You are currently viewing A Complete Guide to Bowling Lane Oil Machine: How They Work, Oil Types, Maintenance Tips & More

A Complete Guide to Bowling Lane Oil Machine: How They Work, Oil Types, Maintenance Tips & More

  • Reading time:12 mins read

Bowling lane oil machines are an indispensable tool for any bowling center. Applying a fresh coat of oil to bowling lanes is crucial for maintaining proper ball motion and providing bowlers with ideal playing conditions.

Without proper lane oiling, balls would hook unpredictably, rails would wear out faster, and scoring would be inconsistent. Using a high-quality lane oil machine ensures even oil distribution across the entire lane surface.

In this comprehensive guide, we will examine the different types of bowling lane oil machines, their key features and components, the benefits they provide, and tips for using them effectively.

Whether you are looking to purchase a new lane oiling machine or learn how to better utilize an existing one, this guide covers everything you need to know about proper bowling lane conditioning.

Types of Bowling Lane Oil Machines

Before applying a pattern of fresh oil, old oil residue, and dirt need to be thoroughly cleaned off the lane surface. For this critical first step, lane cleaning machines use buffing pads and vacuums to remove built-up oil and debris:

Lane Cleaner Machines

Lane cleaner machines feature rotating buffing pads made from various materials like nylon or steel wool to aggressively scrub old oil off the lane surface. Some cleaners also integrate a vacuum system to suck up loosened oil and dirt.

Cleaner machines are often driven manually but some are automated for efficiency. Proper lane cleaning prepares the surface for optimal oil absorption when new oil is applied.

Once the old oil has been removed, the lane is prepped and ready for a new coat of oil to be applied in a specific pattern. This is where lane oil machines, also called lane conditioners, come in:

Oil Pattern Machines

More advanced and precise than simple lane cleaners, oil pattern machines use automated computers to apply a customized pattern of oil across the lane’s length and width.

An onboard oil tank stores and dispenses oil through valves while brushes evenly spread the oil at programmed rates and distances. Sensors provide feedback to ensure the correct amount of oil is applied.

By entering oil viscosity, flow rate, lane distance, and other settings, any imaginable oil pattern can be created, from simple house shots to complex sports patterns. Advanced lane oil machines even allow uploading customized oil patterns.

Key Features and Components

To understand how lane oiling machines work, let’s examine some of their key features and components:

Oil Tanks

The oil tank holds and stores the lane conditioner oil, typically around 5 gallons. Tanks are made from durable materials like stainless steel that won’t interact with petroleum oil. They utilize metered valves to precisely dispense oil at the desired flow rate across the lane.

Programmable Computers

Onboard computers digitally control the lane oiling process. Operators input the specific oil pattern, lane length, oil flow rate and other parameters. Sensors provide feedback to ensure the proper amount of oil is dispensed. The computer automates the oiling based on these programmed settings.

Buffing Brushes

Rotating buffing brushes made with absorbent materials are lowered onto the lane surface to evenly spread the dispensed oil transversely across the boards. Brush speed can be adjusted to achieve optimal oil absorption into the wood. Bristles also smooth out the oil into a thin, regular coat.

Adjustable Settings

Key oil patterns settings like flow rate, viscosity, and brush speed can be digitally programmed and adjusted. Lane length and oil distance out along the boards can also be set. This allows the creation of customized oil patterns for different bowler skill levels.

Benefits of Using a Lane Oil Machine

Utilizing a quality bowling lane oil machine provides many benefits compared to manual oiling methods:

Consistent Oil Patterns

With programmable computers and precise sensors, lane oil machines apply oil extremely evenly and consistently across all boards. This prevents dry spots or oil concentration in parts of the lane. Consistent oil results in consistent ball motion and scoring from lane to lane.

Efficient Maintenance

Manually applying oil with rags or a buffing brush is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming. Lane oil machines automate the oiling process for entire bowling centers in a fraction of the time. Operators simply lower the machine onto the lane and select a pre-programmed oiling pattern.

Custom Oil Patterns

The programmability of lane oil machines allows bowling centers to offer multiple oil patterns to accommodate different leagues and skill levels. For example, sport patterns with less oil increase ball hook for competitive leagues while house shots provide wider forgiveness for casual bowling.

How to Use a Lane Oiling Machine

Operating a lane conditioning machine is fairly straightforward. Here is an overview of the lane oiling process:

Fill Oil Tank

Ensure the oil tank is filled with enough high-quality lane conditioner oil. 5 gallons is standard for most lane machines. Consult the oil manufacturer’s guide for the recommended oil viscosity and formulation.

Program Settings

Enter the lane conditioning pattern into the computer – distance, width, flow rate, etc. Or select a preset pattern like a house shot or sport pattern. Input the lane length and confirm all settings before lowering the machine.

Lower Onto Lane

Carefully lower the conditioning machine onto the lane surface straddling the first set of arrows, making contact with the buffing brush. Double-check the programmed oil pattern before activation.

Press Start

With the machine evenly contacting the lane, press start to begin the automated oiling process. Sense valves will regulate oil flow as the buffing brushes evenly smooth out the conditioner.

