Introduction: Pinball Coffee Table

Picture of Pinball Coffee Table

This is a coffee table built from the playfield of a pinball machine. It is pretty easy to build and best of all, it lights up! It was inspired by a bar in Seattle called Shorty's, which has tables similar to these in its booths. My girlfriend and I both love pinball. We met at a pinball convention, and we both regularly attend pinball events and tournaments, so this was the perfect gift for her as well as being fun for me to build.

Step 1: Materials List

Here are the materials you will need for this project

1 pinball playfield
2 side pieces of wood cut to fit
2 end pieces of wood cut to fit
Moulding to be used for the top to hold the glass on
Tempered glass cut to fit
Four legs and hardware to attach
6V battery
Rocker switch
Screws and nails
Wood glue

Step 2: Acquiring a Playfield

The first thing you need is the playfield from a pinball machine. This is the painted wood that the ball rolls around on as you play. Playfields can be bought with all their parts attached ("wired") or with all the parts removed ("unwired"). For this project you will want a wired playfield. The electronics are necessary in order for it to light up, and it just looks a lot cooler with all the parts on it.

Your best bet for acquiring a playfield is Ebay. Search for "pinball playfield" and you will get lots of options. These days it is often more profitable to "part out" an old game to collectors who use the parts for restorations than it is to sell the game itself. A playfield can be as cheap as $50 or as expensive as $1500 plus shipping. Typically the older the game, the cheaper it will be. This will be your biggest single expense in the project. If you don't like Ebay, many areas have auctions of coin-operated games and parts and will often have playfields for sale, although the quality tends to be more questionable. You can also ask at online forums like the usenet newsgroup.

When buying a playfield, the first thing you want is something that you find attractive and visually appealing. I wasn't looking for something cosmetically perfect, but I didn't want any big gashes or anything in the paint. You will also want to make sure all the plastic parts (that cover the various mechanicals) are present. If the auction text mentions that the playfield was fully functioning when it was pulled out of its game, then that can be helpful information, although for the purposes of this project, there's really not a lot to worry about functionally.

The playfield for this project was a Williams Lucky Seven from 1978, which I purchased off Ebay for $80 plus $50 for shipping (they are heavy!)

Step 3: Building a Frame

Picture of Building a Frame

Once you get your playfield you will need to measure it so you can figure out the wood you need. Most playfields are a standard size but some aren't so I'm not even going to list measurements here. Just measure yours! The table will probably need to be 8-9 inches tall in order to accomodate the parts hanging off the bottom of the playfield.

It should be noted here that I am not a carpenter, and this was my first major project, so its quite possible that the way I went around this was not the best. I was learning as I went. Hopefully you have someplace more appropriate than your kitchen floor to build too!

I got all my wood cut at Home Depot, a great option if you don't have your own power tools. The sides are 3/4" thick paint grade pine. I couldn't miter the corners because HD wouldn't do that for me, although obviously that is a nicer option if you have the tools for it. I just laid down my sides, glued them with wood glue, and tightened them down with the 90 degree clamps. After giving them a little time to dry I screwed them down with wood screws. If I was to do this again, I would make the long sides screw onto the short sides rather than the other way around. It would mean you don't have a seam showing on the side you look at (although you would have screws), plus I could then use those pressure clamps to hold things together more tightly. They don't make clamps long enough for the long side.

Note in the detail photo I measured 3/8" in (half of the wood's width of 3/4") and lightly scored a line so I would have a visual guide of where the screws go. I did this all over the place and it was extremely helpful. Later you can just sand these out or paint over them.

Step 4: Adding the Ledges

Picture of Adding the Ledges

In order for the playfield to lay flat in the box, you need to add ledges on each side for it to sit on. This holds it up high enough to keep the parts on the underside from laying on the bottom. Again, this is just something you'll have to measure for yourself to see where yours should go. I believe mine was about 2.5" from the top. I just used a couple scrap pieces of wood I had leftover getting the sides cut. Marked their position, glued them down and screwed them on.

This is a good time to lay your playfield in to check its fit.

