Next time you are at a bowling alley, take a moment to examine the bowling ball. You will see the polyurethane material that is used to structure the ball and might even get a few raised eyebrows from your group as you educate them about the ball. The polyurethane material has not been around for a long time, but could be the standard in bowling balls for decades to come.
Bowling balls are currently made out of polyurethane, a manufactured material that can replace metal, wood, paint, rubber and cotton. Depending on what the material is being used for, it can be hard, soft, squishy, bouncy and even sticky. Polyurethane was invented in the 1940s and has been used for everything from baby toys to airplane wings.
In the Middle Ages, lawn bowling balls were made of a hard wood called Lignum vitae. It wasn't until 1905 that the Evertrue (rubber ball) was invented. Rubber bowling balls were used until the 1970s, when polyester balls reached the market. Finally in the 1980s, urethane balls (or particle balls) developed and reactive urethane surfaced as the new cover stock of the ball (the ball's outside cover) in the 1990s. These are still used today.
If you think the bowler has complete control over how well the ball hooks, think again. The type of plastic on the cover stock plays a major role in how the ball moves in the lane. Polyester will reveal the smallest hook because it is unaffected by the amounts of oil on the surface of the lane. Urethane balls have more of a hooking action than polyester, due to being softer and having the ability to drag on the wood of the lane. They also deliver a more powerful blow to the pins.
Today there are four types of bowling balls: particle, plastic, reactive resin and urethane. Urethane is the softest of the four. Adding small particles of resin to the same mixture of urethane balls makes reactive resin balls. However, resin is sticky and allows the ball to hook more than a urethane ball. Particle balls are similar to reactive resin balls in that they containing resin, but they have ground pieces of glass mixed in. The glass grips the lane and gives the bowler better control of the ball. Most professional bowlers use particle balls. Plastic bowling balls are the cheapest to produce, but last longer than particle, reactive resin and urethane because of their ability to handle the wear and tear. They are made from polyester.
Bowling balls basically come in the sizes of ten-pin and five-pin. Ten-pin bowling balls are the ones you will typically see at a public bowling alley. They have three finger holes and are 8 1/2 inches in diameter. Five-pin bowling balls do not have any finger holes and measure 5 inches in diameter.
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