View Full Version : Bowls , you know , for bowling

Manuka Jock
25th Jun 2010, 06:39 PM
Traditional Methods

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The tradition of making bowls in Liverpool goes back a long way. Sometime after 1409, we do not know the actual date, bowls of wood were used, made from boxwood, holly, yew or oak. It is presumed that lignum vitae was introduced in making bowls during the 16th century.
Lignum vitae is a timber now on the United Nation CITES list, which means it requires special licences for export and import.

It is now even more difficult to obtain suitable timber for the manufacture of bowls. Lignum vitae is one of the most outstanding of all timbers, it is not only one of the hardest and heaviest known, but has an almost unique property of being self-lubricating. As a result, not only was it used for lawn bowls, but also for bearings and bushing blocks for propeller shafts of ships, as well as pulley sheaths. Those who had high-quality mangles to put the washing through, would also perhaps have recognised that the bottom roller was sometimes made from lignum vitae.
The way lignum vitae bowls were made was a skilled job, not just from the turning, but right through from the selection of the original logs. There are three species of lignum vitae and only one is really suitable. That is "Guiacum Officinale", so knowledge of the species is required. Interestingly, lignum is bought by weight, rather than more usual for logs, cubic measurement. Once the logs were accepted as the correct species, the next stage in the selection can proceed.
Those logs which had too large a heart crack, would be unsuitable, note however that all lignum vitae has a heart crack and it is probable that the white mounts (discs) were used to hide these cracks. The heart of the timber has also to be positioned in the log to allow it to be the centre of the bowl, so if it was too close to one side to allow for this, the log would be rejected. The timber itself is very dark in colour, but the sap wood is pale yellow in colour and is sharply defined; it is only the dark timber that is required, so any logs that did not have sufficient diameter of dark timber would be rejected, and, equally, if the log was too large in diameter, resulting in too much waste, this would also be rejected.
So, after the initial careful inspection and selection, the timber selected would be purchased. The next stage is to produce the "blanks" from which the craftsman turner, would make the bowls. For any bowls, to make a set, the "blanks" have to come from the same log, and from side-by-side in that log, otherwise the specific gravity of the bowls would not be the same and the likelihood of the bowls being of "similar" weights could not be expected, or achieved.

The first stage of producing the "blank", or timber, was basically to produce a cylinder which could be put between the centres of a ball-turning lathe. It is worth noting that at every stage, the timber requires careful inspection and sealing, to ensure it has not cracked.
The craftsman turner, would take the rough ball-shaped blank, and turn it into the shape of a bowl. The skill required to do this, using only hand tools and a template to give the running sole shape was, to say the least, an art, and was all down to eye and hand co-ordination as well as experience. By offering up the sole template to the piece being turned, and judging the amounts of material to be turned off, the craftsman would produce the required shape and dimensions. They would also position the top rings which delineated the running sole.
After the mounts (discs) would be fitted and the inner rings and any other decoration would be cut on to the bowl. Then followed the next most skillful job, checking out the bias. As you can imagine, even allowing for the skill of the turner, the bowls required biassing to that specified by the customer and governing bodies of the game. The examination of the bias was, and still is, done on the test table, which is used as a quality control device rather than the means of knowing what the bowl would do on the green.
It is amazing just how little material needs to be sanded off to adjust the bias of a bowl either to make the bias stronger or weaker. The skill is knowing how to remove as little as possible, while still being able to retain the basic geometric "proven template" shape. If the "proven template" shape is altered, then the bowls may be able to be made to run down the test table acceptably, but might not do so on the green; thus great skill and knowledge is required. Finally, the bowl would have been hand-polished, either black if the original timber was not considered to be 100%, or natural if the timber was considered the very best. I am sure there are still a lot of crown green bowlers who have fond memories of the "Extra Quality" bowls, which were polished natural and had the Deluxe decoration on them. I know that if any bowler has lost their bowls, they always seem to describe them as being of that quality! Now we use a very hard-wearing spray finish rather than hand-polishing.
These traditional skills still exist, although now the "ball" shape blank is turned on the same C.N.C. lathes as they use for composite bowls. Composition bowls are more accurately made to the required geometric shape than could have been achieved by even the most skilled craftsman. All the other skills remain the same, especially, when it comes to the biassing. The new lignum vitae bowls will lose some 20g - 46g in weight in the first year, after that, with care and attention, involving bowls being repolished at least bi-annually, they should give many, many years of service.
One of the reasons that composition bowls were first introduced; Dunlop company being one of the first to use a rubber compound, found that in hot weather, especially in the Southern hemisphere, lignum vitae bowls were prone to split. So, in Australia and New Zealand, bowlers would probably only know lignum vitae bowls from their display cabinets, whereas in the North of England we see many thousands of crown green lignum vitae bowls still being used. So, "woods" are still going strong, but the Composition bowls are taking a larger and larger market share. - Peter N. Clare - Director of Drakes Pride (http://www.google.co.nz/imgres?imgurl=http://www.fredfern.com/images/howtheyaremade/dpman2.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.fredfern.com/index.cgi%3Ftmpl%3Dstatic%26section%3Dhowtheyremade&usg=__iiWbarz0quIW1MH04z3nBCH6na4=&h=159&w=200&sz=18&hl=en&start=39&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=r83Z3kfM1-vnNM:&tbnh=83&tbnw=104&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dlathe%2Bturned%2Blawn%2Bbowls%2Bball%26start%3D20%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DN%26ndsp%3D20%26tbs%3Disch:1)


25th Jun 2010, 08:10 PM
:2tsup::2tsup: what a great read :2tsup::2tsup:

25th Jun 2010, 08:30 PM

"Twould be good to find an article on the turning of the ol wooden golf clubs - the woods.

Manuka Jock
25th Jun 2010, 08:40 PM

"Twould be good to find an article on the turning of the ol wooden golf clubs - the woods.
One moment sir

Manuka Jock
25th Jun 2010, 08:46 PM
The Wooden Golf Ball
The wooden ball was believed to be the first ever ball used and is recorded as having been developed in Holland. The ball has come a long way since then.
Historic records show that long before the great craftsmen of Scotland were making balls, they were importing wooden balls by the boatload. This goes back to as long ago as the 15th century.
These wooden balls were made from hardwood trees such as the elm or beech. These early efforts at developing golfballs had very little aerodynamic properties because they were smooth and more oblong than just a pure round shape

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25th Jun 2010, 08:52 PM
Thanks for posting such an interesting article. :2tsup:I had recently been wondering about how bowls and balls were made.

Ed Reiss
26th Jun 2010, 11:45 AM
Neat article MJ...thanks for posting.

26th Jun 2010, 03:56 PM

The old woods were turned from a fruit tree related to Ebony. Apparently 7 axes were used to get the desired shape.

Manuka Jock
26th Jun 2010, 03:56 PM
No worries folks .
When arthur eytis messes around with me knee and hand , I get bored and go hunting . Gotta toss the carcass somewhere :p

Manuka Jock
26th Jun 2010, 05:41 PM

The old woods were turned from a fruit tree related to Ebony. Apparently 7 axes were used to get the desired shape.

Art , here is a pic of an ancestor of mine with one :)


27th Jun 2010, 05:38 PM
And very heroic he looks too!:p:p:p

Manuka Jock
27th Jun 2010, 05:41 PM
And very heroic he looks too!:p:p:pIt runs in the family :)