Another Skee-Ball Machine




Introduction: Another Skee-Ball Machine


Skee Ball is a fun arcade game that both kids and adults love to play. My grandchildren always enjoy playing this game when we go to the Boardwalk or Arcade Parlor. The trouble is, these machines are very large and expensive for the average homeowner to place in their basement or recreation room.

Consequently, I was challenged to try and make one from sketch. Fortunately, I was lucky to be able to draw on a lot of good ideas from fellow Instructables authors who have already posted their Skee Ball plans.

My plan was to scale down the overall dimensions to be compatible with placement in my basement. The finished size is 101 inches long and 23 ½ inches wide. I wanted to keep the width under 2 feet so it would easily fit through interior household doorways. I also made the Skee Ball machine in two separate sections so it could easily be transported, if needed. The finished machine is shown below:

I found 2 ½ inch solid wood balls that were the perfect size to use for this scaled-down design. The balls were purchased from Woodpecker Crafts an online wood crafts supply company. The product number is “BAL-212” and the cost was $23.00. In my initial build I planned to use no electronics. I copied the “double deck” target design posted on Instructables by seamster on October 10, 2010. The only difference is I used kerfed wooden scoring channel dividers that were easily glued into routed slots. The 3/16 inch kerfed plywood channel dividers were easy to fit into the rounded slots.

These channels allow the thrown skee balls to be guided to their respective scoring lanes so the total score can be added up manually. The balls are seen in their lanes through a plexiglass “window” that is located at the beginning of the skee ball ramp area.


1/2 inch 4ft x 8ft maple veneer plywood

3/4 inch 4ft x 8ft maple veneer plywood

various 6 feet long pin boards

2 1/2 inch wooden balls

(3) pieces 2ft x 4ft 1/2 inch construction plywood

1/4 inch 2ft x 4ft hardboard

20 inch x 18 inch 0.2 inch thick plexiglass

various vinyl decals and numbers

misc. latex paint

4 inch PVC pipe

4 inch PVC splice connector

4 inch high white vinyl edge molding

24 inch piano hinge

brass lid support (National Co.)

Step 1: Initial Plans and Material Choice

My first decision was what material to work with. I really did not like working with particle board or MDF because of its weight and trouble accepting screws. Therefore, I decided to work with cabinet grade plywood veneer. Plywood is lighter then MDF, easier to screw to and will finish nicer when painted.

I am going to try and make the entire game out of one ½ inch thick and one ¾ inch thick 4 ft. x 8 ft. sheets of maple veneer plywood. The total cost for these two sheets of plywood was around $100.00. I also purchased various 8 ft. long pine boards to use as framing, legs and side rails for the bowling ramp. The total cost for these pine pieces was about $30.00.

Step 2: The Target Board Assembly

I decided to make the target board assembly first. I reasoned the rest of the dimensions for the ramp unit would be proportional to the final target board size. The size of the main target board was made 22 inches wide by 33 inches high. It was made from ½ inch thick, 2 ft x 4 ft construction plywood that was purchased separately from the maple veneer plywood. I needed 3 of these ½ inch pieces to make the target board assembly.

The cost for these three pieces of 2 x 4 ft x ½ inch construction plywood was about $33.00. The scoring holes for the rings are laid out as pictured in the photo.

I tried to use common materials for the scoring rings. I used 4-inch PVC pipe for the 50 and 100 point rings because the diameter should be a little bit smaller and therefore more difficult to score for the higher point rings.

I used the 4-inch splice connector piece for the 30 and 40 point rings. These 4-inch PVC splice pieces actually have an inside diameter of 4 ½ inches making it a little bit easier to score in the 30 and 40 point rings.

The larger circle and half-circle rings are usually formed from a hard rubber material. I choose to make these from 4 inch tall white vinyl edge molding. These are used on the bottom of walls where vinyl flooring has been laid. To use them I had to cut the small 90-degree edge off with a sharp carpet knife. I then glued two pieces together to give the rings the proper stiffness. The adhesive I used is a 3M product used as a bedding material for the restoration of wooden boats. It is called 3M Marine 5200 Adhesive. The total cost for the PVC pipe/connector, vinyl molding and adhesive was about $50.00.

