Introduction: Mini Futuristic Skee Ball (Phase 1)

About: UI/UX Designer, 3D Artist, Video Game Creator, Rug Tufter, Woodworker, and Tinkerer
Once upon a time I was looking over projects on this site, and I stumbled upon this That is an inspirational read, but it wasn't quite what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted mine to be slightly larger in size, have electronic scoring, and to basically take ideas I've found across the web to make my skee ball machine one-of-a-kind and over-the-top. So, much like the previous skee ball instructable, I am not going to be able walk through each step with meticulous detail. It would be 100 pages long and nobody would ever build it. 

OK you're thinking, what is this instructable going to do for me? Let me tell you! I will give you everything you need to accomplish this project even if you've only done minor woodworking in the past. I am also going to tell you all of the materials used, which is a treasure hunt of it's own. We will go over some of the more complicated steps in detail such as the scoring rings and wiring the electronics. I will give you all the plans I used to build it, all of the parts, and finally I will also give you all of the software needed to make the game work on your PC. When you are finished you will have a fully functional electronic skee ball machine which uses a Flash interface, automatically keeps score, has sound effects, and a siren light turns on for a few seconds at the end of each game.

Let me warn you from the start: this is not easy, cheap, or something you can do in one weekend. It takes endless hours of hard work to make this project. Each step has its challenges, but I'm here to help you through it. To make it easier on my wallet I purchased materials every couple of weeks as needed instead of all at once. 

Finally, what I want is to give you the tools and ideas to make your own table. I encourage you to experiment and to make your own small changes and adjustments along the way. 

Main Materials list (*not a full list):
3 sheets 1/2" plywood 4'x8' (MDF is also an option)
50' Rubber Cove Base (found at Lowes/HD, or online) - this is the material for the rings.
1 roll of Cork 1/8" - 18"x25' (found on ebay. Only need around 10' so you'll have some extra)
wood screws (various sizes)
1 welcome mat 22"x34" - this is really a cheap PVC foam pad - Home Depot
40 rivets 1/2"
40 rivets 1/4"
1x2 wood strips 8 feet long - lost count. Maybe 10 of these
2x2 wood strips 8 feet long - same, I think I used 3 of these
19" monitor
old PC - enough power to run a SWF file without hiccuping
LEDWiz Controller +GP ( This is used for scoring, game controls, and future LED lighting.
Red Siren Light (amazon)
1: SPDT relay switch
2: arrow shaped Pushbuttons - your choice of colors
1: rectangular pushbutton
1: round pushbutton for computer off switch
9: 2.5" wooden balls  
7: cherry scoring switches (ebay)
20 gauge wire. At least two colors. One should be black. I went through about 40' of wire total.
Felt (optional for sound dampening)
Wood glue
Frost King weather strips (a few small strips)
50 pack Female quick connectors (optional, you can also solder the connections)
40 1" L shaped Corner Braces  
8 felt covered leveling screws (optional)
1 6-8' Power strip with at least three slots for powering all game parts.
2" black Vinyl numbers  - 100, 100, 50, 40, 30, 20, and 10 (ebay) 

Tools Needed:
Circular Saw/Table Saw (Optional)
Philips Screw Driver
Drill Press (optional)
Soldering Iron 
Heat shrink tubing
Wire Stripper/Cutter
3" hole saw
Rivet Gun
Staple Gun (optional)
Dremmel tool (optional)
Tiny flat-head screwdriver for connecting wires to the LEDWIZ

All said and done this will cost around $5-600 depending on how much of these materials/tools you have laying around. You will have lots of left-over material if rings need to be replaced or if you need some more cork on certain areas. 

Let's start with the hard parts, and go from there. 

