Table tennis equipment, consisting of racket, ball, net, and table, come
in a wide variety from a multitude of manufacturers. Choosing the correct
equipment to fit your skill level and playing style is very important.
Luckily, there are standards/ratings in table tennis equipment that takes
much of the guesswork out of determining the characteristics of a particular
blade (the main body of the paddle) and rubber (the playing surface).
Guide to Blades and Rubber
If you are just starting out, you will want to buy a decent blade and
rubber-going too cheap may end one up with low quality equipment that
A medium-speed model will help you practice ball control while maintaining
a reasonable topspin game. Blades are denoted in the following fashion
according to their speed:
- Defensive Blades: slow blades with maximum control; best suited for
primarily defensive players e.g. choppers, and beginners
- Allround Blades: an all-around blade for an all-around player who
mixes offense and defense in equal amounts
- Offensive Blades: the fastest blades available, many trade control
for speed; not recommended for beginning players
Note: The speed of a paddle comes from a combination of rubber and blade.
This gives extra flexibility in the selection of equipment because a defensive
paddle could have an offensive rubber on one side and a slow but spinny
rubber on the other.
Blades can be made from a variety of materials, but the rules stipulate
wood must be the majority material in any one blade. Carbon, arylate,
and other materials can be used as a thin layer in the middle layers of
the blade, but none of these can be exposed-if your rubber can touch the
'non-wood' material, then the blade is illegal.
Should you find any of your equipment to be illegal, don't worry too
much; as they seem to be fairly common. They can still serve as your training
blade until a new one can be obtained, but simply realize that you cannot
use them in sanctioned tournaments, etc.
Read further: Guide to Choosing a Blade
Buy Table Tennis Blades
Rubber can be categorized into two groups: pimpled and inverted. Pimpled
rubber has many cylindrical "pips" protruding from the surface
of the rubber, causing the striking surface to be uneven. Such rubber
is best suited for defensive play where topspin is not as important. The
pips come in two flavors, long and short. Short pips are thicker than
they are tall, and are below 1 mm in height. Long pips tend to have an
equal or greater length-to-width ratio. These special pips are designed
to bend or 'kink' slightly upon impact with the ball, and produce many
deceptive spins as a result. The legality of these long pips changes over time,
so caution is advised before making a purchase. In the
modern table tennis game, the pimpled rubber is mainly used as a backup
surface designed to add variety to one's game. Attacking players almost
never use this as their primary surface.
On July 1, 1999, the following long pips rules were introduced:
- The aspect ratio, or height divided by diameter, will be the basis
- 1.1 is the limit for aspect ratio; anything higher is illegal
- The unpredictable 'kinking' of the pips has been cited as the reason
for the passage of this amendment
The inverted, or 'smooth' rubber, is actually a sheet of pimpled rubber
turned upside down so that the flat surface under the pimpled side becomes
exposed. Nearly all inverted rubber has a layer of sponge sandwiched underneath.
The sponge adds speed and/or control to the rubber, depending on the thickness
and composition. Inverted rubber makes possible a greater variety of spin
shots and attacking games requiring heavy topspin and other spin-intensive
strokes. The surfaces of many inverted rubbers are 'sticky', allowing
a player to gain the traction needed to produce spin. Most beginners should
start with inverted as their primary rubber, for the sake of learning
today's most effective techniques.
Regulations require rubber to be either red or black, and one of each
color must be placed on a paddle for it to be legal (penhold paddles with
only one rubbered side must make the other side red or black, depending
on the color of the rubber). Be sure to realize this and request the appropriate
colors. Also, be sure that the rubber itself is no thicker than 2 mm and
the combination of rubber and sponge no thicker than 4 mm. The majority
of retailers sell legal rubber so this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Rubber has a rating system that measures speed and spin independently.
There are no standard notations, but many companies that distribute rubber
rate speed and spin on a 1 to 100 scale, with 100 being the most spinny
or quick. The ratings are usually determined by players who evaluate them
specially to analyze the speed and spin. You can also ask around about
a particular brand of rubber or try it out yourself. One can test out
blades this way also. Remember that the ratings will most likely be 'opinions'
and not machine-tested. Take ratings with a grain of salt, and simply
realize that getting an exact kind of rubber will not be the most important
thing until you are at a level of play to do so (Note: Beginners should
not select overly spinny rubbers, because while these rubbers will allow
the production of better spin, they will also be more affected by the
spin that their opponents impart on the ball. When the 'touch' is not
yet mastered, it is very difficult to return a spinny shot on sticky rubber.)
Read further: Guide to Choosing Rubber
Buy Table Tennis Rubber
Guide to Balls
Balls have a rating system that uses stars. Ranging from one to three,
the best balls and the only balls you should use for most purposes are
the three stars. Most other balls break easily and have questionable playing
characteristics. Table tennis balls can be quite expensive, with some
going over $3, but good quality balls last a long time when
given the proper treatment. To ensure that you get the most out of each
ball, make sure to keep it out of: direct sunlight, excess heat, and excess
moisture. Also be sure to pick up the balls when they fall to the floor,
so you and others avoid stepping on them. The three-stars should be used
for most rally drills and practice games. For multiple-ball drills, such
as serves and smashes, good quality practice balls can be had for a modest
cost if you shop around.
