If you’re a newbie to bowling, you don’t really consider the bowling ball as made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Especially not after your umpteenth gutter ball. In fact, you may regard the ball as something nasty. It’s easy enough to blame the bowling ball for your sub-par performance when it’s actually your flawed technique and inconsistent moves that are to blame.
At some point, you were probably made aware of how the outer surface of the bowling ball can actually affect ball movement and your bowling performance. But it also matters what’s inside the bowling ball.
So exactly what are bowling balls made of, anyway? Well, that depends on many factors, including the time frame.
Original Bowling Balls
There are plenty of games similar to bowling, though they tend to use different types of balls and played according to different rules. As the world entered the 1900s, bowling fans started to standardize the rules, including setting a standard size for the balls. The balls were set bigger than what they were before.
The first official balls were actually made of wood, or lignum vitae, to be more specific. This particular wood is widely considered as the hardest and heaviest wood in the world even now. It’s also resistant to rot, and it even looks nice.
But then the officials quickly switched to rubber, as the rubber material became more popular for a wide variety of uses such as for automobile tires. Even now rubber is used for many types of game balls, as it doesn’t weigh much and it bounces too. In the 1950s, polyester was used for bowling balls, with very similar properties.
The decade of the 80s was revolutionary for bowling because of the switch from polyester to polyurethane. Sure, lots of bowling balls today are still made with polyester, especially the ones designed for newbies. But today, more bowling balls (especially the ones for more experienced players, are made with polyurethane.
Coverstocks made from polyurethane became popular due to how it created more friction as the ball moves across the surface of a bowling lane. That greater friction enabled players to hook the ball more effectively, resulting in a greater chance of getting a strike.
In the 1990s, reactive resin and particle coverstock options came out. The particle coverstock features microscopic particles on the ball surface to boost the friction. Reactive resin is just a more advanced type polyurethane, but it has a higher porosity level that also made it grip the surface of the lane with more friction.
The weight block is just another term for the core, or the material you find on the inside of a bowling ball. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t actually have a very heavy piece of metal on the inside of the coverstock.
Instead, the manufacturers create resin by mixing dense materials such as graphite and bismuth. After firing this in a kiln (a special type of over or furnace), you end up with a heavy ceramic or plastic.
What makes the core special is that it can be shaped in a particular way that will affect how the ball moves. There are several designs that are very popular today.
In a 3-piece design, you have the coverstock as your first piece, and then the core which is made of 2 parts. One part is the pancake weight block at one end. Imagine if the core is the planet Earth, the pancake would be the Arctic Ocean at the very top.
The other part of the core will be lightweight filler material, so that you have one end of the ball weighing a few ounces more. This is one type of symmetrical core, since you’re able to draw a line through the bowling ball to denote the center of the symmetry. In fact, this line is actually indicated so that the driller can drill the holes in the right places on the ball.
Another type of symmetrical core design is the lightbulb core. This is a core shaped like a lightbulb which, of course, also gives you a certain imbalance. The bowling ball has the rest of the inside of the inner space filled with filler material.
Finally, there’s the asymmetrical core. This gives you more weight in one spot than another. If you’re having some difficulty in setting lots of revolutions for your shots, then you may want to look for this core design.
How Do Manufacturers Pick a Core Shape?
Some core shapes are actually quite simple. Other shapes, on the other hand, can be very complicated. Manufacturers tend to take various factors into account when choosing a core shape for their bowling ball.
First, they consider the mass properties of the core while the ball is still undrilled. Obviously, the shape of the core will affect its performance and movement. Rounder shapes will have a different performance compared to cores with long cylindrical shape.
However, the mass properties of the core may change once you drill the holes into the bowling ball. In some cases, the core shape is designed for minimal change even when holes are drilled on the ball.
But in other cases, the mass properties of the core can change drastically, depending on the layout of the holes. Some players may want to have a particular hole layout to give them the mass properties they want with their bowling ball.
Another factor that a manufacturer must keep in mind is the matter of production efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Manufacturing bowling balls is still a business, and the business people behind the various bowling brands are always concerned about production costs.
That means they may opt for a core shape that’s easier to do repeatedly or more quickly. Some core shapes may just be cheaper to make than others.
Finally, manufacturers may simply want a more “striking” shape to impress potential customers. From a marketing perspective, you can’t discount the effect of a core shape that looks stunning and appealing. Plenty of bowling experts contend that many core shapes available today actually offer little difference in performance compared to others, but they’re chosen due to their “cool” shape.
How are Bowling Balls Made?
The basic bowling ball construction process starts with the core. To make a bowling ball, the manufacturer creates the resin material and then gives it the shape they want. The core can come in a pancake design, a lightbulb, or in an asymmetrical shape.
After that, they put the core inside a mold of the coverstock. The makers generally pin the core to its proper position, while they pour the coverstock material into the mold. They’re able to pour this bowling ball material because it’s made of plastic. Whether they use polyester, polyurethane, or reactive resin, these are all basically plastic materials.
Once they’ve put in the coverstock, they then take out the pin used to hold the core in its place. This pin is then replaced with a plastic dowel (a type of cylindrical rod). This dowel functions as the reference point for the driller to make the proper holes in the bowling ball.
The whole process is almost done, except for cutting the bowling ball to spec. The makers generally use a lathe to shave the excess coverstock to get the ball to the proper specifications. They may also use a centerless grinder for this job. The goal of this particular step is to meet the size requirements.
Finally, the makers sand down the outer surface, so that they end up with either polish or a matte finish. They can then decorate the outer surface, and then the ball is ready for the player to use.
Knowing the bowling ball composition is undoubtedly important when it comes to gauging the potential performance of your bowling ball. It’s good if you already have a fair idea of how your bowling ball will move under certain lane conditions. You certainly don’t want to find out such things after you’ve already bought yourself an expensive piece of equipment.
Still, that’s just one factor that you need to keep in mind when concerning your overall game. You still have to consider the coverstock, the hole layout, and even the conditions of the bowling lane.
In the end, you will still need to practice constantly. If you’re not doing well as a beginner, it’s most likely that your bowling ball is to blame. Instead, you may not be timing your steps and your arm movements well. Perhaps you’re not releasing the ball as you ought to. You may not be practicing your hook enough, so that your ball turns randomly across the bowling lane.
So practice, and then practice some more. The good news is that practicing isn’t really a chore. You just keep playing—and bowling is fun to play!