The Bowling Ball

General Interest to 10 pin Bowlers. If you have any comments or suggestions, please drop me a note.

  1. What is a Bowling Ball?

Understanding the Bowling Ball

When you walk into a ten pin bowling center for the first time, you are faced with a bewildering array of bowling balls. This, in addition to all the other intimidating facets of bowling, like renting shoes! can often make people walk out of the door.

In the better run centers, the staff will help guide you through the initial ball selection process as to weight selection for men, women and children and pointing out the correct fingers to use. But to many people the bowling ball still remains something of a mystery. What is it made of? Why doesn’t it go out of balance with those big holes in it? How come the balls are all the same size yet differ in weight?

Modern bowling balls are manufactured with a polyester or urethane shell around a composite core. It is this core which determines the gross weight of the ball, using materials like barium in a dense form, for the heavier balls.

Up until a few years ago, the market was dominated by balls made from hard rubber, but the change in coatings of bowling lanes, moving away from hazardous materials, brought a surface that is better suited to the modern ball. The house balls you find at your local alley are most likely the polyester variety. They are made in a never-ending range of colors and vary in weight from six to sixteen pounds. There are still many rubber house balls in the older centers.

To compensate for the weight removed from the ball when the two finger and the thumb holes are drilled, the core has a weight block, or blocks, on the top. This extra weight differs across the range of balls to compensate for the combinations of sizes to suit as many hands as possible. When drilled, the ball then comes back into balance within the legal specifications decreed by the Tenpin Bowling Association. Those specifications have seen little changes over many decades, dating back to when it was almost impossible to get a bowling ball within balance. Permitted imbalance for a bowling ball over ten pounds in weight is three ounces at the top or the bottom, one ounce variation between the sides, and one ounce between the fingers and thumb sides.

Balls of eight to ten pounds have a two ounce top or bottom weight restriction and 3/4 ounce side. Less then eight pounds, the top/bottom imbalance drops to 3/4 ounce, the side remains at 3/4 ounce. So it is fairly obvious that the ball driller has to be aware of the top weight in the ball prior to drilling and assess the amount of weight being taken out of the ball, according to the finger and thumb sizes and the depth of the holes. When you eventually get around to purchasing your own equipment, and you will find that full enjoyment of ten pin starts from that time, you will see your pro shop operator compute the weights and choose the right ball for you. For the advanced bowler, many pro shops actually use a computer to assess exactly where the holes should be drilled and what the gross top weight of the ball should be.

Other specifications that may be of interest include a ban on any metallic substance in the ball manufacture; that nothing may be placed on the ball surface; and that the hardness of the shell shall be at least the rating of 72 on a durometer ‘D’. Depending upon the way you release the ball when you bowl, the bowling ball will track a certain way. As a newcomer, you will most probably roll a fairly straight ball, your thumb pointing to the front and the fingers staying behind the ball will cause the ball to roll on its circumference, giving you a ‘full-roller’

If, you then get a lesson from a qualified instructor, you will start to release the ball with your fingers around the ‘four o’clock’ position (eight o’clock for a left-hander). This serves a dual purpose, giving the ball more revolutions and ‘hook’, enabling the ball to drive through the pins and not be subject to much deflection as a straighter ball. Keeping the fingers around the ‘four o’clock’ position will cause the track (line of wear) to swing slightly away from the finger and thumb holes to give a ‘three quarter roller’. More rotation of fingers on release will cause even revolutions, better drive and a ‘semi-roller’ track.

Try using a small piece of adhesive tape or white tape placed at the top of finger holes. Watch the reaction as the ball rolls down the lane and count the revolutions, you need at least ten! Around twelve is ideal, but the number can be even higher. It is the ‘lift’ with the finger that gives you the hard-hitting ball, accurately delivered and rolling when it hits the pins to drive through pin deck. But please remember, you are not allowed to use the tape on the ball during league or competition play.

Once you have got this down pat, you will really enjoy regular bowling sessions, whether it is serious league and competition bowling or with your friends and family.

The Intricacies of Tenpin Bowling

Bowling; When the pros do it, they make it look easy. But no one will say you’re telling lies if you contend that getting the ball to hit the pins correctly is actually quite difficult. Now granted, not many people stay awake at night trying to figure out the complex physics involved with a good hook shot. In fact, most people wouldn’t even give it a second thought. Indeed, the grace and precision of bowling eludes most people these days simply because there isn’t a Nintendo joystick hooked up to it.

As it turns out, there is a lot more to bowling than simply throwing a ball down a stretch of wood to knock over some pins. Bowling is a precision sport, and to fully appreciate it, one must fully understand the bowling environment.
With this in mind, I will describe two very important aspects of bowling that many people overlook. The hardness and composition of the bowling ball, and the oiling of the lanes.

All bowling balls are NOT created equal. Aside from the obvious weight differences, each ball must be custom fitted to your hand in order to provide maximum control and comfort. In addition, the finish of the ball is very important. A very hard ball will not grip the lane as well as a soft ball. This is very important in controlling how much one’s ball curves as it makes its way toward the pins. Finally, the core of the bowling ball is not necessarily uniform. Some balls are heavier on one side, further promoting spin and curve. Good bowlers recognize how to use the properties of their balls to develop their particular throw. If you rely on a sharp curve to swipe the pins from the side and increase pin action, a softer ball is for you. The ball grips the lane, and, if thrown with a spin, will curve much more easily than a hard luster ball. If a straight shot thrown down the middle is more your style, a hard ball is more in order. It allows for less finesse, but more power.

Of course, what really determines the type of ball to use is the condition of the particular lane which one uses. Lanes are oiled about two-thirds of the way down. This means that the path of the ball is relatively unaffected by its spin until it reaches the lesser oiled third of the lane. Then, depending on it’s hardness, the spin of the ball imparts a curve upon it. This is why some bowlers throw the ball far from the center, and then it suddenly appears to veer into the pocket, as if by magic. The degree of oiling varies from lane to lane, so many professional bowlers have two or more balls of varying hardness.

If a lane is heavily oiled, a softer ball must be used in order for that all-important curve to take effect. If the lane is lightly oiled, a harder ball must be used to prevent the ball from over-curving.

So as you can see, the simple looking sport of bowling requires a bit more thought than you may have realized. To bowl well requires practice, ambition, and discipline. Most significantly, however, it requires a knowledge of the playing conditions, a familiarity with ball-lane interactions, and, above all, a healthy respect for, if not complete understanding of, bowling.

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