Bowling Alley table #1: What to do, what to do ...

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Blog entry by jsol posted 08-10-2011 02:05 AM 9826 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Bowling Alley table series Part 2: Picture this »

WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO … for a while now, i’ve been wanting to set up a graphic design studio in my house. about 15 months ago, following the birth of our son, i got that opportunity and i’ve been dedicating lots of time getting it all situated.

the one item that i’ve been missing is a good desk, and i have to say, it’s brought my studio to a grinding halt. that was until last week, when i happened upon two 4’x4’ sections of bowling alley lane (off of Freecycle, nonetheless). it’s really graphic and really cool—and i want to make a desk out of it!

(here’s a snap of the alley section in all its glory)

ok, so i have no idea where to start, and frankly, it’s gotten me very nervous. i don’t know the first thing about woodworking, nor do i have the tools. i’ve read some other blogs (one from a fellow in this online community) and have a vague idea of how to get going. it’s probably the anxiety of starting that is keeping me from starting … but i’m cautious because i feel like i’m in a bit over my head.

i have a funny feeling that this project is gonna take me a long time, so i am thinking of building an interim desk. i’ll post photos of that too.

over the next several installments, i plan on posting photos, drawings and detailed content of what worked and what didn’t. so, any feedback or direction would be greatly appreciated.

-- jsol

13 comments so far

View chrisstef's profile


17308 posts in 2972 days

#1 posted 08-10-2011 02:34 AM

jsol .. i think that youre overthinking it. In my opinion youve got a great start. A flat tabletop, no work involved, no planing, no gluieing, no clamping. The legs and apron may seem daunting but they can be as simple or as decorative as youd like. Im still yet to make anything other than a square leg. You’ll get all the info you need around here, dont be afraid to ask a question, theres plenty of ways to do things with minimal tooling.

Id start by planning on the size of the top you want. Measure a desk top that you like even browse online for a “standard size” or meeasure the space you have to put it in (dont forget that if you have to bring it upstairs itll fit through the door too .. dont ask).

Bowling alleys are made of hard maple (rock maple) so if you want to match the legs to the top thats what youll need.

Good luck and welcome to LJ’s.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View jsol's profile


23 posts in 2448 days

#2 posted 08-10-2011 02:42 AM

CHRISSTEF_ i’m concerning myself most with how to logistically (and carefully) dismantle the bowling alley sections first. alone, neither are the correct size for my desk, and together, they are far too large. i am trying to keep the integrity of the original piece, so the grain and the pin markings are very intricate to my intention.

but yes, you’re right. i am over thinking it, and i’m sure my anxiety will be alleviated once i get in there and start working. and also, i am certain that i’ve come to the right place for expertise. the work and thought that folks are putting out there in this community is amazing. i’m in awe.

-- jsol

View JRL's profile


104 posts in 2504 days

#3 posted 08-10-2011 02:54 AM

Will be watching this series closely. Very curious to know the dimensions of that slab.
I would think this could be a great workbench surface, too.

Did it come with all that bowling lane oil still intact?

-- Jay in Changsha

View JL7's profile


8644 posts in 2931 days

#4 posted 08-10-2011 03:16 AM

jsol – welcome to LJ’s. You’ve picked an interesting project to cut your teeth on! I am still in the process of finishing up a workbench with bowling lane….here

Your alley looks to me to be the pinsetter end – which would make it Southern Yellow Pine (or something like that) not Maple, but that might be a benefit for you for weight.

A couple of comments if you decide to dismantle and rebuild:

1. It’s full of nails so the process to pry the boards apart will casue some divets meaning you will need to plane the boards before re-assembly.

2. It may be a little tricky to reassemble in the exact configuaration to tore it apart, mainly becasue things don’t always go as planned. You would want a good plan for identifying the parts!

I too am curious what you decide and wish you the best in your adventure…....and speak up when you have questions.


-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View jsol's profile


23 posts in 2448 days

#5 posted 08-10-2011 04:15 AM

JRL i’m thinking of dimensions somewhere in the neighborhood of 55”L x 32”D. that’s all subject to change, of course. and, by lane oil, if you mean the top layer laminate … yes, it still has a thin layer, although it appears to be flaking off at the edges.

JL7 yeah, i have a funny way of picking the craziest projects to jump in to.

i thought it was maple because the sections are so heavy. i would guess the 4’x4’ section is over 100lbs. in any case, i do anticipate tons of nails, but i think it’s what i need to do to get the overall dimensions i need. if there’s anything that i want to do with this project, it’s to do it right. and i think to do that will require a lot of work. hopefully it will be worth it.

