- Blatt Billiards has been building pool tables for nearly 100 years.
- The family-run company’s custom tables can cost between $US20,000 and $US100,000 and its clients include Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, and Tommy Hilfiger.
- The tables come to life in a 50,000-square-foot workshop in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Welcome to Blatt Billiards. This family-run company has been building and restoring pool tables for nearly a hundred years. It was founded in New York City in 1923 and has since built a reputation for its hand-carved and constructed bespoke tables, which can cost between $US20,000 and $US100,000 per table. These high-end, custom-made tables are a favourite among celebrities like Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Tommy Hilfiger.
Jeff Roeder: In our family, we don’t have summers and winter breaks. We have, “Let’s come to work, and let’s learn how to build pool tables and how to manufacturer.”
Narrator: Here’s how Blatt builds its iconic pool tables from the bottom up. It all starts with a sketch. Clients will come to the New York City showroom and sit down with a Blatt employee to choose all the details of their table from inlays and carvings to leg shape and felt colour. You can customise just about anything you want. The team will then take the client’s vision and figure out how to bring it to life. Each of the custom tables is built in Wood-Ridge, New Jersey, in a 50,000-square-foot workshop.
First up, the wood. Blatt sources its lumber primarily from North America but with exotic woods coming in from around the world. Panels for the frame of the table are cut, and then a veneer is laid on top.
Roeder: A veneer is a thin sheet of wood. It’s a log that’s sliced at a 1/32, and this is gonna be the finished layer of wood on the table. So what we do is we book match. So as you can see, you have the same grains here running, so when the pieces come together, I can flip them, and then you get a book-matched veneer.
Narrator: If the client wants an intricate design on their table, the sketch comes to Pedro. Pedro does all the carvings and inlays by hand and one at a time for Blatt. He etches elaborate patterns and pieces together thin layers of wood to make the inlays.
On the other side of the shop, legs, joints, and connecting pieces are carved, then the pieces are sanded and painted. Next, it’s finally time to put the pieces together. Once the table is assembled, woodworkers can build in the subway system. That’s the tracks inside the table that carry the balls to a catch box on one end. Ever wonder how the system separates the cue ball from the others?
Roeder: There’s a magnet inside the pool table and a lead ball inside the cue ball. So when the ball goes in the subway system, the cue ball goes in. There’s a magnet there in the subway track. The cue ball is attracted to the magnet, wraps around the surface of the magnet, and drops into a different subway track versus the rest of the balls.
Narrator: Once the subway’s in place, they can put the cross-pieces in and slate on top. The slate is that flat surface that will be covered with felt and become the playing field. It’s also what makes the table so heavy. Some Blatt tables can weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
Roeder: Some clients actually add reinforcing steel to their floors to prevent sagging in the floors from the weight of the table. Remember, a billiards table has to be totally flat, so if the floor doesn’t settle properly, the balls could lean left, could lean right. You know, sometimes we do it for customer request. You know, a little light side pocket. You know, there’s a lot of things we can do.
Narrator: Over on the other side of the factory, felt is cut to the perfect measurements of the table. Buyers can choose from around 30 different felts in a rainbow of colours. The last stop is the finishing room where all the details come together. Here, wood pieces are treated with a hand-rubbed finish. Felt is stapled onto the rubber bumper rails, and pockets are sewn and branded by hand.
Roeder: Once that’s going on, we have our pockets. Pockets come in raw leather. We stain the leather. We sew the leather. We fit the pockets to the table. Each table is individual, so all the pockets, the finishings, it’s all matched to this specific table. There’s no one colour fits all. It’s, each table is an individual piece and a true artistic piece.
Narrator: Once the table is all assembled, they take it all apart again. That’s because it’s packed and shipped in pieces. Blatt has road teams across the US certified to set up tables at customers’ houses. A setup can take up to six hours.
Roeder: So these tables are going to celebrities, sports stars. They’re going to sheiks in Dubai. They’re going to kings and queens in London.
Narrator: Blatt’s list of high-profile clients is seemingly endless. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mariska Hargitay. Denzel Washington. Scarlett Johansson. Tom Hanks. Alex Rodriguez. Bobby Flay. Dustin Hoffman. And Paul Sorvino.
Each table takes anywhere from six months to a year to build depending on the intricacies of the design. Blatt is able to hand build about 300 custom tables a year. The company’s most expensive masterpiece on hand: A $US100,000 table covered in hand carvings that took about a year to make. But the 50 artisans and woodworkers at Blatt don’t just build custom tables, they also restore old ones. Three thousand antique tables are stored at the factory in New Jersey.
Roeder: These tables, a lot of them haven’t moved in a hundred years, so sometimes you find old cigarette packs in them. Kids used to stuff matchbox cars. You really never know. They have a history to themselves, and if the tables could speak, the stories would be endless.
Narrator: Giving new life to these tables is a tradition that dates back to Blatt’s founding. Blatt Billiards opened up in New York City in 1923. This was the height of the Roaring Twenties. Smoky pool halls were at their heyday with an estimated 2,000 of them across New York City.
Founder Sam Blatt started Blatt billiards to repair tables in these halls. During the Depression when no one could afford new tables, Blatt survived by flipping the cloth on the tables for a few cents. Right after World War II, Jeff’s grandfather Eric Roeder started at Blatt sweeping floors. He learned the trade and eventually took over the company, passing it to his sons and soon to his grandsons, Jeff and Brian. Jeff runs the factory in Jersey, and Brian takes care of the showroom in midtown, New York City.
Brian Roeder: There’s definitely a sense of responsibility. You want to maintain the traditions and the quality in the craft without taking any shortcuts. You wanna bring in new ideas, but you don’t want the new ideas to take away what we’ve established so far as a family and as a company. So there’s a fine line where old school meets new school, and we try and balance that out pretty well as a team.
Narrator: Jeff and Brian are carrying on Blatt’s legacy, prioritising the same handcrafted techniques that have defined the company for nearly a century, but the team of grandsons also hopes to steward Blatt into a new era. They have introduced carbon-fibre tables, marble tables, and convertible pool-to-dining-room tables. They also plan to set up an online store.
Roeder: We go to sleep thinking about pool tables. We dream about pool tables, and we go to work working on pool tables. That’s the essence of the family business.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2019.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.