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What Are Bowling Balls Made Of?

What Are Bowling Balls Made Of?

Over the years of bowling, we've chuckled at the various guesses people throw out about what bowling balls are made of. From playful suggestions like marble, concrete, and glass to the more outlandish notion of metal, the speculation never fails to entertain. But amidst the laughter, some of these guesses actually hit closer to the mark than we might expect.

If you've ever wondered about what are bowling balls made of, you've landed in the perfect spot. In this BowlingLife article, we roll up our sleeves and dive deep into the heart of a bowling ball, peeling back the layers to reveal the materials that make up this beloved piece of equipment.

High-performance bowling balls are very different from the ones we are used to at bowling centers. House balls are designed to last for a long time, while high-performance balls have to have the best possible reaction on the lane. It's impossible to have both, so either the longevity or response of the bowling ball suffers.

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What are bowling balls made of?

Before we delve deeper into what are bowling balls made out of, it's important to understand the distinction between those found in your average bowling alley and those favored by professional bowlers. House bowling balls are built for longevity, enduring countless games with ease. However, the best bowling balls have to have the best possible performance on the lanes. Yet, this doesn't mean pro players steer clear of bowling balls, similar to those standard alley balls altogether. In professional bowling, each type of ball serves a specific purpose.

While there's an abundance of bowling balls available, they can generally be grouped into three main categories based on their surface material: plastic, urethane, and reactive resin. As mentioned earlier, each material brings its own unique benefits, allowing players to swiftly adapt to shifting lane conditions. Let's take a closer look at each of these surface types.

Plastic Bowling Balls

Plastic bowling balls are the straightforward, wallet-friendly choice you'll spot in almost any bowling alley. Just as the name suggests, these balls are crafted with a plastic surface materials. The main feature of a plastic bowling ball is a hard, low-porous surface with minimal adhesion to the track, so plastic bowling ball is almost non-rotating. Bowling alleys use plastic balls as they are cheap and last a long time. While they may lack the bells and whistles of more advanced balls, they come in a variety of colors,  adding a touch of flair to the beginners and casual bowling players. While plastic bowling balls may not be the go-to choice for professional players seeking optimal performance, they remain a valuable tool in their arsenal for mastering tricky spare shots.

Urethane Bowling Balls

Back in the 1980s, while Michael Jackson was dominating the pop scene, bowling alleys had their own star - the urethane bowling ball. The introduction of urethane surfaces was a game-changer in the world of bowling. These balls offered superior grip on the lane, more hook potential, and a sharper angle of entry into the pins compared to their plastic counterparts. Players saw a significant improvement in their performance as a result. What's more, thanks to their durable construction, urethane balls could withstand years of play without losing their effectiveness.

When reactive resin balls hit the market, urethane balls took a bit of a backseat, often finding their way into the hands of less experienced bowlers. But as trends tend to do, things have come full circle.

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After gathering dust in basements for nearly three decades, urethane-surfaced bowling balls have made a comeback in professional bowling. Their early response on the lane, predictable trajectory, and lasting durability have reignited interest among bowlers at all levels.

Nowadays, every manufacturer has their own line of urethane balls, each offering its own unique spin on this classic material. Players can't help but imagine adding this reliable companion to their arsenal.

Reactive Resin Bowling Balls

With the innovation of reactive bowling balls, the landscape of the sport of bowling underwent a big transformation. Reactive resin bowling balls offered superior friction and a more pronounced angular reaction on the lane compared to their urethane counterparts. That is why reactive resin bowling balls are best for hook.

However, this innovation came at a cost - quite literally. Reactive balls are the priciest in the market, with prices ranging from 100$ to a hefty 300$. Virtually all new releases from manufacturers feature a reactive surface, with the exception of urethane balls. While each reactive ball boasts its own unique characteristics, manufacturers generally categorize them into three main groups:

  • Reactive solid - These balls feature a porous surface that provides consistent and predictable hook potential on the lane. The porous nature of the surface causes an early reaction on the lane, utilizing some of the ball's potential energy in the oil, resulting in a gentler angle and less power upon impact with the pins.

  • Reactive pearl - Is the same reactive surface bowling ball, only with the addition of mica. The mica allows the ball to conserve its potential energy until it reaches the dry zone at the end of the lane, creating a sharp and aggressive reaction.

  • Reactive hybrid - Combining characteristics of both solid and pearl surfaces, hybrid balls often feature two distinct colors - one solid and one pearl. This combination results in a versatile ball favored by professional bowlers for its adaptability on varying lane conditions.

