When bowling became mainstream, practically everyone wanted to play the sport.
Those who took it seriously had the best shoes and bowling balls offered at those times.
Bowling alleys were respectable establishments that took great pride in their lanes, pins, and business.
As bowling became less popular, alleys had to cut their costs, too, which meant its lanes weren’t as glamorous as they used to be.
Here’s what you need to know about bowling lanes and what they’re made of.
What Are Bowling Lanes Made Of?
Bowling lanes use three main types of materials that include Pine Wood, Maple Wood, and Synthetic.
Some lanes will use all of these materials while others may only use two or stick to one.
Traditionalists prefer to play on pine and maple wood bowling lanes.
However, most modern-day bowling alleys use synthetic floors to save on costs.
Both the condition of the floor and the oil pattern can affect a bowler’s performance.
Here’s a little more about each type of material.
1. Pine Wood
Pine is a type of softwood that’s relatively inexpensive.
That’s because pine wood is plentiful.
Since it’s inexpensive, it makes up the majority of the bowling lane.
In particular, it makes up the middle part of the lane which is between the deck and the area where the ball hits the floor.
One of the reasons that bowling alleys use pine wood is that it doesn’t shrink.
This is important for bowling alleys in humid areas or in areas that experience seasons.
As the temperatures and humidity change outside, there’s going to be some impact inside of the building, too.
Not all bowling alleys have air conditioning either.
As a result, the inside of them is subject to the temperatures outside.
As temperatures change, wood also shrinks or expands in response.
That can result in cracking or damage, especially as people toss bowling balls on the wood.
Pine doesn’t have that problem.
It keeps its shape which means there’s less of a chance that a bowling ball will seriously damage it.
That means fewer repairs for the alley and more savings.
Another reason that bowling alleys use pine wood is that it’s relatively strong.
Although it’s not as strong as hardwood, pine can still take the brunt of abuse given to it by bowling balls.
Since it’s relatively inexpensive, it’s also a lot easier to replace.
The majority of pine wood makes up the middle part of the lane where the ball is less likely to strike.
It takes considerable skill to roll a ball right down the middle of the lane, so this is where the pine wood is the most.
Pine wood is an important part of a bowling lane’s composition.
2. Maple Wood
The other type of wood that’s often used with pine wood on bowling lanes is maple wood.
For bowling alleys that host primarily tournaments or have a reliable budget, they might use maple wood entirely on their floors.
In most cases, bowling alleys use a mix of pine wood and maple wood.
That’s because maple wood is more expensive than pine wood.
It’s harder and more durable.
In particular, maple wood is more resistant to shock than pine wood.
That makes it ideal for bowling lanes since it will maintain its shape and color for a long time even if hundreds of bowling balls strike it.
Its durability means that bowling alleys have to replace them less.
This helps them save money.
Those who use maple wood on their lanes use the tongue and groove design.
They either glue or nail the design together which creates strong durability for the floor.
Another reason that bowling lanes use maple wood is because of its ability to undergo multiple sandings.
Wood doesn’t regenerate over time.
Whenever it’s sanded, it loses some of itself until it’s so thin that it’s unusable.
The good thing about maple wood is that because it has a decent density to it, it can be sanded several times before it needs to be replaced.
This also helps the bowling alley save on costs while ensuring its bowlers can get the best possible performance out of their lanes.
If a floor isn’t sanded, then a bowler’s performance can suffer.
That’s because the ball might catch on a dent or groove that sends it in a different direction or even impacts its momentum.
Bowling alleys use maple wood on the parts of the floor that see the most abuse.
That usually means the sides and just off-center of the lane.
Maple is an ideal type of wood because of its durability and longevity.
The final type of flooring often used in bowling lanes is synthetic flooring.
Since wood can be expensive to maintain and replace, many bowling alleys have started to use synthetic flooring instead.
Synthetic flooring looks like wood, but it’s made entirely within a factory and lab.
This type of flooring is harder than standard wooden lanes.
As bowling technology has progressed over the years, synthetic lanes have, too.
They’re able to mimic the same conditions that a bowler might experience on traditional wooden floors.
In some cases, they may even surpass them.
That’s because synthetic flooring wears down a lot slower than wooden floors.
This means the bowling alley doesn’t have to spend as much money to maintain its floors every year.
Most synthetic flooring types also make it so alleys don’t need to use as much oil on their floors.
That also saves them money every year.
One of the advantages of most synthetic floors is that they use an easy-slide texture.
Besides reducing the amount of oil used on it, it also means that the bowler has an easier time putting more momentum on their bowling ball.
With more momentum, they’re able to put more power behind it and potentially end up with a strike.
Because synthetic lanes last longer, they also always look like new.
A lane’s appearance is an important factor for any bowling alley.
Some alleys will use synthetic floors in certain parts of their lanes.
Others will take out the wood and use synthetic flooring for the entire lane.
Both end up saving money on maintenance costs.
Why Do Bowling Lanes Have Different Colored Wood?
When you go bowling for the first time, you may notice that your lane has an interesting pattern of colors.
You might see dark wood mingling with light wood.
It might be an alternating pattern or something else.
The reason that you see dark wood and light wood in a lane is that you’re seeing two different types of wood.
Since pine and maple are the primary choices of wood when it comes to bowling lanes, you’re likely to see them both in your lane.
If the bowling alley still uses wood for its lanes, then it’s probably pine and maple.
Pine is a light-colored wood while maple is a bit darker.
You can tell which wooden slabs are pine because of their lighter color.
The same goes for maple.
The alley uses both because pine is inexpensive but not that durable while
maple is durable but not that affordable.
