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Making it on cue

Most Denver residents probably aren’t aware that there’s a business right under their noses that makes sporting equipment for world champions.
It’s called Carolina Custom Cues and it’s a business that will change everything you thought you knew about pool cues.
It began when Trevor Donahue was approached with the idea and started out as a financier. Now, at the ripe old age of 28, he’s the sole owner of the company.
“We moved in the beginning of 2006 and started producing product this year,” said Donahue.
At Carolina Custom, they make cues the old-fashioned way, using a process with a couple hundred steps and a lot of attention to detail.
The shafts alone take six months of preparation to be pool table ready. They must be turned and cut periodically to prevent warping. The end result is a thin, straight shaft that is as perfect as possible.
Most of the cues born at Carolina Custom are done at the request of customers and made to specifications.
And many of Carolina Custom’s clients aren’t your average pool hall patrons.
“The number three, number five and number seven (female) players in the world use our cues,” Donahue said.
With clients like that, it’s understandable why Donahue and his employees put so much focus on detail. According to Donahue, it’s the people who collect cues who are the most picky, and it isn’t hard to see why.
“They increase in value over time, like any investment,” said Matt Armstrong, Donahue’s right hand man and a self-described “big pool player.”
Using mostly imported woods, such as ebony from Africa and cocobolo from Mexico, as well as materials like abalone to make intricate inlays for the cues’ handles, Donahue and company create often unique pieces for their frequently demanding customers.
The designs are intricate to say the least and the smaller pieces must be cut by hand.
“We have to draw it to the exact 1,000th,” Donahue said.
Armstrong, who worked on computers before moving here from Mississippi specifically to work for Donahue, draws the cues’ designs on a computer.
According to Armstrong, the length of time it takes for a cue to go from Carolina Custom to the hands of a pool player depends on its design.
“It depends on how elaborate it is,” said Armstrong. “It can be anywhere from two to six months.”
Toward the end of the long process of making a custom pool cue, the piece is sanded and sprayed with a quick-drying UV finish, a job done by Carolina Custom employee Jon Watson.
Wrapping the player grip is the last step in the process, and Michael Jerome is the man responsible.
With 18 years of experience in the furniture industry, Jerome has a good background for his new career.
“No one taught me how to wrap,” he said. “They showed me a basic and I took it from there.”
According to Armstrong, the style of the wrapping sets Carolina Custom apart from other cue makers. Using materials like linen, leather and even monitor lizard skin, Jerome wraps the cues with such precision that hands running across them cannot even feel a change in texture.
It’s something in which he takes pride.
“You won’t find a better wrap than what I put on it,” said Jerome.
With customers who are ranked among the best in the world at what they do, it seems Donahue and friends are doing something right. Kelly Fisher, a top pool player and client of Carolina Custom, even sells the cues on tour, and Val Finnie, a Scottish player ranked 20th in the world, has recently come on board to work part time at the shop.
According to Donahue, the company has customers all over the United States and in such faraway countries as Taiwan and Singapore. Carolina Custom’s cues are also featured at trade shows across the country.
The company turns out about 15 cues a week. Donahue says they are always building cues, even when they don’t have a specific order to work on.
It’s a job they all love.
For Donahue, it’s about more than making a piece of sporting equipment.
“It’s art,” he said.

Walk-in traffic is always welcome at Carolina Custom Cues, located at 7830 Commerce Drive, Denver. For more information, please contact Trevor Donahue at (704) 489-8360 or via email at tdonahue@carolinacues.com. You may also visit the website at www.carolinacues.com.
by Allyson Levine

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