Modern ball manufacturers, unlike before, literally 'bake' balls, introducing a different, somehow superior ball every month. But unfortunately, long gone are the days when you bought a bowling ball and knew you would be using it successfully for at least ten years. Although they are technologically superior to the old ones, the new balls last much less. A more intensively used bowling ball stops performing after about half a year of usage. Changing your entire six-ball arsenal every six months can be expensive. So it is essential to know what to buy and how the new ball will supplement the already existing ball arsenal.

What Is Inside a Bowling Ball?

The surface material of a bowling ball is just one piece of the puzzle. The other crucial component lies hidden within, like a surprise waiting to be unveiled. If you've ever imagined slicing a bowling ball in half like one of those chocolate eggs, you'd discover the secret inside: the core.

The core is crafted from denser materials like iron or calcium oxides (this might give credence to those who've speculated that bowling balls are made of metal), making it the heaviest part of the bowling ball. It plays a pivotal role in determining the ball's rotation as it travels down the lane. Much like the engine in a car, the core is the powerhouse that drives the ball's performance, dictating its change of trajectory and behavior on the lanes.

Types of Bowling Ball Core

When it comes to their shape, bowling ball cores can be categorized as either symmetrical or asymmetrical.

Symmetrical bowling ball cores are evenly balanced and can be divided into equal parts either from top to bottom or from side to side. Think of a sphere - if you cut it in half, you'd have two identical halves. The same thing with a symmetrical core (that is why it is called symmetric). Symmetric bowling balls have two principal moments of inertia (X and Y axes).

In contrast, asymmetrical core, on the other hand, is a bit different. An asymmetrical core can't be split into two identical pieces, as one will have an additional part sticking out on one side or the other. That additional part causes a weight imbalance forcing the ball to change direction as the ball tries to return to its stable balance point. Asymmetric bowling balls have not two but three principal moments of inertia (X, Y, and Z axes).

How Bowling Balls are Made?

There are numerous variations and manufacturing methods employed by different bowling ball manufacturers, each tailored to achieve specific outcomes. However, despite these differences, there are some commonalities in the manufacturing process.

During the manufacturing process, a series of molds are used into which the appropriate materials are poured and allowed to set. As we know, a bowling ball consists of two main layers: the interior or core and the exterior or coverstock.

Bowling ball manufacturing process start from the core. A dense mix is poured into a mold to form the core, which is then left to harden. A small hole is drilled into the core, and a long pin is inserted, serving as both an indicator of the core's position and a stabilizing mechanism.

After the core is hardened, it is placed inside another mold known to form a coverstock, and a mix of polyester, urethane, or reactive resin is then poured into the mold and baked to harden again. This shapes the final exterior of the bowling ball, often bearing the manufacturer's logo.

Once set, the ball is released from the mold, and the long pin is removed. Finishing touches are then applied to ensure the ball's size and shape are precise. Lastly, the ball is sanded or polished to achieve the desired lane reaction.

After undergoing these processes, the bowling ball is packed and sent off to distributors, ready to find its way into the hands of eager bowlers.

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1. What are bowling balls made of?

Bowling balls can be made from various materials, but the main types include plastic, urethane, and reactive resin. Each material offers unique benefits, allowing players to adapt to different lane conditions.

2. What's the difference between plastic, urethane, and reactive resin bowling balls?

Plastic balls are durable and cheap, making them common in bowling alleys. Urethane balls offer superior grip and hook potential, while reactive resin balls provide the most friction and angular reaction on the lane.

3. What is inside a bowling ball?

Inside a bowling ball, you'll find the core, typically made of dense materials like iron or calcium oxides. The core plays a crucial role in determining the ball's rotation and shape on the lane.

4. What types of cores do bowling balls have?

Bowling ball cores can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical cores are evenly balanced and can be divided into equal parts, while asymmetrical cores have an uneven weight distribution, affecting the ball's reaction on the lane.

5. How are bowling balls manufactured?

Bowling balls are manufactured using molds to shape the core and coverstock. A dense mix is poured into the core mold, left to harden, and then inserted into a coverstock mold where the exterior material is poured and baked. After finishing touches, such as sanding or polishing, the ball is packed and sent to distributors.

6. How long do bowling balls last?

The lifespan of a bowling ball depends on factors such as usage and maintenance. While older balls could last for years, modern balls may lose effectiveness after about six months of intensive use. Regular maintenance and rotation of bowling balls in your arsenal can help prolong their lifespan.

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