Step 5: Attaching the Base

Picture of Attaching the Base

This step is easy. Glue all around the edges, lay your bottom piece of wood on, and screw it down. I used a jar of pennies to weigh it flat although again, some pressure clamps would have been a lot better. The wood I used for the bottom was a slightly lower grade than what I used on the sides and only 1/2" thick. If I was doing this again, I would set it inside on some ledges and screw it down that way to eliminate the exposed seam on the bottom.

NOTE: Check, check, and check again to make sure you put the bottom on the correct side. The ledges you added in the prior step will be closer to the top than the bottom, and screwing this to the top bu accident would be disastrous. I came very close to doing this only noticing at the last minute.

Step 6: Moulding and Glass

Picture of Moulding and Glass

This is probably the most complicated part of the project. I had several requirements here.

1) I wanted a piece of glass on the table like in a real game
2) It needed to be held on somehow
3) It needed to be removable so I could get into the table at a later point if need be.

Measure your glass and get it cut at a glass store, most local hardware stores won't be able to cut a piece this big. Make sure and get tempered glass. It is stronger and far less dangerous if it shatters.

At Lowe's I found some moulding that worked perfectly for what I needed to do. It was 90 degree angle, 1" wide and 1/4" thick. This made it fit exactly right when laid against the 3/4" thick wood. So I measured the moulding and cut it using a miter box. Then I took my glass and laid it on the top of the table. Now I could just lay my moulding against the edge of the table, pull it down flat against the glass and nail it down knowing I had everything just where it needed to be. I nailed down three sides, and attached the fourth side with a single screw allowing me to take side off and pull the glass out whenever I want.

Once you have the three nailed pieces on, its again a nice time to put the playfield back in. slide the glass on, and lay down the fouth piece of moulding to make sure everything fits properly.

You'll notice in the photos that the corners arent quite as tight as they could be. Thats just inexperience and hand tools at work. Its tough to get that stuff really tight. I also split the moulding in a couple places, its really thin and you need to be very careful with it.

Step 7: Pinball Lamp Electronics

You now have everything in place to be able to move to the next step of getting the lights going. However first a few words about lamp electronics. Lamps on a pinball playfield come in two types - controlled and general illumination (GI).

Controlled lamps are associated with rules - they are on in certain cases and off in certain cases. Special When Lit is an example of a controlled lamp. The target the lamp is in front of scores a special when the lamp is lit, otherwise it does not.

General illumination is illumination around the playfield which is not tied to any feature - it is always on.

In my table I used only the GI. By applying power and ground to one circuit you can light up a ton of lamps. Controlled lamps are more complicated, depending on the game you're working on. On older games, they are controlled by relays tied to scoring features. On newer games, they are put together in a matrix configuration controlled by diodes. If you wanted to also light the controlled lamps, you could do so by rewiring them into the GI string, however the specifics of doing that is beyond the scope of this article. There is lots of info out there for those who want to investigate it, or you can again ask questions on

Another suggestion I got at one point was to wire up a string of christmas tree lights and attach them under the controlled lamps. You could also have blinking lights this way. I chose not to go this route though, but it would be fun to try.

Step 8: Hooking Up the Switch and Power

Picture of Hooking Up the Switch and Power

I considered lots of options here. Originally I was going to put a transformer into the table and run a cord to the wall. I really didn't want to though, since this table was meant to sit in the middle of a room. A friend suggested using a lantern battery, and while I was skeptical at first it worked like a charm. The battery I got was 6V, and you could probably get a bigger one for brighter lamps.

The first step in hooking everything up is locating the GI string. Typically GI is located along the edges of a playfield. For instance, at the top of a plyfield between the lanes at the top, under the plastics, there will typically be lamps. These are always GI lamps. Another classic location for GI is under the slingshots (the triangular poppers above the flippers.) Every GI lamp has two wires - power and ground. Follow them around the playfield until you find where they exit in the wiring harness. In the first picture below, you can see where the lamp wiring runs from lamp to lamp before finally exiting in insulated wire on the right.

