House Oil Pattern

What Is a House Oil Pattern in Bowling and How Should You Play One?

Bowling alley
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Quick Info

Length: 32 feet (buffed to 40 feet)
Oil Volume: Moderate


The house pattern is the standard oil pattern you’ll find in any bowling center. While it might vary slightly from house to house, the general idea is the same: more oil in the middle and less on the outside (between the 10 board and gutter).

The specifications above are not necessarily the same at every house, but it's a good general rule for a house pattern to be 32 feet in length, buffed to 40, with just enough oil to help but not so much to hurt. Usually, a house oil pattern is designed to help bowlers score high, which is why it's placed on the lanes for open bowling and why more competitive leagues use more challenging lane conditions in a competition.

It wouldn't be practical to leave a bowling center open to the public with no oil on the lanes, and not only does a house oil pattern help players score better, it also helps proprietors dress the lanes without having got use too much oil, thus saving on costs.

How to Play the Pattern

The house pattern is designed to be forgiving. Since complete novices are using this pattern during open bowling, a bowling center operator doesn’t want to make things hard on them and risk losing business. The theory is, if novice and burgeoning bowlers are able to score higher, they will keep returning for more. Then, if someone decides to get serious about bowling, he or she will step up to tougher conditions.

Since there’s very little oil outside the 10 board, the lanes are very forgiving if you miss to the outside. There’s plenty of time for the ball to recover and plenty of friction for the ball to grab the lane and get back to the pocket. Likewise, with the extra oil in the middle, if you miss to the inside, the oil will let the ball carry farther down the lane before picking up some traction at the end. Either way, you miss, the pattern will do its best to get your ball to the pocket.

At high levels of bowling, players are always trying to create miss room for themselves. That is, they want to move the oil around the lane in such a way that if they make a physical mistake (missing left or missing right, specifically), the lane conditions will help make up for that mistake and result in a strike anyway. The house pattern is designed to essentially create that miss room in itself.

Regardless, you should always throw some practice frames to figure out how the lane is playing that night. Since everyone from league bowlers to five-year-old kids use these lanes, the oil can be erratic. Sometimes it’s better to play inside (aim at or near the third arrow), sometimes outside (second arrow). Once you figure it out, get ready for high scores.

You may have noticed the phrase "buffed to 40 feet" above. This means the oil is applied over the first 32 feet of the lane, then buffed onto an additional eight feet. If the lane was oiled the length of 40 feet, too much oil would be pushed down the lane, resulting in very frustrating conditions for the novice bowler.