Bowling Alley Workbench #6: There is more than 1 way to skin a cat - not so with bowling alley floors though - finally success

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Blog entry by PurpLev posted 07-08-2009 06:19 AM 13462 reads 0 times favorited 36 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Rain Rain go Away - Rail Rail Done Today Part 6 of Bowling Alley Workbench series Part 7: Moving forward at 0mph »

Yes. Finally some light at the end of the tunnel, reverse thinking, and this project seems a bit more doable, and even not much trouble at all.

Originally I tried to get the (2.5” hardened) nails out by using a cat’s paw and a hammer to pull each nail out of the 2.5 laminated hard-rock maple strips. I figured once I get all the nails out of the top strip, it’ll just free it from the lamination, and be nails free… one strip at a time, until I have them all cleared out. I guess I was wrong. as you can see in this illustration – each nail is driven through 2.5 strips, and as such, it has a lot of surface contact between the nail and the wood creating the most friction and resistance this nail could have:

After a full day of hard labor, aching muscles, and some major bruises on the back of my right hand from missing some hammer blows. I had nothing much to show for it, as most of the nails either got broken off, or didn’t even budge to my miserable attempts.

Now that I have the base put together (dry fit) and the rough floor slab on top of it, I tried a different approach. What I did this time was pry each strip apart from the “main” slab by hammering a large all metal (body) screwdriver between the last strip and the rest of the slab to create a gap – placing a wooden wedge , and moving on – ending up separating the entire strip from the main slab just enough that I can fit the cat’s paw L shape end into it, and pry it even more apart until I can slip also the nail-pulling side of the hammer in there as well, and using both tools, pry the strip completely apart from the main slab each strip still with the nails in it – but none of them broken – this results in 2 things, both positive:

1. This is a very easy method to separate the strips apart (compared to the previous attempts at least). it proved to be somewhat fast, and methodical.
2. Now that the nails are only driven through 1 laminated strip (compared to 2.5) there is much less surface contact between nail and wood, and less friction and resistance once it come to pulling the nail out. What more -the tip of the nail is now accessible, and can be hammered out whereas before I had to DIG under the head of the nail and by doing that also messed up the maple strips.

So after only a couple of hours I was able to release all of the strips that will contribute to the dog hole strip and to the buffer between the dog holes and the skirt. I also started cleaning and flattening the area under the top where it’ll rest on the legs (so far only did the right side):

as you can see, the underside of the top is covered with tar looking layer (I guess it was used in the bowling alley to protect against moisture or leaks through the floors). I used a scraper to clean as much of it as I could before moving to the planer. as you can see, there is a price to pay as it completely marred my #5 planer – this is one of those times that I’m really glad I don’t have a $300 plane… as this would really have pissed me off:

luckily, cleaning the scraper is easy enough, and restoring the buck-bros plane would not take much time and effort. a much easier process than restoring a router bit – and the reason why I did not (yet) use my router to clean and flatten this area.

So now I have the main slab according to my plan, and the strips of maple for the dog hole strip and buffer strip – things are starting to look better and better, and this was much easier than I had experienced earlier and then I expected things to be. In fact – I’m tempted to take all the strips apart, and completely remove all nails out of the entire top – but since there really is no need for this – I’m going to hold off on this desire. I got better things to do, and really want to see this workbench finished ASAP.

Moral of this installment – to take apart a bowling alley, and remove the nail – pry the strips apart prior to taking the nail out… make a whole different experience. from “heck no way” to “gimme some more please”. now I actually believe I can utilize the other 2 slabs of bowling alley I have for other projects. :o)

and on a side note -I just received today the hardware for the vises from Lee-Valley. always good products. always good prices, always good service:

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

36 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


118162 posts in 4698 days

#1 posted 07-08-2009 06:26 AM

Tough battle hope it comes together for you


View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4769 days

#2 posted 07-08-2009 06:33 AM

Thanks. I actually expected this battle, and in retrospect, after my previous battle with it, this time was really easy, and in the long run will take me less time than I had dedicated for it.

Jim – it’s GOING to come together, whether it likes to , or not … lol. (it’s the principle now)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 4833 days

#3 posted 07-08-2009 08:52 AM

I’ve heard so many things about making anything from bowling alley materials…you’re a brave man.

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

View ellen35's profile


2749 posts in 4553 days

#4 posted 07-08-2009 12:54 PM

I’m tired just reading about this process!

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4769 days

#5 posted 07-08-2009 03:50 PM

Ellen, I know what you mean – after my last experience, I was tired and very unmotivated before I started working on it this time, but after the huge difference in reduced labor, time, and psych I’m actually very energized now, and am ready to take it all up… much more than I was before working on this part.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 4874 days

#6 posted 07-08-2009 03:55 PM

Sweet! I am very glad you didn’t have to kill yourself getting these nails out. Went from an oh my ** all weekend to an evening or two kinda work. As always looking forward to the next installment!

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View ryno101's profile


388 posts in 4785 days

#7 posted 07-08-2009 04:21 PM


Keep it up… you’re inspiring me to get working on my bench. Unfortunately, life seems to keep getting in the way of shop time. Strange how that happens…

-- Ryno

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2659 posts in 4647 days

#8 posted 07-08-2009 04:28 PM

Is there a way to sort veneer cut the bottom off?

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View Julian's profile


884 posts in 4646 days

#9 posted 07-08-2009 05:32 PM

Why didn’t you try to use a solvent to take the tar off first? That would take most of it off so you wouldn’t have to ruin perfectly good tools…

-- Julian, Homewood, IL

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4502 days

#10 posted 07-08-2009 05:36 PM

I think for the tarred bottom I would have gotten something like a car-polisher and chucked a wire bristle brush in it. That would shred up the tar and ball it all up, also packing it with dust shaved from the wood beneath. I did similar (with a drill and small wire bristle bit) to clean up a lot of the wax I spilled into my rough concrete floor. It sanded some of the concrete off and balled it up with the wax to create little hard balls I could vacuum right up.Then you could hit it with the plane if it needed it.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4769 days

#11 posted 07-08-2009 06:07 PM

Ryan – consider this blog for you, as you’ll be able to just follow the good stuff and avoid the [email protected]…lol

Julian and Gary – um….. yeah… now why didn’t I think of that?!? I’m going to take your advice and try to clean the tar with a wire brush, and solvent… whichever one will work better and faster. definitely one of those “DOPE” moments here… lol THANKS!!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4502 days

#12 posted 07-08-2009 06:21 PM

Haha, it’s not a dope moment. It’s planelust. I’m seeing it more and more, and carefully guarding against it in my own life. When you love your planes, you see the world as planeable surfaces!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View PurpLev's profile


8652 posts in 4769 days

#13 posted 07-08-2009 06:26 PM

Amen to that!

but at the same time – you don’t really wanna gum up your precious planes that you invested time and elbow grease tuning up…

gonna stop at sears on my way home and pick up a 5/8” thread wire brush for my angle grinder… and go for a spin (pun intended) on this… thanks again. then maybe some solvent for some final cleanup.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5220 days

#14 posted 07-08-2009 07:15 PM

As a remodeling contractor, I have worked with reclaimed sections of bowling alley and I would not recommend them to anybody for fabricating a workbench.

That “dream” slab is a nightmare to work with. It is full of nails and you have to plan on disposing of a blade every few cuts.

It also sags side-to-side, so there has to be a proper structure under it that way.

Then there is the tar – crap.

It does make a very heavy and durable top in the end, but so do many other materials that are easier and take less time to handle.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4502 days

#15 posted 07-08-2009 07:16 PM

Cool! I want to see how that turns out. Good luck, with both methods.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

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