Step 1: The Ramp

In my mind, if I could make the ramp the rest would be a piece of cake. Using the attached ramp template, take two pieces of 1/2" plywood scraps and clamp them together. Trace the pattern and cut the pieces using a jigsaw or scroll saw, Take your time, this stage is critical for the game to be playable. Once the shape is cut, sand them to be smooth and even. Next we attach 1x2" cut so that when attached to the inside of the ramp shapes the total width is 18".  Make sure the 1x2s are attached so that they on the curve and not sticking out above it. Next we will attach a sheet of plywood over the ramp. There is a technique we will now learn called kerfing. This helps the plywood to bend. Using a table saw I cut groves into the plywood evey 1/8" or so. Just enough space between the cuts that is about the size of the cut itself. I did this for the length of the curved shape across the plywood. Once kerfed soak the plywood sheet in warm water for at least an hour. It should be bendable but still fairly strong. A helper is nice for this part. Starting at the top of the curve attach the plywood with small wood screws. Start to bend the plywood onto the curve and place screws in every few inches. Work slowly making sure not to crack the plywood. Once fully attached allow the plywood to dry for a day, As a precaution I filled in the kerf slots with homemade MDF. I took some sawdust (if you don't have any you will shortly), and mixed it with wood glue. I removed a few slats at a time and spread the wood glue/saw dust mix inside the groves. This adds strength as the ball will be hitting this ramp thousands of times over the course of many years. Filling the kerfs is optional, but strongly recommended. The final step is testing the ramp once dry. Don't worry about exposed screw heads at this point, but try to get them sunk into the plywood - carefully. This ramp will eventually be covered in cork. Consider this project officially under way - this is really one of the hardest parts of the whole machine. Don't worry, more challenges await.

Side note: there are many alternate techniques for making the ramp. Due to my limited tool set this is how I did it. The previous link that I mentioned in the intro has an alternate method. Use which ever method you think is easier. If it works, it works. 

UPDATE - I do not like my ramp now that I have played it for a bit. The angle is too steep. The ramp would be better if it were more gradual and longer. If the ball hits it while slightly bouncing it reacts like it is hitting a wall. This should be tweaked from my directions and images. Make the ramp slope longer and more shallow!!!

Step 2: Rings and Scoring Area

The exact dimensions for this area is contained in the photos. I marked up the cut sheet of plywood. As you can see I made some on the fly adjustments so that the ring placement was to my liking.

Finding the right materials for the rings is crucial for a realistic table. It turns out that 4" Rubber Cove Base works wonderful. For durability I made mine loop around twice. The beginning of the loop and end of the loop should overlap by about 3/4" where you will rivet them together. Keep adjusting the tightness of the rings and measure the diameter of them. The 100 rings are 3.4" wide, the 50 ring is 4.6", the 40 ring is 5", the 30 ring is 5.8", and the large ring that contains the 40 and 30 ring is 14.8".  The final, large outer shape I didn't measure. I just laid the material out on the plywood and marked the cuts. To cut the base cove I just used a L shaped straight edge and a razor. Cut the base cove in multiple light passes, don't try to cut fully through it in one pass of the blade. Next I used tape to clamp the rings to make sure I measured correctly. Drilled a few holes and riveted the rings closed with two rivets. Sorry for a lack of progress photos but the end result should make the process clear. I placed the rings on the scoring area to make sure everything fits. Before attaching the rings I drilled the 3" holes in the plywood. You can make the holes smooth by sanding them. I also took some felt and stapled it around the holes to further protect the wood balls. Once the rings are the right size and riveted, I took my L shaped corner braces and decided where to place them on the rings to attach them to the table. Mark the spots with a pencil and drill the pilot holes. I attached the one side of the clamp to the ring and riveted it in place, and connect the bottom of the brace to the table. See the photos for seam placement. Once the rings are attached to the table I wanted to add some PVC foam to dampen the sound of the ball hitting the wood. This is where the Welcome Mat comes into play. Using my favorite technique of cutting and taping construction paper, I was able to make templates for all of the areas needing foam. Once I had the construction paper shapes I placed them on the foam, traced them with a pencil, then carefully cut the foam shapes with a razor. I then put glue on the plywood and placed the foam in place. If the foam shapes don't fit perfectly then trim it with the razor before attaching. Had I thought ahead this would probably be a good time to attach the vinyl numbers to the rings. I waited to the end for that step. You now have the ramp and scoring area complete - the rest is a breeze compared to these steps..

Step 3: Front of Machine

Using the measurements taken from the Google sketch-up model, it is time to fire up the Jigsaw. I connected the sides with screws in order to make both side match and only having to make the cuts once. Using a tape measure and a straight edge, I drew cut lines to follow. Again, with the sketch on the wood I made a few changes to the angles and shape. The ramp should be marked along with the top and bottom levels. The rest of the shape is up to you. I used around 45 degree angled cuts, but you can make yours straight or curved. Use the photos and the Google sketch-up model for all measurements needed. All of the 1x2 frame braces are attached by pre-drilling holes from the outside and making countersink holes so that the screw heads are not sticking out. Before painting all of these holes are filled with wood filler and sanded smooth. This step is more photos then words, so make sure to view all the photos and read the notes on them!