Pull these two wires, hook one to the + terminal on the battery and one to the - terminal. Your playfield should just light up - that easy! If only some of the GI lights up, then you've got a break somewhere you'll have to hunt down.

Once you know your electronics are right and proper you can install the switch. I got a DPDT switch from Radio Shack although later I realized I could have used a SPDT just as easily. I used a rocker switch that stuck through the wood and screwed down from the back. Unfortunately it was only 1/2" deep, same as my wood so there was no clearance to screw it down. I ended up just sticking it on with some hot glue.

Wiring the switch is pretty straightforward. One thing I added at the last minute was a little holding cage for the battery using scrap pieces of moulding. You can see how I basically just screwed them down around it. This holds the battery in place when moving the table around.

Step 9: Adding the Legs

Picture of Adding the Legs

The legs are probably the easiest thing here. Lowe's and Home Depot have a wide selection of screw on legs, as well as the hardware to attach them. Pick four of the height and style you like, attach the hardware to the bottom, and screw them on. I used 8 inch legs, which makes my table about 17 inches tall all together.

Step 10: All Done!

Picture of All Done!

Hey nice table! Should make a great present for somebody or light up your own house! Here are some changes I would make or consider if I were doing it all over.

1) Pay more attention to exposed seams and work to minimize them.
2) Hook up controlled lamps
3) Try larger battery

I hope you enjoyed hearing about this project. If you build your own make sure and let me know!


Robert T. (author)2013-04-28

I have loved this table for a few years, now! I'm so glad you are still here, and the plans are here, too! Man, what more could a carpenter need..? I want these plans, so work will begin soon! Thank you very much.

kpomerleau (author)2013-01-03

Awesome job! On the table and the instructable was very detailed and informative!

Lizzle25 (author)2011-05-13

I would love to either make one of these or get one for my husband. He loves pinball. This would be the coolest present ever and his birthday is next week and our anniversary the next. Hmmm!

Self-Serving Martyr (author)2007-11-02

That's an amazing idea. I think the only way it could be better is if you stained the wood. I may have to look into making one for myself, but I'm going to try to figure out a way to make it playable. Still a coffee table, but also a playable pinball machine. This could be my first instructable. What do you guys think?

that's our plan.
hopeing to make the playfield slanted, but build up the cabinet so it can be level, and playable.

you would have to put the playfield on an angle so the ball could roll down freely. good luck !

MistyEE (author)2011-03-08

Your table is gorgeous!

9ale7 (author)2010-11-14

always wanted to do one !!
would love to see a video, is there any??

james069 (author)2010-03-18

WOW Amazing!! Would love one of these for my gameroom!

chamoore (author)2010-01-21

 Thank you for the inspiration!  Was able to use the glass, coin door, top metal rails and flipper buttons off of a very old and falling apart scrap pinball machine.  It has been hooked up with Christmas lights (the blinking white kind that comes with various blink settings) and looks great!  

Clayton H. (author)2009-12-21

you should paint the sides the way the sides of the pinball are painted.

Bradlez92 (author)2009-11-27

Great instructable! And your girlfriend looks as happy as a clam for the present!

halfwaythere (author)2009-07-19

I lOVE This! Great Idea and reuse.

JellyWoo (author)2008-11-12

how much was the whole project?

mide7 (author)JellyWoo2009-07-09

a lot

bhaz (author)2008-12-07

This is amazing...I love it!

David Harris (author)2006-01-26

overall I think this is a really great project. Another option is to save that old battery and charger form a cell phone. The table lights are originally designed to run off of AC power?

Phoghat (author)David Harris2008-06-17

Incandescent lights WILL work on either AC or DC. Edison, as you may recall, used DC. It was Tesla who came up with AC.

