In bowling, a pinsetter, or pinspotter, was originally a person who would manually reset bowling pins in their correct position, clear fallen pins, and return bowling balls to the players. Probably due to the nature of the work (low-paid, often part-time, manual labor which most frequently took place during evenings) many pinsetters were teenaged boys, and thus pinboy is another name used to describe the job. In 1936 Gottfried Schmidt invented the mechanical pinsetter while with the AMF firm, which largely did away with pinsetting as a manual profession, although a very small number of bowling alleys do still use human pinsetters. While humans usually no longer set the pins, a pinchaser, or in slang pin monkey, often is stationed near the equipment to ensure that it is clean, working properly, and to unjam minor pin jams.

Many pinsetters are integrated with electronic scoring systems of varying sophistication. While many pinsetters have a manual reset button to use in case the pinsetter does not automatically activate at the correct time, other types have no automatic tracking of the state of the game, and are always manually activated.

The design of the machines varies. Several types of bowling make use of different designs for machines due to the different size and shape of the pins and balls.


A very common design for ten-pin bowling (the Brunswick Model A, dating from 1955, as well as the developed A2 and JetBack versions of it) pinsetters work as follows.

First, the balls and pins are pushed off the end of the lane onto a shaking board the width of the lane. This "shaker" transfers the ball and pins to the rear of the pit, behind the lane's pindeck. Two large spinning wheels are situated with their common axis along the bowling lane. The ballwheel is the one closer to the bowler and is smooth on the inside; the pin-wheel (or pin elevator) has many pockets which capture the pins.

When a ball rolls back to the ballwheel, friction lifts the ball up to the side where it catches on two lift rods covered with a rubber material. Wedged in between, the ball is rolled up. When it gets to the top, it gets deposited onto a metal track which usually leads underground being pushed along by a long accelerator belt, and finally the ball is pushed up by two pulleys located at the head of the ball return track which is where it's deposited.

When a pin rolls back, the smaller diameter of the pin allows it to fall rearwards through the ball return wheel. Still being shaken by the board, it bounces around until it lands in a pocket in the pinwheel. It may be seated in the pinwheel head-first or base-first. The wheel brings the pin to the top and drops it into a metal tray, called a "turnaround pan". It's shaped somewhat like a scoop, with the lip of the scoop facing the bowler. The weight of the pin's body makes it drop into the pan base-first. It orients the pin so that its base is coming toward the bowler. From there a conveyor belt lifts the pin up, letting it slide into one of ten spots in a metal basket called the "turret". (This turret is situated just above the triangular-shaped deck, which the bowler can see when the pins are actually set.) When a pin lands in an empty location in the turret, the turret rotates (or "indexes") so that the next pin will land in the next location, with the center of the turret also having an open location for the number 5-pin, at the center of the complete rack. Once the turret is full, the machine waits until it needs to re-set the pins. At that point, all ten pins are simultaneously dropped out of the turret into the spotting table, which lowers them all onto the lane.

This style of machine is typically loaded with 20 pins, though most proprietors normally put in 22 pins to facilitate quicker loading and faster operation of the pinsetter, especially in cases where the bowler(s) make two strikes in quick succession. Adding a couple of extra pins does not put undue stress on the machine, but adding more than that is not advisable due to damage that can occur to the machine.

Other types of pinsetters are as follows:

*The GSX is the Brunswick's current state-of-the-art pinsetter. It is characterized by a sweep that descends as soon as the ball enters the pindeck. This machine uses a conveyor belt on the pit floor to move the pins to a vertical elevator system similar to the ones utilized on the Amf 82 series pinspotters, while the ball exits the pit at the side through a ball door. Pins are loaded using a combination of belts. The ball return system on this machine uses an under-lane accelerator as opposed to a lift. It lowers the pin table on every cycle to determine scoring.

*The AMF family of pinspotters have changed very little since the original version. There are three main pinspotter models, the 82-30 which is no longer in production, the 82-70 which is still in production, and the newest version the 82-90 and the 82-90XLI. All operate generally the same with small improvements. The 82-30's operation was similar to the A-2 manufactured by Brunswick. After the bowler bowled the ball would strike the cushion block after knocking down the pins. This would activate the machine, which would lower the sweep to the guard position. Then the table would descend and the respot cells would close around the standing pins, the cells that had pins in them would complete an electrical circuit which would send the scoring information to the display and also would light one of ten "pindicator" lights. After the table had lifted the remaining pins, the machine would run the sweep, clearing the dead pins from the pin deck, then return to the guard position once more. The ball and pins would travel on a carpet belt on the bottom of the pit, the ball being heavier would travel to one of the side kick-backs where it would enter a shared ball return, the pins would travel under the cushion into the pin elevator which would bring the pins up to a distributor arm which travels laterally as well as forward and back to deliver the pins to the corresponding bins to await the next spotting cycle. After the table had returned to its upper position the sweep would also lift, and the machine would shut down and await the next ball.
There have been specific upgrades and improvements made to the machines produced after the 82-30. The 82-70 is the general standard in most modern bowling centers today. It features an mp chassis that is upgraded to short cycle the machine for strikes, gutters, or 7 10 pick-offs. It also features solid state motors. The 82-90 and the 82-90XLI are upgraded even further, replaced controls with machine status indicator lights, single control centers that handle two machines, and perhaps the most important upgrade is the self shutdown control which shuts the machine down to prevent further damage by continuing to operate with a mechanical or other problem. QubicaAmf has also introduce many different scoring systems that are compatible with all pinsetters and pinspotters.

