Building a Pinball Machine


Building a Pinball Machine

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Long before children had arcade games or even Nintendos, kids would spend their free time playing games on pinball machines. The first pinball machines were developed in the 1960s and the 1970s and became an immediate hit with the more youthful crowd. Many people desire pinball machines in their homes, but the expense can be outrageous. However, we’ve got three different ways you can build a homemade pinball machine to help you out below. 

How do you build a pinball machine? There are several different ways you can make a pinball machine. You can make a pinball machine using your woodworking skills if you have them, using a cardboard box, or by ordering your own DIY ready-made pinball kit with instructions. Below are the steps:

·  Start making your tabletop

·   Make your paddles

·   Mounting your paddles

·   Make your ball launcher

·   Adding additional items

·  Possible Alterations

Depending on your budget, skills, and resources, any one of the three pinball machines we cover below can be made at home easily. We will first include how to make a pinball machine using your woodworking skills, then we will discuss how to make a pinball machine with a cardboard box, and last, we will talk about how you can purchase a pinball machine kit. 

To see the most popular pinball machines on the market today just click here.

Woodworking Pinball Machine

If you’ve got decent woodworking skills (and no, you don’t need to be a pro), then you can make a tabletop pinball machine from some scrap wood that you have lying around in your garage. This pinball machine is not difficult to make. We developed the steps below to make this pinball machine safe enough for a child to help you make, but you’ll need some woodworking skills and the correct tools. If you don’t have those, we do have two other options in pinball machines below. 

Since we are trying to keep this project as cheap and straightforward as possible, you may need to make some adjustments to our measurements, depending on what you are using. However, if you do plan on buying some of what you need, then you can follow our steps exactly. The choice is up to you!

Step #1: Start Making Your Tabletop

For your pinball machine’s tabletop, you can use an old tabletop if you have one or just a sheet of plywood cut down to the dimensions we are using or whatever dimensions you prefer. 

We started with a tabletop that was 36” by 20”. We made our sides with ¾” of plywood. If you decide to use an old tabletop, check it out for any old screw holes. If you have any, you’ll need to fill them with putty. You can make your tabletop or pinball machine any size you’d like, but you’ll have to adjust accordingly. For the purposes of this example, our measurements fit a table that is 36” by 20”.

When you attach the sides to the main table board, you can use screws. We suggest grabbing a clamp and holding the pieces together. Once you do that, you can drill the holes for your screws, then add your screws. 

You’ll also need to make the table tilt for the pinball machine to work. To do that, we used a two by four and screwed it in on the back of the table. You want the tilt to be at about forty-five degrees, so grab your angle measurement tool and make your tilt. 

Step #2: Make Your Paddles

You can make your paddles out of ¾” of plywood. Your scrap plywood should come in handy here. For our striking face, we went three and a half inches across, making sure it was square with the two-inch-wide outside edge. Since there aren’t standard dimensions for paddles, you can change the measurement and adjust accordingly if you’d like. 

Use your jigsaw to cut these pieces. Next, clamp both parts of the paddles to hold them together and grab some sandpaper. Sand the section smoothly and make sure your edges aren’t sharp. 

Leaving your paddles still clamped, grab your drill. You’ll need to make a small hole of about 5/16th” into the pivot corner area on your paddles. Now, find some more scrap wood. You’ll need to make two tiny blocks for the paddles. The blocks should be about two inches by two inches. 

You’ll need to drill another hole into the blocks so they will fit with a 5/16th” dowel. You can attach the blocks with a hinge, a screw, or glue. Then, connect your hinges using hot glue. Once that has dried, you need to make another hole for a screw eye in the back middle of your paddles. 

Before you screw your paddles in, check to see if your ball (you can use marble from around your house) slips when you hit it. If that happens, use some spray adhesive on the paddle faces, so they have a stronger grip. You want to do this before you attach your paddles because it’ll be far less of a hassle. 

Step #3: Mounting Your Paddles

Now you’ll need a 2 ½” long, 5/16” bolt plus a locking nut. (We cannot stress this enough; you need to use locking nuts. If you don’t have any, you’ll need to run out and buy some to complete this table to make sure it works). Now, mount the paddles using these items.  You want the paddles to move around quickly, so the bolts need to be a bit loose. However, make sure your paddles are in there tightly enough, so they are stable, and not wobbling. Add some washers under the paddles for clearance. 

