Bowling Oil Patterns Explained (Complete Guide)

Many people think bowling is as simple as throwing a ball down the lane targeting the pins.

And once a bowler got a high score say 210 or more, he’ll be like ” I got 210 once, I can compete and beat a pro bowler or maybe become a PBA member.”

I know it sounds weird that bowling is not all about the ball you’re carrying and everything else is always the same (the lane and the pins).

Sorry to say it, but bowling is not as easy as it looks.
Every bowler has a unique way to bowl, things that could affect bowling are:

  • The Arm swing.
  • How the ball is Released (Release Technique).
  • The bowling ball material also plays a major role.
    For Example, A plastic house ball will hook much less than a reactive resin ball.

But still, yet, that’s not all. Other than how bowlers are unique with their way of approach and equipment. What makes bowling as competitive as it is today is that there’s always a layer of oil that makes every single lane different from the other.

Why Oil?

In the early days of bowling, oil conditioner was applied to the lane as a barrier to protect the surface from damage over years of use.

As lacquer, polyurethane and synthetic surfaces became more popular, oil became part of the sport.

There are lots of different oil patterns. In fact, there are millions of combinations of oil distance, volume, and placement that will multiply when factors like lane surface, viscosity, and weather are added to the equation.

History of the Bowling Oil Patterns

Back in the days, oil was applied to the lanes using a spray gun. The laneman would be walking back and forth spraying oil. Then, he would drag the oil from the foul line to wherever he needed it to go.

Lanemen were pretty consistent but if for any reason he wasn’t available, the substitute wouldn’t be as good and the lanes will drastically differ.

In the 1980’s automated machines were becoming more popular. Known as wick machines, they “wicked” the oil from a tank. The oil then went on to a transfer roller which touched a buffer brush. That buffer brush was what touched the lane.

At that time, the temperature had a lot to do with how the oil lane behaved. If it was hot, the viscosity of the oil decreased and the oil became “thinner”. If it was cold, the viscosity of the oil increased and the oil became “thicker”.

Thicker oil means that it is harder to get through the wick, roller, and onto the buffer brush leading to less oil being applied on the lane.

On the other hand, if the oil was thinner, this means that more oil passed through the wick, roller, and onto the buffer brush leading to more oil being applied on the lane.

So the shape of the pattern would be the same but the volume of oil on the lane will differ.

The first combination cleaning/oiling machine appeared in the 90’s. The Kegel machine, for example, works kind of like a laser printer. The printer head goes back and forth putting letters on a piece of paper. With the Kegel machine, the oil head goes back and forth depositing a precise amount of oil across a defined area. Each pass is known as a “load”. Also, the machine can travel at different speeds so if the machine goes quickly down the lane, less oil is being applied and if it travels slowly, more oil is being applied.

Today, bowlers must continuously adjust their strategies and methods to get the best result facing the oil pattern they’re playing on.
Oil patterns affect the bowling balls reaction as it goes down the lane and you need it to help control how much your ball hooks and to help you strike consistently.

A perfect 300 game is achieved by knowing how to make the right moves at the right time, not just repeating shots.

The lane oil consistently changes with every shot so staying “ahead” of the lanes as they go through transition is key to perfection.


Kegel Oil Patterns

Kegel is the Official Lane Maintenance Company for the WTBA, ABF, ETBF, PABCON, and USBC.

Kegel has a very wide variety of oil patterns. (Check out their Library)

Kegel Bowling Oil Patterns Difficulty

The background colors and the road figures represent the level of difficulty for the series.

Landmark Patterns

Kegel Oil Landmark Patterns


Navigation Patterns

Kegel Oil Navigation Patterns


Other than Kegel, the PBA is one of the most challenging bowling tournaments and rankings worldwide so knowing their oil patterns is always a benefit.

PBA Bowling Oil Patterns Diagrams

PBA Tour Wolf

PBA Oil Patterns - Wolf

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Cheetah

PBA Oil Patterns - Cheetah

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Viper

PBA Oil Patterns - Viper

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Bear

PBA Oil Patterns - Bear

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Chameleon

PBA Oil Patterns - Chameleon

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Shark

PBA Oil Patterns - Shark

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Scorpion

PBA Oil Patterns - Scorpion

View Pattern Image

PBA Tour Badger

PBA Oil Patterns - Badger

View Pattern Image

Bowling Oil Patterns Explained

Understanding Bowling Oil Patterns

Before playing, you really need to know how much of the lane is covered in oil.

“The longer the pattern, the less your ball can hook.”

Knowing the pattern distance can help determine where the ball needs to be when it reacts toward the pocket.

The Rule of 31:

Steps:

  1. Know the Oil Pattern Length.
  2. Subtract 31 from the Oil Pattern Length.

Example: The lane is covered by 41ft. of oil.
41ft – 31 = 10

Okay, what does this mean?
The result you get is where your ball needs to be when it breaks toward the pocket (in this case, the 10 Board).

How to Read a Bowling Oil Pattern Sheet

Other than only the basic Rule of 31 mentioned above, there are other things that you have to look at when bowling.

How to Adjust to Different Bowling Oil Patterns

Usually, when you bowl at the local center, you’re probably bowling on the typical “House Pattern” it might slightly vary from one center to another but the concept is the same.

The House Pattern is designed to give you a larger margin of error.

Have you ever missed your target by boards to the left or right but still got a strike? Probably you did.

The reason you still strike is that there is a lot of oil in the middle part of the lane and very little on the outside part. If you are a right-handed bowler and miss your mark to the left, the extra oil toward the middle of the lane helps the ball hold position and not hook too much. If you miss to the right, there is less oil and the ball hooks more, allowing it to get back to the pocket.

So basically, if you miss, either way, the oil pattern will do its best to get your ball back to hit the pocket.

Professional bowlers or the PBA, use a “sports pattern” where the margin of error is very small, which means that you must hit the correct target every time in order to strike consistently.

On a Sports pattern, the oil is distributed more evenly across the lane. If a right-hander misses to the left, the ball will hook just as much making the ball miss the head pin to the left. There is also much more oil on the outside part of the lane, too, so a wrong shot to the right might make the ball even slide into the gutter!

If you throw you shot and realized that your ball isn’t hitting the target you intended due to the oil on the lane, you have two options:

  1. You can adjust your stance and just move your feet to the left or right by the number of boards that you missed and target the same spot. And hope that your adjustment should help and correct the error.
  2. You can completely change your style to match the lane conditions.

For example, if the lane is wet (has a lot of oil), you can bowl a straighter shot into the middle making the ball have only a small range of hook.
Or, if the lane is dry (has little oil), you can give it more speed or target more to the outside making the ball properly hook back to the pocket.

Most bowlers don’t like to adjust their technique and will go with the first option. But that is a personal preference and you should do what suits you best.

As mentioned before, that other than only where you stand and how you throw the ball; the bowling ball itself will play a major role in how it reacts on the lane.


Now that you know a little bit more about bowling oil patterns, try to concentrate and keep these things in mind the next time you bowl.

Always keep in mind that practice makes perfect, and try to always read the lane before starting the league or tournament session.

If you are able to master this, well my friend, you are well on the way to being a professional.

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