Bowling pins seem like a pretty straightforward thing, right?
Well, they can get a little more complicated than that.
There are three main types that basically make up all of the specificities of the bowling pin world, and we’re going to go over all of them.
You have to know two things about bowling pins to understand why there are even different types in the first place: weight matters, and size matters.
The taller a pin is, the more it should be weighted to make them evenly difficult to knockdown.
Let’s get started by looking at the history of bowling pins, so we can see why we even need different types in the first place.
History of Bowling Pins
Do you want to hear something crazy?
Bowling has been around for over 7,000 years.
In 5,000 B.C., the Egyptians would roll smooth stones at different items (whatever they had around, but usually wooden or stone pins in a sense) and try to knock them over.
Yeah, bowling is actually older than most of the other sports we play in modern times.
It traveled through a lot of time with sparse pop-ups before the sport of bowling really reached Germany, in about 300 A.D. (where we’ve come to know a more common form of it).
These were just called “pin game,” though, and no two were the same.
They were similar but had differences in scoring. This all led to what was known as “ninepins” in America a few hundred years ago.
Bowling pins haven’t undergone many variations since the late 1800s.
There were some different sized pins, but then in 1895, a man named Joe Thum founded the American Bowling Congress.
A few years later in 1917, we had the Women’s National Bowling Association, which utilized some of the same rules set by the ABC, namely pin size regulations in terms of height, width, and weight.
Different Types of Bowling Pins
Candlepin is its own type of bowling. It’s associated with relaxing and going out for a Friday night, and not being too serious.
Candlepins are usually about 4 ½” in total diameter, and stick straight up—they’re not bulbous like duckpins or ten-pins are. It makes them harder to hit, but easier to knockdown.
Candlepins are set about the same space apart as ten-pin and duckpin bowling pins, so there’s no major difference in how you play except that you’re basically dealing with a smaller target from the same distance.
They can be harder to knock over because, with candlepin bowling, you’re using smaller bowling balls.
You have to really be able to spin it down the lane properly to knock them all down.
Candlepins generally have on the stripe on them and a slight bit of narrowing near the top and weigh around 2.4 lbs each.
These short, stubby looking pins are like the little brother to ten-pin bowling pins.
They actually weigh the same as their taller counterparts, being 3.4 lbs each.
This makes them extremely difficult to knock down, but since they have a similar diameter to ten-pins, they don’t take up more space.
There’s just a lot less room for them to tip over.
What I mean by that is this: if you tap into a ten-pin, you’re going to see the top move a little, and maybe it will tip over.
With a duckpin, it’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing. Because of their size, they either get knocked over or stay strong. There’s very little room for an in-between.
Duckpin bowling balls are smaller than ten-pin bowling balls as well, but slightly larger than candlepin bowling balls.
Arguably, duckpin bowling is harder than ten-pin bowling because you need more force to knock the pins over, and you have a much smaller ball to do it with.
A duckpin bowling ball will be the same as a duckpin itself, 3.6 lbs, so you don’t get that extra leverage.
Compare that to a 16 lb ten-pin bowling ball up against pins of the same weight, that are slightly easier to knock over.
Ten-pin is the most-revered type of bowling. It’s not for random Friday nights, it’s not a junior league, it’s a big time.
Ten-pin bowling pins weigh 3.6 lbs and stand about 15 inches tall. 40% taller than duckpins at the same weight.
These generally feature two stripes and come with a diameter that’s somewhere between duckpins and standard candlepins.
Because they’re used with standard bowling balls, which are 16 lbs and much larger than duckpin or candlepin balls, they’re technically the easiest to knock down in terms of statistics.
However, these bowling balls are the hardest to send down the lanes, especially with accuracy. Everything balances out.
What Are Bowling Pins Made of?
Most bowling pins are made out of maple wood, which undergoes a heavy process.
They’re solid and then processed on a lathe where they’re turned into the right shape and weight of a standard bowling pin.
This is why there’s generally a few ounces of wiggle room for official bowling pin weights (wood density).
But since maple wood is becoming expensive, there are synthetic ways to make bowling pins that many manufacturers are taking advantage of.
Most of these methods are approved by pro leagues, but for the most part, they want you to use real wooden pins.
I should note that the only approved method of making synthetic pins is in ten-pin bowling.
After everything is cut down, these pins are coated in some sort of a poly material (plastics), painted, and hit again with another coating material to prevent cracking.
How Long Does a Bowling Pin Last?
Bowling pins last for about three seasons in a pro league.
That’s a considerable amount of time, and it’s why bowling pin manufacturing is at an all-time low.
There’s currently believed to be one single factory in the entire continental United States that still manufactures bowling pins, and most brands you know (like Brunswick, for example) all commission or contract this one plant to make their pins. The needs just aren’t what they used to be.
Admittedly, bowling has become less popular over the years.
People are working more, finding less time to spend doing recreational activities, and bowling is considered by some to be an obscure activity or sport (depending on what type you play).
This is why synthetic manufacturing has come into play. Wooden pins last for three seasons, but synthetic pins can last for about four seasons if you stretch it.
If you’re wondering, “What’s the risk of using older pins?” then I have some news for you.
Microcracks. It sounds like some BS, but small splits and cracks will happen in the pin, which will reduce how the ball impacts each pin, will greatly impact your game.
Part of the goal is to knock the front pin into the others, and if there’s less momentum, it’s not doing you any favors.
Which One is Right for You?
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to bowling, so are you more of a PBA-championship type of guy, or are you fine with lightweight candlepins to just blow off some steam?
Take your pick, practice with them, and hone your ability to play the game (y’ know, and to absolutely smoke your friends when you all go out for “casual” Friday night bowling).