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Pinball machines are a favorite for many people that remember them fondly from many years ago. Some of the modern versions of pinball machines can be found in many places from Dave and Busters to the few remaining arcades. But does anyone even know what a pinball is made of?
What are pinballs made of? Pinballs are most commonly made out of carbon steel. However, they can be made from chrome steel, rubber, ceramic, gold, and silver. What a pinball is made of depends on the game you are playing and if the pinball is custom made.
These small balls have been used in these games for close to 150 years. Pinball games were even outlawed at one point! This article looks at what pinballs are made of and answers questions you didn’t even know you had about pinballs.
To see some of the most popular pinball machines on the market today just click here.
What is a Pinball Made Of?
Pinballs aren’t too complicated, and there’s nothing inside of them. Most pinballs are made out of solid carbon steel. Some manufacturers use a different kind of steel called chrome steel. Carbon steel is a metal alloy of iron and carbon, while chrome steel is non-stainless steel that is normally used on things like drills, forks, and knives.
Pinballs are small in diameter, only 2.7cm (or 1 1/16th in) so that they can fit through the narrow ramps inside of pinball machines.
Using a heavier or bigger ball will affect gameplay. You must get a properly sized ball, which sometimes varies based on the machine that you have. For example, in Bally’s Truck Stop machine, made in the 1980s, the ball was 1 inch in diameter, and so it kept getting stuck in the machines because the ramps on them were too narrow.
Not All Pinballs Are Steel
With the machines already built, it’s cheaper to sell small steel pinballs than redesign the entire machine to accommodate a bigger ball. If you ever get the chance to play the pinball machine from Sega called Viper Night Driving, you’ll notice the balls are like regular steel pinballs but are covered in glow in the dark yellow rubber.
They weigh less than 60 grams, and the balls bounce on the playing field, making the glow in the dark feature look amazing. These glowing balls may have looked cool, but they were not popular. They had a different feel when playing than the regular steel ones had, so even experienced players had a hard time playing with that pinball. The rubber-coated balls also got dirty faster and were damaged more often.
Another pinball that wasn’t made of steel is the Powerball, which was featured in the Twilight Zone pinball machine. It had regular steel balls but also had a ceramic white ball. This Powerball was 65 grams and was very fast when it was on the playing field.
Magnets did not affect the Powerball, so there were sensors put into the game that had to detect this ball over the steel ones. So, the gameplay was affected.
Another option for the material of your pinball is getting a custom pinball made with gold or silver in pinball shops. They also sell black pinballs and ones with custom designs and drawings on their outer layers. These layers are pretty shallow and can come off after a few games, though.
While most pinballs are a standard weight and made of steel, some come in various sizes, weights, and materials depending on select machines or custom mods.
Pinballs and Magnetism
Did you know that inside a pinball machine are magnets that attract your steel pinball? Only ceramic pinballs or a custom pinball made out of a material that isn’t affected by magnets can resist the attraction of the magnets in a pinball machine.
Carbon steel pinballs magnetize the more you play with them and are not immune to this feature inside of your machine. Some chrome pinballs have a high ferrous content and are sold at a higher cost than regular pinballs because they are more than just chrome-plated balls. They don’t flake and aren’t bad for machines. They are shiny and reflective, like a mirror.
High-ferrous chrome pinballs aren’t good for magnetized games because they magnetize at a faster pace than carbon steel ones. It can even form a magnetic attraction with steel coils or kickers, but it all depends on the pinball game you are playing. Not all games have magnetization, and the chrome balls are still able to be used in those games.
You will replace pinballs often because the material they are made of and the type of gameplay they go through means they get lots of scratches and are more magnetized over time. Magnetized pinballs mean that they won’t be shot through the playing field smoothly and will have more attraction to the metal parts of the game.
It’s important to know that you cannot completely demagnetize a pinball once this occurs. They must be replaced. The longer and more often you play pinball, the faster your ball magnetizes to the machine.
Those looking for something outside the box can get custom pinballs made. There are several options for custom pinballs, such as:
- Glow in the dark balls
- Pinballs of different sizes (for different games that may require them)
- Custom painted steel balls
You can also buy custom flippers to accommodate different types of balls like the ceramic balls that don’t have magnetism.
Custom pinballs will often have a rougher surface that if it isn’t polished correctly will affect the playing field. This is why you need to clean the outer material of your pinball before the scratches become too deep. Don’t worry about any small scratches because this is normal when playing. It’s when they are deeper that they affect the rolling of the ball that it needs to be changed out.
What Inspired the Making of The Pinball?
What inspired this tiny little ball to be what it is today? Well, a game similar to pinball was invented long ago. The article, “Who Invented The Pinball Machine?” by Karen Harris from History Daily, a website that is run by history buffs, says that in “Shakespearean times people played with small, wooden tabletop games, called Bagatelle.”
The goal was to roll the ball down the slope, go through the pegs and pins set up through the playing field, and land the ball in holes cut into the wood. The holes had numbers on them that translated into points for each of their balls that fell in. It was a very popular parlor game for centuries.
Around 1879, people played an improved version of Bagatelle that had that same tilted playing field but now had the traditional small-sized ball. Pinball was then banned later on in history in the 1920s because it was thought that pinball was gambling, and now, we have the current version of pinball that has been improved (for instance, the addition of a playing field that doesn’t let the balls become stuck).
Today, we play the version of pinball that started in 1937.
An example of what Bagatelle looked like may surprise you. Bumpers helped the steel ball move around, and a majority of the improvements made to the game focus on the ball being able to get around more easily. You can see an example of Bagatelle in the video below.
In conclusion, most pinballs are made out of steel. However, older ones are made of rubber, ceramic, or carbon steel. This affects the magnetism in the machines, the durability of the ball, how much it scratches, and how often it needs to be replaced.
If your pinball becomes damaged you can easily replace them with new ones. You need to make sure that if you replace a pinball that you do it with a pinball that is the same material and size as the original. If you buy a pinball that is different than the original then it will often not work properly in the machine or even damage it.