“OB” is named for the founders Don Owen and Royce Bunnell and the company is officially Owen-Bunnell, Inc., a Texas corporation. The company was incorporated and manufacturing began in Royce and Don’s two garages in 2005.
MET IN A POOL LEAGUE:
It’s probably no surprise that Royce and Don met in a Dallas pool league. They just happened to join the same team. It was sometime around 2003. They hit it off instantly and became good friends. Even though neither plays at professional level they’re both good amateur players and avid students of the game, particular the physics of the game.
Royce and Don discovered that they shared a common interest, pool cue design and construction. Royce had been building cues for several years. His garage was well equipped for building and repairing cues on a low volume basis, more a hobby than a business. Independently, Don had been dabbling in cue design for many years and owned an old South Bend lathe, on which he had built a couple of cues, certainly a hobby.
When they met, Don was actually playing with one of the cues he had built. It had a wood ferrule and also the “six piece crescent” cross section, which became the standard SR-6 construction of OB shafts. That cue hangs on the wall in Don’s home game room. It’s a good cue but ugly!
Royce and Don were both very interested in what makes a cue feel and play “right” and of course they both had their own theories. Many of those theories have proven correct.
ROYCE’S STORY LEADING UP TO OB
Royce’s interest in pool began around 1986, about the same time as his job as a training instructor and factory representative for Subaru. Randy, Royce’s best friend from high school, was a pretty good player. Randy invited Royce to go along with him to play. Royce enjoyed it and quickly outpaced his friend’s skill level and then was officially hooked on the game of pool. He had grown up with a pool table at home but never played until Randy got him interested.
When he wasn’t traveling for his job with Subaru he spent many lunch breaks hanging out and becoming friends with Terry and Richard, cue repairmen and salesmen at Billiard Factory in San Antonio. He bought a simple Huebler cue with a plain hickory handle from them. He couldn’t believe that a simple stick of wood could cost so much, $66 . Royce has sold that cue twice and bought it back both times and still has it to this day. The fact that “a simple stick of wood” could be worth money, got him interested in cue building and repair.
When he was traveling for his job he always took his cue along. He spent his evenings playing pool in all sorts of places from dives to upscale rooms, depending on where Subaru sent him. And much of that time he thought about the art of cue making.
USING A DRILL AS A REPAIR LATHE:
Royce has long been one to figure out how to build the tools needed. He has designed and personally built many of the tools and fixtures in the OB factory. Royce began repairing cues for himself and for others using an ordinary hand drill. He made an assortment of joint pins and used the drill as a lathe.
MOVING TO DALLAS AND ACQUIRING A LATHE:
Still with Subaru, around 1990 Royce and his wife Mary moved to The Colony, a Dallas suburb. Royce started looking in the Harbor Freight catalog and found a machine lathe priced at $2700. One day he came home from work early. Mary asked “why are you home early?” Royce answered, “I have a delivery coming.” It was the Harbor Freight machine lathe. He set it up in their garage and used it for cue building and repair until the startup of OB. It is still one of the work horse machines in the OB factory today.
In the early nineties Mary and Royce went to a craft show at the Dallas Market Hall. While Mary shopped for craft stuff Royce happened to see a booth whose proprietor made beautiful wooden writing pens. In the very back of the booth was an engraving machine. The guy asked Royce if he was interested in the machine. Royce said it was not quite what he wanted but something like it could make inlays in cues. The guy suggested a pantograph and said he had one for sale.
Royce bought the pantograph, set it up in his garage and used it for making inlayed cues. In the beginning OB did not build handles and therefore did not need a pantograph or the computer controlled equivalent. Royce has since designed and built a unique computer controlled machine to build the 2013 line of “Infinity Inlay” OB Cues. The pantograph is now obsolete.
BUTT OF THE JOKE, OR LESSON LEARNED:
Sometime after Royce began building complete cues he ran into Buddy Dennis. Buddy suggested that Royce should build a shaft where the normal wooden tenon at the tip end was replaced with a metal tenon. Buddy said the tip would really push through the cue ball. Royce went for the idea hook line and sinker because Buddy was a great player and nice guy.
It turned out that Buddy was playing a practical joke on Royce. Buddy never admitted it but Royce suspected that Buddy knew what would happen. Royce built the shaft with a metal tenon at the tip end. Without trying it beforehand, he took it to the pool hall to show Buddy. He could hardly hit the object ball because of extreme cue ball squirt (deflection).