As such, the bowling alley uses them both together to get the most savings.
The pine helps fill the floor and save on costs while the maple protects the rest of the floor by taking up the spaces where bowling balls hit the most often.
It’s also possible that you’re seeing synthetic flooring designed to look like maple and pine wood.
If you’re unsure whether the lane is real wood or synthetic, then you can always ask the alley.
What Is The Bowling Alley Coated With?
When you go to a bowling alley and start bowling, one of the first things you’ll notice is that your hand is becoming oily.
Whenever you handle your bowling ball, which is also oily, your hand becomes more and more oily.
That’s because the lane has a coating of oil on it.
You may wonder why bowling lanes need oil on them.
The reason is twofold.
On the one hand, it helps protect the wood.
The oil acts like a barrier that softens the blow as the bowling ball strikes the wood.
Since it helps protect the wood, it means that the bowling alley will have to spend less money on repairs and replacements.
The other main reason is appearance.
Ever since its heyday, bowling alleys conjure the image of shining alleys and bright-white bowling pins.
The shiny appearance of those lanes comes from the oil.
Without the shine, a lane looks dull and flat.
While the bowling alley has its reasons for using oil on its lanes, it also plays an important part in how bowlers play their game.
Alleys don’t just dump oil on the lane and spread it around.
They use patterns.
In fact, the pattern that an alley uses is so important that the Professional Bowlers Association even has different classifications for each pattern.
It lists which pattern is going to be on the lane during its tournaments.
The reason they do this is that the type of oil pattern that a lane has can affect a bowler’s performance.
If you see a shiny lane before you, then it’s worth asking the alley which pattern they use to help you determine the best way to bowl.
How Do Oil Patterns Affect Bowling Performance?
Oil doesn’t only protect the wood, it also helps a bowler’s performance.
Without oil, a bowling ball wouldn’t be able to move as well as on the lane.
The friction would become too much and end up stopping its momentum.
There’s a good chance that many balls wouldn’t even end up reaching the pins.
Although oil can help a bowler, it can also hinder them.
That’s why knowing what oil pattern the lane uses is so important.
An oil pattern refers to the type of pattern that a lane machine puts down on the lane.
In most cases, the machine puts most of the oil down at the center of the lane.
Not all lane machines spread the oil that far down the lane either.
Instead, alleys will rely on the bowling balls to spread the oil for them.
They’re more concerned with oiling down the area where the ball meets the floor.
Then the ball collects the oil on its surface and spreads it further down the lane.
Since the center of the lane has the most oil, it means it’s harder to “hook” your bowling ball there.
Hooking essentially describes the ball’s ability to stick to the floor and go in the intended direction.
If the ball has too much hook, then it won’t move as far and will remain rigid in its place.
If the ball doesn’t have enough hook, then it will slide all over the place and is essentially uncontrollable.
Knowing the pattern can help you determine where the oil is at its lightest.
It’s this area and its relation to the pocket that enables professional bowlers to get just the right amount of hook to send the ball where they need to and at the momentum they need.
That said, there are different patterns that each alley uses.
The house pattern is basically the alley’s standard pattern.
During a tournament, however, they’ll use different patterns to add some complexity to the challenge.
Professional bowlers will practice with several different types of oil patterns to ensure they know how and where to toss the ball to get the most out of the pattern.
Those who don’t practice with different patterns usually end up in second place.
How Does Wood Affect Bowling Performance?
While oil certainly plays an important part in a bowler’s performance, the state of the floor can also affect it.
Here are a few ways that wood can affect bowling performance.
1. Dents And Grooves
One of the biggest ways that performance can become poor is through several dents and grooves in the wood.
If the bowling alley doesn’t have the funds to replace or repair its wood, then you may find yourself bowling on wood with dents and grooves.
This is a problem because the dents can send your ball in a completely different direction.
The ball will roll into the dent and if there’s a hard edge, then the ball might catch on it and go in a different direction.
Some grooves can also run deep.
If they are deep, then there’s a chance that they can fill with oil.
If it fills with oil, then it might make the bowling ball spin and lose its direction.
It becomes less hooked which means it’s harder to control.
A groove filled with oil can turn your ball from heading to the pocket to the gutter instead.
Another important feature of the wood is how hard it is.
Bowling balls are more likely to bounce on harder wood.
While this isn’t a problem for a professional who likes to bounce their balls, in most cases, it isn’t ideal.
Bouncing balls lose their momentum because they’re bouncing instead of rolling.
It also means they don’t collect oil on their surface as evenly as a rolling ball.
This can impact how much hook it gets which impacts how well it travels down the lane.
Bouncing also means that it’s harder to control the direction of the ball.
Any kind of imperfection on the wood might cause the ball to bounce back or to the side rather than down the lane.
That’s why bowling on fresh maple wood can sometimes be difficult.
3. Cracked Wood
A final way that wood can affect bowling is if it’s cracked or not.
Cracked wood is a problem because it can hook the ball.
The ball ends up slipping into a type of groove that directs it a certain way.
It can also impede its momentum since the ball will have to overcome the edge of the cracked wood.
If it doesn’t have enough power behind to start with, then the lack of momentum could alter the ball’s direction so much that it ends up going to the gutter or even away from the pins.
Cracked wood is also problematic because any oil that passes over it is going to go beneath the wood rather than spread across its surface.
A bowling ball won’t be able to collect that oil and become hooked.
It can also create an imperfection in the oil pattern.
Bowlers might roll their ball a certain way, counting on the oil pattern to assist them, but the crack might ruin the pattern and thus affect their performance.
Cracked wood can be a serious problem for bowlers.