Picture of DIY Skee Ball Machine
The skee ball machine is a wonderful thing. The simple experience of rolling a ball into a target is so freakishly satisfying that I used to play as much as I could as a kid at the local amusement park/mini-golf course. The sound of the rolling ball on the ramp, the pop as it launched in the air, and the bouncing as you hoped it would hit the 50 or even the 100.

So when the idea for doing a bigger project came up, I jumped at the chance to make a DIY version. I was amazingly lucky to get a lot of help from the folks at Because We Can who did the design and fabrication of the machine on a Shopbot.

Note: this version was made for Maker Faire and as such has a few loose ends. It survived Maker Faire (mostly), but needs some more work to be bullet-proof.

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Step 1: Get Stuff

Picture of Get Stuff
Electronics Software
  • Arduino
  • Processing
  • Illustrator (or other vector graphics program)
  • 7 sheets of 3/4" plywood
  • gorilla tape
  • netting
  • wood screws
  • paint
Tools Other
  • Balls. These are balls from the ice ball game and were bought on eBay (search for "ice balls skee") for $10 each

Step 2: The four main pieces

Picture of The four main pieces
These are the four main pieces of the skee ball machine. These can be easily taken apart so that the whole thing can be moved in a 10' U-Haul truck. The ramp slots onto the cabinet and doesn't use any fasteners to be attached.

The Revit files for the skee ball machine are attached. With this design, the pieces were cut out of 3/4" ply on a ShopBot. The assembly is straightfoward as it's a tab-and-slot design.

Step 3: The playfield

Picture of The playfield
The pieces for the playfield are straightforward. Most of the pieces fit together as in the picture above. The kicker at the end of the playfield is made up of several s-shaped pieces of cut plywood all glued together.

The ramp itself is covered with cork and the front end of the ramp has a metal bracket to protect against wayward throws.

Step 4: Cabinet

Picture of Cabinet
Here is an exploded view of the cabinet. Again, the assembly is very quick with tabs slotting the middle pieces into the sides. A few screws are used to keep everything more snug.

One thing that we didn't add was a shield for the display. We tested the machine out by throwing the balls in a regular bowling fashion and never came close to it. When kids or excited adults played it, however, a lot more force was used and the balls would pop up enough to hit the display. Kids being kids, this became a game of its own and one of the displays broke right before the end of Maker Faire.

Step 5: The electronics

Picture of The electronics
The electronics for the skee ball machine are refreshingly easy and simple. Each target has a 5cm distance sensor attached to it. As soon as anything gets within 5 cm of the sensor it signals the Arduino and the hits gets logged.

Each sensor is running off of the 5V on the Uno and is also sending a digital signal to the Arduino. There's no pulldown resistor. That's it.

As for the Arduino itself, it's running StandardFirmata. This can be found in the Arduino software under Files>Examples>Firmata.

So what this does is just turn the Arduino into an interface for the computer. You can certainly put the entire program with an LED display for the score and this was an initial direction for this project, but I wanted to make the display a little fancier and have some more fun with it.

All of this is held in place by Gorilla tape which looks odd. This is not meant to be the final version. All of the pieces only came together the day before Maker Faire. The goal was to survive Maker Faire and that worked out on the electronics side. The next version will have 3D-printed brackets and shield for all of the electronics.

Step 6: Just add Processing

Picture of Just add Processing
The Arduino solution would be great for recreating the classic skee ball machine. In fact, I did that in the first hour of this project. But then I got bored and realized "I don't have to follow the original rules!"

Seriously, if we're going to make our own game, then lets make the game our own.

By using software that displays information on a monitor you're free to do so much more with it. Instead of each hit giving you one single set score you can add more effects and events. Like these:
  • Combos - Hit a group of targets for a special bonus score. I added the Up the Line combo (10 - 50) and the Around the World combo (all targets)
  • Streaks - Hit the same target again and again to get more points each time. Doesn't work on the 10.
  • More specific combos - Two combos only work by hitting two targets in a row in the right order. I added the Don't Panic combo (40, then 20) and the Because We Can combo (10, then 100)
I tried showing just the score with these effects happening, but people just got confused. Making it all visually apparent was crucial.

