Cory Barnhart – Meet the Cuemaker with Michelle Hughes – Columns
From custom homes to custom landmarks, this guy can do it all. Today we say hello to Cory Barnhart of Barnhart Cues in this month’s “Meet the Cue Maker”
Cory Barnhart, 51, is a lifelong resident of Martinsburg, West Virginia. He resides there with his wife Michelle and their 2 children; daughter Morgan and son Alex, aged 16 and 14. When he was young and before Cory even touched a tail, he dreamed of becoming a commercial diver. Unfortunately, it was not planned for him due to medical issues with his inner ear and he was forced to go another direction. With a father who owned a construction company, a mother who sold real estate, and a sister who was a mortgage lender, it made sense to stay in the same field when choosing to go into construction. He earned a license as an electrician and plumber and became proficient in cabinet making as well as anything related to woodworking. These skills would lead to a successful career building custom homes and eventually owning his own construction business.
Cory’s introduction to billiards began in his twenties when he started playing in local leagues and tournaments. He quickly became addicted but it took until the 2n/a Annual Super Billiards Expo in 1994 that he first decided to try his hand at building cues. It was there he bought materials from Prather to build his own jump tail. Due to his background, he already had experience in woodworking as well as all the tools needed to build the tail. He even had a work space available in his detached garage at home. After tail jumping proved successful, he decided he wanted to pursue the hobby further. In 1995 Cory started Barnhart Cues with the goal of joining the American Cuemakers Association (ACA). He began to accumulate all the necessary equipment, most of which was acquired from short-term cue makers who came and went. For a few years, landmark building was just something Cory did after work instead of watching TV. Remaining just a hobby, he didn’t have much free time after spending 60-80 hours a week building custom homes. The tails he built were then mostly given away to friends. As time passed and the quality of his indices became better known, he began to dedicate more time to the growing business. It was after meeting legendary cue maker Tim Scruggs that Cory confirmed he was headed in the right direction. Since it was the first time he had visited someone else’s studio, he asked Tim for advice on constructions and technique. It turned out that Tim was already a fan of the new cue maker and advised, “I love your cues, just do the same as you.” A big compliment he clearly wanted to say, as it was to Cory that Tim ended up passing on his equipment after his retirement. Cory continued to build cues in his spare time and even achieved his goal of joining the ACA in the early 2000s. just became something he was doing on the side. His biggest award to date came in 2009 at Valley Forge, where Cory received 2n/a runner up for “People’s Choice Cue of the Year” for a 30-point cropped tail with a frogskin wrap. This winner ended up going to Eric Schleich of Connecticut and to this day is still part of the infamous pool cue collector’s extensive Barnhart collection.
When it comes to technique, Cory traditionally uses the half splice method rather than the full splice, but can do both. He then prefers to venture outside of the traditional specs and says he would like to see more cues made with a variety of shank lengths and diameters: “58 inches may be the standard cue length, but it’s not obligatory”. He says there’s so much room for individuality that he doesn’t see why others stick to the same basic specs. For this reason, you will often find Barnhart cues with variations in shank length as well as diameter, wider buttocks, and even placement farther from the tail wrap. Cory’s designs are usually made in a series of 10-15, which is more efficient than designing each cue individually, as each cue takes around 40-60 man hours. His bumpers and joint pins are custom made to his preferred specifications and for the past 5 years he has even had his own end caps made. He likes to have at least a few hundred forearms around the store at all times. Because he doesn’t like ordering lumber by mail, Cory makes special trips every year to personally visit all the major lumber suppliers to make his purchases. Although he doesn’t have a favorite build, he prefers working with coco bola, ebony, or any other nicely crafted wood. Cory says the hardest part of building pool cues is working with the wood itself while using a precision machine. He explains that you shouldn’t expect the same tolerance as with metalwork because wood is in perpetual motion, “especially for dense and exotic woods”. Besides its wood choices, one way to spot a Barnhart is its dotted ring design commonly found on many collars. You will also see his name signed in pencil hidden in the cue sleeve. Gone are the days of engraving his name saying he had learned an expensive lesson by having a fancy tail devoured by the engraving machine. It was after he followed Ray Schuller’s advice to keep it simple and sign in pencil. He has now been a full-time cue maker for 15 years and continues to build approximately 50-100 cues per year at his 800 square foot shop in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Cory says he didn’t really have any mentors before he got into the business and mostly learned by trial and error. However, one of the first people he compared his notes with after starting was Ray Schuller. He also noted that it was Chester Krick who showed him how to use a CNC machine and said he also spent a week learning from Dennis Dieckman. Some of Cory’s favorite cue makers are Paul Drexler and Thomas Wayne who say, “Artistically, no one will probably ever do what he did.” He is also very fond of Jerry McWorter and Richard Chudy because they take simple elements and put them together in a way that he finds super artistic. Besides the flexibility it allows to spend more time with his kids, Cory says the best part about building clues are the people he meets. In addition to meeting other cue makers, he also enjoys meeting pool players from all over the country as well as outside of the United States. If you want to get your own Barnhart, Cory doesn’t have an official waitlist and doesn’t take deposits. Her tails range in price from $850 for a basic Merry Widow and increase with build. For many years most Barnhart cues were sent to overseas buyers in China and Japan. However, due to Covid, for the past 2 years he has been taking orders directly from customers. The best way to get your own Barnhart cue is to email him directly at [email protected] You can also find current Barnhart indices on Biggelbachs.com. However, if you want to see the multi-talented man in person, you can catch him in April at the Super Billiard’s Expo in Philadelphia. Be sure to stop by and say hello.