Coffee bean (author)Phoghat2008-11-22

hi five Tesla, but he didn't invent AC he just made it practical by building the AC motor.

dashofthunder (author)2008-10-22

why dont you stain/paint it?

gino_LF (author)2008-10-15

It's amazing. Something like a glass table, but it's definitely more creative :)

itwasalan (author)2008-06-10

Strong work! Shorty's rules!

krshiffl (author)2008-04-27

I just made one of these, thanks for the inspiration! I'll try and get it posted soon.

bumpus (author)2008-03-17

you should stain the wood, it would look reeeealy cool then

Mr Criver (author)2007-09-10

This is awesome! I am a *huge* pinball fan myself and although in a way it hurts me to see an Electro-Mechanic pinball machine dismantled, if it's a matter of trashing it or reusing it in this way, I go for this! Great instructable!

Have you thought about trying to use the original stainless steel legs? Although they need to get shortened for this purpose I think it might look very badass.

Idalia (author)2007-06-13

The best coffee tables for me!

pnjunction (author)2006-01-17

I am a pinball machine lover, and have one of my own, and I happen to know that the playfield illumination bulbs are rated for only 6.3 volts, running them on more voltage will burn them out VERY FAST. A better idea would be to get out your soldering iron, wire and wire up a couple circuts of the non-general-illumination bulbs, maybe even to a flasher circuit... Overall, I love your project! It's very nice. I would recomend fitting it with a rechargable battery or power adapter, because by the look of it, you're running near 40 watts of bulbs which will deplete your lantern battery in between three and four hours. It's also possible the high current drawn is higher than the battery wants to supply, which would also make your bulbs dimmer - but I don't think that's your main issue. In any event, if you run your bulbs over-voltage you will be sorry, especially since they are about three dollars per box of ten, and quite a pain to replace all of them.

heyrocker (author)pnjunction2006-01-18

Thanks for the comments. Given that this is a string of 40 or 50 lights, I was thinking that they would offer enough resistance that pushing the voltage past 6 would be fine, although sure going up to 12 or something would be excessive. I don't like the idea of flashing, I think its just too much for something that sits in your living room. The easiest way to do that certainly would be to just staple a string of Christmas tree lights under the controlled lamps. All sorts of possibilities lie there.

Johnny2Bad (author)heyrocker2006-04-22

RE: Lamps and resistance. You can easily tune the current by adding a resistor of the appropriate value to the battery-lamp circuit. In that way you would reap the benefit of the longer battery life without risking damage to the bulbs. It may be difficult to determine the resistance of the bulbs, as the resistance varies depending on whether the bulb is lit or not (near infinite when unlit; near zero when lit). Simply determine what resistance is needed to reduce the battery voltage to the correct amount (perhaps 6.3 volts as suggested) and run with that.

Spokehedz (author)Johnny2Bad2007-06-13

Also, putting more batteries parallel to the circuit would extend it's life as well. It looks like you have plenty of room under the table, maybe you should think about getting some 6v rechargeable ATV/Moped batteries and wire them up with a charging circuit. The 4-5 months (depending on usage, of course) would be a nice alternative to replacing batteries--not to mention the impact on the environment.

rob31520 (author)2007-04-16

I am looking for some drawing of a pinball machine cabinet something 1980 to 1990 style easy to get parts for so I can build my own machine. Thanks for your help

barri_kid (author)2007-03-28

Are you able to play it? It would be great if you could, It looks great however.

teslim (author)2006-10-15

Splendid ! That is a nice work. I would like to build this for my own home use.

fluid (author)2006-10-13

VERY COOL......and Shorty's is the BOMB! They also own a coffeeshop in the UDist and have a few pinball games there as well. Took my boy there the other day, he loves it. Have you thought about painting the cabinet? Or staining it? I'm sure you could find some sweet graphics to paint on the sides, or some really nice wood sheet laminate.