-- jsol

View Gary's profile


9324 posts in 3398 days

#6 posted 08-10-2011 04:34 AM

So, if I understand this, you want it 7 inches longer and 16 inches less in depth..? You want to dismantle this thng to add 7 inches and remove 16 inches… I have never seen a section of alley flooring so, I’m not sure what the thing looks like on the underside. However, I think I would think that thru before starting to take it apart. There may be a better way. Again, perhaps someone with an understanding of exactly what you are working with may be of more help but, it seems to me you may be doing some needless work and taking the chance of losing the integrity you wish to keep…
BTW….welcome to the site

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View jsol's profile


23 posts in 2448 days

#7 posted 08-10-2011 02:06 PM

GARY_ hi, and thanks for the input. yeah, ideally i would like a desk top in those dimensions. as i mentioned, i have two 4×4’ sections of the lane, and some boards seem to be a little damaged … so i figured i would merge the two, so to speak.

but this is why i’m here, to get input. as i said, i’m not a woodworker, so what sounds doable in my head may not sounds so to someone more experienced. i’ve done some reading, and most folks that have gotten a section of lane have dismantled it to remake it into another piece, especially if they want the dimensions of the finished piece to be different. others have gotten a larger chunk of lane, and have simply cut it down to size. my situation is more the former than the latter.

i thought about just joining up the two sections and then cutting them down—which is certainly a possibility—but, ideally, i would like to have the single set of 10 pin settings in the center of the desk, rather than the two sets. again, still in the planning phase, but i thank you for your comments and welcome more!

this whole thing may come to light a little more once i post some photos of the lane sections. hopefully, i’ll get to that this weekend.

-- jsol

View PurpLev's profile


8534 posts in 3614 days

#8 posted 08-10-2011 04:53 PM

As you probably know, I did something similar with my workbench:
Click for details
Half of it is still ‘raw’ with nothing but nails in it (no glue), and half of it is made of parts I delaminated, removed nails, and glued it together (for the front/benchdogs/vises areas).

If you’ll follow along the blog I made about the workbench and another I made about cutting boards that I also used some of the bowling lane material you can forgo the trouble I had developing the learning curve how to deal with this material and just go to the good stuff. – pull each board WITH the nails out, then hammer the nails out of each board.

in general , I would just delaminate a couple of boards from each side of your lanes to get you to the “less 16” in depth” but the only thing is – that might make it hard for you to get the extra length you want without making it look unbalanced. if you really want to use that material and add length – you’ll need to strip pretty much the entire thing and rebuild it which also means you may have to forgo having those original pin markers as once you pull these apart you will probably need to mill the boards a bit to make them fit tightly together again which will throw the alignments and the pin locations off. If it was me – that’s what I would do, and then I’d probably inlay NEW pin locators on the opposite side of the desk.

hope this helps, feel free to PM me with any questions. I’m also not too far off from you if you’re ever in the neighborhood stop by and say hi ;)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View jsol's profile


23 posts in 2448 days

#9 posted 08-11-2011 02:57 AM

PURPLEV_ yeah, i have been following your workbench blog. frankly, i found this community through a google search, which led me to your blog. so thank you for taking the time to document with as much detail as you did. i didn’t see the cutting board one, so i’ll check that out next.

this weekend, i intend to get the sections of legs into the basement where i can begin my work, so i’m anxious to start. i’ll follow up with more photos and plans, and if anything jumps out at you, please holler out. and, who knows, i may just have to come by and see that workbench of yours. thing is killer!

more to come …

-- jsol

View Gary's profile


9324 posts in 3398 days

#10 posted 08-11-2011 04:19 AM

One more thing… What about putting a breadboard band around the top so you wouldn’t have to try joining another section. If you put another section on, it will have to be on both ends to make your pinspots centered. Using the band, you would only need to cut one time.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View jsol's profile


23 posts in 2448 days

#11 posted 08-11-2011 05:05 PM

GARY_ i’ll keep that in mind as i get into actually planning this thing out. i want to do it right—not only technically right, but right for the piece and what it is—so i’ll certainly be looking to you experts for guidance. so thank you in advance.

and to answer your initial question regarding the material—the underside of the material is clean wood. it does not contain tar like PurpLev’s did. i’ll try to post some detailed photos this weekend so that a real conversation (around facts vs. speculation) can take place. that’s where the real fun begins.

-- jsol

View Bertha's profile


13521 posts in 2659 days

#12 posted 08-11-2011 05:08 PM

That’s an incredibly desirable piece of lumber. You could always consider a pre-fabbed metal understructure. You could buy the components to your specifications and bolt it on. I’d be tempted to do something over-the-top and befitting of this beautiful find, and I’d probably end up procrastinating. This way, you could get to using then, then revamp it later. Thnking outloud, al.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View joeysjunk's profile


26 posts in 2782 days

#13 posted 08-15-2011 12:39 AM

Looks to me like it is maple. I have used some pine and maple bowling lane for a couple of projects and if this is anything like mine, I would STRONGLY discourage trying to take it apart. Mine was all nailed together with these spiral nails that made it almost impossible to take apart without splitting. I just used a belt sander to flatten out the back and screwed it to some plywood for stability. It is a wonderful work surface. Enjoy!

-- Joey

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