In addition to more points, the big combos (Up the Line and Around the World) also had a bonus ball. If you hit a specific target after the combo you'd double your combo bonus.

Here are a couple other features added to the game:
  • Game recap - At the end of the game there's a display of what targets you hit during the whole game and what your cumulative score was
  • Random backgrounds - The backdrop was randomly picked from 9 different images
  • Sound effects - fun!
  • Score bounce - the more your score increased after a hit, the more the score on the screen would "bounce." Getting over 1,000 points* would make the score expand well past the edge of the screen.
And that was just a short list of things I wanted to do before I ran out of time. Even so, it's already way past the original game design.

To run the game, download the attached Processing sketch and plug in an Arduino with StandardFirmata on it. My experience with Firmata was that it can be a little finicky in pairing the Arduino with the laptop so make sure you are getting basic features to work there with a simple test first before trying this out.

Notes on attached sketch:
  • The sketch is designed to be run on a HDTV screen and can be changed from a 720p resolution to a 1080p resolution by changing the monScale variable to 2 or 3
  • The sketch resets the game after 10 seconds or so. This is because I was having issues with the arcade button, but can easily be changed to add it back in.
  • Apologies in advance for the messy code. This is my first Processing sketch.
*the max score in this version is 7,777 and is achieved by only hitting the 100 targets. We never got close to seeing that happen in real testing, but it's there!
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As I literally live 75 miles away from the nearest make shop or any open shop bot, I was wondering if you could "port" the drawings so those of us who've mastered the original 'shopbot,' aka the router, could have a go at a skee ball machine.
fungus amungus (author)  gargoyle1691 year ago
I could if I knew more about Revit. Let me see if I can get more accessible files out of it.
Do you have ai or dxf files?

We're in the process of building this ourselves. We have the Rings cabinet built already and should have the playfield finished in the next month or so. Probably without cork on the ramp, maybe rubber or something similar.

I made PDFs and DXFs of all the individual pieces, and fixed a couple of errors (a couple missing holes). We used these to plug into our 4x4 shopbot and had to figure out how to index the pieces that were longer than 4'. Not an easy task.

If you want a copy of the files I can send them, just PM me. The PDFs don't have piece counts, and they need to be scaled up 4 times, the DXFs have all the piece counts and are accurate exports from the Revit model.

Who has these files in a ai or dxf format?
andracke13 days ago

Can any help me with information on the shopbot files? I have a group of hs manufacturing kids that would like to make this as a project.

ccbarr1 year ago

Is there anyway to receive more detailed information of your Arduino instructions? Thanks - looks great!

did you find anything?

I'm looking for a step by step guide to setting up the electronics for use and how to add numbers and different colors/fonts...


Are there any detailed instructions/steps for a beginner to set up the electronics and displays, how to customize, etc...??

gmonroy3 months ago

Wonderful !!! Thanks friend!!!

jshimon11 months ago

I'm having issues getting the software side of this figured out. Has anyone successfully gotten that working? I PM'ed OP but did not recieve an answer.

Rad racer81 year ago

Hey was just wondering what degree angle the wood with the holes in is at? Cheers

p.s cool design

Wouldn't it also be fun to have a device to measure the speed of the ball? I really enjoyed your project, lots of really cool ideas! Thanks!
tpardue1 year ago
I was wondering where did you get the cork and how did you secure it to the ramp?
jrinvelt1 year ago
Anyway we could get the shopbot files? I think I can get Revit to DWG, but the next step might be beyond me.
Revit? How would you use Revit to create something like this? Revit is only for architectural renderings (it was never originally intended to create build-able models, either). What CAD did you actually use?
fungus amungus (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago
It was actually Revit. I didn't make the file, an architect did.
It's still the wrong piece of software for the job.
Tell that to this guy: He created an elephant completely in Revit.

