Article 2 - Re-Testing Lawn Bowls

ARTICLE 2 - Testing Bowls (Originally published in 1997 and revised in 2009)

Liverpool bowls test table 

a view of the Drakes Pride test table 

In my first article, I mentioned the importance of 1871 - well that was the year that Taylor's of Glasgow constructed the first testing table. I understand, from speaking to Noel Taylor that the idea was to allow the company to produce matched bowls from their factory rather than waiting for the customer's vague instructions and comments as to their requirements.(I should mention here that unless otherwise stated this article refers to the bias for lawn bowls and the authorities for that discipline)

A test table allows the production of bowls that perform on the test table (note the wording 'on the test table') in a given manner and at that time these were specified as number 1 bias through to number 5 bias. Number 1 bias being the weakest and number 5 the strongest. But when the Scottish Bowls Association carried out their testing, they were then able to agree upon a bias strength and thus in 1893 adopted the number 3 biassed bowl as their 'Standard'.

I am sure that there are a lot of bowlers who will remember the reference to number 3 bias, which was still regularly mentioned up to a few years ago. Crown green bowlers will also note that their standard was selected using the same five biases and that the

number 2 was considered not strong enough, but number 3 bias was too strong. Thus,2 full or slightly stronger than 2 bias was selected. I have not been able to find any information as to the date when the crown green bias was selected.

Interestingly in further research during 2002 confirmation of the 1 bias to 5 bias still being available in the 20th Century was found in a circa 1906 catalogue. A copy of the page is shown below.

Bowlsbias 1906 

The next picture is taken from a 1935 price list of Taylor-Rolph and still lists 5 strengths of bias. However it is interesting to note that biases 1 through to 2 ½ are notes as Crown Green Bias.


Nearly all test tables have been and are based on standard billiard/snooker tables, because of their rigidity of construction and the accuracy of level that the slate bed can achieve. Thurston, Drakes Pride sister company, has in fact installed a number of these test tables both in the UK and Australia, and so they are considered to be the experts on test tables. In the Hensell booklet "The Romance of a Bowls Manufacturer" it mentions the fact that W. D. Hensell tested bowls originally on a standard (12ft) billiard table, but in 1908 developed a 36ft test table. This basically would be achieved using three full size billiard tables placed end to end, the cushions being removed to give one long table. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that there is a remarkable association between Bowls manufactures and Billiards. It was whilst working for the Australian Billiard business of Alcock Thomson & Taylor that Hensell first worked on bowls.

In 1928 an attempt was made to lay down test table performance so the fact that in the 1935 Taylor- Rolph catalogue they showed their test table indicates the significance placed on the means and method for testing.


In 1928, the I.B.B. (International Bowls Board changed to World Bowls Board and currently the World body is - World Bowls Ltd.) laid down the basis for table testing (See drawing and the specifications, which with a few amendments are basically still true today. For example, the bowls should still run approximately 28 feet, themaximum draw shall be approximately 4'6 however, one important addition to the specifications is that the running time should be between 12 - 15 seconds.(note on 2002 the governing body of Lawn Bowls ,World Bowls Ltd., laid down regulations which stipulated that the length of run was 9 metres)


1928 Dia. For Bias Testing


The I.B.B. Official Bias Testers formula for testing in October 1928 set out the following points :

(a) For the purpose of accurate testing the table must consist of an impervious material so that it would be independent of the variations of temperature.

The cover to be made of the same texture throughout without joins. We suggest that this should be obtained from the I.B.B, thus ensuring that all tables will be covered by the same cloth, no other fabric being permissible for testing purposes.

(c) That a straight line A - C of 28.302ft be drawn to extend from the middlepoint of the mouth of the chute and parallel to both it sides.

(d) "A" being starting point of the bowls contact with the table.

Sub-tendon angle ABC equal to 90 degrees so that AB is 24ft and CB is 15ft.

(e) Let DE be a point on AB so that AD is 15ft and OB is 9ft

From D straight line DE in drawn perpendicular to AB to meet AC at E

(h) The track of the bowl will then leave point A pass through an agreed point G on the line DE and finish on the line AB at 3.

(i) Point C will he determined at the discretion of the I.B.B. and will then indicate the minimum standard bias for bowls.

NOTE : On the basis of the E.B.A.(English Bolws Association) standard bowl submitted to us, the distance DG will be 4ft 6in on the present test table. The same standard bowl draws, on a careful trial, on a dry day in average conditions on Queens Park Green, Glasgow 5ft 6ins.

FURTHER NOTES : (From Mr. C. S. White of Exeter 16th October 1928)

"My observations of the diagram is that we are presently following that out to the letter, only that the EBA standard is a little wider at point G. As regard to the formula I do not agree with the table on account of vibration. Mine is a 6ft. concrete floor 35ft x 7ft finished long and smooth, damp proofed, coated with a seamless baize, with a 5ft chute of all metal construction all of which I find work very consistently. Of course in testing a bowl on a hard floor, there is only half the running surface in action compared with a proper green. I get bowls of different makes to put right occasionally, although they bear the official stamp and also pass the test on this floor yet they were not consistent on the green.