All the ring holes were cut into the target board with a jig saw with a fine wooden blade. The larger rings that were made from the vinyl edging were glued to the target board with the same 3M 5200 adhesive after a ¼ inch router bite was used to form a channel to accept them. A special circle forming base was attached to the router to cut a perfect circle.

To guide the skee balls to their proper scoring channels multiple layers of plywood must be positioned below the target board. Since we are manually adding up the score, I wanted the lowest scoring balls to start on the far left of the ramp beginning. Then each of the next higher scoring balls would be directed to the right. The 100 point balls would be on the far right. You need two tiers below the target board to divert the wooden skee balls into their proper scoring channels.

As mentioned in the introduction, the channels on the two sub-tiers located below the target board are formed with 3/16 inch plywood cut 3 ½ inches high. The channel dividers are sketched out on the plywood tiers and routed out with a ¼ inch straight router bit. Where the channel dividers are curved, the plywood divider must be kerfed to allow for flexibility in bending them into the curved slots.

The dividers are glued in place with standard yellow wood glue. See the photos. The 100, 30 and 20 point rings bypass the first sub-tier and open up on to the second sub-tier. The 50, 40 and 10 point rings open to the first sub-tier.

So the target board assembly really has 3 levels. The top level is the target board itself. The first sub-tier below the target board channels the 50, 40 and 10 point ring skee balls into their proper shute while the second sub-tier below the target board channels the 100, 30 and 20 point ring balls to their proper shute. The PVC pipe for these rings are lengthened to bypass the first sub-tier and open directly to the second sub-tier.

Step 3: Lower Return Ramp Assembly

The main ramp assembly consists of nice maple veneer sides, 2 x 4 inch legs and two ramp levels. The bottom ramp level is the skee ball return ramp. This is made from ½ inch maple veneer plywood. The width will be 22 inches wide to match the width of the target board.

There needs to be six lanes on the bottom return ramp. They are to channel the various skee balls thrown to their proper point value lane of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 100. I used a router with a ¼ inch straight bit and a metal straight edge, as a guide, to cut the slots for the lane dividers. The lane dividers were cut from ¼ inch hardboard to a height of 3 ½ inches. This 2 x 4 ft. piece of ¼ inch thick hardboard cost about $8.00. The lane dividers are glued in place with regular yellow wood glue.

To support the bottom return ramp a frame is constructed from 2 x 2 inch pine lumber. Cross members are spaced about 16 inches apart. One end does not have a cross member to allow for a hinged drop section that swings down to release the skee balls into a lower storage compartment. This will be explained further in an upcoming section.

Once the frame is made, the plywood veneer side pieces are laid out and cut for the ramp assembly. The side pieces measure 12 inches high by 71 inches long. The front and back edge are cut at a slight angle of 2.5 degrees. This will allow for some downhill slant of the ball return lanes so gravity can do its thing. The side pieces are made from the ½ inch thick maple veneer plywood.

Once the side pieces are cut and sanded, they are attached to the frame at a position 4 inches from the side piece bottom.

After the side pieces are attached, the front face plate piece needs to be attached. This piece is cut to the proper width (22 ½ inches) from ½ inch thick maple veneer plywood. Before it is attached, a ball access slot must be cut into it to retrieve the skee balls from the storage compartment. This opening is 3 inches high by 12 inches wide with the corners rounded. The opening is about 2 inches up from the bottom. The face plate is crewed and glued in place. The picture below shows the face plate after it has already been painted.

Step 4: Ramp Assembly Legs

Everything should be square at this point. Wood legs are now placed on the ramp assembly to bring it to the proper bowling height. The legs are made from stock 2 x 4 inch lumber. The front legs are made 8 inches high and the rear legs are made 10 inches high. This give the lower return ramp the incline you need to work by gravity. Two 2 x 4 inch cross members are placed for stability on each set of legs. Each leg assembly is then attached underneath to a ramp frame cross member with adequate length screws.

The return ramp is now attached to the frame with glue and screws. Once that is completed, the two outside lanes (10 point and 100 point lanes) need their outside return lane border placed. I used ¾ inch pine lumber for this border because the top playing ramp and launch will be attached to these two pieces. The ¾ inch pine was ripped to 3 ½ inches wide and screwed in place.