The metal tenon shaft was Royce’s first lesson in high tip end mass and its effect on cue ball deflection. From that day forward, long before the beginning of OB, all of Royce’s cues had relatively low tip end mass using a short, thin wall ferrule made of relatively light material. OB simply took that concept substantially further. Coincidentally Don tried a similar experiment, with similar results, many years earlier.
DON’S STORY LEADING UP TO OB
Don’s interest in cue design goes back a long way. He became engrossed in the game (mainly snooker) while working on his degree in Engineering Physics at the University of Oklahoma. Don worked part time in the pool hall of the student union. Imagine that. He became acquainted with a regular in the pool hall who worked as a machinist in the physics department. The machinist named Scotty, and his friend Dr. Babb a physics professor, played snooker regularly in the student union pool hall.
Being the consummate tinkerer, Don talked Scotty, the machinist, into helping him build an experimental pool cue shaft. Scotty’s regular job was to build the gadgets needed by the physics professors and graduate students in their research efforts. Being an avid player as well as a machinist, Scotty was more than willing to help Don with the experiment.
Don’s idea was to create a very stiff pool cue shaft by embedding a steel rod inside a maple shell. It turned out to be the worst idea ever. It was a great example of extreme cue ball squirt. It’s interesting what one learns along the way, sometimes purely by coincidence.
DYMONDWOOD® BEFORE THERE WAS DYMONDWOOD®.
Sometime in the 1970’s, long before anyone had ever heard of DymondWood®, perhaps before DymondWood® even existed, Don was working as a transformer design engineer (his life time career) and was always on the lookout for interesting and useful materials to incorporate into transformers. He discovered a high strength laminated wood product impregnated with resin, made by a company called CK Composites. Don talked one of the machinists that he worked with into helping him build a cue made completely from that material. That is another interesting cue but not a very good cue. This cue also hangs on Don’s wall today.
CLEAR PLASTIC FOREARM, ANOTHER LESSON LEARNED:
During the 1990’s Don experimented with building cues using engineering plastics Lexan and Ultem in the forearms and butt caps. It turns out that even though Lexan and Ultem are bullet proof, engineering plastics are not nearly as stiff as most hard woods. Those cues were interesting in appearance but Don found out that when the forearm of a cue is not rigid it does not play right. Again, it was knowledge gained about one thing while looking for something else. One of these experimental cues still serves as the mechanical bridge handle at Don’s home table.
The most valuable lessons learned in product development are often the things that don’t work out. Don and Royce both, to this day, have never lost their desire to understand how things work and how to make things better.
ON THE LEVEL
Back in the late eighties Don came up with an aid for leveling tables such as Gold Crown, Valley and Dynamo. The leveling aid was called “Easy Leveler” and US patent number 5,071,097 was granted. “Easy Leveler” eliminated the need to jack up the weight of the table in order to turn the existing leveler feet.
Along with the leveling aid above Don also invented “Slope-Scope”, a level instrument that could readily detect an out of level amount equal to the thickness of one sheet of notebook paper (approximately 0.003”) from one corner of the pool table to a diagonally opposite corner. US patent 5,131,156 was granted. “Slope-Scope” was an inexpensive, high accuracy instrument which gave a reading at all four corners simultaneously.
Even though they were not commercially successful these leveling products are examples of Don’s efforts to improve the game. The lack of success of these products might not be about the products but instead might be good evidence that Don should never be in charge of marketing and sales. He tends to move on to the next idea much too quickly!
OB – GETTING STARTED
When Royce made the commitment to go full time at the helm of OB several things had to be put into place before anything could move forward:
- A source of raw materials.
- A method to create crescent shaped rods that could be used in the unique construction of OB shafts.
- A method for gluing six crescent rods into a hexagonal cluster.
- A method to uniformly and consistently turn hexagonal clusters (blanks) into finished shafts.
- A method for producing layered, wooden ferrules with a unique spiral appearance.
- A method for filling the central core of each shaft with sound dampening rubber foam.
- A few good players to test the early shafts and give feedback.
Royce suggested that laminated hard maple, much like a skate board, would be stronger and more stable than making the crescent rods out of solid maple. The construction of skateboards was appealing, especially for strength. Don communicated with a skateboard manufacturer in California and the skateboard manufacturer agreed to make laminated boards out of hard maple with all of the wood grain of the layers oriented in the same direction. A few boards were purchased from that skateboard company.
