Anatomy of a bowling ball: How Storm Products makes balls in Brigham City

Friday , May 05, 2017 - 5:00 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

Like the wheel, it might seem like there’s no re-inventing a ball, but the minds at Storm Products, Inc. have been doing it for decades.

There’s more to high-performance bowling balls than meets the eye. They’re designed for all kinds of skill, style and conditions. Tavio Sawyer, Storm’s creative director, compares them to golf clubs.

“Like golf clubs, (serious) bowlers have more than one ball they carry,” he said. “The lane is like a fairway or the green — it changes.”

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To understand the nuances of ball technology and how they’re built to perform in different ways, it helps to peek inside.

Core

At the heart of the ball is its weight block, which varies in size and shape. Some look like lightbulbs, some look like fishing reels, some look like spinning tops. Others are completely symmetrical and round.

The weight blocks drive how the ball performs — how and when it curves or hooks, how fast it revs and where it rotates on the ball’s axis. 

“That’s the idea of the shapes,” said Chad McLean, Storm’s technical staff manager. “Then all these nooks, crannies and different things make the ball do something different.”

Bowlers select different cores to match their throwing style and for spare balls when they need to throw at different angles.

The weight block is the ball’s core. Some are wrapped in a white cover material, some blocks are wrapped directly in the cover stock.

Cover stock

The cover stock is the part of the ball you see. In the early days, balls were made of wood. By the early 1900s, they were made of rubber. Now they’re mostly made of resins and urethane, although free house balls provided at bowling centers are made of plastic.

Cover stock comes in a variety of colors and finishes. Storm infuses theirs with different scents, like birthday cake, strawberry lemonade and caramel pecan. 

A bowler picks cover stock colors and smell to meet her taste, but finishes have a more specific purpose. They have a microscopic tread meant to handle different oil conditions on the bowling lane.

Sawyer compares the core to a car’s engine and the cover stock to tires. 

“The engine makes it move, but the tires help cut through the oil,” he said. “If you have no polish, it’s going to absorb more oil — if oil on the lane gets really heavy, instead of throwing this thing that’s going to hydroplane, you want something that will cut through the oil ... so that when it gets to the part in which a ball needs to hook, the ball still has enough power to do that.”

Oil conditions vary from lane to lane and the amount of traffic a lane’s seen. Experienced bowlers know how to read the lanes and select the right ball for oil conditions. 

Holes

Pro shops drill custom finger holes to fit a bowler’s hand. Those finger holes are placed on different parts of the ball, depending on the bowler’s style.

“Where you put holes in relationship to core inside makes that ball unique,” McLean said. “You can have three of the same exact ball, but put the holes in different spots, and you’re going to have three different balls.”

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