Are Bowling Balls Magnetic? (Let’s Find Out)

Bowling is a popular game. Over 70 million Americans roll their balls down the lane at least once per year. But what has always intrigued everyone is how the ball behaves after the roll. The way pro bowlers can curve the ball when spinning it is pretty impressive. Some people may wonder if bowling balls are in some way magnetic?

Bowling balls are not designed to be magnetic. But some brands come with a weighted block in the middle made from zirconium, iron oxide, and maybe an alloy of these two metals. These materials are known to be magnetic. Their weak magnetic properties, location in center of ball and small size would not result in significant magnetization.

Bowling balls are made using a wide range of materials, some magnetic while others are non-magnetic. Therefore, in this article, we’ll discuss the question, “are bowling balls magnetic?” We will also answer the question, “are the pins magnetic?”

Can A Magnetic Bowling Ball Improve Your Game?

Owning a magnetic bowling ball can’t improve your game, even if you’re working with magnetic pins. It may end up worsening your game in the process.

For instance, a negatively charged bowling ball would be affected by the earth’s magnetic field, which will force your ball downwards when rolling towards the pins and may even slow it down in the process. Therefore, you might end up not hitting all the pins.

Fortunately, some of the oldest bowling lanes still have well-maintained hardwood floors. Hence, there is no need for magnetization of the bowling balls. Plus, the force produced by a magnetized bowling ball may end up damaging the pins and wooden floors in the lane. Therefore magnetizing bowling balls can do more bad than good.

Are The Bowling Balls Made Using Magnetic Materials?

The materials used to make bowling balls are not magnetic in nature, but it’s believed that the core of some brands contains zirconium and iron oxide. The inner core is created using powdered metal oxides like iron oxide or calcium oxide with resin and a catalyst that helps harden the mixture. (source) Remember, the core is the hardest part of your ball, and its shape plays a crucial role in how it rotates.

These materials are used to make magnets, but they can be demagnetized before being used. Unfortunately, the materials used to make the core and process are considered proprietary technology; therefore, they are kept a secret. So we can’t be sure if they’re demagnetized before being used, but the ones with these materials may be a bit magnetic.

The presence of a small amount of ferromagnetic material in a bowling ball doesn’t mean there is any measurable magnetic effect. The core is surrounded by layers of other materials including the coverstock.

On the other hand, the coverstock is not made from magnetic material. Coverstocks were made of urethane, plastic, and reactive resin. These materials are not magnetic, so you should never worry about the coverstock being magnetic in any given way.

Are Bowling Balls Made From Metal?

No, bowling balls have never been made from metal; in fact, playing with metal bowling balls can be pretty challenging. The only metallic materials used to make bowling balls are the ones used to make the bowling ball’s core.

The materials used to make the core may include metal oxides, but the outer cover is not made using metal. It has never been metallic; even the ancient bowling balls used by Egyptians were created from the husk of grains and then covered by leather. Other bowling balls were made from porcelain.

The original modern bowling balls were made from a hardwood called Lignum vitae. The Lignum vitae was strong enough and lasted for several years. But everything changed in the 1900s with technology and the invention of other reliable materials. (source)

Evolution Of Bowling Ball Materials

  • Rubber Bowling Balls
  • Polyurethane Bowling Balls
  • Reactive Resin Bowling Balls

Bowling balls have evolved since the early 1900s from the ones made from Lignum vitae to what we have today. Originally, they were made from hardwood, but in the early 1900s, manufacturers were already experimenting with other materials. After all, the cost of planting rubber in various plantations in Asia was lower.  

Rubber Bowling Balls

The 1900s evolution of bowling balls started with manufacturers replacing hardwood with rubber in 1905. The first rubber bowling ball ever produced was an Evertrue bowling brand. The second rubber ball was produced by Brunswick Corporation 9 years later. 

Rubber bowling balls were a hit in the early 1900s and helped many players perfect their game. They dominated the industry until 1959, when manufacturers started developing polyester balls. And by the 1970s, plastic bowling balls overtook rubber ones and started dominating the industry. 