At this point the lower return ramp assembly is complete except for the ball release mechanism. This will be explained in the next section.

Step 5: Ball Drop Down Lever/Storage Compartment

The last 4 inches of the ball return ramp was cut and then attached back to the main ramp with a continuous piano hinge. Remember, this is the end of the ramp frame that did not have a cross-member. This will allow for a “trap-door” effect so this distal piece can drop down. This will allow the already played skee balls to drop into a lower storage compartment where they will be ready to be used for a new game.

To control this drop-down piece a manual-type lever system had to be devised. I used a brass lid support by National Co. as the main mechanism for this lever system. The part number is N208-637 and it is pictured below. The cost was $6.00.

The small rotational anchor flange (with two screw holes) was secured to one end of the trap-door piece. The other end will be attached to the lever arm. The lever arm is a ¾ inch dowel piece that pivots above the skee ball ramp in the right side edge rail. The lid support guide was not long enough so a wood extension rail was fabricated and bolted to the support guide. See the picture include.

The lid support wood extension is then bolted to the lever arm. Now the mechanism is complete. As the level arm is pulled forward, the trap door will swing down, and the balls will be released into the storage department.

As the level arm is pushed back, the trap door will swing up, and the balls will be kept on the return ramp, below the plexiglass window, so the total score can be added up.

There is a photo included of how the swing-down trap-door looks from above. Also, please note that the ¼ inch hardboard lane dividers are not glued to this drop-down trap door or the mechanism would not work.

Step 6: Launch Fabrication

The jump was made out of individual pieces of 2 inch construction pine that were glued together to obtain the correct width. I started with 2 inch x 8 inch framing lumber and traced my pattern multiple times. I cut all pieces on my 16 inch band saw.

The jump shape or profile was copied from various pictures and drawings I found online. I first sketched it on paper and then I cut a ¼ inch hardboard pattern that was stronger for tracing multiple times.

Using various clamps, I would glue up 4 to 5 pieces at a time. I used regular yellow wood glue.

Remember, 2 inch construction lumber is really only 1 ½ inches thick so 4 pieces glued up will get you 6 inches of total width. Eventually, I reached the required width of the ramp. I then filled in all imperfections with wood filler and then sanded the curves to the final sharp of the jump. The jump was then trimmed to the exact width needed (19 inches) and set aside for the next step.

Step 7: Upper Ramp Assembly

The only tricky part about the upper ramp assembly is planning for the plexiglass window that must seat flush. I made this plexiglass 18 inches wide to allow for counting the maximum amount of skee balls that could be in one scoring lane (nine). Nine balls multiplied by the 2 ½ inch diameter of each ball would equal approximately 22 ½ inches.

With the wood edging on either side, one should be able to see all nine balls. In hind sight, the odds of all nine balls ending up in one lane is probably very small. In the future, I would probably make this plexiglass piece only about 10 inches wide. This would allow for a longer wooden ramp.

The top ramp is cut from the ¾ inch thick maple veneer plywood sheet. This will look nice when the ramp is varnished because it will resemble a maple bowling alley. The final dimensions were 22 ½ inches wide by 37 inches long.

All wood edges abutting the plexiglass must be offset by the thickness of the plexiglass. The heavy-duty plexiglass used was approximately ¼ inch thick. A straight router bit was used to countersink the plywood edges to a depth of ¼ inch. One other point, the upper ramp had to be cut out toward the front right side to allow for the drop down ball release lever to move freely. The ramp and side wood pieces abutting the plexiglass were then screwed in place.

Next, came the positioning of the launch. A wooden flange piece was attached to the bottom of the jump launch to bring it to a ¾ inch start height to match the ramp. It was also cut wider then the jump so it could be secured to the pine outside lane borders underneath. The amount of space the jump takes up on the main bowling ramp is 12 inches.

To finish off the top ramp assembly, the side rails to define the ramps rolling boundaries were installed to the correct width. A middle wood spacer piece was used to get to the correct width. The final playing surface width was approximately 19 inches. A curved spacer piece had to be cut for the front of the ramp assembly to match the curve of the side plywood veneer piece.

