In bowling, a pinsetter, or pinspotter, was originally a person who manually reset bowling pins to their correct position, cleared fallen pins, and returned bowling balls to players. Probably due to the nature of the work (low-paid, often part-time, manual labor that most frequently took place 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 small number of bowling alleys 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 and working properly, and to clear minor 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 - especially for the candlepin and duckpin bowling sports which use smaller balls - and are almost 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. Common part descriptions for just about all pinspotting units consist of:
- Rake/Sweep Bar - removes fallen pins from the pindeck area of the lane. The sweep may also stay lowered throughout the table operating cycle, to act as a protective barrier against improperly thrown balls
- Spotting Deck/Table - also used in pre-automated manual units, places a new "rack" of pins onto the lane for the next frame, and in tenpins and duckpins, lifts the remaining pins for the sweep to remove fallen pins for the bowler's next roll of the ball in those games
- Deck shield (Brunswick Model A, A2 & JetBack only) - a fixed sheet metal enclosure, usually fastened to the spotting table's framework, protects the setting mechanism from improperly thrown balls and covers the pin chutes that are used to transfer the pins from the turret to the deck for transfer to the lanes.
- Pit - a collection area behind the lane where balls and struck pins collect for sorting, actually a part of any regulation bowling lane.
- Pin elevator - brings pins upwards out of the lane's pit to the top of the unit for re-racking for successive frames
- A system of pin storage for storing the next full "rack" of pins after delivery to it by the pin elevator system - this can exist within (or as part of) the table, or above and/or behind the table
- Ball return (or "ball lift") - Removes the bowler's ball from the lane's "pit" and sends it rolling back to the bowler on the ball return track, located between paired lane beds, back to the ball return unit at the "heads" of the lanes. The ball return is designed to distinguish the ball from the pins and will not send pins onto the ball return track.
In the decades leading up to the introduction of the fully automatic units, "semi-automatic" pinsetters, such as the "B-1" and "B-10" units made by Brunswick, basically consisting of just a manually filled "table" similar to those used on the fully automatic units, operating much as the later units' component of the same name operated, were used by human pinsetters to both speed up the manual operation, and assure accuracy of "spotting" the full rack of ten pins for the next frame.