My suggestions (Mr. C. S. White of Exeter) are these, if I may:

Each testers must be an actual bowl maker. That all the testers are supplied with a master bowl all exactly the same manufacture, (I prefer, T. Taylor Glasgow) and that they be sent back, at least once a year to verify correct."

The above observations particularly about differences between test tables performance and the green is, from the writers point of view, still very true to day. In other words the test table is a tester quality control device rather than a scientific means of testing a bowls performance in use.

Returning to bias, there is, however, as most are aware a lot of controversy over "straight running" bowls. The W.B.B. together with the manufacturers have been working extremely hard, over recent months to find a solution. One immediate problem that quickly became apparent was that the existing specifications were too widely drawn and so it was possible to get different results on different tables, although these differences were in the bounds of reasonable tolerances.

It should be noted however, that a number of manufacturing companies, mine being one, argue that the test table is and always has been a quality control devise, rather than being an absolute test for bowls performance. It does not, and can not be expected to show how a bowl performs on the green. Yes, a well trained and experienced tester would be able to judge, but bowls, as all bowlers know is played on varying surfaces, running at various speeds, in varying conditions and the bowls themselves are delivered in a variety of manners. Bowls is not played on a series of billiard/snooker tables, released down a chute and run over a short 28ft.length. (now 9 metres)

In Australia, were they seem to enjoy challenging each others bowls, they, in my mind wrongly use the test table as the arbiter. I feel that the only true test of a bowl, whether a challenge has been made or not, is on the green. I believe that the W.I.B.C. basically have the same thoughts. If, a challenge has been made, then the only place to test the set of bowls is on the actual rinkthat the challenge was made on. It is possible for bowls to fail on a green test and pass on the table, and visa versa, pass on the green and fail on the table. Which is right? - I believe that the bowl that passes on the green is correct, even though I do accept that green testing is a very difficult process, and requires not only a lot of experience, but a lot of training an well.(Green testing of any form is not recognised by World Bowls Ltd. as a legitimate test)


The picture is taken from 1935 Taylor-Rolph price list. It is worth noting that it was also used for the emergency testing of 'challenged' bowls

When the writer visited New Zealand in the mid 1980's their only method of testing was to use a chute and the picture below shows the chute used at a Dunedin green. It was not until 2002 that a World Bowls Ltd. licensed test table was set up in New Zealand.

 Dunedin 1985_grentestchuteA


The following picture was published in the Queensland Bowler magazine in September 1998 and shows that some green testing was also carried out in Australia

 Queensland B_Sep 98_greentest

However, one very important point that affects the bowls performance, is the bowlers own style of delivery. An example I now regularly use is from a visit to Australia when I was called over to a green by two players. They were both playing Drakes Pride bowls, size 5 heavyweight, one with a grip and one that was plain, and I was asked why the grip bowls took less land than the plain. I naturally replied that it was not true, so they bowled the two sets and sure enough the grip bowls took about 14" - 18" less land. This I had to admit did cause me some surprise and so I asked them to swap their sets and bowl again. This time, it was their turn to be surprised to find that the plain bowls now took 14" - 18" less land than the gripped. The only thing that has changed was the bowler, and whilst a trained coach might well have been able to spot what was the difference between their deliveries, I could not. The results just confirmed that the bowlers themselves make a difference to the bowls performance, not just the work that we manufacturers do.

Bowlstest 1929

The picture above is from a 1929 catalogue and shows a 35ft x 12ft Bowls test table. It must have been made from 6 full size billiard tables. Note also the International Bowls Board stamp with a 1929 date stamp.

In April 2002 World Bowls Ltd. introduced a revised Working Referance Bowl at the same time as establishing a standard test table surface, a standard release chute, a WorkingReference  Bowl (WRB) and Test Regulations to be followed. The 2002 Regulations are not too dissimilar to the 1928 formula, or the previous 1986 Guidelines although the test distance is now 9 metres. World Bowls Ltd. have a specified delivery chute which must be used and also inspect the test tables every year and at the inspection exchange the Working Reference Bowl that is issued to the tester / manufacturer.


Frequently asked questions about Lawn Bowls

Question. I have a set of Lignum Vitae (wooden) bowls can they be re-stamped ?

Answer. World Bowls have tightened up their regulations and it is now unlikely that Lignum bowls will conform to those regulations. However the bowls can still be renovated and used in social games despite not being stamped.

Question. The date stamp on my bowls has expired, do I really need them to be re-tested ?

Answer. The World Bowls 'stamp' and its predecessor World Bowls Board 'stamp' have a ten year life, which includes the year of its test. So basically by their regulations the answer is, yes it should be re-tested. The main reason for doing the re-test is that part of the work done checks that the set is still running as a set. After all given ten years of wear and tear the bowls must have suffered abrasion and knocks. So it is in your interest to have them checked out.

Question. My bowls have no emblems, are they legal?

