Introduction: DIY Star Wars Pinball Machine

About: Passion for making.

Main reason why I started this project was that I wanted to learn making electronics for my projects. So I started digging internet how things work like transistors, capacitors, resistors, diodes etc...

Then I ordered small starterpack which included breadboard, bunch of leds and other components. Also famous IC”555” was in that pack. That 555 came my new friend in world of electronics. Its so versatile tiny chip that can do almost anything. So I used it in many places in this project. Well somebody could say now ”use arduino, its much easier”. I'm sure its easier and much faster to use. But I wanted to learn basics of electronics first.

This guide is more like ”making of” than actual how to build your own pinball. I hope this gives you some ideas how to complete project like this and do it better.

Gameplay video

Step 1: Designing Electronics

I started with electronics because it's a backbone of all pinball machines.
I had to do lot of research on internet what components I need for making
scoreboard, servo control, led control circuits etc.

I made all electronic designs with circuit wizard. It has very easy to use
circuit simulator which let you test your ideas on computer. I think its aimed for
schools and other noobs like me. I also tested EagleCad but that was
way too hard for beginner.

When I was satisfied with my designs I tested them on breadboard.
I made simplified versions of those circuits. There was some problems
but nothing that cant be solved. One example is switch bounce.

Next step was to make PCB. I searched on internet how to etch own pcb
and found very good articles about it. I bought some chemicals and ended up
making simple exposure box. I was very happy with the results.

Step 2: Building Case and Playfield

Wood working process was much easier for me. Material that I used was
12mm plywood. I made scale down version of real pinball machine
because I don't have enough space for full size.

I made blueprint of a playfield and then I transferred those measurements
to plywood. I drilled holes for leds and filled them with clear resin. After drying,
I sanded playfield with 100-400 grit sandpapers.

Then I started making ”shapes” for playfield. For rails and ball guides I used
brass wire thickness between 0.5-2.5mm. Then soldered pieces together.
Plastic covers are made of styrene sheets 0.8-1.5mm. Cutting that stuff is
easy and its quite flexible material. Many modellers use that stuff for making
miniature buildings. First I was planning to make game with LOTR theme
but then I got so hyped for upcoming star wars and decided to change theme :)

Step 3: Flipper Mechanism

Making flipper mechanism was fun part. I made couple test setups for
coils and mechanics to other board and then inserted final piece to this playfield.
Reason why I added ballbearings was to minimize friction between flipper and
plywood. I bought too weak solenoids :). Flippers are made from some random
plastic thickness of 10mm and black rubberband.

Solenoids are using 12v and taking current almost 5 amps. There is no
PWM driver for solenoids or dual winding coils (used in older pinball games).
So there is risk of burning those solenoids but they will hold my
gaming sessions :).

Step 4: Wiring, Testing and Little Explain How Things Work

First I attached all circuit boards to playfield. Then I hot clued small styreen
pieces for the leds. It also works as reflector so light will illuminate better to
playfield. For switches I used ”long arm” micro switches. Next thing was
wiring process. It took lot of time and over 200 crimped connectors.
But it was pretty straight forward process because every cable has its
own place on PCB.

So, you now may ask how all these ”things” work ? Point calculation is based on pulses that ”555” timers send to my scoreboard unit. Scoreboard uses ic4026 to convert these pulses to visible ”numbers” on 7-segment displays. In my case I set those ”555” to work in 20hz and 100hz. That means when u hit target it will give you 20 or 100 pts. Its very simple if you know how 555 works. There is also targets that gives 5-6 pts.(I took advance of switch bounce). For servo driver i used also 555. It was quite challenge because component tolerances are like 10% so you cant rely on calculations. Oscilloscope would help here.

I also used shift registers IC 74HC164 to calculate hits on specific targets. Like that circle of leds middle of playfield or servo control. So every time player hits certain target, one led will light up and also 20 ”pulses” are send to scoreboard. Every 7th hit it resets leds and sends 100 ”pulses”. To activate servo control you have to hit 3 targets before ”ball safe” mechanism is on. You can adjust on time of servo or amount of pulses with trimpots. I also used IC 4017 to control blinky leds. To power all this I used old PC PSU.

So pretty old school stuff here. There is much easier way to do this like arduinos. I don't recommend this unless you want learn to use of basic components. I hope you get some idea how this pinball operates :)

Step 5: Painting and Polishing

First I removed all plastic parts. With masking tape and washers I covered
all lights on playfield. Then 2 layers of primer added for all parts.
I painted plastic parts with red and then with black to make that gradient effect.
All images are painted using 2 layer stencils. Google will tell you more
about stencils and how to make them.

Adding lights to millennium falcon was pretty straight forward. I changed that solid piece of plastic with clear one. I used small torch to bend that plastic in shape. I soldered 2 leds with current limiting resistor. Then I added layer of primer for figures and falcon. I used acrylic paints for models. (Spray paints was also acrylic). Those figures are from children playset bought from local toy store.

Well I hope you got some inspiration from this project.
If you have any questions about this project leave a comment below.

Gameplay video

Thank you.

Plywood Contest

Participated in the
Plywood Contest