I use Revit everyday and I'm just as happy modeling in it as in some of my other modeling software. Sure, it's not as robust as some but for this project I think it would be great.
fungus amungus (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago
Is it still wrong if the results came out right?
Well, there is that. The main problem with using something like Revit for this is that it encourages Autodesk to add misfeatures (like the ability to do this) to their programs, making it all that much harder to use it for its real purpose when one needs to. This is actually a quite serious problem, as exemplified by the current Revit itself, which (as I said), was only ever intended to be used for architectural renderings, but which now has a large number of 'extra features' that get in the way, and give the user the illusion of being able to actually design a whole building with it.
And then, of course, company managers see the software, get conned into it by that illusion, and then the real engineers have to use it, rather than an actually good BIM program.
I like the results of your project, though. I wish I had my own one now...
fungus amungus (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago
Thanks. Me too. This is currently in storage. Too big for our office and way too big for my house.
fungus amungus (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago
Perhaps, but this is not a complicated project and the person who designed it used the software that he normally uses for architectural purposes. I doubt that skee ball design needs will be driving forward changes at Autodesk. I see what you mean about a greater problem, but this is a tiny tiny subset of that.
May be but people have been using the "wrong software" for years and getting great results, otherwise we would not have a maker sub-culture.
Is there no way to get an exploded diagram with basic dimensions? I don't have Revit or anything like it. But I do have the ability to cut the parts myself on a water jet machine if I can draw the parts. Some basic dimensions would be helpful.
fungus amungus (author)  happyalegrias1 year ago
You can get Revit free for a month.
First of all, let me say how impressed I am with this instructable! There was clearly a fair amount of time that went into this machine, and it's clear that everyone involved worked very hard on it. I love the overall aesthetics of the machine as well as the Arduino integration.

That said, I would like to build one of these for an upcoming course project (the deadline of which is mid-December). I'm an EE student and this would certainly make good demo of what we're doing in my microcontrollers class. Anyway, the fact that the files are uploaded in native Revit formats makes them very time-consuming to get to the point where I can actually send them out to get cut; Revit it not a standard tool in the manufacturing industry.

Would you please try to get the person who created these files to export the different parts separately as either DWG, DXF, or STL files? This would allow other people to take them directly to a machine shop/makerspace to get them cut. Not providing de facto standard file types hinders others' ability to benefit from and enjoy your hard work. If this is not possible, I will gladly bumble my way thru Revit to extract usable files and forward them to you so that others may use them as well.
arpoky1 year ago
Was this built at the office? I think I saw it before it was finished when I visited in July!
fungus amungus (author)  arpoky1 year ago
Nope, built in Oakland. Was done for Maker Faire in May and later stored at the office.
hackmattr1 year ago
Add a coin acceptor and you can have a big piggy bank for your next project.
fungus amungus (author)  hackmattr1 year ago
YES. This was something huge on the list of things to add. Adafruit has a nice one. Was even thinking of getting custom tokens made for Maker Faire so that we could make sure people didn't play twice in a row with people waiting. As it was, the line took care of itself since there were typically 10 people watching and waiting.
dude your my hero I love skii ball my dads gonna try to make it
DomNewell1 year ago
That is wicked. nice job :-)
Fantastic job with some great design flair! Hope I get the opportunity to build one at some point! Thanks!
syates31 year ago
Use this as a way to practice for hours then go into one of those arcades where they have one for tickets and score a perfect 900 get a few thousand tickets for a few dollars. The machine looks great, wish I had one, I always loved skee ball, and I love the classic look to yours. If I had the room I might try my hand at making one cause those mini ones just don't give the same feeling.
Can you put in a link for the balls please?
I am in the gathering stages for building my own Skee-Ball lane.. I purchased 3-inch maple hardwood balls from Woodworks Ltd. ( which I took to the arcade and compared to actual Skee-Ball balls and they are almost identical size and weight... I did not throw one at the arcade because although I know the operator pretty well I didn't want to have him have to open up the lane to get it back for me. I am going to stain and/or poly them.

Here is a link...

Oh, the best part? The price! 10 for US $36.50 plus $5.95 shipping for a total of $42.45 for a set and a spare... much better than the price anyone who calls their balls "Skee-Ball balls" would ever let a set go for!

Wood Ball for Skee-Ball.jpg
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