Yakeyglee (author)2006-09-23


chebang (author)2006-07-23


rovingmind (author)2006-01-20

To use the Makita battery you would need to use about $2.00 worth of parts from Radio Shack to make a voltage regulator to drop it down to the 6v. I think the chip is a LM7806, dont have the catalog here to look it up. Along with a makita to cut the handle off of to have the battery mount so the battery would be removable for charging. The program to hook up displays can be found by researching PINMAME.

bikeNomad (author)rovingmind2006-06-24

It's not that simple. The 7800 series regulators are limited to about 1.5A output (if well heatsunk; see the datasheet). And there's a lot more than 10W of lights there. You can use an external power transistor with a regulator like the LM317 to get higher current outputs. But... if you have a 12.6V battery and are using a linear regulator like that to drop to 6.3V then you are throwing away 50% of the energy capacity of the battery. Better to use a switching regulator or DC/DC converter with appropriate specifications. DC/DC converter blocks are available as ready-made modules (though they aren't cheap).

pin ball fan (author)2006-05-30

Love the project and want to do it for a left over worn playfield. That being said, just wanted to mention that choosing a choice, nonworn pinball playfield takes it out of circulation from someone who is desperately trying to restore an entire pinball in an incredibly shrinking supply. Most pinball companies are out of business. I love the project but I just recommend finding a non-restorablable playfield, which are easy to come by. Besides in the context of a coffee table the wear marks are nostalgic. I personnally restored a Williams Lucky Seven (the playfield used) and it took me months to find the parts. As to other issues raised, why not just restore a pinball completely versus remaking one into a coffee table, the resources online are phenomenal.

As to playing the playfield in this format you need at least 3 circuit boards. An MPU, a Driver & a power board. Trust me, as much effort as is being suggested to get a complete working playfield in a coffee table format it would just be easier to do a complete pinball machine restoration.

Another Pinball project I'd like to recommend is a pinball backglass lit from behind and put in a frame and hung on a wall.

MySoulWanders (author)2006-05-17

One way to make the table operational with out using a traditional plundger just wire up a pinball solinoid ( like the ones they use to return the ball to play field ) to the start location. Also to add controls with out altering the case. Make a remote unit out of one of those $20 Plug-into-TV video pinball games. As for the score board you could use one or two of those $15 Projector Alarm clocks and project the score on the ceiling. (Both can be found at most retail stores)

MySoulWanders (author)2006-05-17

Future Upgrade: Still keeping with the battery power - Instead of mounting the battery with screws and wood blocks, use lock down clamps or straps to hold the battery in place. OR go fancy and create a slider that you can pull out with the battery attached.

elemenoh (author)2006-01-17

This is fantastic!! It would be interesting to add a button that would trigger a series of flashing and pinball sounds. You could trigger it every time you got Yahtzee! You could also take it another level higher by making some sort of automatic pinball control with a series magnets. It would look like its playing by it self. I really like your work. I wish I had one in my living room!

PSPerson (author)elemenoh2006-05-06

AWESOME IDEA! i'm going to try it

PSPerson (author)2006-05-06

ADD THE BUTTONS AND CONTROLS!!! make it so you can actually play the game!! just no scoreboard to have making more weight!!

MySoulWanders (author)2006-02-10

As an option, instead of using clear glass on the top. Either use 2/Way mirror or Smoke Plexiglass for the top of the table. That way when the lights are off it appears to be just a average mirrored/black top table.

runr51 (author)2006-02-04

You said that you could not screw the rocker switch down because it was only a half inch which was the same thickness as your material. In the future, take a spade bit that will leave a hole big enough to accempt the lock down nut. Br sure to drill a small pilot hole first where you want the switch to be. Then use you spade bit on the backside removing roughly 1/4" of the wood. You can then stick the switch through the hole and slip the nut onto the threads and tighten it down. This technique comes in handy on so many projects. Especially when you get caught short with lag bolts etc. that are too short for the thicknes of the wood. Very handy. I like the pinball table and want to build one

ezcondition (author)2006-01-26

i like it. the wood matches your flooring just right.

wildnfree (author)2006-01-26

I found this site while surfing the web :
Within a few clik, we can find all Product Details, Game Details, Playfield Shot Map etc, lotsa goodies :)

wildnfree (author)2006-01-25

Oh and also a really interesting to add to the finish, look around for used wood, recycle wood from barns, old houses etc. Same of course can be done for the legs using old desks or tables !

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm old and I like stuff
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