*The Mendes company produced a magnetic pinsetter known as the MM-2001. It featured a flat magnetic pin table and magnets on the head of each pin. It had a pit similar to the AMF and an elevator similar to the GSX. Pin loading involves the combination of a carousel and magazine. The company claimed this technology reduces stops in play due to table jams on out-of-range pins. Mendes was bought out by Qubica, which sold the machine as the MAG3 until its partnership with AMF.

Candlepin pinsetters

The most common candlepin pinsetters were made by a company named Bowl Mor, which was founded in the 1940s by two attorneys, Howard Dowd and R. Lionel Barrows. According to the International Candlepin Bowling Association (ICBA), Dowd and Barrows were searching for business venture that could weather an economic depression. Marketing research on their part found that participant sports met this requirement, and that bowling was one of the top three participant sports at the time. The first Bowl Mor pinsetters were installed at the Whalom Park amusement park in 1949. Though no longer manufactured, refurbished units and ongoing parts and maintenance support are still available from several vendors.

Bowl Mor pinsetters have a depressed pit approximately 14" long at the end of the bowling lane, placed about 4" below the level of the lane surface, with a curtain behind it, hanging past the lane surface but not touching the bottom of the pit. The curtain arrests the backwards motion of struck balls and pins, so that they fall onto the pit. When a reset takes place, a sweeper bar descends and sweeps the pins and balls off the lane, through the depressed area, and past the curtain and onto a rotating turntable. Here, pins and balls separate, being spun off the turntable by centrifugal force into the elevators.

An elevator composed of a rotating rack of open frames (similar to an industrial toaster) catches the pins and hauls them towards the top of the machine, and then turns 90 degrees to bring the pins horizontally across, bringing the pins past ten conveyors each wide enough to hold pins in a lengthwise orientation. The pins fall off the end of the conveyors into tubes. Once the sweeper has moved out of the way to its resting position, the tubes are dropped to the end of the alley and release a set of pins, and are then retracted.

A separate elevator next to the turntable transports the balls to the ball return system, which has a near-vertical ramp which the balls roll down to gain enough momentum for them to roll through a trough back up the alley, coming to rest in a rack next to the approach area where players can grab them. Bowl Mor pinsetters are stocked with 24 to 27 pins, and are deemed substantially more reliable than typical Ten-pin bowling pinsetters. Most parts of the machine are driven by chains or belts. A Bowl Mor unit weighs approximate 1450 pounds, and draws 24 amps at 110 volts from three-wire 110-220 volt service mains. The ICBA lists the cost of a refurbished Bowl Mor unit at approximately $5000.

Five-pin pinsetters

Five-pin bowling is a popular variation in Canada, and pinsetters fall into two categories: string and free-fall. String pinsetters are more prevalent, and consist of machines attached to the head of each pin, by means of a cord. Essentially, the pinsetter is triggered by the movement of any pin by more than an inch or two. With that, the machine lowers a guard, pulls up all 5 pins, and resets those which did not move. There is on average a three second lag from when the pins were knocked down to when the guard is lowered. The pit floor is angled such that the ball is gravity-fed to a track that leads to an elevator. The elevator lifts the ball to the return track.

Free-fall 5-pin pinsetters work in a way similar to their ten-pin counterparts, although they do not engage automatically when a ball is bowled or pin knocked down. When the player pushes their "Reset" button, the machine lowers a guards, lifts standing pins and sweeps away the downed pins. If it does not recognize any standing pins, it will set up a new set for the next frame. Unlike tenpin, balls and pins are picked up in the same elevator or conveyor and are separated at the top of the machine.

Duckpin pinsetters

Duckpin bowling is played in two varieties.

Hard belly duckpin is popular in the northeastern United States. It uses a pinsetter that is known as the Sherman. The Sherman features conveyor belts at the ends of the gutters that move fallen pins to the pit. Its sweep is located on the right side, vertical "kickback" panel of the lane and pivots 180 degrees (much like a fence gate) to clear pins. The pin table always handles the pins by the neck. A new rack of pins is created with a moving magazine that is shaped like a pin triangle. When the magazine is loaded, the pin table picks the pins out of the magazine and sets them on the lane.

Soft belly or rubber band duckpin is played in Quebec. Most of these bowling centers use a string type pinsetter similar to five pin. Apart from five-pin, rubber band duckpin is the only bowling variant that currently sanctions string type pinsetters. The free-fall machine for this sport features a rotating pit floor similar to a Bowl-Mor, conveyor belts in the gutters, an elevator similar to the Brunswick GSX, a turret similar to the A-2, and a rather flat looking pin table. The sweep is similar to the candlepin Bowl-Mor.

ee also

*Ten-pin bowling
*Candlepin bowling
*Five-pin bowling
*Duckpin bowling


External links

* [ on pinsetters] (describes the later Brunswick GS-10 and GSX pinsetters)
* [ Bowlinglinks all over the World, sorted by categories]
* [ Article about a bowling alley that still (as of 2000) uses human pinsetters]
* [ ICBA page about Bowl Mor units]

Ten pin bowling

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