The color of balls don't matter much for games and practice, just be
sure to use a color that is the most visible given the conditions. The
legal colors are: white and orange.
Buy Table Tennis Balls
Tables and nets
Tables and nets for table tennis must comply with the regulation dimensions.
Tables must be nine feet long, five feet across, and two and one-half
feet high (floor to playing surface). The net must be six inches high,
and stretch across the middle of the table and six inches beyond both
sides. The surface of the table must be a dull, non-reflective color that
contrasts with the white and oranges of the balls. Black, navy blue, and
green are popular colors. Tables and nets vary widely in quality, with
the best costing nearly a thousand dollars. Nets can cost as much as $100
for a tournament-quality post and mesh that will survive many matches
while maintaining precision in height and position. For most homes, a
relatively cheap table and net-set will do fine, although bounce accuracy will
vary. Tables placed on a soft,
irregular surface, such as carpet, will have a hard time matching up to
the precision of those placed on hard, flat surfaces.
Buy Table Tennis Tables
Buy Table Tennis Nets
Where to buy
Buying quality table tennis equipment can be somewhat of a challenge
to an American citizen. As the sport has not developed the necessary 'status'
needed in the country to warrant a significant economic opening (this is
not to say that the sport does not deserve it), many major retailers and
sporting goods stores confine table tennis to the 'fun and games' section,
if at all. Typically all rackets sold there are already made, with rubber
applied to the blade. While this may be convenient, the equipment is usually
of low quality and the rubber will likely be 'dead' because long storage
after being applied causes the bubbles in the sponge to lose their elasticity.
The result is a dull playing characteristic. If there are anything worth
buying in these stores, it may as well as be the tables, although they
are often bargain-priced and have rickety frames. Assembly is almost always
If you started out with nothing, the initial investment in the sport
can seem quite high. High quality blades average $100/rubber $50. Since
most people purchase two sheets of rubber, the cost can add up to almost
a couple hundred dollars for the paddle alone. But if a club or experienced player
is accessible, you may be able to get used equipment for cheap or even
free. Be sure to check these sources. As for tables (if you are playing
at home), plan on spending at least $500 as opposed to saving the trouble
and getting a low-quality one at the mall for $250. Some tables come fully assembled while others will have you breaking
out the toolbox. But the quality is typically much higher than store-bought
models. You can buy many accessories, from rubber cleaners to shoes as
well. But be sure that you have embraced the sport before making the splurge.
Many items such as shoes are not needed until the level of play demands
Table tennis equipment is easy to maintain and will last a long time
if properly cared for. Blades should be handled gently and not knocked
about or thrown around. Edge tape should cover the perimeter of the head
to protect it from dings and dents from accidental collisions with the
table. After play, a clean sponge moistened with water should be used
to wipe the dust off the rubber. Use straight strokes. Store the paddle inside a protective case and use protective film when not in use. Nets should
be kept away from high traffic areas. Keep tables clean and avoid storing
them outdoors where condensation will destroy the flat surface. Avoid
placing items on the table. Keep balls clean and store them inside a case
when not in use.
Buy Table Tennis Cleaners
Buy Table Tennis Accessories
Changing the rubber
Changing the rubber on a paddle can be daunting at first, but with a
little caution it is not hard at all. If replacing rubber on an existing
paddle, first carefully work off the bottom edge of the rubber from the
blade. When enough rubber has been pulled off, grip it tightly and slowly
peel off the rubber, bottom first. If the grip is stubborn, use a bit
of acetone or similar chemical to dissolve the glue. Next, prepare the
surface by picking off any little bit of sponge or rubber, and sanding
the surface down (if it has glue on it) to a smooth finish. Remove the
rubber from its protective packaging, and place it face down on a piece
of clean plastic.
Water based glue is the only type of glue that currently is considered legal.
Rubber cement or Speed Glue, while it will work, has been banned by the
ITTF and is hazardous when inhaled.
Apply a thin coat of glue to the blade face, let dry. Brush glue in a
thin coat over the underside of the rubber sheet. Wait for the glue to
dry. Then apply another coat of glue over it. After applying the second
coat, place the rubber onto the blade, starting with the bottom(the area
with the logo and other information) first, then slowly work your way
up to the top of the paddle. Place this paddle, new rubber side on top,
on the edge of a table or other flat surface so only the racket face touches
the surface and not the handle. Use a cylinder (a long can, clean rolling
pin, etc) to roll any bubbles out from under the rubber. Finally, place
a protective sheet on the rubber with heavy flat objects such as books
After the glue has dried, turn the racket upside down (so the newly applied
rubber faces downwards), and use a new razor to score the rubber around
the blade. Then use the other side of the razor to completely cut through
the rubber through the score (be sure to protect whatever surface your
are working on!). As an alternative, you can use a sharp pair of scissors
to remove the excess rubber, but be sure not to accidentally cut the blade
See also: Racket Assembly Guide
Buy Table Tennis