Bowling Lane Components

Bowling lanes are the surface on which bowlers roll their balls. They are made of individual synthetic or wooden boards, laid beside each other. There are several components that make up a bowling lane; keep reading to learn about all the key parts.

Bowling Lane Parts

These are the main components of a bowling lane:

  • Approach Area: The area just before the foul line used to align the bowler before throwing the ball.
  • Boards: Made of wood, the 39 boards on the lane are of equal width.
  • Foul Line: A line at the start of the lane that bowlers must stay behind while bowling.
  • Lane Arrows: Arrows on the lane to help guide a bowler to hit the pins.
  • Gutters: Recessed channels on either side of the lane that travel past the pins.
  • Pin Deck: The back of the bowling lane where all the pins rest. There is an area in the back to catch all pins that fall down.
  • Pins: Curved white targets that are positioned in the pin deck. The objective of bowling is to knock the pins over with the ball.

The Lane

Traditional bowling lanes are all consistent in length: 60 ft from the foul line to pins. There is, however, variance in oil pattern length. Patterns can be anywhere from 36 to 42 ft deep, 42 ft being the most common pattern. Each lane is made of 39 planks across, each plank being equal in size.

The Gutters

Each lane has a gutter on each side, both of which travel behind the pins without touching them. If a ball goes into the gutter, no pins will be knocked down, and the bowler will score a zero for that throw. A hook that is thrown too wide will often go into the gutter, especially if the oil pattern is read incorrectly.

The Foul Line

The foul line is positioned at the top of the lane and signals where the oil pattern begins. A bowler cannot step over this line when bowling, or they will receive zero points for that release.

Lane Arrows

Each lane also contains seven arrows, referred to as “dovetails,” pointing toward the pins. The center arrow is aligned with the head pin, and the outer two arrows are aligned with the 7 and 10 pins. These arrows help bowlers aim, especially when only a few pins remain standing.

The Approach Area

Leading up to the lane is the approach, also referred to as the approach area. The approach separates the lane from the place where the bowler makes their approach, and the line dividing the two areas is the foul line. The approach must be at least 15 feet long.


Are all bowling lanes built the same?

Every bowling lane is built differently, with different oil patterns and plank materials. A lane with synthetic planks does not allow for the quick ball hook that a wooden lane does, and a lane with a wider oil pattern has a more central breakpoint than one with a thinner oil pattern. For players who rely on spinning their ball to knock down pins, they must adjust to the lane differences to obtain a strike.