How this got started

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fbOnce upon a time, I had accumulated a lot of useless bowling balls.............

People that bowl a lot will do this. They'll accumulate lots of balls over the course of a couple of years. It's not uncommon to carry 6 or so to the lanes every time you bowl. Join a couple of leagues and you will find an excuse to use them all. The reason why is the oil on the lanes.

But the story of how they become useless might be interesting to some folks. You see, as you roll the ball down the lane over and over and over and over again, it acts like a sponge and picks up the oil from the lane. The ball itself may seem pretty hard, and if you clunk it on your head you will notice it surely is!

But the truth is that the colorful shell of the ball (that I use to make most of my jewelry) is porous. A typical bowling league might go for 40 weeks @ 3 games per week. The lifespan of a bowling ball might be around 500 games, so sooner or later, if you use this ball a lot, it will absorb a lot of lane oil. If you weight the ball after you drill the holes in it when you buy it, and weigh it after you've used it all bowling season long, you will notice that it's heavier. The difference in weight is the oil the ball has picked up over the course of the bowling season. Oil inside the ball will decrease the reaction of the ball. Good bowlers will notice that the ball doesn't have the same "life" that it once had. It doesn't hit the pins with the same "punch" it once did.

At this point, you have a few of options: buy a new ball and throw this one out, try to get the oil out of the pores, or make jewelry.

Most folks will opt for one of the first two choices; usually the first. But it's worth mentioning that there are a couple of ways to get some of the oil out of the ball. Here's how #1: Stuff the holes of the ball with rags, and use duct tape to carefully tape over the holes so they are totally sealed. Fill a utility sink with water about 120 degrees F. Hot! Submerge the ball in the hot water for about 20 minutes. It's important to mention that if you don't cover the holes properly, the water will leak into the holes and fill inside center of the ball where it will stay, and this will destroy your ball for good! After about 20 minutes or so, you can take the ball out of the water and let it dry, and resurface it again before taking it to the lanes, where you will destroy the pins once again with this ball!  Here's now #2:  Put your oven on 120 degrees F and put your ball in it sitting on a cookie sheet.  Keep and eye on it and watch the oil appear on the sheet below!

So, back to how I started to make jewelry from these balls. At some point a ball will become useless. I can't stand putting bowling balls on the curb. I make jewelry. They're pretty. Let's cut them up and make jewelry!  I had owned a business for 10 years in the jewelry trade and handled colorful gemstones regularly.  After working some during the day, and bowling on my league at night, it became clear many of my bowling balls looked sortof like semi-precious stones in places.  I cut one apart and made a few things.  People generally liked them.  It grew, and here I am. 

There are three components to most bowling balls made these days: the inner core (much like the "planet core" in that Star Wars movie with Ewan McGregor as the young Obi Wan Kenobi, and Liam Neeson as Quigon; Obi Wan's Jedi Master), the outer shell (the colorful part), and the filler material beneath the surface of the shell and surrounding the core.

It starts with a modified table saw. After much experience, I can say that there is a right way, and a wrong way, of cutting apart a bowling ball. It's all about efficiency. I want to be recycling as much of the ball as possible, so I can't go slicing and dicing all over the place. Ideally I want to get parts of the shell (which is generally about 1cm in thickness) in squares about 5cm x 5cm (2 inches x 2 inches). Once I have these squares, I can do a whole lot with them. I can slice them long ways and make 5mm thick slabs of colorful shell pieces to be cut apart in different shapes with a hole saw or a belt sander. I can slice them longways and make four 5cm long pieces which we can turn on a lathe to make cylinders, or parts, or beads, or other things. Everything comes efficiently from 5cm x 5cm squares of the shell with works out to about an eigth of the ball, which is 3 cuts in half!

I am currently working on ideas for other products. Got a suggestion? Write me and tell me sbout it!!  In Spring 2011 I will be launching my next phase of designs based on a composite material made from all the bits and little pieces of multi-colored balls encased in resin. <ffwd march 2012 - not doing composite anymore but making some really cool new bracelets instead>


About Matt

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cuttingbowlingballsWhen Matt was 6 years old he used to have a sleepovers on Friday night at the house of his childhood friend, Mark Smith. When he woke up on Saturday morning, the Smith family children got in the car and went to Fountainview Lanes to bowl on the Saturday morning kids league, and Matt just went home. One Saturday morning he went along with him to the bowling center, and he talked to the league secretary and joined a team. The following week he introduced his mother to the league secretary, and explained to all that he would be bowling from now on.

He's still bowling.

When he's not bowling or making jewelry from recycled bowling balls, Matt enjoys playing pool with his Dutch friends, singing bass in a Barbershop Quartet, and playing Wii tennis with his 7 year old son (he gets totally creamed by his son frequently).


Here's my League results from Beaver-Vu lanes in Beavercreek Ohio!