Introduction: DIY Pinball Tools

After years of waiting, I finally purchased a couple of old electro-mechanical pinball machines for the family. They have been a total hit getting played every day. While the machines were in good shape when I bought them, each had a few problems to work out and pinball machines require regular maintenance. So I made a few tools to make things a little easier. Check back, I'll add more tools as I make them.

Step 1: Lamp Tester

After swapping out all of the bulbs on my playfield, I was left with a pile of used bulbs. Some working, some not. I made this bulb tester to make it easy to check the bulbs. The base is just some 3/4" plywood. I drilled a 15/32" hole all the way through for the lamp base. I also drilled a recessed 1" hole on the bottom for the lamp base mount. I used a chisel to cut a shallow groove for the wiring. I took a salvaged 6 volt 400 mA power supply and soldered it to the lamp base. (To keep it portable, you could use a 4 x AA battery pack instead.) The wires are held in place with some hot glue and I added a few rubber feet. To test the bulbs you just quickly push them in, no need to lock them in place. Sure you could use a lamp on your pinball machine but this is a little more convenient. You could also wire other lamp bases (like a 555) in parallel so you can test multiple bulb types.

Step 2: Lamp Base Cleaner

I got this one from PinballHelp on YouTube. If you have a weak or flickering lamp, chances are the lamp base is dirty. Luckily this is an easy fix. All you need for this one is a Scotch-Brite pad and some electrical tape. Cut off a strip of the pad, 3/4" wide. Fold it in half lengthwise and wrap some electrical tape around the middle. Cut the exposed ends 3/8" long. Any longer than that and it will flare out and be difficult to insert into the lamp base. Then just insert it into the lamp base and twist it around a few times. You can use them to clean the base of the bulbs as well.

Step 3: Lamp Remover/Installer Tool

Recessed bulbs can be a real pain to change. This tool makes it easy to install or remove bulbs. Cut a short length of 1/2" x 3/8" tubing. Find anything that fits snugly in the tube to use as a handle. Just slip the opposite end of the tube over a bulb. The bulbs are a perfect fit in the tubing. Not too tight, not too loose. Push and twist and the bulb is in (or out).

Step 4: Switch Adjuster Tool

One of my machines was showing 100,000 points every time the 4th player score reached 10,000 points. Turns out one of the switches on the score wheel was out of adjustment. If you own a pinball machine, sooner or later you will need to adjust a switch by carefully bending it. You could do it with some needle nose pliers but this tool makes it much easier and more precise.

Start with a 7" length of 3/16" metal rod. Mark 1" in from each end. Place the ends in the vice and bend one end 90 degrees and the other end 45 degrees. Use a cutoff wheel on a rotary tool to cut a thin slit in each end as deep as the tool allows. Slightly taper the ends with a belt sander or file. Give it a polish with the buffing wheel to make it nice and shiny. To adjust a switch, slip the end over the base of the switch leaf and twist the wrench a little bit at a time until properly adjusted.