In this interview, we’re talking to Bob Owen, a top cuemaker from Wichita, Kansas. In my estimation, when cuemakers themselves frequently brag about another cuemaker’s work, you know that person has to be doing a lot of things right. Bob is considered by his peers as being a guy who constantly turns out top notch cues with tight, meticulous work that is very aesthetically pleasing. Here are Bob’s responses to our questions.
RECOLLECTION CUES (RC): When did you start making cues?
BOB OWEN: I started in 1995, working for Shurtz Cues. Jack Shurtz, the original owner, taught me all of the cue building basics. I started signing the cues myself in 2007 and later bought the company. There’s nothing being made under the Shurtz name today.
RC: Do you make cues full time?
RC: Are you a member of the American Cuemakers Association?
OWEN: Yes. I have been for many years.
RC: Where are you located?
OWEN: Wichita, Kansas.
RC: Do you still play?
OWEN: I still play some. Not as much as I used to, but mostly one-pocket now. I have a table in the shop, and people stop by occasionally and we play.
RC: I don’t think a lot of people make the connection that your son, Gabe, is a top player and a former U.S. Open Champion. I assume he plays with your cues?
OWEN: Yes. He still practices in the shop a lot. He and Jeremy Jones, Mosconi Cup Co-Captain, both play with my sticks.
RC: How does being a player affect your philosophy about building cues?
OWEN: I’ve always maintained a cue should be something I’d want to play with. If it doesn’t hit right it’s not ready to go out. My focus is on making every cue better than the last.
RC: Is there any one cuemaker who has strongly influenced you and your work?
OWEN: I’m off in the middle of nowhere here in Kansas, so a lot of what I do is self-taught. Early on, I think I was inspired by Thomas Wayne and his work, and a lot of others. And I always admired the execution by Ron Haley. Especially his boxes.
RC: Since you mention boxes, I have to say that the mitered boxes you’re building into your cues are as good as they get. Your corners are so tight that it takes a magnifying glass to see the cuts in the corners.
OWEN: Thanks. I’ve really worked on those, and I’ve built some special jigs so that I can do them pretty quickly.
RC: How many cues do you usually make a year?
OWEN: Between 20 and 30, but a lot of those are player, lower end cues. I don’t build all that many high end cues.
RC: Do you take special orders?
OWEN: Yes, but I let people know to expect at least a year wait.
RC: Which cue dealers do you work with?
OWEN: Recollection Cues is the only major dealer I work with.
RC: Can you describe your shop?
OWEN: My shop area is about 50’X50’. I have two manual lathes, a special ring cutting machine I made that’s a combination of digital and manual. I have a CNC point cutting machine that I had built. I’ve got a four-axis CNC mill that I put together back in the 90s for cutting points and tapering and doing some of the inlay pockets. It’s really old school – still runs on DOS. It’s just a workhorse. And, of course, I’ve got several wood lathes, etc.
RC: Tell me about your process of selecting shaft wood and making shafts.
OWEN: I work with several other ACA cuemakers in buying shaft wood in big quantities. Then we split it up and each cull out our own stockpiles. Most of it sits for years before being used. It takes me a full year to go from a dowel to a finished shaft.
RC: What is your favorite wood for use in cues?
OWEN: I don’t have one particular wood. What I like is anything with great figure – something with great contrast. There are so many now, because we stabilize the wood. Today we’re using woods that we couldn’t use 20 years ago. The wood was too soft, even if you cored it. Woods have changed.
RC: It’s impossible to not notice that your selection of woods is incredible. Where are you getting them?
OWEN: I do my own stabilizing. I start with slabs, stabilize them and then cut them into usable size pieces. I sell a lot of my wood to other cuemakers. Of course, I get first pick.
RC: What pin and joint combinations do you use? Which is your favorite?
OWEN: I use a 3/8X11 mostly, but also do a 5/18X14. I’ll occasionally make a custom pin if somebody wants one.
RC: What kind of tips do you like to use?
OWEN: I use Kamuis a lot lately. I used to use Mooris, but it’s hard to get good ones now. I’ve also started using some of the Precision tips. Gabe and I both like the “milk duds” I make, when I can find good Elkmasters.
RC: Are there particular areas or regions where your cues sell best? Are they best known in the Midwest?
OWEN: You’d think they’d sell best locally, but surprisingly, I sell them all over the country.
RC: What is your preferred taper?
OWEN: There are two different tapers I use. One is stiff and more conical, like the one Jeremy Jones likes. But most have a modified pro taper. The first 15 inches it grows .0017 an inch, and from there more conically down to the joint.
RC: How would you describe the hit of your cues?
OWEN: I think my cues have a medium hard hit. I don’t think it should make any noise. I prefer a cue to be on the stiff side.
RC: Most cue enthusiasts are looking for a combination of playability, design and execution. How would you rank the importance of each?
OWEN: Play is absolutely the most important. Ideally, they’d all have the same weight. Artistic concerns become more important as you get deeper into your career and have the basics mastered.
RC: Is there anything you think is unique about your cues or your cuemaking?
OWEN: As I said, I process a lot of my own wood. Not many people do that.
RC: Is there any one or two cues that you believe are the best you’ve made?
OWEN: I made a gambler cue a few years ago that I thought was special. I also made an ivory box cue for a customer that was one of my favorites. The box cue I recently sold to you is one of my best, I think, except I think the next one you have coming may be even better.
RC: What are you currently working on?
OWEN: I’ve got one I’m working on in hickory burl that has overlapping points with white and blue veneers and Paui shell abalone. Between the windows in the butt sleeve it has chevrons at 90 degree angles. It’s hard to describe but I think it’s going to be really pretty.
RC: Do you attend any of the big cue shows?
OWEN: I don’t get to as many as I like. I like to go to the Hopkins Super Billiards Expo, but haven’t gone for a few years. I occasionally show some cues up at the big “Shooters” tournament in Olathe, Kansas. The problem is I seldom have enough cues to really exhibit.
RC: Anything else you’d like to add?
OWEN: People always ask about my logo. It’s an “O” with a “1” in it. It’s my way of saying “O-one”, or “Owen”.
RC: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I’m really happy to be representing your cues. I think they’re terrific cues and I’m happy we’re having the opportunity to make them available to our customers.