Complete Oiling

When the machine reaches the end of the programmed oil distance, it will automatically shut off. Raise the machine and move it to the next lane to be oiled. Ensure the conditioner is evenly applied.

Adjust Settings

As needed, alter the oil pattern distance, flow rate, brush speed and other parameters in the computer to achieve optimal lane conditioning. Make small incremental adjustments and test the ball reaction.

When using any machinery, proper operating procedures and regular maintenance is crucial. Here are some key tips for safely and effectively oiling bowling lanes:

Tips for Proper Lane Oiling

Choose Quality Oil

Not all lane conditioners are created equal. Work with vendors to select the optimal formulations and viscosities for your center and climate conditions. Heavier oils provide more traction.

Maintain Even Temperature

Keep lanes and oil at steady temperatures. The wood absorbs oil differently when temperatures fluctuate, impacting ball motion. Keep the oil tank full to minimize condensation issues.

Oil Lanes at Regular Intervals

Don’t wait until lanes appear dry before oiling. Apply fresh coats regularly based on bowling traffic to prevent excessive wear and changes in ball reaction.

Keep Parts Clean

Change oil filters and keep tanks clean to avoid oil contamination. Regularly remove debris from brushes and pads. Clean tools prevent lane damage during conditioning.

Hire an Experienced Mechanic

With electronics and moving parts, lane oil machines will need periodic maintenance and repairs. Hire qualified technicians to inspect and service the machines to keep them functioning properly.

With the right bowling lane oil machine, technicians trained on proper use, and quality conditioner, you can maintain excellent and consistent lane conditions for all your bowlers to enjoy.

Your center’s lanes are the playing field for the sport, so elite conditioning is a must. Investing in the right oiling equipment and processes pays dividends through happier customers, increased play, and reduced maintenance costs over time.


Proper lane oiling using an automated bowling lane conditioning machine is crucial for any bowling center. Cleaning old oil off the lanes prepares them for optimal absorption of the new coat of oil.

Oil pattern machines then allow the application of customized oil in specific board patterns to influence ball motion in the desired way.

Advanced computer controls, precision sensors, programmable settings, and buffing brushes allow modern lane oil machines to quickly apply precise, even oil patterns.

This provides bowlers with consistent ball reaction and scoring. The automated operation also makes the conditioning process much more efficient compared to manual oiling.

In this guide, we covered the types of lane oil machines, their key components, the benefits they offer bowling centers and tips for utilizing them effectively.

While requiring some investment upfront, a quality lane oiling machine pays for itself through time savings, reduced maintenance, and happier bowlers.

Be sure to use best practices for operating lane conditioning equipment and work with experienced technicians to keep them functioning properly. Consistent oil patterns result in consistent bowling results.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do bowling lane oil machines work?

Bowling lane oil machines use an onboard oil tank to store and dispense lane conditioners onto the lanes through computer-controlled valves. Rotating buffing brushes mounted under the machine then smooth out and spread the oil evenly across the lane surface. Operators input the desired oil pattern settings and lane distance so the automated machine can apply a customized oil coat.

What type of oil is used on bowling lanes?

Bowling lanes are oiled using special lane conditioner oils. These oils are formulated to protect wood lanes, provide traction, and allow adjustable ball hooks. Common types include mineral oils, silicone oils, and synthetic lane oils. Different oil viscosities and additives produce light or heavy oil patterns.

What is Rule 31 in bowling?

Rule 31 refers to a USBC regulation that prohibits altering the surface of bowling balls through abrasives, chemicals or other methods during certified competition. This helps standardize ball surfaces so no player has an unfair advantage. Ball manufacturers must get new balls approved.

Do you oil or wax bowling lanes?

Bowling lanes are oiled, not waxed. The oil applied by lane oil machines provides traction and guides ball motion. Wax would cause balls to skid and slide uncontrollably. Centers strip old oil off lanes with cleaners before applying fresh oil coats.

Do synthetic bowling lanes need to be oiled?

Yes, even synthetic bowling lanes require conditioning. Materials like resin still absorb lane oil to provide proper ball control. However, synthetic lanes are more durable and may need oiling less frequently than traditional wood lanes.

How often should you remove oil from a bowling ball?

You should clean oil off your bowling balls before each set or at least after every 3 games. Oil builds up on balls affecting traction. Use a ball cleaner to dissolve oil and restore tackiness. Never use household cleaners that damage reactive resin balls.

Can bowling lanes be too oily?

Yes, when too much conditioner is applied, lanes can become overly oily. Balls will slide through the heads with a minimal hook on the backend. Lanes should be stripped and re-oiled to restore proper oil volumes and friction. Properly calibrating lane oil machines prevents over-oiling.

How do you get oil out of a bowling lane?

Lane cleaner machines use rotating pads and built-in vacuums to scrub old oil out of wooden or synthetic bowling lanes. The machines spray cleaning solution to emulsify the oil and loosen the residue. Oil is extracted to prepare the lane for a fresh coat of conditioner.

Does wiping oil off bowling ball help?

Between shots, pros wipe oil off the ball surface with a dry shammy cloth to keep balls tacky. This removes picked-up oil so the ball contacts cleanly at release. Ball cleaners dissolve oil more thoroughly when deeper cleaning is needed.