Answer. This question basically only relates to sets sold in the UK prior to 1996, when emblems were not required in the UK. Even now it depends on what level you are playing at to know if emblems/engraving is required for play in the UK. This needs to be considered and advised to the tester when you submit your bowls for test. Currently (2009 - still true in 2013) the World Bowls Ltd. testers licence states ' Bowls may display- Engravings (emblems)'. However, the manufacturers licence requires all sets to have engraving (emblems), so all new sets of bowls will have emblems.

For club and even inter club competitions bowls without emblems are ok. If however the competition is under the auspices of World Bowls Ltd. or the Professional Bowlers Association the you will find that sets of bowls must have emblems. So to be safe it is probably best to have emblems/engraving.

THURSTON can engrave emblems on to most makes of bowl and would suggest that this work is carried out at the same time as the set is tested.

Question. I've decided to have engraving on my bowls, can I have my initials and an emblem?

Answer. The answer is yes, but with reservation. As long as the initials are all on the same side eg. on the bias side and the emblem on the non bias side. Then the sets, basically, conforms to World Bowls Ltd. regulations and will be acceptable in the UK. Most other counties require that the emblem would be the same, but proportional in size, on the bias and flat side of the bowls.

THURSTON recommend that the emblems/engraving be the same on both sides which avoids any possible future problems.

Question. I play outdoors what weight of bowl should I use?

Answer. If you only play outdoors and play in the U.K., then a medium weight bowl is probably the best. The reason being that most U.K. outdoor greens are slow / heavy and a medium weight bowl will have some chance to show its bias. If you were to use an Indoor style and or heavyweight model the slow / heavy greens will kill the bias before it has a chance to show.

Question. I play both Indoor and Outdoor do I really need to different sets of bowls ?

Answer. The previous answer has some bearing on this one. However there are some models of bowl (eg Professional by Drakes Pride) that have medium bias and many bowlers find they perform acceptably both on outdoor and indoor greens. Most manufacturers do however produce models suited to either outdoor or indoor use. Note. If outdoor model bowls are used indoor they will tend to run into the next rink and so you might not be able to play certain hands. If indoor models are used outdoor they will show little or no bias and reduce the game to playing up the middle. Perhaps this is what causes complaints about bias strength ?

Question. What size of bowls should I use?

Answer. The 'old' idea was to use the largest size you possibly could, or that if you can span the circumference of the running sole with your two hands then that size would be right.

However the simple answer is whatever size feels comfortable in the hand. So when selecting a set of bowls try a few sets. Perhaps start with a size 3 try a few 'pretend' deliveries. Does it cause any strain to your wrist? Does it feel that you need to adjust /tighten you grip in the back swing? Does out fall out of your hand!? If it all feels ok then perhaps try a size 4 or even larger, but if there is discomfort go down the sizes until you are comfortable.

Also there are some models' which are not as broad, such as the Drakes Pride Professional model. Such models might allow you to use a bigger bowl comfortably, so also try a few types of bowl in a size if you can.

Question. I have two sets of the same make and model of bowl one set is red the other is green. I am told they are the same bias but I find they take a different line - whose is right?

Answer . Speak to any of the top bowlers and they will agree that the different coloured sets perform differently and yet when seen on the bowls test table they run the same. The only answer that seems to have any merit is that subtle but significant differences in how the player grips the bowl and thus how they deliver. Are probably caused by affect that the different colour dyes used in the powder mix used for moulding bowls has on the final surface finish.

Question. My set of size 4 heavy bowls weigh more than my friends set, why is their a difference?

Answer. We assume that the sets are different models or are from different manufactures. As each manufacturer uses the specific gravity of moulding powder that they favour for their quality. So there are likely to be weight differences between different manufactures sets. Also there is likely to be differences between models as there are some that are slim line, so slightly less material, and some which 'fill the hand', which will have a little more material. So between different models from the same manufacturer there will be different weighs, even if both are marked up as 'heavy', for the same size bowl. The weight chart shown below should therefore be used as a rough guide only.

Question. It looks like they have painted the grips on their bowls, surely this effects the bais and is it allowed?

Answer. Law 8.6 deals with alterations to bias of bowls which is illegal and has sever penalties. However point 4 states .. Players or owners who colour the groove rings or dimples on a bowl for decoration are not breaking the law.

This size/weight table is an approximate guide to weights and sizes of lawn bowls, each manufacturer and each model will be somewhat different. These figures are only for guidance and are an average across a range of models & makes.



Medium weight

Heavy Weight

Extra Heavy


116 mm

1.19 kg

1.25 kg

1.27 kg


118 mm


1.22 kg

1.28 kg

1.30 kg



1.28 kg

1.33 kg

1.36 kg



1.30 kg

1.35 kg

1.40 kg



1.35 kg

1.40 kg

1.44 kg



1.40 kg

1.46 kg

1.50 kg



1.46 kg

1.52 kg

1.55 kg



1.52 kg

1.58 kg




1.58 kg





1.58 kg




Unless otherwise stated the pictures used and scans are copyright to E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.

© Peter Clare 2009 - © E.A. Clare & Son Ltd. 2018 - reproduction of article allowed only with permission from E.A. Clare & Son Ltd.