Cory Barnhart – Surrounded by Excellence
-by Fred Agnir
There is a lot more information out there today on building cues compared to just a few decades ago. Many newer cue makers have risen to the challenge by seeking out as much information as they can in order to incorporate it into their work. When players talk about the top new cue makers who have recently broken into the industry, they have to include Cory Barnhart in their discussions. Though some cue makers find little reason to expand beyond their local knowledge base, cue makers like Cory Barnhart have proven that seeking knowledge, dedicating themselves to the craft, and being surrounded by seasoned veterans can lead to excellence.
Cory Barnhart was born and raised in Martinsburg, WV. He and his wife, Michelle, live in Martinsburg and have two children. Their son Alex is a few months old, and their daughter Morgan is two years old. Cory entered the work force at an early age, working in cabinet-making in his early teens as well as owning a construction business in his early twenties. He also started playing pool in his early twenties. He owned various production cues, with which he played in local leagues. Since there was nobody in his area to do basic repairs, he started doing small repairs on his own cues.
The Advice Begins
Looking for a jump cue at the Allen Hopkins Super Billiards Expo, Cory asked for some advice from several of the attending cue makers, ultimately purchasing some parts from the Prather Cue Company with hopes to build something himself. “I already had a strong woodworking background from cabinet making,” explained Barnhart. “We had wood lathes, but not suitable for cue-making. I had to make all kinds of jigs and fixtures to make cues.
“I don’t even know how I started,” joked Cory. “I started with a friend of mine, but he really lost interest in it. I bought a Hightower lathe. Then I bought a regular machine lathe, and then more, and more and more. You just kind of accumulate things.
“Most of it, I learned through frustration,” shared Barnhart. “You struggle through it. You don’t want to burden other people [with questions] because you don’t even know what to ask them.”
But to that point, Barnhart gives high praise to all the cue makers who have helped him. “Everybody has helped me,” he says. “Some more than others, but everyone that I’ve asked has helped me in some way.” The long list of cue makers whom he credits includes Chris Hightower, the late Chester Krick, and Dennis Dieckman, as well as a dozen or more who normally attend the Hopkins show.
Cory gives the highest praise to Travis Niklich of BlackCreek Cues. Like Cory, Niklich is another young gun in the cue-making industry. The two have formed a camaraderie that’s resulted in a mutually beneficial education in their craft. They’ve had similar questions and common goals. “Travis likes to ask a lot of questions, and I’m more of a trial and error person,” said Barnhart. The two are now annual exhibitors at the Expo, normally displaying in adjacent booths. With such an important show, Cory focuses much of his year on that event.
Cory and Travis both have joined the prestigious American Cuemakers Association (ACA), an organization formed to promote American cue makers and to uphold quality standards in the craft. “I thought I was satisfied with the work I was doing, but there was nobody around where I’m at to compare myself,” said Barnhart. “But once I saw other cue makers’ work at Valley Forge, I decided that the best way to improve was to be surrounded by better people.”
What Everyone Has
“There is so much information out there, and unfortunately there are so many opinions. People will say anything they want,” Cory lamented. He feels that because of the Internet age, people are free to present poor information with anonymity and impunity. And it’s this poor information that reaches millions of Internet readers.
“It’s tough to judge quality with so much poor information on what makes quality,” continued Barnhart. “I don’t know how to correct that.”
Today, unlike most small-volume cue makers, Cory doesn’t necessarily build cues for specific customers. “I try not to have specific customers because there are so many things that can go wrong during the process that it really stresses me out to build a cue custom for someone,” he said surprisingly. “I’m under a certain time frame, and the customer is expecting everything to go right. But a lot of time, it doesn’t.”
To that end, Cory builds his cues using proportions and dimensions that fit him and the way he plays. He has also worked at his design so that he can have structurally and aesthetically interchangeable shafts, an idea pioneered by the Schuler Cue Company. Likewise, he can change shaft tapers to get the different feel that customers are looking for using a Bludworth saw blade-tapering machine. “I think that seventy percent or more of the playability of a cue is in the shaft,” he shared. “If anyone wants something done on a shaft, just ask me. I can do it. If you want performance, the shaft is where you get it.”
He has chosen the half-spliced five-pointer as his standard cue. Cory attributes that decision to some welcomed criticism from Barry Szamboti. “He said that he thought there was too much gap between my points when I was making four-pointers,” he shared. “So, I did a little research on it and decided to do a five-pointer.”
“You’re not going to satisfy everybody with the way your cues play or how they look,” he said. “I don’t consider my cues fancy; I like to focus on building quality. I sacrifice a lot by not doing some of the designs that I’d like to try because I’ve seen others try them and I see glue lines and other things.” He does, however, still make great-looking cues. Along with his wood choices and his signature dotted ring collar design, he also adds inlays using a bench-top CNC to dress up his cues. He considers what he does as pretty basic. He tries to take a few ideas that he likes and lets them evolve and build up to their highest potential. When he gets the most out of those ideas, he starts with new ideas and the design process starts again.
Culmination of Learning
Today, Barnhart makes approximately 60 cues a year as a full-time cue-maker, catering to local and national pool hall players who really appreciate quality. He feels that he can execute most any custom work, having played with most construction methods available. He tries to use all natural materials including ivory, staying away from plastics. He also enjoys using exotic burl woods. “If you’re going to make cues, it just doesn’t cost that much more to use more natural materials,” he said.
Cory Barnhart represents the hundreds of other people who have tried to break into the competitive field of custom cue-making. The difference between him and others is that through his efforts to learn the right information and to surround himself with the best of the best, he has become one of the best in the world at his craft at such a young age himself. He has gained recognition from his peers in the American Cuemakers Association and he’s successfully made the transition to a full-time cue-maker. With cue makers like Cory Barnhart, tomorrow’s new cue makers will continue to have someone to look up to, to learn from, and to be surround by in order to become the best they can be.
6731 Arden-Nollville Rd.
Martinsburg, WV 25401