Introduction: Wooden Skeeball Game
This is a wooden skeeball game I made.
I built a smaller version several years ago which you can see here: Homemade Skeeball Game.
Ever since then I wanted to make another one, but larger and more fancy. And this is it!
I worked on this project off and on over the course of about 9 months. It's pretty much my workshop baby, I guess.
The design was mostly made up along the way, but going in I had some basic ideas in mind:
- no more than 24" wide and about 10 feet long
- no visible fasteners
- a robust kid-proof build, but with a sleek, elegant and minimalist look
- all visible parts made of real wood, with maybe some Baltic birch plywood if needed
- no electronic lights, sounds, screens or other non-essential stuff
- automatic scoring system similar to my original skeeball game
- should be challenging but enjoyable to play: not too hard, not too easy
Let's dig in!
Step 1: A Closer Look
- the lane, jump, and target board are MDF veneered with 1/4" strips of ash
- the frame is made of common construction studs
- the target cabinet is 10 mm Baltic birch plywood
- the clear plastic acrylic pieces are from an old basketball backboard
- the rings are made from a rubber floor mat
- internal scoring channel dividers were made from retired/recycled road signs
- the balls used to play are low-bounce street hockey balls
- the whole thing breaks down into 7 separate components
- it weighs a lot
- materials cost: not sure, but probably around a few hundred bucks
- hours to build: 100s
If you're interested, here's a video of some tubby fellow playing the game. Your patience will be rewarded - the third game played in the video is actually the current-standing high score:
Step 2: Plans and Tools
If you're interested in duplicating this project or just making something similar, here are some diagrams that should help you get started.
Step 3: Frame
The frame may look simple, but it was quite a project all on it's own.
There is a front and back portion which are bolted together to form the full frame.
I started by picking through a bunk of framing studs at the lumber store and pulling out the very best. I looked for boards with straight, consistent grain, and bought a big pile of them.
I laid out boards to mock up potential frame shapes. I ended up with a plan for an angular frame that I thought looked cool and posed some interesting challenges.
The milled edges of the boards were trimmed off using my table saw so they were all 1 1/2" by 3". This way they could be joined to create 3" by 3" beams.
The back portion of the frame was built first.
Some angles were cut by hand with a circular saw, and some were cut using a band saw.
The sides of the framework were made by doubling up layers of boards, with alternating joint locations.
A layer of boards was fit together on my worktable, with ends and edges butted and glued together, temporarily held with staples. A mirrored, duplicate layout was made on top for the opposite side of the frame.
A 2nd layer of boards were prepared to mate with these outside layers, with the boards overlapping the first layer joints to essentially create lap joints.
A framing speed square was used to help recreate all the various angles as needed.
If any of this is confusing, be sure to look at all the photos (hit the button that says "Show All Items").
Step 4: Frame Back Portion Assembly
With the pieces for the two sides of the back frame portion cut as needed, I mocked up where cross pieces should go to connect the two sides together.
Using a band saw, notches were cut on the inside layer of boards to fit the cross pieces of the framework.
The layers of the frame side pieces were then glued and screwed together. Countersunk pilot holes were drilled first to receive the screws, and each screw hole was plugged with a glued-in piece of dowel.
The cross pieces were added to join the two sides together in the same basic manner using glue, screws, and dowel plugs. The cross pieces are all 21" long, resulting in a frame width of 24".
Step 5: Frame Front Portion Mock-up and Creation
The front portion of the frame was built similarly to the back, but with a few extra challenges.
The front scoring area had to be sorted out and planned at this point. This required forethought about how the layout would affect actual game play.
Because of my choice to make a return ramp for the balls with individual scoring channels, I needed a way to easily retrieve the played balls at the end of a game and store them immediately prior to the next.
So on the topside of the frame I made little troughs to hold the balls. I put these on both sides, and I've noted that certain people retrieve balls and always put them on one side or the other, based on personal preference.
