Don't Believe the HypeFirstly, forget the grand claims of the manufacturers. Unless you are already playing at state or national level, it's unlikely that you need the most expensive table tennis table in the range - and even then I would think twice at paying that much.
First-Timers?If it's your first table for the family, go for the lower end of the market and let your family beat the hell out of the ping-pong table while they are learning how to play. If someone in the family then decides to get serious about their table tennis, you should be ready to replace the worn out table with a nice middle-of-the-range model that will be appreciated and looked after properly.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?Decide whether you are going to leave the table set up permanently or whether you will be frequently packing it up and putting it back. If you are going to be taking it up and down constantly, you will want something that is easy to setup, preferably a fold-up model that can be handled by one person, with rollers to allow you to move it without fuss. The good roller tables all have brakes on the wheels that can be applied to stop the table moving around when in use.
In fact, I would probably go so far as to say that even if you plan to leave your ping-pong table set up all the time, buying a table with rollers is still a good idea - you never know when your plans will change, and the quality of the roller tables made by Stiga, Joola, Butterfly, Donic, DHS, Kettler etc. are top notch.
How Thick Are You?Some players will argue that only table tennis tables with full 25mm (1 inch) thick tops are worth buying. While it is true that these tables do give a nice, even bounce, I have also played a fair bit of table tennis on 19mm (0.75 inches) thick tops and found little difference - certainly not hundreds of dollars worth! In fact, I spent many years at the beginning of my table tennis days playing on a cheap $150 AUS chipboard table in my garage, and that did the job well for someone learning to play. So I would recommend a 19mm thick top, unless you can find a thicker top for not much extra.
Serious tournament players will probably want to go to a 25mm thick top just so that they have a similar table to what they will play on at tournaments. After all, what's a few hundred extra dollars to a serious table tennis player who probably spends that in a couple of months on rubbers and speed glue?
Nice Legs!Make sure that the ping-pong table you buy has good strong legs and supports - it's probably going to take quite a beating over the next few years, and you will need something well-made to stand up to the rough treatment. This is especially important if you have kids that are likely to treat the table a bit rougher than an adult will.
Another nice feature to look for is leg levelers on the bottom of the legs. These can be very handy when the floor you are playing on isn't level - the levelers can be screwed in and out to keep the height of the table at its standard 76cm (approx 30 inches) above the floor.
Who Are You?Does it really matter which brand of ping-pong table you buy? Not really, as far as I am concerned. I personally have a Stiga Elite Roller, which I am very happy with. The main reason I bought this model is because it is the model that was used at my state table tennis center (they are now using the Stiga Expert Roller table), so it made sense for me to have the same type of table. But unless you are in a similar situation, it won't really matter much whether the table is a Stiga, Joola, Tibhar or Butterfly table. Look for the best deal on price, not forgetting the features I have mentioned above.
Are You on the Level?Watch out for table tops that are warped. Put your eye at table height from all sides of the table and look for any bending or warping which can affect the bounce of the ball. A 1 meter or 1 yard long spirit level can be very handy for assessing whether the table surface is not flat.
DragnetNo, not the old TV show - or the newer one either. Look for a net with attachments that have a soft covering where they grip the table - so that you don't scratch the finish unnecessarily. You could probably put some sticky felt on the net clamps if you had to. Also make sure that the clamps that are used by the net don't dig into the surface or the underside of the table. And of course, don't drag the net clamps when taking the net off or putting it on!
Start at the FinishMake sure that the finish on the table is smooth and even, with no patches or rough spots. Look for any rough edges on the top and sides that could cut you if you accidentally grazed a part of your body along it. And bring a ruler with you to test the height of the bounce - remember that according to the Laws of Table Tennis, the ball should bounce about 23cm when a standard ball is dropped on it from a height of 30cm. And no, bouncing 24cm high in some places and 22cm high in others doesn't average out!
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