When it came time to actually get started the same skateboard manufacturer was used as the source of laminated maple. However, the skateboard manufacturer was not really interested in making boards for OB so Royce quickly located another supplier.
MAKING CRESCENT SHAPED RODS:
Each of the six crescents in an OB shaft is made from a laminated hard maple square strip slightly under three-fourths of an inch square. It is turned to its final precise diameter during several stress relieving steps. Then each round rod is cut on a shaper into a crescent cross section. Two separate machines are required to create the crescent, one to turn the round rods and a one to cut the crescent.
Royce was acquainted with Leonard Bludworth and knew that he built heavy duty cue making machines. After some back and forth communication with Buldworth, Royce settled on a computer controlled machine with four turning centers and four saw blades for cutting. The Bludworth machine could cut straight round rods but could also cut tapers and was used for both purposes. That Bludworth machine is still a major workhorse in the OB factory today used mostly for rough cutting. Royce has designed and built several computer controlled machines since then.
A very cool animated video showing the shaping and bundling of the six crescents and additional steps in the building of OB shafts can be seen in the media section of obcues.com
BUNDLING AND GLUING CRESCENT SHAPED RODS:
As mentioned above, Don had built a few prototype shafts using the six-crescent construction. To do so he had designed and built a very heavy, hexagon shaped clamp that was really cumbersome to use. The first OB shafts were glued together using that awful clamp. In a very short time a new and much improved method was developed. This new method, using Don’s old South Bend lathe, incorporated a tension line wrapped around the six-crescent bundle.
At first, using Don’s crude clamp, only four or so six-crescent blanks could be bundled and glued in a day. With the improved gluing method and several years of practice and fine tuning, it is now feasible to glue several hundred in a day, on that same old South Bend lathe.
TURNING FINISHED SHAFTS:
Royce had developed and tested his favorite shaft taper through the years and knew exactly what he wanted in that respect but he did not have computer control on his lathe to maintain precision and consistency. Therefore, one of the first orders of business was to utilize the Bludworth machine for this purpose.
Because the laminated hard maple was stronger and stiffer than solid maple, Royce’s favorite taper was modified ever so slightly toward a little straighter and longer “pro” taper.
Royce never doubted that OB machines had to be computer controlled and even though in the beginning he already had considerable skill in computer controls, he has since become a top notch expert in designing and building computer controlled equipment for making cues. His latest effort along that line is the machine that produces the new line of “Infinity Inlays”.
The first two shafts, OB-1 and OB-2, were designed with wooden ferrules. The wooden ferrule is light weight for low cue ball squirt. When using a wooden ferrule, it is desirable for the fibers of the ferrule to wrap around the perimeter for band strength. Don reached into his memory banks and remembered the construction of wooden threaded nuts used in the construction of transformers. Those nuts, sold by CK Composites, are built using thin layers of wood, impregnated with resin where each layer is rotated (clocked) relative to adjacent layers. That type of construction gives the threaded nuts “band strength” and it also gives the wooden ferrules of OB shafts band strength.
For convenience and in order to have uniform appearance a simple gluing fixture was developed for laying-up the veneers while gluing. The original gluing fixture is still employed today.
SOUND DAMPENING RUBBER FOAM CORE:
The OB-1 and OB-2 both were designed to contain a central core of relatively heavy rubber foam. A proprietary drilling and insertion method was developed and is still in use today.
FEEDBACK FROM A FEW GOOD MEN:
When OB first started, Royce and Don wanted feedback about the OB-1. So, a group of friends were commandeered into playing on a BCA pool league team, all using an OB-1 shaft. The friends all accepted the conditions that they must use an OB-1 shaft and provide feedback.
The team was appropriately named “The Guinea Pigs”. A few minor flaws were detected and remedied before OB moved forward.
A really great memory for that team took place one year at the BCAPL annual tournament it Las Vegas. During one match the Guinea Pigs broke and ran all five of the first round games and then went on to finish the match with a thirteen to zero final score.
OB – MOVING FORWARD
OB opened for business in 2005 with the introduction of the OB-1 shaft. Several new products have been introduced since then so here is that timeline:
2005 OB-1 Shaft
2008 OB-2 Shaft
2009 OB Break Shaft
2009 OB Break Cues
2010 OB Classic Shaft
2010 OB Pro Shaft (formally known as the Classic Pro)
2016 OB Chalk
2018 15 New Cues Introduced in the first quarter of 2018
2018 Plus shaft blank construction changed to 4+ (June 1st 2018)