it – it’ll save you a lot of money in the long run.
DB: That’s true.
RC: How does your history as a player affect your philosophy about building cues?
DB: The first cue I owned was a McDermott. I just couldn’t get comfortable with it, but back then paid $200 for it and couldn’t part with it. I know we all like to blame the arrow but I just didn’t seem to be consistent with it. I wanted to build a cue more in tune with my style that would help me play a more consistent game. Dennis was an influence and help with me on this. Especially with regard to designs of the butterfly cue, which I enjoy building most. He was big on three-cushion cues, which tend to use a lot of butterfly designs. I decided to incorporate those designs into the cues I build.
RC: It sounds like Dennis Dieckman really did influence you.
DB: Dieckman was probably the biggest design influence on my work. Like a lot of others when first getting started I was also drawn to the South West style cue. I just liked the overall look they are known for, big pin and phenolic collars and the longer butt sleeve style. Not so much that I wanted to copy the 3 high-3 low point design, I just liked that basic overall look.
RC: How many cues do you usually make a year?
DB: When I have full production going, I’m good for 20-25 a year. The way I construct them is a little more time consuming than some of the other common ways. I believe in using a mechanical bond and glue as much as possible. All the collars and ferrules are threaded construction.
One of the more time consuming parts of my design are the veneers I use. I cut all my own veneers mostly from the same exotics used for points and/or butterflies. Any black veneers I use are cut from ebony. I cut the veneers from a single piece of wood in a 90 degree V shape giving the points a one piece seamless look at the tips. The end result is the same look as a recut style except I only make one deep V groove cut in the forearm and glue all the veneers and point stock with one glue-up setting. I have done some dyed maple, single piece veneers in past cues and have plans for some in the future.
RC: How many players versus high end?
DB: I was in an agreement with a dealer overseas for 8 years, and that changed things for me. I was being encouraged into more high end work, but now that I’m doing what I want, I’ve been doing more player level cues. I do more merry widow and 4 point veneered style cues, although I still enjoy the butterflies. Most are all pre-sold before I start building.
RC: How do you feel about ivory?
DB: I want my cues to be able to go out of the USA, so I don’t use it much. Not that I’m against using it, but I am against shipping it out of the states.
RC: Describe your shop.
DB: It’s cozy, around 600 square feet. My main lathe is a Logan, where I do all my joint and precision work. I have another lathe dedicated for tapering, and a CNC table saw tapering set up also. What I call my dinosaur is a Boss controlled, Bridgeport CNC mill that probably weighs about 4500 pounds. Even though I wasn’t shopping for one, between all the tool holders it came with and the fact that it was a running machine I got such a great deal on it I couldn’t pass it up. I was able to bypass the old style tape reader on it and with some outside guidance was able to bring it into the 21st Century and plug it into a windows based computer. After spending many hours of reading manuals and breaking bits I was able to put it to good use. I use it for a variety of repetitive operations in the building process and it also comes in handy for building jigs and fixtures that I use throughout the shop. I know just enough about it to put an eye out.
I’d possibly like to do some engraving and inlays someday, so I have started a build on my home built CNC but it is taking it’s time coming together. I have a nice dust collection system, a band saw, a custom built router table and a variety of smaller sanders and grinders and such.
RC: Tell me about your process of selecting shaft wood and making shafts. How do you select your wood, how long does it take, etc.?
DB: I prefer the more northern grown shaft wood – from UP Michigan, Wisconsin and Canada. It’s an adventure, you find a good supplier and then you go back the next time and it’s a totally different quality. I try to select for weight, color and all the common things looked for so that I have consistency there, but it’s not always 100 % possible.
Mainly, though, I like to see grain straightness. Of course physical straightness is important. If I pick up a blank during the early stages of cutting and it has a certain amount of movement, I get rid of it. I’ll give some pieces a couple chances early on to stop growing a belly and that’s all it gets. I wish I had a couple bucks back for every stick that gets tossed aside. I’m not 100% sold on all this talk about every shaft having to weigh 4 oz and have 20 growth rings plus to be a good shaft. I do have certain parameters but have found some darn good shafts with only 8-10 yrs of growth rings in an inch diameter stick. My own playing cue preference is a nice honey colored stick with 5 or 6 rings left on its final diameter at the ferrule and in the stroke area. I generally like the shafts to sit around .050 oversize for at least a year before it is considered cue worthy. Some have been in the holding stage for over five years.
RC: What is your favorite wood for use in cues?
DB: Without a doubt my favorite wood is Brazilian rosewood. It’s hard to get good pieces, but tone-wise and playing-wise I feel it is the best. The good pieces when toned out will ring like a piece of glass when held in the correct place and tapped on its side. The fact that the musical instrument guys think it’s one of the best gives it even more credence. Finding a big enough piece these days is tough. Any other dalbergia rosewood is my second favorite with ebony mixed in there also.
RC: What pin and joint combinations do you use? Which is your favorite?
