The Home #Makerspace: How To Build Your Own Pinball Machine (with Working Launcher & Flipper)

dsc_2716-collageSometimes, a teacher needs to court a little controversy.  This week, Things 1 & 2 & I build a device which was banned in New York City from the 1940s until 1976, and can be found in high quality dens of iniquity and vice, such as bowling alleys and boardwalk amusements.

Pinball.  I’m talking about pinball.  Cue the Who!

This project is most appropriate for older makers in 5th grade and up depending on their skill and available supervision with box cutters.  Makers in grades 3/4 would benefit greatly from guided adult supervision.  I estimate 10 work-hours for young makers to build this machine.  Simplifying or eliminating the mechanics will greatly reduce the time necessary.

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While not difficult in terms of physical execution, this project involves a lot of cutting and gluing.  The mechanical complexity can be daunting for younger makers.  My 5-year old lost interest building the mechanical parts, but thoroughly enjoyed assembling and decorating the game.  I have included plans in SVG & DXF to help you build your own baseball pinball game.  Just print out full-size or copy the dimensions!

The Pinball Machine

Materials:

  • Cardboard
  • 1” square craft cubes or 1” square dowel, available from big box hardware and craft stores
  • 1/4” dowel, at least 20”.
  • 3/8” dowel, about 3” long or so.
  • A 1/4” machine nut
  • 1 small compression spring, with a inner diameter larger than 1/4”.
  • 1 small tension spring, just big enough to hook onto a your 1/4” dowel.
  • Small wood scrap
  • Hot Glue Sticks
  • Acrylic Paints
  • Rulers
  • Permanent Markers, Fine Tip
  • Marbles, steel balls, small bouncy balls.

Tools:

  • Box knife or Klever Cutters
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • Paint Brush
  • Hand drill with 1/4” & 5/16” bit
  • Wood Vise
  • Miter box
  • Hand Saw

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The Field & The Floor:

1.  The first step is to plan out your machine’s playing field.  I am a huge baseball fan, so I began designing a tabletop baseball game.  It has a playing field and when a ball falls through the holes, the ball rolls down a return floor, out into a basket.

I drew my basic plan on a piece of paper, eventually transferring my sketches onto a full size draft on cardboard.  In my game, you pitch the ball with the plunger, then hit the ball with the single flipper.  If the ball is “caught” by a fielder, the player records an out.  Otherwise, the ball falls in a hole and counts as a run.  You play until you record 27 (or whatever amount you wish) outs, just like in real baseball.

Make sure you account for the plunger in your design.  The playing field will have the plunger attached to the left or right wall.

2.  Draw a finalized plan on a large piece of cardboard.  You can download plans for the pinball baseball diamond here, but feel free to make your own design.dsc_1921

3.  Use a box knife or Klever Cutter to cut out 2 playing fields, one with your finalized plan on it.  The blank field will become the return floor of your machine.

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Preparing the Playing Field:

1.  Use a box knife or Klever cutter to cut any necessary holes.  Make sure your marbles will fit into any holes you made.

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Attach the Sides:

1. Cut several long 5” strips of cardboard.  Now, going edge by edge, measure and trim the long strips so they will form the sides of the pinball. The back of the playing field should tilt forward slightly.  I also trimmed the tops of my sides down so the tops were always 2” above the playing field.dsc_2485

2. Hot glue the sides onto the playing field.  I have a technique for creating strong, sturdy butt joints like you see throughout this project.  First, make three large dabs on the thin edge of one board, then press and wait to cool.  Once cooled, I lay a bead in the resultant corner.  This is a very similar technique to welding metal plates together with MIG welder.

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Close Up of Hot Gluing a Weld in Cardboard

3.  Once the sides are together, you should have a sturdy base.  Test out the tilt with your marble.dsc_2492

Shortcut:  If you have a younger maker, consider skipping to the obstacles & decoration step now.  Many early pinball machines don’t utilize moving parts.  Show the little ones how to make ramps, obstacles, etc and have fun without the complex mechanics!

The Plunger & Chute:

1.  Start with the plunger!  Use the hand drill with the 1/4” bit to drill a shallow hole in the center of a 1” cube.  To find the center of a cube, use a ruler to draw an X corner to corner on one face.  The center of the X is the center of the cube.  Repeat with a second cube.  These act as end caps for the plunger.dsc_2516

2. Drill a 5/16th hole complete through a third block.

3. Cut a 10” long section from the 1/4” dowel using a miter box and saw.dsc_2514

4. Thread the dowel rod with the through-hole block, compression spring and end caps.  Glue end caps onto the dowel as shown in the picture.dsc_2524

5. Position the plunger according to your plans.  Glue down the middle block with hot glue.dsc_2527

6.  Use a strip of 2” wide cardboard to fashion a chute to channel the marble as shown.  Attach a roof on the chute to increase its stiffness.dsc_2531

The Flipper:

The flipper consists of the bat, the pin, the base, the push rod, bushing and spring.

1. With the hand drill and appropriate bit, drill a 1/4” hole into the 3/8” dowel, about 1/2” from one end.  Use the wood vise to hold your work piece safely.

2. Cut 2” of 1/4” dowel to form the pin.dsc_2545

3. On the scrap wood, draw out a lopsided quadrilateral and cut to shape with a hand saw.  A pattern can be found here.  Drill a shallow 1/4” hole in the small corner with a hand drill.  Drill another shallow 1/4” hole on the long edge as seen in the final assembly. Create a peg by gluing a small section of 1/4” dowel into the shallow hole on the long edge.

4. Drill a 5/16” hole through a 1” square block with hand drill and saw to form a bushing.

5. Cut a 6” section of 1/4” dowel to form the push rod.  Drill a shallow 1/4” hole into a 1” square block to form a paddle handle.  Glue the paddle onto the push rod.

6.  First, assemble base, pin and flipper as shown.  Adjust the spacing between the flipper and base, then trim the pin if necessary.  Drill a 1/4” hole with the drill bit at the appropriate spot on the playing field.  Install the assembly inside the machine and secure the pin into the base & flipper with glue.dsc_2550dsc_2556

7. Drill a 1/4” hole on the sides below the playing surface.  Attach the bushing with hot glue in position as shown.

8. Loop the tension spring around the peg on the base, then stretch the spring through a small hole on the side.  Use a leftover trim piece to secure the spring, as shown in the picture.dsc_2564

9. Test the flipper and adjust parts as necessary.dsc_2573

10. Use 1” strips to create a bumper around the flipper assembly so the marble will not get stuck in mechanism.

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The Return Floor:

1. Dry fit the floor into the base of the game.  Cut a notch in the floor as shown to provide access to the flipper mechanism.

2. Glue floor into the base of the game.

3. Test the return floor.

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The Return Basket:

1. Trace and cut the base of the return basket.

2. Use 1” strips to trim and attach the sides of the return basket.

3. Test return basket.

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Obstacles & Decoration:

Anything can be used as obstacles. Get creative and post pictures of your innovations in the comments.

1. Use a box cutter to score the back of 1” strips to create curved walls and bumpers.  Install walls, bumpers and obstacles as needed.

2. Use acrylic paints to paint the surface.  Use white as a primer color to make a really bright playing surface.

3. You can print out decorations on a color printer and glue them, as shown.

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Enjoy the game!

Thank you for your continued support.

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