Polyurethane Bowling Balls

Manufacturers continued producing rubber bowling balls until the early 1980s, when they became obsolete, forcing bowlers to turn to polyurethane balls. But within a short time, bowlers noticed that the polyurethane balls produced a lot of friction on the famous polyurethane lanes.

The friction between the lane and bowling ball triggered the evolution of coverstock tech resulting in the production of balls with high entry angles and stronger hooks. The friction made it hard for most folks to hit all the pins when bowling.

Reactive Resin Bowling Balls

By the 1990s, manufacturers introduced certain additives, urethane, and created reactive resin. The new material has unique oil-absorbing pores that help increase tackiness and traction.

After the development of the coverstock, manufacturers realized that the core played a significant role in how the ball would roll when flung. Therefore, the competition started between manufacturers on the shape and material used to make the core, which remains a secret for most companies. Manufacturers discovered the importance of a coverstock in 1905 after the introduction of plastic bowling balls.

Making bowling balls

What’s At The Core Of The Bowling Ball?

The bowling ball’s core plays a crucial part in the ball that deals rotation potential and the ball’s mass. Therefore, it comes with an oddly-shaped structure called a weight block. The weight block gives your equipment the momentum needed to roll on the lane until it punches the pins.

What Is The Function Of The Weight Block

The weight block can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Manufacturers added this feature to give bowlers options based on their bowling style. The frequency of strikes increased by 20% when polyester and urethane balls with a weight block were introduced.

What Are The Different Shapes Of The Weight Block?

To outdo each other, manufacturers started looking for ways to improve their products by introducing newly designed weight blocks and materials. Currently, there are several designs of the weight block in the market that make these balls roll and behave differently.

The many weight block designs helped transfer energy to the pins, most guaranteeing shock absorption for maximum effects. Some popular shapes include spheres, light bulbs, and elliptical counterweights. Others have an enclosed core of one density and shape.  

Computer software designs introduced a specific ball model featuring different cores with varying weights. A 16-pound bowling ball can have a sphere or light bulb-shaped core, while the 13-pound one has a spherical core.

Core Materials

Technically, the materials and design of the core are considered a company secret. But some of the most common materials include ceramic, zirconium, iron oxide, bismuth graphite, and barium. Fortunately, the zirconium gives the bowling balls a competitive counterweight.

These materials function as a unique weight block and help shift its center of gravity. Some manufacturers claim that a fired ceramic core is the best option, thanks to its energy-absorbing capability. Some materials, like malleable ceramic alloy, are softer than the fired ceramic cores and absorb energy upon impact.

Are Bowling Pins Magnetic?

Glossy bowling ball and Pins on the alley. Dark scene with rainbow shining colors.

Like all games with a ball, bowling games have a target that bowlers have to hit whenever they fling their balls. The target in bowling is whatever pins are standing. On the first roll, the target is the space between pins 1 and 3 for right-handed bowlers, and between 1 and 2 for lefties.

Fortunately, there are different types of bowling pins in the market for different types of bowling games. The most common pins include candlepins, five, duckpins, and tenpins.

Initially, they were made from wood with no magnetic element since bowling alleys used human pinsetters. Therefore, they didn’t use any technology to arrange the pins at the bowling lane, which meant that the pins weren’t magnetized.

But with technology ever-evolving, it was only a matter of time before inventors came up with a faster and more automated way to rearrange the pin, which involved using magnets. Unlike bowling balls, the bowling pins experience magnetism when arranged with an automated pinsetter.

Some bowling pins, particularly the ones using a magnetic pin setter, come with a magnetic element mounted in its axial bore. Unfortunately, very few magnetic pinsetters are currently on the market.

What’s the Function of the Magnetic Element of Some of the Bowling Pins?

Before the invention of an automated pin setting system, a pinsetter was a common profession in bowling alleys. The work of the pinsetter was to return the pins to their original position after the ball had hit all of them. Human pinsetters were used in the past and played a significant role in bowling lanes, but they were too slow.