DB: I generally make a flat faced style joint. I use a threaded on, phenolic capped joint on the butt. I know many go after that wood to wood appeal at the pin. I don’t believe mine changes the hit or feel from that wood to wood idea, and I feel it actually is a better design. My opinion is it also looks a lot cleaner and is a more durable construction idea. The face wall holds all the sidewalls together in a one piece capped construction. My pin is similar to most big pins in that it pulls and holds the two parts together – it’s a bit smaller than 3/8 of an inch and an 11tpi modified. I use an acme style thread – it’s flat on the outside of the threads and also down in the grooves. It makes for a nice fit without being too loose or too tight as it is threaded into the wooded threads of the shaft. I also use a high speed milling cutter to cut these threads and make for the custom fit and feel as the shaft is being threaded on.
RC: What kind of tips do you use?
DB: It’s a pigskin layered style tip - no brand name. My supplier went to a tip maker and asked him to build us some tips. It is my understanding that he has made a number of name brand tips for others, but these are custom made per spec for us. My medium is a bit softer then Moori or Kamui mediums, and my hard is about equivalent to most other “hard” tips. If I remember correct, they are a nine layer tip. I prefer the black. But they are also made in natural brown. I just call it a proprietary tip.
RC: Are there particular areas or regions where your cues sell best?
DB: For me, it’s been like starting all over again after we ended the arrangement in Asia. I originally had a small market in the US, and then went exclusively overseas for eight plus years. It’s a rebuilding process. Some of my work is starting to go to Europe now also, but for many years it was exclusively Japan.
RC: What is your preferred taper?
DB: For the shaft I‘ll call it a medium stiff style of taper – kind of an American pro-style combined with the Euro-style taper, merged into my own style, if that makes any sense. I don’t cut a cylinder on my shaft taper. From the tip back it is a growing taper. It may be a bit stiffer than some prefer with my standard around .055 thicker at mid point from the tip. I do have the capabilities to make some adjustments, within reason, on request. My spec cues are 13mm tips. I’ll go down to 12.5 per request but really don’t like going much smaller.
RC: How would you describe the hit of your cues?
DB: Because of the materials I use - linen melamine ferrules and phenolic collars – I’d say it’s a medium hard hit. It really has more to do with the tip of choice and the woods used in the cue. I like to say it is a solid feel when stroked.
RC: Most cue enthusiasts are looking for a combination of playability, design and execution. How would you rank the importance of each?
DB: Execution of construction first, because I believe it is the heart that creates the playability. I know that the construction style I use with everything fitted, threaded, glued, etc. will make the cues very playable and durable for a long time. I do core my cues - not all, but the majority. I core the forearm separate from the handle. 12-12-5 is my basic design style – 12 inches for everything in front of the grip area, 12 inches of grip wood and 5 inches for the butt sleeve and collar on the back end.
RC: Is there anything you think is unique about your cues or your cuemaking? It sounds like a lot of what you do is unique.
DB: I am a believer of a threaded construction as much as possible throughout. I cut both male and female threads with a high speed milling cutter. I’ve heard the argument that with today’s epoxy glues that a slip fit collar is just fine. Let’s assume it to be a 100% correct assessment. If that’s the case, then a threaded mechanical bond with today’s epoxy is 200%. That’s the mentality I prefer to strive for when it comes to cue construction.
RC: Are there any one or two cues that you believe are the best you’ve made?
DB: Anything with Brazilian rosewood. I’ve done some butterflies going both ways into the nose and butt sleeve, and in the handle both ways. I’ve always referred to them as my double butterflies. They are some of my favorites. The cue I play with is made of African Blackwood with simple chain rings and elephant ear wrap. I like it a lot.
RC: You’re also well-known for your ringwork.
DB: I have four levels of ring work – 1 through 4. There’s more intricacy built into each level. That’s one of my more outstanding features. Since I haven’t done many inlays, I wanted to do something that set my cues apart and people would be able to distinguish them without looking for a signature.
RC: Do you take special orders?
DB: To an extent, but it depends on how special they want it to be. People often want special woods and weights that are not typically easy to do; for example, a snakewood and ebony cue under 19 ounces is a challenge. Sometimes I may get a request for super thin shafts that I don’t like to do. I don’t like to get too far out of the parameters I’m comfortable with. I prefer that all my cues to be the same length, same tip diameter, same butt diameter, etc. and prefer not to deviate too far from that.
When I do take special orders, people have to be very patient. I let them know I’m out approx 30-36 months on orders. As long as someone is patient with me I can work with them. If someone is looking for a cue in 3-6 months it just isn’t going to happen.
RC: What dealers do you work with?
DB: I have four that I work with - three in the states and one in Taiwan.
RC: Dave, it’s been great talking to you – and very informative. I hope this interview will help people become more familiar with your work. Thanks again.
DB: Thanks Tom, I appreciate your efforts and support.