Introduction: LED Pinball Coffee Table

Picture of LED Pinball Coffee Table

There I was, minding my own business, when all of a sudden (as all good stories start) I found an old pinball machine at the dump.  I promptly took it home and has help putting it in the house where it sat in my living room long enough to put rust stains on the carpeting where the metal feet sat.

It wasn't complete enough to make it work without spending a lot of time and money on it.  I live too far away from a market to sell it as-is.  And honestly, the wife didn't seem too keen on starting a game parlor with our limited space.

So I decided to make a coffee table out of the main playing surface.

(Please add a link to if you mention this project someplace other than Instructables.)

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials
This will largely depend on what you have available...
  • a pinball machine
  • lumber
  • plywood
  • screws
  • staples
  • hot glue
  • tempered glass
  • aluminum stock
  • wood glue
  • a few strings of LED Christmas lights
Some suggested tools...
  • screwdrivers
  • drill and bits
  • pencil
  • tape measure
  • glue gun
  • staple gun
  • small nailgun
  • belt sander
  • miter saw
  • table saw
  • bench grinder
  • reciprocating saw
  • pliers
  • wire cutters
  • bolt cutters

Step 2: Disassemble the Pinball Machine

Picture of Disassemble the Pinball Machine

Once you have a derelict pinball machine the hard part is over.  Now start taking the thing apart.

NOTE:Vintage pinball machines are collectors items.  Make an effort to get parts into the hands of people working to restore these collectible machines.  You won't be using all of the parts in this project so save the rest and don't send them to the dump!  (Note that this machine was salvaged from the dump before you blast me for cannibalizing it in this way.)

Now you need to have the thing sit around your house long enough that your wife wants it gone so bad that she'll even help with the monotonous disassembly.  That worked for me!

Remove the scoreboard area, the legs, and then get to removing the guts - well, most of them.  You'll want to leave in the flippers, and any other items that project onto the play surface.  If the mechanical system extends too far below the play surface you might want to fake it by cutting off a part and reattaching it later.

Step 3: Replace Lights With LEDs

Picture of Replace Lights With LEDs

I carefully went through the machine and replaced with LEDs where there had been incandescent light bulbs. 

First you need to remove the plastic ends put on the light strings to make them "icicle-like."  I found that some came  off easily with just a twist of my fingers.  Others needed pliers to pe worked loose and some needed to be clipped off with wire cutters.

I then used a combination of staples and hot glue to affix the lights to the back side of the board.  Be extremely careful not to pierce the insulation of the wires when using the stapler.  I used the stapler mostly to position the lights that penetrated through the play board.  I used the glue-gun to position the ones that needed to be glued in place against the transparent plastic indicators.

Step 4: Build a Frame for the Table

Picture of Build a Frame for the Table

I had two dimensions i had to work around - the size of the pinball play field and the size of the tempered glass that i had on hand.  You might live somewhere that you can just order a piece of glass to fit the same size as your machine.  Or you might have the glass from the machine you're working with.  I had to use two pieces that i had kicking around though.  And i don't have the tools to cut tempered glass.  (And will not ever I suspect.)

So your assembly here will probably be a lot easier than this.  I'll skip the carpentry details and let the photos do the talking.

I used yellow cedar for the frame.  I notched out a groove for plywood on the bottom side for rigidity.  I used stainless steel screws that were countersunk in the wood for the frame corners.  And i used some strips to support the sides of the glass just above the play field.

Step 5: Add Legs

Picture of Add Legs

I have a problem figuring out the legs for the tables i want to build.  But i had some aluminum rectangular stock  kicking around that i decided would do the trick.

I drilled pilot holes and then used screws to attach the legs to the frame on the inside.  By using rough-cut lumber i had almost a full 2 inches of thickness to work with on the leg attachement points.

Step 6: Enjoy It!

Picture of Enjoy It!

