It may be surprising to learn that pinball machines were once illegal. According to "Popular Mechanics," this was the case in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, along with many other American cities, from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s. Pinball was seen as a form of gambling controlled by the Mafia and was regarded as a waste of time and money for young people. Nowadays, pinball machines are widely accepted and come in many different styles, but the essential concept -- of a ball falling down a board and meeting obstacles en route -- is still the same.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- Wood (various)
- Ball bearings
- Wood glue
- Board features (may require elastic, magnets, rubber, perspex, bells, lights, cages, batteries, etc.)
- Perspex top (optional)
Cut a baseboard to the size you want your pinball machine to be. Prop up the far end of the board and test the travel of a ball bearing down the board from various heights until you are happy with its speed. Measure the height of the prop, decide how high you want your pinball machine to be at the front and make two wedge-shaped side pieces accordingly. Nail the baseboard onto the side pieces. Glue wooden strips all the way around the top perimeter to retain the ball bearing during play.
Drill through the wooden strip on the front right hand side as required to allow room for the plunger mechanism. Fit the plunger, ensuring that it functions properly. Glue a wooden strip next to the plunger to create a chute for the ball bearing to travel along. The marble pinball game of Runnerduck Resources uses a similar idea. Fit a hinged wooden flap at the end of the chute to prevent the ball travelling back down the chute.
Add a flipper mechanism near the base of the machine. Buy this, if possible, but if you wish to make it, mount two hinged arms (left and right) connected by springs to the wedge-shaped flippers so that when "flipped" they return to their starting position. The flippers should be wide enough apart to allow a ball bearing through when they are at rest. Fit a cup to catch the ball bearings that pass through.
Add features to your board such as elastic belts, magnetic traps, arches, bridges, hinged doors, stars which spin when hit, rubber stops, perspex tunnels, paths of nails, bells, etc. Use your imagination to design and fit interesting obstacles. Fit caged lights, if you wish, which can be powered by batteries beneath the baseboard.
Paint your pinball machine using a theme you like, such as pirates, space travel, Hollywood stars, and so forth. Varnish over the paint when dry to protect it. Fit a perspex top to your machine to completely encase the play area, if you wish.
Tips and warnings
- Fitting the plunger on the left hand side is of course perfectly acceptable (and easier to use for left handed people), but normal custom is to fit it on the right.
- Use tools with care, especially power tools.
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