Step 6: Joining Front and Back Frame Portions, Part 1
The front and back frame portions needed to be joined together, but I wanted them to allow for disassembly.
So they needed to bolt together.
On the back end of the front frame portion, I added a panel that mates within the back frame portion. This was a finicky process and I spent a lot of time fine-tuning everything to make sure there was a happy union.
When the fit was correct and the mounting panel affixed to the front frame portion, bolt holes were drilled and bolts added.
Step 7: Joining Front and Back Frame Portions, Part 2
The underside of the two frame portions also needed a strong connection point.
This was done by adding a bracket made from a piece of angle iron to the front frame portion, to which the back frame portion bolts to.
This bracket was epoxied in place to the front frame, and then made more secure with lag screws. This bracket nests within an area that was routed out in the pointy front arms of the back frame portion, and bolts to the front-most cross piece of the same.
Step 8: Frame Finishing
The frame was stained using an oil-based stain.
I brushed on layer after layer of shellac to seal the entire thing, but especially all of the exposed end grain. These layers were lightly sanded in between and built up until there was a uniform coating with no finish-soaking wood grain remaining.
Everything was then coated with several coats of spray lacquer.
Step 9: Lane and Return Ramp
The "rolling lane" was made of 3/4" MDF, skinned with 1/4" strips of ash. The ash pieces were cut from a 1" thick ash board using my table saw. They were glued and pinned in place with a pin nailer.
The ash lane was finished with several coats of spray lacquer, sanding lightly between with 0000 superfine steel wool.
A return ramp was made using 10 mm birch plywood, with triangular pieces of pine used as channel dividers. These were glued and pinned in place, and the return ramp was finished in the same manner as the frame.
The lane and return ramp were screwed in place (no glue) from the underside of the frame. The clear acrylic plate at the bottom of the lane is covered in the next step.
Step 10: Acrylic Lane Plate
The acrylic plate at the bottom of the lane has score numbers engraved on the bottom side. This plate doubles as part of the rolling lane itself as well as a window to see the balls in their individual scoring channels.
Reversed score numbers were created in Powerpoint (yep), and printed on regular office paper. These were positioned and glued to the acrylic with white glue.
I used a small diamond engraving bit in my rotary tool to remove the printed numbers and a small amount of the material beneath. The paper numbers were then easily peeled off of the acrylic and any glue residue was washed off with soap and water.
This piece was installed into the lower portion of the frame with wood strips screwed into the frame to act as clips to hold it in place.
More details on working with acrylic are covered in a later step.
Step 11: Target Cabinet
The target board (where the rings and holes are) fits inside a cabinet that slides into place in the back portion of the frame.
The cabinet sides and top piece were made from 15 mm birch plywood; the back panel is made from 10 mm birch plywood.
The front edges of the side and top pieces were routed to receive acrylic panels which are covered in a later step.
The cabinet pieces were glued and fastened together using a pneumatic brad nailer, with rabbet joints all around.
The lower portion of the cabinet was curved to send balls directly to the return ramp.
Step 12: Rubber Rings
The rings that fit within the holes on the target board were made from a large rubber floor mat. The main rings were cut 4" wide (3" exposed in completed game), and the lower half-ring was cut 5" wide (4" exposed).
I tried several ideas for how to make these. After several ultimately bad ideas, I concluded just stitching them together with wire yielded the quickest, easiest, and most attractive results (even considering that you still see the "stitches", this was the best option I found).
Step 13: Target Board
The target board was made from 3/4" MDF skinned with ash strips just like the rolling lane, and finished in the same manner.
The holes were marked in the MDF and cut out with a jigsaw prior to skinning it with the ash strips. The strips were added, and then a router was used to remove the wood covering the holes.
A plywood layer was added below the target board within the cabinet to help sort the balls according to point value. Holes were cut in this board as needed, and supports were created and attached to the frame to hold this layer as well as the target board.
The rubber rings were screwed in place to the target board. Internal rings were added using brackets made from scrap metal that were screwed to the underside of the target board. These internal rings allow certain point value balls to travel down to the lowest layer within the cabinet.