Everything changed in 1941 when Gottfried Schmidt invented the first pin-setting machine he sold to AMF. The pin-setting machines played a significant role in the reduction of the pin boys in the bowling alleys.

Some of the early machines used magnets to rearrange the pins. These machines featured a magnetic pin table together with the magnets at the pin’s head. Therefore, the magnetic element on the axial part of the pins come in handy when rearranging them back in place for the next shot.

The magnetic factor made it easier for most bowling lanes to streamline their processes and reduce the number of pin boys. They still have a pin boy who ensures that everything works perfectly and helps arrange the pins in case of a malfunction. The system also has a manual option to press and arrange the pins yourself. (source)

Fortunately, the pinsetters have evolved over the years from the magnetic option to some of the unique systems available. The only pinsetter technology that still uses magnetics to date is the Mendes pinsetter.  

What System Do Pinsetters Use To Arrange the Bowling Pins?

Every company has its unique mechanism and bowling specifications and rules. Remember, different game variants use a wide range of weights, shapes, and sizes of balls and pins. Some of the common parts of these machines include:

  • Sweep bar: as soon as the ball hits the pins, the sweep bar removes the leftover and fallen pins on the pin deck. The sweeping bar becomes activated as soon as the ball enters the pit, thanks to the optical sensor.
  • Pit: the sweep bar moves the balls to the pit, a collection area behind the lane.
  • Pin elevator: after they have collected, the elevator moves the pins out of the pit to the upper unit, which helps with re-setting the pins for the next game. They are moved from the pin storage area to the pins deck for the next game.

Everything takes a few seconds, with the scoring sensor sending the information to the scoring system after detecting the standing pins. The scoring sensor is usually integrated into the pinsetter’s mechanism and can even use a camera to detect the pins.

The pinsetters using this mechanism are not magnetic in nature, meaning that the pins don’t need a magnetic element. Everything is automated, and they may only need one human pinsetter to watch over all the bowling lanes.

What Are the Materials Used To Make Bowling Pins?

  • Maple Wood
  • Particle Lumber
  • Synthetic Pins

As mandated by the WIBC/ABC (Women’s International Bowling Congress and American Bowling Congress), bowling pins should be made from new hard maple. Therefore, there are no metallic bowling pins in the market.

Maple Wood

Fortunately, companies can use other materials, but they must seek approval from the WIBC/ABC. Bowling pins are made by gluing maple wood blocks to an appropriate shape. 

In the United States, maple is harvested above the forty-fifth parallel that runs the northern states. 

Particle Lumber

As the demand for maple started exceeding the supply, manufacturers tried a lamination concept with particle lumber in the late 1960s.

Particle lumber is constructed by mixing shredded wood with a bonding agent and molding it to shape. Unfortunately, it was denser with a low scoring rate than the light pins. The journey to producing a perfect bowling pin saw manufacturers make one from a dykehouse core.

Synthetic Pins

Currently, the USBC has approved the usage of synthetic pins thanks to the shortage of maple wood. The synthetic pins are sanctioned for playing candlepin, duckpin, and 5-pin. The USBC has only approved a single synthetic 10-pin model. Plus, when you hit the synthetic pins, they produce a different sound.

When made from a solid maple block, they were initially coated with two layers of lacquer. The upper layer can be transparent; you can add a white lacquer layer below it. But the invention of an automated pinsetter meant that we needed a durable coating which meant turning to a seven-layer process of ethylcellulose.

The manufacturers used the 7-layer coat to seal the pores before giving it a better adhesion. Currently, manufacturers use two types of coating (DuPont’s Surlyn and Nylon). Compared to DuPont’s surlyn, nylon can be pretty forgiving to the molding process and is a bit cheaper. Unfortunately, you must dip the core in latex to protect the nylon coating from cracking.

Final Verdict

Generally, magnetic balls are not magnetic in nature; they’re not made using magnetic materials. Iron oxide and zirconium are the only materials that seem to have some magnetic effect. These materials play a crucial role in improving the stability of the bowling ball’s core.

Bowling pins are also not magnetic. Pinsetters still use magnets, which means that its pins may have a tiny magnetic tab.

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