If you want to make sure your holes are accurate, and you should, you’ll need a tape measure. Measure the distance that you want to make your table. Remember, our example measurements fit our 36” by 20” table. So, that’s our distance measurement. 

Then, grab your nail punch so you can start your hole for drilling. To connect your dowels, knobs, and any wooden pieces you want to add, you can use a hot glue gun. Cut a few rubber bands in half.  Add some rubber bands to the screw eyes you have on your paddle backs, and also to the dowel on the table. By doing this, you are aiding the table with its ability to resist, so the paddles spring back. 

Now, you’ll need to check on your paddles to make sure your knobs aren’t hindering the paddles on the table’s outside. You may need to move your dowels before you officially glue on the knobs. You’ll need to drill out the knobs a bit, and then cushion the knobs with some gentle foam. You can add the other pieces to the table with hot glue, including the dowels, once you are ready to position everything in the table. 

Step #4: Make Your Ball Launcher

To make your ball launcher, you’ll need an eight-inch piece of dowel. However, that size can vary depending on how large of a spring you are using. If it’s smaller, you may need to decrease the size accordingly. You’ll also need an old spring, single-ply cardboard, foam, and some scrap wood. You’ll use the foam as a way to prevent a harsh impact on the table when you use the knob. 

Using a slender piece of wood, make the track for your ball launcher. Your wood should be no thicker than ¾” of plywood and measure your track so it is at least a half of the distance of your table. So, for your 36” long table, your halfway point would be 18”.

When making your ball launcher, we recommend putting it above the right paddle. You should add some single-ply cardboard to help you with your route. If you need to support your track, you can add some other pieces of scrap wood underneath your path. You’ll need to drill your knob out and make sure it will fit with your dowel. Remember, we suggested dowels that are 5/16th” earlier. 

Set up your pieces after you have your track in, but don’t glue anything in yet! Make sure you place your articles carefully and give your pinball machine some test runs to see how it goes. You may discover you need sand or recut some parts to make everything work or even move things around. Keep figuring out your adjustment scheme, and once you are happy, you’re ready to glue everything.

Step #5: Adding Additional Items

Once you figure out your track and glue your pieces in, you’ve got your game set-up. However, you’re not entirely done yet. We want to make this pinball machine super cool, so we’ve got a few more suggestions for you. The rule at this point is, you can add any other items you want to your table. Your imagination only limits you!

If you are going to place additional items on your pinball machine table, it’s helpful to use a number two pencil to draw your ideas out. That way, you’ve created a map, and you know where everything should go. When you do that, grab your tape measure. You want to make sure you’ve got everything symmetrical and in working order. You can add anything you’d like, depending on how cool you want your pinball machine to look and how you want the ball to move.

When you add items, you only hot glue them together if you are combining elements. Then, you can hot glue your piece to your table. For example, you can add a loop that’s cut from a plastic bottle and cardboard pieces to alter the way the ball moves. These are just a couple of ideas; you can add whatever suits your needs.

As long as you’ve verified that your paddles and launcher function well, then enjoy making the upper part of the table as crazy as you want to. Check to make sure that everything is glued down properly at this point, too. That’s why we suggested using hot glue; hot glue will hold everything together, but it’s easy to get the item off if it isn’t positioned well. So, if you want to change things now or later, you’ll have that opportunity!

Once you are done, you have a pinball machine! However, before you stop reading these instructions, we’ve got some possible alterations we want to cover, as well as a video you can watch to assist you with making this table. 

Step #6: Possible Alterations

If you’re wondering about any possible alterations, we’ve got some suggestions. At this point, however, you can take or leave our tips—we won’t be offended! We want to ensure that you create a pinball machine that you can love.

Taller Outside Walls

If you’d like to make your outside walls taller, you are free to. You can use ½” plywood for the front and ¾” of plywood again for the back if you’d like. You can also use particle board or whatever wood you have lying around at this point. 

