Bowling Alley Workbench Top Help

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Forum topic by JNP posted 01-18-2012 08:25 PM 7356 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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113 posts in 3028 days

01-18-2012 08:25 PM

Topic tags/keywords: bowling alley workbench bench top question

Hello LJ’s,

I have a couple of questions for those of you that have converted alleys to benchtop’s. I picked up an alley for $5.00/lin ft. All maple and about 7’ by 44”.

The top is covered in a plastic laminate so the alley is in exceptional condition. -Did yours have this covering and how did you remove the adhesive?

I don’t have threaded rod like some I have seen but tons of spiral nails. I took a couple of the boards off on the edge and every slat is glued together. The glue is hard and must be removed to be able to reassemble the slats. -Did yours have this glue?
-Did you trim the edges off the individual boards with the table saw/jointer/planer?..if not…
-How did you remove it?

There is a black coating on the bottom which I assume is for moisture protection. -Did you mill this off as well? If so, did you use the table saw or jointer or planer?
This shows a slat that was removed with the glue and the bottom of the alley

Here are a couple of pics…

This is the black coating and you can see the glue seeping out from the joints.

Rookie questions I know but I’m a bit stumped.

Thank you.


-- Jeff

11 replies so far

View Viking's profile


880 posts in 3646 days

#1 posted 01-18-2012 08:46 PM

Tell you will give them $10/ft. to return it.

Lots of post on LJ’s indicating the bowling ally sections are more trouble that they are worth.

Good luck!

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 3402 days

#2 posted 01-18-2012 08:50 PM

I don’t have any experience with bowling alley slabs, but why do you have to pull the planks apart if they are glued and nailed together? If they were only nailed, I understand, but has the glue failed or something?

Best wishes to you and your workbench build!

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View PurpLev's profile


8551 posts in 4099 days

#3 posted 01-18-2012 09:20 PM

you can read about my experiences in 2 of my blog series: bowling alley workbench and bread boards

I did not have a plastic laminate on top, but I did have a finish on it. I also had the black tar looking stuff on the bottom. I took both of those off using an angle grinder and a wheel brush or sanding disk. took some work, and a lot of debris flying about, but that was the safest way I could think of without subjecting any of my machines to this. I did this during the workbench build since I wanted to yield the thickest possible material, but for the bread boards, I simply set my TS a 1/16” off of the edge so that the tar won’t get on the blade, swapped to a junk blade (factory supplied with my TS) and ripped those edges off.

the glue is very brittle and doesnt really hold anything together. I think this is more of a filler than glue. I ground whatever I could off, and jointed the rest off when I jointed the boards.

yes, it does take a lot of work to make this material useable, but if you get it on the cheap, it might be worth it depending on how cheap you got it.

good luck.

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

View JNP's profile


113 posts in 3028 days

#4 posted 01-18-2012 09:23 PM

there are a couple of reasons to take it apart. The table is pretty wide so I would like to skinny it down some. I could just rip it but all of the nails would present some problems. Also, I don’t think you could drill in for bench dog holes with all of the nails.

I don’t know Viking…seen some pretty nice benches from bowling alleys. And 65 bd/ft of hard maple for $35 ain’t so bad….

-- Jeff

View TheDane's profile


5666 posts in 4114 days

#5 posted 01-18-2012 09:31 PM

Jeff—Once upon a time, I used to refinish bowling alleys … my advice on the plastic laminate is to sand it off, then refinish with a BLO/Turpentine/Bees Wax brew.

Some manufacturers (or installers) coated the bottom, as in the pix you supplied. This was done, in part, for the same reason you put veneer on both sides of a board. With the plastic surface, you needed to coat the underside to keep the lane from warping.

I wouldn’t pull the boards apart … they are loaded with ring-shack nails, and it will play hell getting them apart. The lanes I worked on were all tongue and groove stock glued and nailed … unless the glue joints are failing, you’ll do a lot of damage pulling them apart. Is there a reason you want to do that?

