Following is an interview conducted with Mike Durbin on April 29, 2011. Mike has established a solid reputation in the midwest as a very competent cuemaker. However, a lot of people in other parts of the country are just finding out about him. I hope this interview will allow more people to know Mike and his cues.
RECOLLECTION CUES (RC): Mike, how long have you been making cues?
MIKE DURBIN (MD): I started in 1994.
RC: And you live where?
MD: Sullivan, Illinois, right in the center of the state.
RC: Making cues is not your full time job, correct?
MD: It seems like it is sometimes, but I farm 2000 acres for a living. Iím a seventh generation farmer.
RC: Iíve seen your spectacular John Deere cue with all the scrimshaw work of various tractors. I suppose that explains it.
MD: Thatís my favorite cue.
RC: How much time do you put in building cues?
MD: I go straight to the shop every night and work until 10 or 11, and then all I can on weekends. I put in about a hundred hours a week working one way or another. But it depends on the time of year - Iím a full time farmer March 1 to November 1, and a full time cuemaker November 1 to March 1.
RC: Which cue makers influenced you the most?
MD: A lot of them, but I have to say mostly Andy Gilbert. I didnít know him until I started making cues, but now we talk all the time and trade information regularly. He was my sponsor into the American Cuemakers Association as well. But my work has been strongly influenced by Southwest cues, Bill Schick, and Bill Stroud. They were the real legends when I started.
RC: How many cues do you make a year?
MD: A maximum of fifty. I wonít make more than that because I want to protect the value of my work. Most years, itís closer to 30
RC: Like most cuemakers, you started as a player. I happen to know youíre a pretty good player, because Iíve run into you in tournaments a couple of times. Do you still play a lot?
MD: Quite a bit. Every chance I get. I play a lot of local leagues and tournaments, and occasionally play in the Midwest Nineball Tour.
RC: I know that youíve got a unique pool setup at your shop. Tell me about it.
MD: I have two gold crown tournament tables, and the Soren Sogard three cushion table that they played the Ď86 World Championships on in Las Vegas. Iíve had a number of pool clinics put on here. Mark Wilson, one of the top teaching pros, has done several, and Iíve had other top players here, like David Matlock and Nick Varner.
RC: How does being a serious player influence your cuemaking?
MD: To make a good cue you need to play to a reasonable level. There are a lot of subtleties built into a cue that you wouldnít recognize if you werenít a player. How would you know otherwise? Certain shots just arenít there if the cueís not good, and you need to be able to recognize that.
RC: Describe your shop.
MD: When I started, I added a 30í X 54í lean-to to an existing building, and that became my shop. I have the pool tables in the same building. I have two13X40 lathes, a milling machine, a Gorton pantagraph for inlays, sanders, saws, drill presses, etc., and a Porper lathe for mobile repair work. Just minimal equipment.
RC: Minimal? Sounds like a lot to me.
MD: Not when you compare it to some others. There are some cuemakers who might have eight or ten lathes, all set up for different functions.
RC: So, no CNC?
MD: No, I want to stay traditional. I have no intentions of going that route. There are so few of us left.
RC: Tell me how you select your shaft wood?
MD: First, it sits for two years. Then I make two passes, and grade it for straightness and grain quality. Then I cull as necessary. Iím not obsessed with grain count, more with appearance. If the appearance shows me good, straight grain, it will have a good grain count. The whole process takes a full year, normally, but sometimes as little as eight months.
RC: Do you have a favorite wood for use in butts?
MD: You canít go wrong with ebony. I like the way it hits. Nothing resonates like ebony. Iím also partial to snakewood.
RC: What kinds of pin & joint combinations do you use? What is your favorite?
MD: Most have a 3/8 X 11 when I use stainless steel joints, but I like the G-10 glass epoxy pins. Probably 80% of my cues go out with the epoxy. Mark Wilson influenced that Ė heís bought a lot of my cues for his students and clinics, and has always insisted on his cues having the G-10. I think I was only the second cuemaker to use these regularly.
RC: Like Joe Gold at Cognoscenti?
MD: But mine come from a different manufacturer and are custom made for me.
RC: How would you describe the ďhitĒ of your cues?
MD: Consistent. They hit the same every time. My stainless steel jointed cues hit a little harder, but I like to think consistency is my trademark.
RC: What is your preferred taper?
MD: A modified pro taper. It feels like it comes back straight in your hand, but not quite. It comes back about 13 inches, then thickens. You canít feel it in those first 13 inches. I canít stand for a cue to drag through the bridge.
RC: What kind of tips do you usually use?
MD: Le pros are standard, but I can put on anything anybody wants if they ask.
RC: Is there anything, or any particular features. that you feel are unique to your cues?
MD: The glass pin is standard. Custom fitting for different lengths is no extra charge. Everything is cored. If my cues have ivory points, they're generally structural ivory points, not inlaid. It takes more ivory and isn't the most economical way, but they play better and it adds value.
One other thing I do that not everyone does is to make sure there are no empty voids in my cues. Anywhere I make a hole, it is filled completely with no air pocket remaining. I do this by using glue reliefs, either internal or external. This eliminates the strange high pitched noises that don't sound good in a cue. I believe when a cue is properly stroked it should have a nice resonance and tone, and this can't be attained by having air under the joint pin or in the A-joint.
RC: Are there one or two particular cue or cues that stand out in your memory as the best youíve made?
MD: My John Deere, of course, because I bleed John Deere green. And also, the cue Iím playing with. It has structural ivory points and mitred boxes in the bottom. Itís classy and elegant and I love playing with it.
RC: I know you have a number of top players representing and playing with your cues. Who are they?
MD: Gary Lutman and Mark Wilson from this area, David Matlock and Mike Banks Jr. from Kansas City. Also, Jamie Baracks and Chuck Raulston from here in the Midwest, and Joey Grey and Chip Compton from Oklahoma.
RC: Thatís a pretty impressive stable of players.
MD: Iím proud that so many of them use my cues. Theyíre all top players. I had somebody come up to me at a tournament awhile back, and asked me if he could be a player rep. I named several of my reps and asked him if he noticed anything they all had in common. He couldnít, so I told him that the one thing they had in common was that they all played better than me. He gave me a funny look as if to say he thought he did. Then, by chance, later that weekend I came up against him in the tournament and beat him 9-0. That was the last I heard from him about being a Durbin rep.
RC: I know you make a custom line of cues for Mark Wilson.
MD: He calls them Advanced Accuracy Cues. He sells a lot of them to his students, at his clinics, and generally has a few in stock.
RC: Do you still take orders for cues? Whatís a typical wait time?
MD: Yes. Depending on the intricacy, six months to a year for most.
RC: Thanks, Mike. I hope this helps all our players and collectors to know more about you.