Step 14: Scoring Channels
The balls are diverted into channels based on point value.
These channels were created using scrap metal from old road signs (acquired legally of course!).
Strips of metal were cut with a jig saw, bent as needed and affixed within the cabinet using rivets and screws.
The yellow ball shown is a pitching machine baseball, which I initially planned on using for this. Once the game was fully completed, these balls proved too lively with the other material choices I made, despite being a good size and weight. So I ended up switching to street hockey balls, which are lighter but work much better. If I make another skeeball game using different materials, these balls will likely be used for that.
I added pieces of EVA foam (from floor mats) as padding and sound dampening in various places within the cabinet. These were glued in place using high temp hot glue.
Step 15: Ball Jump
The ball jump was made with MDF "ribs" attached to a bottom supporting plate, and skinned with 1/4" strips of ash.
The ribs were glued in place with a screw added through the bottom plate as well as a temporary screw from the topside.
The strips were milled on my router table with "canoe" router bits (these), to put a bead on one side and a flute on the other. These are what I was working on in another Instructable of mine: Woodworking Featherboards.
The beaded and fluted edges allow the strips to be placed along the curve of the ribs to create smooth and relatively gap-free transitions.
Flat-edged strips were used to cover the sides of the jump, and a 1/4" roundover router bit was used to give the sides a nice curved finish.
Gaps were filled with wood filler and the entire jump was sanded to create a continuously curved, smooth surface.
The jump was then sprayed with several coats of lacquer.
I made a piece to cover the transitional area above the jump out of 10 mm plywood and ash strips. Magnets were epoxied into the back side of this to correspond with some metal plates installed in the target case. These hold it in place, but make it easy to remove for disassembly. This was painted with lacquer, and later the sides were painted burgundy to visually tie in to the cabinet.
Step 16: Acrylic Target Board Panels
I had never worked with acrylic much before this project, so this gave me an opportunity to practice and learn some new things. It's a versatile material to be familiar with and have in your creative arsenal, and not nearly as hard to work with as I had supposed.
The acrylic I used for this came from an old basketball backboard I picked up locally for free. It was about 5/8" thick, and full of blemishes and what appear to be internal cracks, perhaps from UV exposure. So it had some interesting character.
I found that it can be worked with common woodworking tools, like table saw, router, jigsaw, and orbital sanders. When cutting, it pays to move slowly and really just let the saws do the work, but aside from making a huge mess with acrylic "sawdust", it's quite easy to work.
The panels on the top of the case were cut, routed, and shaped as needed. They were scratched and kind of messy, so I sanded them down first with 220 grit at a low speed setting with an orbital sander. Then I used an automotive headlight restoration kit (this) to sand them down progressing through higher grits.
I just followed the basic procedure as outlined in the kit, but instead of waxing as the final step, I polished them by hand with Mothers Mag & Aluminum polish. That's sounds weird, but it worked great to bring them to a pretty clear state.
These panels were glued into the case with E6000 glue, and to each other with #16 acrylic glue (this).
Step 17: Painting
The target cabinet was spray painted with gloss burgundy. I covered the internals with a large garbage bag to mask the ball dividers and such from overspray.
With the newly-painted cabinet re-installed and the acrylic panels glued in place, I thought I was done at last.
. . . However, it felt like something was missing to tie it all together.
I decided to add some bowling-lane-esque arrows to the lane.
These arrows were made by carefully measuring and masking off the desired areas as well as anywhere that might receive overspray. The masked arrows were painted first with gloss lacquer to seal the edges from bleed-under, and then three or four light coats of burgundy spray were applied.
The tape was immediately (and very carefully) removed after the final coat.
And NOW it was done for real.
Step 18: That Was a Lot of Work!
This was a beast of a project, and BY FAR the most difficult thing I've ever made.
It's a functional piece of art and my family loves playing with it.
Thanks for reading!
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