Friday, January 2, 2015

Desktop Bowling

When I was a kid I had a little fold-up bowling lane, complete with a wind-up bowling ball.  Below is a video of the same set I once had.

As a kid I had a lot of fun with this little bowling lane, although I really wanted the Eldon Bowl-o-matic.

Anyway, this year for Christmas Santa got me another little desktop bowling set.

It's fun, but I think I need to build a little lane to go with it.  So I rummaged through my leftover wood and found a piece of plywood that would work nicely as the lane.

I started by using my router to make some gutters, but unfortunately my guides were not tight and the wood shifted while I was routing.  This created a curve in the lane I was making, and thus this piece of wood was no longer good to use.  So I found a different piece of wood.

This piece (and all the other pieces used for this build) is from palette wood.  I cut the wood to size using my miter saw and I glued and nailed it to 2 sides.

Not too bad, but it no longer has gutters.

This piece is nice and flat so the ball rolls exactly where I want it to.

Next I built a backboard and sides.

This kept the balls and pins from flying all over.

My first go at it worked well, but I think I can make something so that the ball returns to me.

I cut some wood at an angle to make a ramp.

This ramp should make the bowling balls return to me under the lane.

And for the first test...

Works well!

After a little sanding this little guy is complete for now.

Here are a few slo-motion videos of it.

After playing with it for a while I decided to make a simple pin setter to make it easier to place the bowling pins.  I found a piece of particle board which fit the lane perfectly.

I then cut the particle board to size and began drilling holes for the pins.

The initial holes were too small, so I widened them with a spade bit on my drill press.

Now the pins fit in nicely.

A perfect placement each time!

Here's a little video of how it works.

The pinsetter works well, but I think I can make something better.  But first I added wood filler to fill in holes and gaps from the palette wood.

While the filler dried I started adding more to the pinsetter using leftover particle board and plywood.

The new pinsetter is attached to the lane with hinges.

The video below shows how the new pinsetter works.

When the filler dried I sanded the whole thing smooth.

I decided next to make the front opening a little nicer.  So I cut a piece of plywood to fit the front and cut out a arch using my jigsaw.

Then I attached the front using glue and brads.

Then I rounded all the corners and applied more filler.

Once the filler dried I sanded once more.  Then I gave everything a good cleaning in preparation for stain.

Quickly after brushing on the stain I wiped the excess off with a rag.  I wanted the stain to be light and let the grains and imperfections from the palette wood to show through.

While the stain dried I hopped on the computer and started making up some logos to put onto the sides of the lane.

Once I figured out what I wanted, I printed and cut it out.

I used a charcoal pencil on the back of the printout to be used like carbon paper.

When the stain dried I gave the lane a good sanding and cleaned it up.

Then I taped my printout in place and began tracing the letters.

When I removed the paper, the outlines were marked on the wood.  I used some paint markers to start filling in the letters and the shape behind it.

The final outcome was pretty good... I repeated the process on the other side.

Next I used some sandpaper to weather the paint.

Then I applied some clear coat.

The front, back and sides received some matte clear coat, and the lane itself received many layers of glossy clear coat.

While the clear coat dried I decided to make some stickers.  Since I am not very good at painting, especially small details, I thought some stickers would be the best way to go.  I drew up some bowling artwork in Adobe Illustrator.

I printed them out and added double stick tape to the backs.

Then I attached them.

Using some sandpaper I also weathered the stickers to make it look old.

I like how the stickers came out so I made a couple more.  One at the back of the lane...

...and one for the ball return.  I also sanded these stickers to make them look worn.

And I'm done!

This was a fun small project - one that inspires me to make something bigger.  But in the meantime I'll have loads of fun with this small set.

Here's one more video of the game in slo-mo.

Thanks for reading!

Update:  I love playing with this desktop bowling set, however when I play on a surface that has cloth, or a rough texture, the ball does not return.  So I decided to add a bottom to it so that the ball returns every time.  For the bottom I used another wide piece of palette wood.

At this point I have a surface planer, so I smoothed and leveled the surface of the wood with it.

The lane fits perfectly on the new bottom.

Next I folded a piece of paper and cut it with scissors to give the bottom a curved end.

I cut the area away with my miter saw...

...and sanded it smooth with my belt sander.

Next I glued and nailed the bottom to the rest of the lane.

I trimmed my curved paper template and traced the shape on some scrap wood.

I then cut this piece out with my jigsaw.

Then I sanded it smooth on the belt sander.

It fits perfectly at the end of the ball return.

Next I glued and clamped the wood piece on and used brads from below.

As you can see in the picture above, the brads were too long and went through both pieces of wood.  But I was able to fix this simply by cutting off the extra with my dremel.

Next I added wood filler to spots that needed it.

When the filler dried I sanded.

Then I tested it out for the first time.

Since it works well my next step was to add stain to the new parts of the lane.

Once the stain dried I added polyurethane.

Then I left it dry.

Now I can play with the lane on any surface!

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE:  For a year I've had this small bowling lane, and I have to be completely honest here - it's a blast!  Whenever somebody comes over my house, they ALWAYS play with it.  But despite it's awesomeness, I wanted it to be a little better.  For one thing, it has no gutters.  Also it's not completely level - which means the ball always turns to the left.  So, using entirely nothing but scrap wood I set out to make a new lane.

I started by using a cove bit on my router to some pieces of trim.

2 routed pieces equals... gutter big enough for the bowling balls. 

 I made 2 sets of gutters, gluing and clamping them until dry.

For the lane itself I used a long piece of scrap plywood.

When the gutters were dry I glued and clamped them to the lane.

Then I trimmed both ends on the table saw.

Next I cut more plywood to make up the sides.

These got glued and nailed to the lane and gutters.  I made absolutely sure it was level this time.

I kind of got lost during the whole process of making the rest of the lane, and thus didn't take any pictures for a while.  But when I did take pictures again I drilled out a new pinsetter and attached a ball return.  Below you can see the new and old one side-by-side.  The new one is about 3 1/2 feet long!

After a few hours I had finished construction and sanding.

The ball return works nicely and was made the same way I made the gutters.

The pin setter is pretty much exactly the same, except I got to use my new fostner bits, which created very nice, exact holes for the pins.

Lastly I added a dark Danish oil to everything.  

And of course, here is a little video of it in action.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Great stuff, Timbo! What a marvellous job you make of everything you do!

    I had a set like that when I was about 12 (half a century ago...) and I remember that each pin had a thin string on its base, which led into a small hole where the pin was placed. The strings connected to a peg at the front, which stood the pins up when you pulled it. The steel ball has a ball return chute and was fired by a rubber-band-powered lever on a pivoting base. We had a lot of fun playing with it, and I think it was handed down through various branches of the extended family.

    1. Thanks Phil! I prefer real bowling, but all these fun desktop versions are great as well. Some time in the future I need to build a lane for my backyard. I might enlist your wood working skills to advise me on that build :)