Bowling continues to enjoy immense popularity with over a hundred million people playing the sport around the world. Indeed, this activity has been making people smile for thousands of years. Researchers have discovered that early forms were being played in ancient Egypt, in the Roman Empire, and in the Germanic tribes. The players did not have the benefit of modern equipment and facilities but they were able to make the best of what they had. For example, the Egyptians created balls from grain husks, leather, and string. In some places, people made balls from porcelain or stone.
The development of the contemporary bowling ball can be attributed to the evolution of the sport across the years. In the past, the game was often played outdoors in informal settings. Targets could be on the ground or in an elevated platform. Players used lightweight balls that could be thrown at the targets to knock them out. Since the ball was airborne, they could play on uneven ground without any problems. Eventually, some people thought of creating heavier balls that were meant to be rolled on the ground. This added another dimension to the game but it made playing difficult in wet weather. In the 15th century, roofs were built on top of bowling lanes so players could go at it throughout the year.
This sport was limited to the nobles for quite some time. The lower classes did not have access to bowling lanes except for special occasions like Christmas. However, the peasants were able to enjoy the game using makeshift setups. There really was no stopping the popularity of bowling from spreading. As rules relaxed and more people began to play, the rules became more formal and standardized. The equipment got better in quality as well. Today, the bowling balls are so much more sophisticated than those used in the early days of the sport.
What is Inside a Bowling Ball?
Hard wood was the default material inside balls for the longest time. After all, wood is readily available and easy to wield into any desired shape. Dense types were ideal because of their weight and durability. Makers can one from a single block that has been polished to perfection. However, wood can be quite slippery and thus difficult to control. The early 1900s saw the first rubber balls being used in the bowling lanes. These dominated the sport until the 70s when other materials such as polyester and urethane entered the scene.
Even more fascinating is what’s invisible to the eyes. Many wish to know, “what are bowling balls made of?” But they only consider the outer shell. The inside is actually quite different from the outside. This core is usually heavier than the other layers. While it can also be spherical like the rest of the ball, many variants are asymmetrical as this helps players in making advanced shots with a higher probability of knocking down all the pins. Such designs became prevalent in the 90s. Some cores were elliptical while others resembled lightbulbs. Every company came up with their own unique creations.
How to Make a Bowling Ball
The manufacturing process can be divided into multiple stages. Creation starts from the inner core and goes outward layer by layer. It begins with material being poured into a mold such as liquid resin with heavy minerals. This mixture will be allowed to sit until it hardens such that the solid block can be removed in one piece. Depending on the material and design, additional processing may be necessary. Some blocks are placed inside containers with small moving rocks that help in eliminating seams and other imperfections from the mold. Once cleaned, they are ready to move on to the next part.
The solid weight blocks will then have to be encased in a material shaped like a sphere. Workers will put one block inside each new mold and fill them up with another mixture of resin. What comes out of this process looks more like what you would expect a bowling ball to be. There may be knobs and lines from the molding so these spheres have to be taken to a machine that can remove these unwanted excess materials. The surface will then undergo smoothing in preparation for the next phase.
The third layer will be the final one called the coverstock. This is the hard shell that is visible to the players and comes into contact with the bowling lanes. Its placement means that it will be prone to abuse. Therefore, it must be hard enough to withstand repeated use. However, the hardness of the shell must not compromise its ability to perform. Type of plastics called urethane and reactive resin have been found to be ideal for this purpose. The layer may be one to two inches thick depending on the ball design.
Filling material will then be used to cover the hole where the core pin was. This is usually of a different color than the rest of the coverstock for easy identification. It will later serve a basis for where the finger holes will be drilled. The manufacturer will want to add a logo imprint and add paint to the engraving to make it stand out even more. For the final touches, the ball will be placed on a lathe machine to ensure that it adheres to exact size specifications. It will also go through a sanding belt to achieve the desired texture: matte or glossy finish. Workers will place it in plastic to protect the surface and put it in a box to be ready for shipment.
Brief History of Bowling Ball Models
Different types of bowling balls are available for players. They vary in size, weight, and features. Each major type if often used for a specific kind of bowling. Although they can be used interchangeably, using the correct ball will generally result in better performance. There are standards for each one and a background story on how they came about.
1. Ten-pin Ball
Ten-pin bowling is one of the most popular variants of the sport. The name is derived from the number of pins standing on a triangular pattern at the end of the lane. The ball used is the biggest of all the types available. According to the specifications set by the US Bowling Congress, the diameter should be 8.5 inches or 22 centimeters. The weight should be less than or equal to 16 pounds or about 7.3 kilograms. There are usually three holes: one for the thumb and two other fingers. It is possible to drill more for greater grip and control.
The space occupied by the pins is bigger than the ball so it is not possible to make contact with every single one. Experts suggest the next best thing: hitting from the side to cause a chain reaction that would knock everything down in one go. This is difficult to do especially for beginners who have not yet mastered ball control. Experienced players are able to introduce a hook in their rolls to achieve this feat. The ball design, especially the presence of an asymmetrical core and a reactive resin coverstock, can help players as long as the delivery is correct.
2. Duckpin Ball
Duckpin bowling is said to have originated in Baltimore in the early 1900s. This uses a smaller ball that is only 4.75 inches or 12 cm in diameter. Weight is between 1.5 to 1.7 kilograms. Aside from the obvious differences in physical form from ten-pin balls, another important distinction is the lack of any finger holes. Players are expected to carry this on the palm of their hands with fingers on the surface, then release in one go. It takes great control and precision to make it roll where it needs to be. There are also 10 pins but there are shorter and wider. Bowlers get three balls for each frame instead of just two.
3. Five-pin Ball
This bowling variant is widely played in Canada. It was developed at the turn of the 20th century because the prevailing game of ten-pin bowling proved to be too strenuous for a lot of people. Customer complaints compelled a blowing club owner in Ontario to reduce the pin size to three-quarters of the original. For the balls, he made them to fit the hand for ease of use. The size meant that there is also no need for any finger holes, although these may be added if desired. There are only 5 pins for targets in V formation. Each has a rubber band around the middle for longer travel distance when struck.
4. Candle-pin Ball
This variant was developed in Massachusetts in the late 1800s, years before tenpin bowling were given standard rules. It is still played today in the New England states in the US and the Maritime provinces in Canada. The basics are similar but the minor differences result in a much harder game. Candle pins are thinner and they do not have the curves that make tenpins easier to hit. The balls are also much smaller at just 4.5 inches in diameter. Downed pins are not cleared between rolls. Even if players are given three balls per frame, it is still quite difficult to score points in this setup.
Every type of ball design suits a particular purpose. Small differences can make a massive impact in terms of gameplay and results. Modern innovations have given us better balls but they have also raised questions about the influence of technology on performance. The sport’s governing bodies have stepped in to ensure fairness by establishing limits and monitoring future developments.
Wayne Webb is a three year state champion bowling team member. Wayne first started bowling with his father at age 5, and has been a huge fan of the sport ever since. In his professional career, Wayne currently serves as a full-time teacher at Portland High School. Wayne writes for several online publications including Lane1Bowling.com and Bowling Magazine.