Step 8: Positioning the Target Board Assembly

I needed to position the target assembly temporarily so I could match up the ramp assembly and cut the legs and outside plywood pieces to encase it. I decided to position the target board at a 45-degree angle to the bowling ramp. I cut an angled splice piece of 2 x 8 inch lumber to attach the ramp assembly to the target assembly.

Once everything was squared and even, I screwed the two pieces together. I did not use any glue so the two pieces could be separated, if need be. I then fabricated 2 x 4 inch legs for the target assembly. Once the legs and bracing cross-members were in place, I removed the temporary side bracing pieces that had been holding the target assembly.

Step 9: Adding the Target Assembly Top and Sides

The last step in the construction of the skee ball machine is to add the top and sides to the target assembly. First, I needed to establish a reference. I did this by cutting the target board back piece from ½ inch thick maple veneer plywood. This would rise vertically. I then cut the top out of ½ inch maple veneer plywood and attached it perpendicular to the back piece. The width these pieces were cut to was 22 inches. This is so the sides of the ramp assembly and the sides of the target assemble will match and be flush. Remember, the target assembly is 22 inches wide while the ramp assembly was 22 ½ inches wide. This is to account for the thickness in plywood side material used. With two ½ inch thick side pieces the ramp assemble has a total width of 23 ½ inches. With two ¾ inch thick target assemble side pieces the total width will equal 23 ½ inches again.

Next, I needed to make a pattern for the sides. I made this from some ¼ inch hardboard I had left over. I designed the side to dovetail into the ramp assembly side. I also extended the side above the target surface to try and contain wayward bowled skee balls.

I traced the side pattern onto the ¾ inch maple veneer plywood. Both sides were cut out and sanded and then screwed in place. The last step was to cut a slot in the plywood edge to accept the black T-molding.

Step 10: Final Touches (numbers, Target Cushion, Arrows, Decals)

After I joined the two skee ball assemblies I realized there was some “dead space” where the ball could land and no scoring or mechanism to return the ball would occur. This was below the large vinyl ring and directly abutting the launch. I decided to block this area off with a piece of ½ inch plywood cut to cover this area. A bracing piece was attached to either side to position this piece flush with the top of the large vinyl ring. This was painted blue to match the underlying color.

Next, I decided to cushion the main “red” target area. I have seen other builders do this as well. This cushion allowed the rolled wooden ball to hit a little less violently and noisily. I found a ¼ inch red yoga pad worked very well for this. I found this pad on Amazon. The cost was about $12.00. I cut the material to fit in between the scoring rings. I secured the material with rubber cement and two-way carpet tape.

The vinyl ring numbers were found on E-Bay and attached as shown. The cost was about $20.00 with shipping. The numbers on the scoring lanes are one inch tall and were purchased from Amazon. The red vinyl decays were also purchased on Amazon. Total costs for both was about $15.00.

I ordered vinyl “Skee-Ball” lettering on line and attached it to the back of the target assembly. Cost for this was under $15.00.

The last thing I added was 2-inch wheels to the game legs. I think this will help with moving the machine to its final location in my basement. These 8 wheels cost about $20.00 at Menards.

Step 11: Painting

The colors I choose to paint the game were somewhat random. I used some latex paint that I had on hand. The sides were painted with an off red paint that I thought my grand kids would like. White primer was used first to cover the bare wood. The target board was painted red, yellow and blue.

The inside of the target assembly cabinet was painted a bright yellow color. I thought this contrasted well with the off red color of the sides and top. I removed the top target board while I was doing this so the inside could be painted yellow without any need to tape off the board. I also painted the bottom of the ring holes either yellow or red so you could not see the bare wood through the ring holes.

Step 12: Final Thoughts

This was a fun project to complete. I'm hoping we will play this game a lot this Christmas season when the whole family is over.

I also hope to add electronics to the game in the near future.

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    2 years ago

    This is so much fun to see. I made my first skeeball game about 10 years ago (thank you for the mention!), and have made several different versions since then. It's a fun and challenging thing to create, and a perfect game for families/friends to play. Nicely done on yours, and thank you for sharing all the details to your build!