How does a bowling alley work?

Any bowling alley works through a combination of a wooden or synthetic lane flanked by semicylindrical gutter channels, an automated pinsetter machine and ball sorter, and a return ball gully and stacker.

The glossy, 60-foot lane is normally constructed out of 39 strips of sugar maple wood, which itself is coated with varying layers of oil down its length. This coating is often heavy towards the bowler end, before dissipating down the alley, allowing any spinning ball more purchase in the final quarter of its journey allowing pro- bowlers to hit the pins at varying angles.

At the pin end of the alley, starting at the termination of the lane, lays the pin-deck. This deck is where the pins are set-up and knocked down, and thanks to this constant activity, it is coated with a durable impact-resistant material.

How a bowling alley works diagram
How a ten-pin bowling alley works

Behind the deck lies the first part of the mechanical pinsetter machine. The pit and shaker collects both the fallen ball and pins before shuffling them to its rear and into mechanical lifts that raise them to above the alley.

Once there, the ball is then funnelled onto a metal track which then descends back under the lane to the conveyer belt gully and back to the bowler. The pins on the other hand get dropped from this elevated position into the pinsetter’s turret, where their bottom- heavy weight ensures that they drop base first.

Once filled, the turret then waits for the sweep – a mechanical bar that literally ‘sweeps’ any still-standing pins backwards into the pit – to operate before dispensing a freshly ordered set of pins into the spotting table. This table then lowers the pins gently back onto the pin deck ready for the process to begin again.

In addition, returned balls are automatically slowed and filtered by spinning rubberised pads as they reach the docking station and ball stacker at the bowler end of the lane, as well as scores being automatically logged and recorded by the lane’s in-built computer system and displayed on a screen.

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