Bowling balls are made of three layers, the most important of which is the outer shell. It can be made of plastic, urethane, reactive resin, or particle coverstock.
A firm favorite amongst classic American hobbies, 10-pin bowling holds a place in many of our hearts. Families and friends have been taking to the lane for two centuries to knock down pins and have a bit of fun together. Bowling balls have changed a lot since the game’s inception, and a good ball makes all the difference to bowlers’ techniques.
United States Bowling Congress specifications dictate everything from the radius of gyration, spacing of finger holes, lane conditions, and mass. The way bowling balls are made by the best manufacturers is highly scientific. The layout of the ball’s design changes everything about the way we play.
Evolution of the Bowling Ball
While it is unclear when exactly the first game of bowling took place, the origins of the sport as we know and love it today date back to around the year 1820. At that time, bowling balls were made of hardwood and played on an outdoor lane. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, more than 60 years after the first-ever bowling alley opened in New York, that the evolution progressed.
The first rubber bowling ball was introduced in 1905 and was considered a game-changing revolution. The game leaped forward during this century, with the rubber balls changing the way people played. However, there was still little thought put into the way rubber bowling balls reacted with the lane surface. Not to mention the smell they made when they were drilled!
That was until the 1970s: the era when the science behind bowling lanes, friction, and performance was brought to attention. The age of the rubber bowling ball ended and made way for the beginnings of what would become the modern design. What are bowling balls made of today? Let’s find out.
The Modern Bowling Ball
Currently, there a four different types of bowling ball cover materials: plastic, urethane, reactive resin, and particle. These materials are used to make the surface layer of the ball, which is referred to as the coverstock. The bowling ball’s surface determines the friction and how well it travels down the lane. It also changes the way it moves. Whether or not you can hook the bowling ball also depends heavily on the style of coverstock.
Polyester / Plastic Ball
A bowling ball found in your local public bowling alley is likely to have a plastic shell. Plastic balls are easy to control and are a favorite amongst beginners getting to grips with how bowling works. The extra-smooth surface means less friction and makes it very difficult to hook, making it great for shooting spares or playing a casual game. Furthermore, the middle finger hole is usually placed somewhere that makes it easy for an untrained hand to grip and is an all-around pleasant ball to bowl with.
The plastic ball (also referred to as polyester) was first introduced in the late 1950s and was the first time anyone considers how the surface hardness affected the way it traveled down the lane. It was the first coverstock introduced in modern bowling and remains popular to this day.
Urethane balls were the first to disturb the undisputed reign of the plastic ball. Not only do they create higher friction and better hook potential, but balls with this coverstock are also more durable and likely to last longer. A urethane ball does not absorb oil in between throws. You should always wipe the cover of a urethane ball between every throw.
Not all lane conditions lend themselves well to using urethane. Competitive bowlers often have one of these balls in their kit but do not use it for the majority of their throws. They are easy enough to control but are not aggressive enough for competition bowling. Without a high-rev throwing style, you are unlikely to find consistent success on every type of lane using urethane balls.
Reactive Resin Ball
Reactive resin coverstocks are not for the casual, occasional bowler. The addition of reactive resin into a bowling ball’s cover gives it a better grip on the lane and lows the ball to absorb oil. This material also skids nicely along with the oil on the bowling lane to reach higher speeds a achieve a great hook.
Microscopic holes in the coverstock also add to the versatility and ability of resin bowling balls. Professional bowlers always keep one or two free in their kit and use them regularly in 10-pin competitions.
Particle Coverstock Ball
At the top of the food chain, you find particle coverstock bowling balls. The ball’s unique surface roughness makes it perfect for oiled lanes, trick shots, and hook throws. Particle bowling balls are staple items in a competitive bowler’s bag.
What’s Inside a Bowling Ball?
Beneath the coverstock, the layout consists of two cores: inner and outer. The layers are very different, and each contributes to the physics behind how bowling balls work.
An inner bowling ball core is also known as the weight block. Weight blocks are what make the ball heavy and come in more than one shape. The two classifications are asymmetric and symmetrical cores. Both are usually made of iron oxide or another powdered metal mixed with some type of hardener. The performance style of each core, however, is quite different.
- Balls with a symmetrical shaped core usually roll slower and smoother. They tend to break later and are preferred by players with a lot of rev in their throw. Bowling balls with a symmetrical core also have more hook potential.
- An asymmetric core is a common choice for premium bowling balls. Most pro shop and high-performance bowling ball manufacturers use this style of weight block in their top-end lines. A bowler with a more aggressive throw should opt for an asymmetric core as it reacts faster to friction, breaks earlier, and makes for exciting 10 pin bowling.
The outer core (sometimes knows as filler cores) is what gives the bowling ball mass and balance. It is used to bring the ball to the desired final weight and is made from lightweight but firm material such as polyester.
What bowling ball material is best for beginners?
The most common entry-level balls are polyester / plastic balls. Plastic coverstocks are durable and easy to control, but they don’t have much hook potential. Urethane coverstocks are the best choice for beginners trying to learn how to boost their hook ability and develop their game.
Reactive resin balls are not great for beginners as they are harder to control. They are meant for experienced bowlers who like hook and a bit of flare.
Why are bowling balls so heavy?
Bowling balls have to be heavy to travel far enough and fast enough to knock down their target. The ball’s weight allows the player to control where it goes rather than flying off in another direction. The center of a bowling ball is made from heavy metal- often barium or graphite, which is what gives them so much weight. Usually, a bowling ball used in competitive games weighs between 13 and 16 pounds depending on the player. It is essential not to use a bowling ball that is too heavy for you to lift comfortably, as you could end up hurting yourself.
How are bowling pins made?
Traditional pins used in 10 pin bowling are usually made from maple wood, although some newer styles have been introduced. The pin is then sanded down into the iconic shape, either by hand or in an automatic machine. It is then coated in nylon, surlyn, or lacquer for protection before being painted and the design added.
What difference does friction make in bowling?
The less friction a bowling ball has, the faster it travels. Balls with more friction tend to spin more, allowing bowlers to free-style a little with their throwing styles. When you add oil to the lane, it adds a small coefficient of friction. It lets the bowling balls glide effectively and smoothly. The best players use physics to their advantage when bowling to make sure the ball goes right where they want it to every time.
The Bottom Line on Bowling Balls
10-pin bowling has come a long way in the last 200 years. Just look at the journey from the days of wooden balls with roughly drilled finger holes and lanes with next to no specifications to the physics-based ball and alley designs of today. Bowling is now one of America’s favorite pastimes. With more than 11,000 bowling alleys in the country and hundreds of thousands more bowling balls produced each year, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
The United States Bowling Congress boasts almost one and a half million members, all of whom want the very best bowling ball to lead them to victory. Each of the different types of balls can free up new tactics and possibilities for ten-pin bowlers. Picking the right bowling ball can change the way bowlers play. The only question is, how many strikes can you get once you find the perfect one?