...Now to put an electric outlet in the middle of the floor of the living room so that extension cords are not necessary.


scoochmaroo (author)2010-10-01

You got geeked!

zieak (author)scoochmaroo2010-10-02

Cool! Thanks! I often check the "Stats" sidebar for incoming links and hadn't seen that one yet.

illuminatis (author)2010-09-23

If you havent yet discarded it the scoreboard would make a great matching end-table using the same method

zieak (author)illuminatis2010-09-23

Not a bad idea!

I think i can sell a set like that here. But nobody wants a project machine here. Well - other than me for this kind of use I guess.

illuminatis (author)zieak2010-09-23

This Idea got me interested in making some theme type tables for our game room. if you don't have a spare pinball table lying around you can find the backboards(in the pinball industry, they're called "translites") online this is just one place i found after a 5 min search, reasonable prices too. on the tables i want to do, i was thinking about using actual pinball table legs(which can also be found on the same site) for the table legs.

jeff-o (author)2010-09-20

Nice; I like that you used salvaged lumber as well as the salvaged pinball machine!

zieak (author)jeff-o2010-09-20

Thank you - I managed to not spend any money on parts or materials - just used things i had kicking around or (like the lights) had purchased a while ago.

mikeasaurus (author)2010-09-20

Great build, and good call on getting those vintage parts to the right people. I can't believe you found it in the condition you did. The table looks awesome!

the_PROCRASTINATOR (author)2014-12-10

Great idea! Nice work!

quinault (author)2014-10-22

for me, it's impossible

maren10 (author)2014-05-06

great man love it

elishay503 (author)2013-12-07

How do you prevent the pinball panel from falling?

coolbeansbaby68 (author)2012-08-11

Very nice job!!

bricmic (author)2010-09-23

AAAHHHH !!!! Horreur et Damnation un Sacrilège un Massacre !!!!!

salemgames (author)bricmic2012-04-10

C'est clair. En plus je me demande si c'est jouable. Il n'y a pas d'inclinaison ni de boutons. En fait c'est une table éclairée.

fly_boy_bc (author)bricmic2010-09-23

I have to agree! What's the next ible? Making a model t ford into a planter box? Or perhaps a P-51 mustang garden fountain?

It was your classic piece of americanna I guess you can trash it if you like. I would have paid you $700 for the PBM BTW.

zieak (author)fly_boy_bc2010-09-23

I'll take the $700 if you'll pay for shipping it to Seattle on a barge line and then the freight to wherever you live. I'll reassemble it (with the exception of the plastic pieces i cut) and package it nicely on a pallet with the legs off and the back removed for safest shipping.

fly_boy_bc (author)zieak2010-11-30

Deal! But only if you can un-cut the irreplaceable pieces that you cut.

zieak (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-30

I'll call your bluff. Here's one on Ebay that is more complete than the one I have for well under the price you mentioned... And no bids with a day left!

fly_boy_bc (author)zieak2010-11-30

1...The POINT is that turning an old PBM into a table PISSES OFF anybody who likes pinball machines.

2...using Non original REPLACEMENT parts LOWERS THE VALUE and it is NO LONGER ORIGINAL.

3...I could get that unit from Alaska to my door for around $150 because it could be DRIVEN DIRECTLY. (No ship to Seattle) (Even cheaper if you can tag a ride with someone who is going to make the trip anyway.

zieak (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-30

I live on an island. You can't drive here directly.

Be pissed off at me - but I saved the PBM from the conveyor belt of a trash baler. Maybe some day the playfield will land in the hands of someone working on a complete restoration. Maybe the back glass will be the final piece someone was looking for. After months of research I determined that the cost of restoration on my end wasn't worth it and the cost of shipping the whole thing to others also was not worth it.

Poo-poo the project all you want. It's easy to just contribute negativity here.

ynneb (author)zieak2012-01-06

You make a great point. What is the greater loss? Been totally trashed by a compactor, or been converted into a coffee table with the possibility of future restoration. You did WELL to save it.

zieak (author)fly_boy_bc2010-11-30

And here are the "irreplaceable" pieces that I cut... Available for just $28.

Aron313 (author)2012-03-02

Wowowowowowow thats sick!

