The forerunner of the cue was the , an implement similar to a light-weight golf club, with a foot that was generally used to shove rather than strike the cue ball. When the ball was against a , use of the mace was difficult (the foot would not fit under the edge of the cushion to strike the ball squarely), and by 1670 experienced players often used the tail or butt end of the mace instead. The term "cue" comes from queue, the French word for "tail", in reference to this practice, a style of shooting that eventually led to the development of separate, footless cue sticks by about 1800, used initially as adjuncts to the mace, which remained in use until well into the 19th century. In public billiard rooms only skilled players were allowed to use the cue, because the fragile cloth could be torn by novices. The introduction of the cue, and the new game possibilities it engendered, led to the development of cushions with more rebound, initially stuffed with linen or cotton flocking, but eventually replaced by rubber.
The idea of the cue initially was to try to strike the cue-ball as centrally as possible to avoid a . The concept of on the cue ball was discovered before cue-tips had been invented; e.g. striking the bottom of the cue ball to make it go backwards upon contact with an . François Mingaud was studying the game of billiards while being held in Paris as a political prisoner, and experimented with a leather cue tip. In 1807, he was released and demonstrated his invention. Mingaud is also credited with the discovery that by raising the cue vertically, to the position adopted by the mace, he could perform what is now known as a shot.
In pre-tip days, it was common for players to twist the ends of their cue into a plaster wall or ceiling so that a chalk-like deposit would form on the end, reducing the chance of a miscue. The first systematic marketing of chalk was by John Carr, a marker in John Bartley's billiard rooms in Bath. Between Carr and Bartley, it was discovered how "" () could be used to the advantage of players, and Carr began selling chalk in small boxes. He called it "twisting powder", and the magical impression this gave the public enabled him to sell it for a higher price than if they realized it was simply chalk in a small box. "", an American term for sidespin, derives from the British discovery of sidespin's effects, as "massé" comes from the French word for "mace".
Pool and snooker cues average around 57–59 inches (140–150 cm) in length and are of three major types. The simplest type is a one-piece cue; these are generally stocked in pool halls for communal use. They have a uniform taper, meaning they decrease in diameter evenly from the end or butt to the tip. A second type is the two-piece cue, divided in the middle for ease of transport, usually in a cue case or pouch. A third variety is another two-piece cue, but with a joint located three-quarters down the cue (usually 12 or 16 inches away from the butt), known as a "three-quarter two-piece", used by snooker players.
A typical two piece cue for pocket billiards is usually made mostly of hard or rock maple, with a fiberglass or phenolic resin , usually 0.75 to 1 inch (19 to 25 mm) long, and steel and . Pool cues average around 59 inches (150 cm) long, are commonly available in 17–21 ounces (0.48–0.60 kg) weights, with 19 ounces (0.54 kg) being the most common, and usually have a diameter in the range of 12 to 14 mm. A conical , with the gradually shrinking in diameter from joint to ferrule, is favored by some, but the "pro" taper is increasingly popular, straight for most of the length of the shaft from ferrule back, flaring to joint diameter only in the last 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 of the shaft. While there are many custom cuemakers, a very large number of quality pool cues are manufactured in bulk. In recent years, modern materials such as fiberglass, carbon fiber, aluminum, etc., have been used more and more for shafts and butts. A trend toward experimentation has also developed with rubber, memory foam and other soft .