Credit: InsidePOOL Magazine
What happens if you take a serious pool player with an engineering background and a desire to make cues and give him access to the most extensive research system in the world, as well as putting high-level machinists at his disposal? You get a highly motivated individual who has the ability to understand the mechanics of cue construction, the available information on construction technique from a multitude of industries, and the know-how in precision machining to execute those construction techniques. In other words, you get the incomparable Mike Lambros.
THE RESEARCH BEGINS
Mike Lambros was born and raised in Baltimore, MD, but later moved to Southern California. While pursuing a degree in electrical engineering at the California Polytechnic Institute, he worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA. He eventually received his Master’s Degree in electrical engineering while working his way up the career ladder at the Jet Propulsion Lab as a microwave research and development engineer, and then as cognizant design engineer for the Mark 4A Deep Space Network.He moved back to Baltimore after ten years in California. “It’s a nice place to visit, but the daily life is hectic,” said Lambros.
He had played pool most of his life, starting out at the Plaza Billiards in Baltimore. “I used to play top level tournaments, especially in California, ” he commented. When he moved back east, he went to work at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab as a microwave engineer. His lab personnel comprised several machinists, including a top-level model-maker machinist.He also had unlimited access to research libraries ranging from various manufacturing fields to the latest NASA developments. “My cue needed a lot of repair, and I really didn’t know many cue makers in the area, so I asked my model maker how to run a lathe so I could do the repairs myself,” he explained. “He told me to go hire someone!” But Lambros was determined to learn the basic machinist techniques, so the model maker agreed to help.
Lambros took full advantage of the research materials available as well. In the years before the explosion of the Internet and search engines, being a research engineer and having the material available put him at a distinct advantage. “All of the construction techniques from Brunswick were available to me. I also found many construction techniques in unrelated fields that I modified for cue making,” expressed Lambros. His research gave him the information on wood-working and finishes used in various industries, and his connection with NASA allowed him access to the information on the latest adhesives.
In 1992, Mike went full-time as a cue maker. The cue business grew so fast that he had to cut his work days back at the Applied Physic Lab while spending more days making cues. A friend offered to do a joint venture with Mike so that Mike could make cues full-time, and he accepted the offer and has been a full-time cue maker ever since. The feel of his cue was dubbed “The Hit” because the feel of his 3/8th-10 flat-faced joint with phenolic collars was so different than the piloted stainless joints that were prevalent in the Northeast.
THE HIT BECOMES ULTRA
Hoping to introduce his cues into the Korean market, Lambros built a billiard cue for a Korean friend in1993. Mike brought the cue to New York City to visit U.S. Three-Cushion Billiard Champion Sang Lee to get his feedback. “He hated it. He said it was horrible,” shared Mike candidly. Lee let Mike shoot with his billiard cue. The difference in quality was astounding. “When I struck the ball, the cue acted like a musical instrument. It vibrated. but very little. No twang or strange feeling in the hands, “said Mike. Lambros set to making a worthy billiard cue for the next eight months, coming up with different iterations until Lee finally approved.
“Being a microwave engineer, I understood vibration transfer through material. The joint wasn’t allowing the shaft to be ·optimally coupled’ to the butt.” he says. He developed his Ultra Joint to optimize the transfer of energy from the shaft to the butt across the wide range of shots. For the technically minded, the original Ultra Joint design took advantage of a tapered locking angle at the base of the shaft’s pilot, rather than a flat shoulder.
Sang Lee played with the Ultra Joint and he loved it, continuing to play with one. as did several top U.S. Three-Cushion Billiard professionals. But Lambros didn’t make billiard cues for long. By and large. they were lower in price compared to modern pool cues, as the billiard players generally did not have wraps or adornments. However. he continued making the Ultra Joint available on the pool cues.Never ceasing to improve. Lambros has recently modified the design of the Ultra Joint. “There have been two failures over the years due to over-torqueing,” he shared. The modified design is an extreme dimensional mechanical challenge, but it guards against torque failure while keeping true to its taper lock design. Fortunately. the equipment in the Lambros shop has the precision and repeatability to meet that challenge.
PRECISION, REPEATABILITY AND THE CNC
“My shop is technologically advanced. as I’m obviously very much into technology.” stated Mike. “l have standard equipment seen in most shops like lathes and mills. but I also have several high precision CNC lathes. as well as a four-axis CNC lathe that I built. “A lot of people have misconceptions about CNC work, as if it’s not true custom work. That’s wrong.” averred Lambros. “There are two aspects to CNC machines (in cue making).You can set up a CNC for mass production with larger end mills. rounded points. and mass-production speeds. Or you can set it up to mimic high-precision, intricate detailed manual work ” It’s the high precision and repeatability that allows Lambros to make the Ultra Joint. “To achieve manually that type of high precision with repeatability would be cost prohibitive, considering the time and effort it would take.” Lambros affirmed.
“Every step we do, we have to keep to the tolerances and fits that I’ve designed in. Every cue that comes out of our shop has to be perfect. That’s our philosophy. We have to hold less than one one-thousandth-of-an-inch tolerance on some of the dimensions.” It’s the tighter engineering design and the dedication to make each piece of the cue to those designed dimensions that set Mike Lambros apart from his peers.
THE RESEARCH CONTINUES
“I’ll do any custom work, until they ask me to copy some-one else’s design. That’s not happening, “Lambros explained emphatically. “I will also accommodate customers to the nth degree until they try to tell me how to do my job.
”To the new cue makers, Lambros suggests to learn everything they can. “There is a lot of different techniques you have to learn to get proficient at, building several cues at a time. It’s very difficult to build one cue at a time and make a living at it.” He points out.
“Every day new technology is developed. I’ve just gone to a new finish that isn’t found in our industry. It is crystal clear and goes on in half the time,” Lambros said. “And I would never have found it if I didn’t look outside the cue-making industry or even outside the wood industry.”
Lambros takes much of December and January off from making to dive into research and development to improve his product. He talks to product manufacturers and their engineering departments directly, rather than their sales representatives. He describes his application and finds out if their product will work directly from them. He does this every year. Why? Because it has been through his research, research, and more research that has helped Mike Lambros succeed in making on of the premier hitting cues today and has placed him among the very top of his profession.