Launch Ramp

Also, you may find that you want a stronger launch ramp after you play with your pinball machine. We gave you the simple route, but it’s nice to have your ball appear randomly. If you want to make a machine that drops your ball more arbitrarily, add a pegged board, because it will make the ball go everywhere. Get some ¾” of plywood and insert ¼” dowels for this. Then, you can add a Plinko-like board to the wall on the back using scrap wood. Make sure the ball can still roll smoothly. 

If you want to see a video of this woodworking project, please go here

Now that we’ve covered how to make a pinball machine with wood, we’ll move onto discuss your other options. So, if you aren’t a woodworking pro, you don’t have the proper tools, or you don’t have wood, and you’d instead use cardboard, don’t worry. We’ve got a pinball machine for you, too! We’ll talk about that in more detail below. 

Cardboard Pinball Machine

If you don’t have the woodworking tools or lack the knowledge, don’t worry. You can still make a homemade pinball machine with your child if you’d like. If you know how to cut cardboard, then you’re ready! We will walk you through the steps below.

Step #1: Make Your Playing Field

First, you’ll want to figure out the type of playing field you’d like. You can base that off just about anything. For instance, if you have a favorite sport or game, you can take a concept from that for your table. We will be using baseball for this example. For this Start by drawing a plan on some paper. Then, move it onto your cardboard. If you feel you aren’t talented enough to do that, then you can download some designs here

If you do plan on using a baseball design, then you’ll need to figure out how to pitch your ball. We recommend using a plunger. You’ll need to place the plunger on one of the two walls. After that, you need to work one flipper to hit the ball. If you run a fly ball and somebody catches it, then you’re out. If not, the ball will go into a hole, and it’ll score a point as a run. You can set your pinball machine to win at a specific level of points, say 10, or whatever number you’d like. 

Once you are ready to start cutting, grab a box knife or scissors, and then start cutting. You need to cut one with your plan, and one blank one for later. We will use your blank one later to make the bottom of your machine, which we will discuss in a bit. 

Step #2: Make Your Field

Now you’ll need to cut your holes for your game. We recommend using marbles again for your ball. You want to ensure that the marbles will quickly enter your holes. After that, you’ll need to make the sides of your pinball machine. To do that, cut a few long strips of cardboard. Go around your design and measure your pieces. Modify your cardboard strips so that you have your pinball machine’s sides. Remember, you want the table to be on a tilt forward as well. You can trim your sides down if you’d like.

After you’ve placed your sides, you can now hot glue them to your table. You can make the sides very strong if you’d like by adding up to five big spots of hot glue on one board, then let it dry. After it dries and cools off, put some more glue in the corner. If you know how to weld, what we are doing here is very similar to welding. Your sides should now be set up, and make sure you’ve got a decent tilt by playing with your marble. 

Now, if any of this sounds too technical, or you have a little one with you, then you can skip this step if you don’t feel it’s necessary. Remember, the first round of pinball machines didn’t have moving parts. If you’d like, you can still make other things like ramps and add additional elements, without worrying about the complexity too much. However, that is totally up to you!

Step #3: Making Your Plunger and Chute

We are going to make the plunger first. For this, you’ll need a small hand drill and a ¼” bit. Using your drill, make a small hole in the middle of a cube. If you don’t know where the exact center is, you can grab a tape measure and mark it. You’ll need to do this to one other cube as well. Once you are done measuring your cubes, we’ll be using them as plunger caps. 

Now, grab the third block, and drill a 5/16th” hole through the block. Grab your ¼” dowel and cut a 10” piece from it with a saw. Next, place the dowel rod through your third cube, adding the spring and your caps. Once you are done, you’ll need to hot glue your caps. Once you’ve done that, you need to figure out where you want your plunger. Once you know that, you’ll need to glue down the center cube using hot glue. 

Your chute can be made from a strip of cardboard that’s 3” or so wide. Modify the cardboard to create your chute. The chute will carry the marble. You can also put a top on the chute if you want to make it stronger. However, that option is up to you. 

