Bowling Alley Bench

Last year sometime, 360 Woodworking purchased a few slabs of bowling alley with the idea to turn them into workbenches. If you’re not familiar with bowling allies, which I was not, you may be in for a couple of surprises.

Surprise #1 is that a bowling alley is not solid, as in one big-ass piece or block. These lanes were like accordions; they bowed in and out depending on where you applied pressure. Each stayed together, except for small pieces at the cut ends. That leads me to surprise #2, which is that these allies were nailed together, but still they could move. Some of the nails were fully in place, but others were driven in a bit then bent over as if it were a bad hit that wasn’t straightened out or pulled.

Surprise #3 is that the nails are some of the nastiest nails I’ve ever encountered. They’re a twist nail, but damn are they hard. So hard that when cutting the alley Ron Herman (woodworkingwithron.com) says he went through many blades, including a blade that was designed to cut anything – he got a free replacement blade from an astonished store owner.

The base I made using 2 x 6s from a home center. Pieces were cut and screwed together. It took about 1-1/2 hours to get the base completed.I was after a bench that could be broken down and moved when necessary.

To make my bench, I adhered the bowling ally to a piece of 3/4″ construction-grade plywood using a couple of tubes of construction adhesive. I applied weight to the assembly and let the glue dry.

Hoisting the top up onto the base was a bear. Once in position I used pocket screws to join the two tight. Screws, again, allow me to break the bench down when I need to. I wrapped the edges with walnut after cutting a rabbet around the entire perimeter of the top to hide the beaver-like end cuts.  I’m not blaming Ron, here. There was no logic to nail placement, and even when routing the edge I hit a couple that were buried just below the surface. All I need to do now is decide if and/or where I’d like to install a vise. That I’ll ponder for a while.

As I mentioned above, I have two more of these five foot slabs. If you live anywhere near Cincinnati and are interested in having a bowling alley bench, please give me a shout. No reasonable offer will be refused!

— Glen D. Huey

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3 thoughts on “Bowling Alley Bench

  1. Glen: I got my bowling alley pieces that were about 8 ft long and I found that the nails weren’t that big a problem once you knew they were there. I used a skill saw with a Dewalt nail cutting blade. I’d cut about 1/2″ first in the middle of a board so I could take it off and be back to a straight edge. Then I’d drop the blade about another 1/2″ and cut again. Usually I’d be in the nail layer and would get lots of sparks. Then I’d lower the blade all the way and make my last pass. Then I’d use a sawsall to cut through the last of the wood. I’d peal off the cut slice. Where I’d need a few slices I’d use a muffler cutoff tool to cut the heads off the nails and then pry a layer of board off. Cut off the nails again with the muffler tool and pry of another layer.
    When I knew hat’d want to drill the bench for the vice and bench dogs I pried off enough layers and then put them back together knowing where the nails were placed so I didn’t drill or rout into any of them.

    1. Karson,

      Your alley must have been built by a company that was consistent with nail placement. In the lane I used nails were anywhere from a 1/4″ from the top surface to 1-1/2″ into the middle. Plus, not all of us have a muffler cutoff tool in the shop – mine just busted last week :>). So Karson, should I take that as you may be interested in the extra slabs I have in the shop?

  2. Glen,

    That os a great idea for a table. With the right kind of magnetic sensor you could get a good idea as to nail placement. That should help you decide where to bore dog holes.
    Let us know how many router bits, drill bits and chisels you destroy while installing the vise.

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