TersePlanet3692 (author)2011-08-07

this is soooo cool bro, i can't believe it's paragon! you are a lucky lucky man to have such a sexy coffee table

xavec (author)2011-07-15

cannot tell you how much I love this. And if I ever get my hands on an old pinball machine...

*evil cackle*

Robert T. (author)2011-04-09

where do you find a salvaged pinball machine? I live in a large city; what do you suggest? Please advise... I am dying to recreate the wonderful table and am pretty handy myself! Thanks in advance! 

STuFFeD FiSH (author)2010-10-04

hahaha is that you or did you put that in for jokes? xD

zieak (author)STuFFeD FiSH2010-10-04

That's my wife helping out with the project.

honigtiger (author)2010-09-28

freakingly cool thing you have built, I want it...;-)))...I think I'll have to make one...

Master_Squid (author)honigtiger2010-09-29

Please dont make your own... Was cooler before you.....but looks good!

zieak (author)honigtiger2010-09-28

Thank you!

pie popper (author)2010-09-24

This is so cool! Good job :)

ChillyChick (author)2010-09-24

Zieak, Lower 48ers have no idea what shipping costs are. Good find, Great Job!!

ynneb (author)2010-09-23

I know guys who wold have driven 1000 miles to pay you good money for that machine.
Nice build, though I suspect MANY pinball enthusiasts will be quite upset at what you have done.

zieak (author)ynneb2010-09-23

Sadly, I live on an island In Alaska. But if you find someone willing to pay for the shipping of it to Seattle I'd love to get it in the hands of a true fan. The only thing i 'ruined" are the seven plastic parts that pop up... and I'm sure they could be repaired. Back glass is in excellent shape too...

ynneb (author)zieak2010-09-24

Try advertising it for a $1000 bucks. See what happens. Then you might be able to buy a coffee tables with the proceeds. :)
All this been said, I still like your build. Creative thinking.

Peale (author)zieak2010-09-24

Post on the KLOV boards - I'm sure there is someone that would take it.

Brunomaster (author)2010-09-23

you destroy the pinball to do a coffe table????? what is next?

mastercob (author)2010-09-23

That's a classic, prized pinball machine. And the playfield looks like it's in nice shape.

Nice table... but this makes me sad. I kiiiiinda think it coulda been fixed for not too much. As long as you're into circuit board soldering! ;)

zieak (author)mastercob2010-09-23

The soldering wouldn't be a problem... But keeping the machine isn't an option for me. In fact, I probably won't even be keeping the table. I just don't have space for it. I agree that it is a great machine. And I would still love to get it onto the hands of a collector. Or the parts that people need to those that need them.

But i literally saved the thing from being crushed and shipped to Seattle in a container to be dumped in a landfill. I loaded it on my trailer at the baling facility. But living in Alaska it is really expensive to ship something so large and heavy.

illuminatis (author)zieak2010-09-23

all the parts you need to repair the parts that were scrapped n cut and the parts to repair/recondition it can be found here

Wesley666 (author)2010-09-23

If you just took the scoreboard off, couldn't you put just some very short legs on it and use it the way it is? Even better if 2 of the legs lowered or raised so you could tip it for playing (Otherwise the ball doesn't roll down to the paddles) and then you could lift it up to level so your drink doesn't slide off.

Jason_G (author)2010-09-23

Any plans on making a matching end table with the backglass / scoreboard part of the pinball machine? Very spiffy, btw!

zieak (author)Jason_G2010-09-23

That's a great idea!

trouble01 (author)2010-09-23

I'm sorry that: If you Removed a worked Pinball it :(((

zieak (author)trouble012010-09-23

It didn't work. It lit up - but wouldn't do much more than that.

I disassembled it nicely for the most part - few wires were cut but that's an easy fix. The cut plastic pieces were the only cruelties on it!

cook$ (author)2010-09-20

Is it necessary to dress as Super Mario to build this? ;)

zieak (author)cook$2010-09-20


Earthling! (author)2010-09-20

Good one. Very funny.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!
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