There’s also a common misconception about the material used in bowling alleys … most people assume that since they are maple, they are rock hard. It depends on which section the slab you have comes from. In the lanes I worked on (all installed by AMF), only the approach (15’) and the first 15’ of the lane itself (down to the arrows), and the pin deck were what you would consider ‘hard maple’. The remaining 45’ was a softer maple that was actually quite easy to dent … which is why some proprietors would ban people who ‘lofted’ the ball (if they lofted it past the arrows, it could make a heck of dent that needed to be routed out and replaced). Ever hit a ring-shank nail with a router bit? It ain’t pretty!

My son-in-law’s neighbor gave him an 8’ section of lane that I helped him convert to a workbench. We left it at the full width (41.5”), removed the finish (a varnish, not plastic) with a belt sander, then hand-planed and coated with the BLO brew. It is heavy, and makes a nice surface. When drilling the dog holes, we used a metal detector to get an idea of where we could drill and adjusted the spacing of the holes accordingly to avoid hitting the ring-shanks.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View JNP's profile


113 posts in 3028 days

#6 posted 01-18-2012 09:37 PM

Thanks PurpLev…I read your (and others) blogs on converting to a top but didn’t see the process for dealing with the glue.

I’ll start scraping and grinding to see how it goes.

-- Jeff

View JNP's profile


113 posts in 3028 days

#7 posted 01-18-2012 09:42 PM

Thank you Gerry, Very helpful reply. This section is that start of the lane. I took the first 7’ and the seller kept the next 8’. The varnish on mine peels off pretty easily some in large patches and some in small pieces. Never would have guess that it’s a varnish.

Heavy is an understatement! I was shocked at how hard 2 of use worked moving it downstairs! :-)

-- Jeff

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5216 posts in 4411 days

#8 posted 01-18-2012 10:18 PM

I have my bench made from the same. Mine was not glued, but was nailed with the spiral hardened nails. I broke it down to 19 1/4” wide, then added 3/4” hard maple 3/4” x 3 1/2” “faces” on all 4 sides/edges. Drilled 3/4” dog holes in the surface on 6 1/4” centers on the top and added a left end face and right end tail vice with dog holes.
I screwed angle irons (two pieces) to the bottom surface for rigidity.
It has been a great bench. Watch for the nails when cutting to your desired length. I used nail cutting blades (2) while cutting. Most dog holes are thru holes, some are just deep enough to accomodate the dogs. Some are thru holes for the bench hook.
You will have a “forever” bench if ya take your time. Mine is HEAVY ‘cause I used 2 3/4” white oak legs and stretchers morticed into the legs. A shelf below for storage.
The top came from Georgia Baptist Hospital wellness center.
Finished dimens are 21” X 53” + end vice.
I forgot to add that my portion of the alley was FREE!!!!!!! Man, it was a bear gettin’ it out of the basement of the center.
Don’t let this stuff get away from ya.

-- [email protected]

View rum's profile


148 posts in 3036 days

#9 posted 01-20-2012 08:45 AM

I saved a section, interestingly it wasn’t even maple but was old growth doug fir. The first bit of the lanes were maple but the bulk was made from fir.

I used it as a side bench so didn’t get overly crazy with it. Basically belt sanded off the peeling top coat (it had been in the weather some before I got it) and then spread the top open but clamping it over a couple of curved pieces of 2×4 then soaked glue into the joints and bar clamped it back together. Not optimal I know, but its held up for over a year with fairly heavy use :D

View JNP's profile


113 posts in 3028 days

#10 posted 01-20-2012 05:44 PM

Well, I thought I would pull a couple of boards to see how tough it would be. Once I got the hang of it, it wasn’t too bad so I did disassemble the lane. I think 2 of the slats cracked but that was about it. There are a ton of nails…I think I’ll take them to a scrap yard and buy a new table saw with all the $$ I’ll get from them :)

The varnish completely peeled off with nothing but a bit of residue left that will have to be sanded or scraped. The glue scraped off pretty well with the ridgid job max then ran them through the planer. So far so good…

-- Jeff

View Fur_252's profile


10 posts in 2032 days

#11 posted 01-26-2014 07:17 PM

Nice post

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