Step #4: Making Your Flipper

Your flipper will look like a bat if you want to keep following the baseball concept. You’ll need your flipper, a pin, a push rod, your spring, bushing, and your base. Now grab your 3/8” dowel and drill in a ¼” hole into it. We recommend that you use clamps to hold everything together so that nothing will move. Cut off two inches of your ¼” dowel and make your pin. 

Get your scrap wood and make a slightly off-base quadrilateral. After you are done, you’ll need to cut the shape with a hand saw. Make a tiny hole in the corner using your drill, and drill another one on the long edge. You can make a peg by using a piece of your dowel and hot gluing it into the small holes we asked you to drill on the long edge. Get a square block and drill another 5/16th” hole using your drill and make your bushing. 

Next, make your pushrod by cutting six-inches from the ¼” dowel. You’ll need to make a small hole in a block so you can form your handle once you are done, hot glue your pushrod to your paddle. Now you need to get your flipper, base and pin and assemble them. You may need to add some spacing here and there and cut down the pin. When you are done with that, add another ¼” hole in your table where you want to install your flipper. Hot glue everything and add the bin. 

Below the playing surface, you need to add some more small drill holes. There, you’ll place the bushing with your hot glue gun. Next, you’ll want to loop the tension spring so that it’s wrapped on the base. Grab your string and put it into the hole you made in the side. You can secure your spring with some leftover pieces if you need to. 

Before you start playing, you’ll need to test your flipper and move things around if you want to modify it. You can also add a bumper at this point using small strips of cardboard around the flipper. That prevents the marble from sticking. 

Step #5 Adding Your Return Floor

Next, you’ll need to measure your floor so you can put it on the bottom. Make sure you cut an area on the floor so you don’t prevent access to your flipper. Once you’ve measured the floor and cut it, you are ready to glue it on with some hot glue. Now, you’ll need to test the machine again to see how the return floor works. 

Step #6: Adding Your Return Basket

Once you are done, you need to make your return basket. Make it and cut it, and then add some strips on the sides. Once you are done, test everything out to make sure the pinball machine is working just fine.

Step #7: Adding Decorations and Obstacles

When it comes to decorations and obstacles, once again, you are only limited by your imagination! You can do anything you’d like, but we have a few suggestions for you. However, don’t let us restrain you. Feel free to explore your creative side!

If you want to make some curved walls or bumpers, you can add some one-inch strips of cardboard on the machine. Once you are done with your obstacles, grab some acrylic paint and start painting. If you want to make things bright, use some white primer. If you are not an artist and you want to make things easier, you can also print some designs you find online and add them with glue. 

If you’d like to see a video demonstrating how to make a cardboard pinball machine, please watch the following video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLyXSEzyotY 

That’s all you need to know if you want to make a cardboard pinball machine. However, what if neither one of these options works for you and you want something more comfortable? Don’t worry; you can purchase a DIY homemade kit with instructions and pieces that are ready to go for much cheaper than you could buy a real pinball machine. We will tell you how you can do this below. 

DIY Pinball Machine Kits

If you’d prefer some ready-made pinball machine kits, we’ve got good news for you. A company called Markerball recently came out with the Markerball Pinball Machine Kit. When you purchase one of these, you’ll receive a kit that’s ready to put together. However, you’ll still be able to customize it with the obstacles, playfields, and designs that you choose. 

If you order a Markerball Pinball Kit, you’ll be able to build with wood and start with a primary play area. Then, you can select your obstacles and pin them on the board. You’ll get the pins with the kit, too. You can place your constraints anywhere you want. While this option does cost money, the good news is that it is simple to put together and also very durable. 

If you’d like to learn more about the Markerball Pinball Kit, please watch this. This video will show you many options so you can get an understanding of what type of obstacles you can make when creating your very own one of kind pinball machines! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__BHmtF4doA&feature=youtu.be 

Final Thoughts

We provided you with three different options above so that you can complete the homemade pinball machine of your dreams and customize it yourself. So, you can either use wood, cardboard, or a kit, and you’ll have an incredible pinball machine that will give you and your family endless hours of fun!

Matt Robbs

There is nothing quite so enjoyable as bringing back memories from your childhood. We used to spend hours playing pinball in my friends basement and that really got me involved in everything retro!

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