Step 4: Back of the Machine

If you have a working front, the back is pretty much more of the same. Unfortunately, I got on a roll while making the back section and finished it off a little too quickly.. I forgot to photograph this stage. The steps are identical to assembling the front. Take you cut plywood pieces that are 30"x8' and screw them together in order to cut matching sides. Lay out the cut lines based on the dimensions in the Google sketch-up file. 

Step 5: The Electronics

Here is where this instructable goes high tech. You can learn what is going on for upcoming projects, or just follow the directions and it will work even if you don't know why. I am also going to give you a glimpse of the future of this project, which is what will make it over-the-top as promised.

Take your LEDWIZ GP+ (make sure this is the model purchased or it will not work). It has 16 inputs and 16 outputs.
Here are the inputs we will be using:
Scoring switches = 100 left, 100 right, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 (0 gutter area ignored since this is a kid friendly game)
Buttons = up button, select button, down button.
This means we will only be using 10 of the 16 inputs.
Connect your buttons and switches to the following slots on the Ledwiz:


Slot 17 - 100 (Left side) Scoring Switch
Slot 18 - 100 (Right side) Scoring Switch
Slot 19 - 50 Scoring Switch
Slot 20 - 40 Scoring Switch
Slot 21 - 30 Scoring Switch
Slot 22 - 20 Scoring Switch
Slot 23 - 10 Scoring Switch
Slot 24 - Up Arrow Button
Slot 25 - RECT "Select" Button
Slot 26 - Down Arrow Button

Slot 16 - SPDT Relay for Siren Light

Output slots (16 available)
We are only using slot 16 for the SPDT relay. The output slots actually output about 5v of power each. This power us supplied by the PC's molex power cable. You can use the USB power, but it isn't enough for this project.

The exciting future - the reason we are REALLY using the LEDWiz +GP over an iPac to convert the switches to keyboard keys:
we are going to have full control over 14 LED lights. Each scoring hole will have two LED lights under it - one red and one blue. Future games will use this scoring ring lighting as part of the action. I don't have these games programmed yet or the LEDs connected, so this is going to be Phase two coming spring of 2014!

For now we are just monitoring scoring switches and a few buttons. Let's say the 50 scoring switch is activated, this sends a keyboard key to the Flash game which is used to add the score total and also keep track of balls thrown. You need to install JOY2KEY software included. in the next step.

Wiring the SPDT relay is tricky. I took my time and also used heat-shrink tubing. The part that connects to the LEDWiz doesn't matter which pin goes to the neutral and which pin connects to the hot wire, as long as one of the bottom pins connects to each. The top of the relay is pretty much the same. The power cord for the siren light must be examined. Look at the prongs and spot the small end - this is the hot side. The fat prong is the neutral. Somewhere along the cord for the light, cut the wire on the small prong side. Think about it - with this wire cut the light, even if plugged-in, will not light since the wire is cut. This is where the relay comes in. The relay keeps this wire disconnect while in its normal state. Connect each side of the light's hot wire to each pin at the top of the relay (see photo) and make sure the light is unplugged during this step. When the relay is given power by the LEDWix, the top pins create a connection bridge which makes the light turn on. When the relay power is cut the bridge is broken and the light goes off. Look up youtube vids on basic relays for more information.

Step 6: Setting Up the Software

In order for this table to work you will need three vital pieces of software:
Flash Games + Game Select Screen:

LEDWiz Controller
-This monitors the clipboard and sends commands to the controller.

- This takes inputs from the switches to the LEDWiz and converts them into keystrokes. So, lets say the 50 switch is activated, this sends the letter "R" to the PC. The flash program now knows a ball was thrown and how much was scored.
YOU MUST CONFIGURE JOY2KEY OR THE SOFTWARE WILL NOT WORK... Luckily I took care of it and included the profile seen below.
Button 1 - 1
Button 2 - 5
Button 3 - P
Button 4 - G
Button 5 - D
Button 6 - R
Button 7 - F
Button 8 - A
Button 9 - S
Button 10 - Q

Each of these buttons are used in the flash game. If you want to test the software and see what each button does go here:
Key guide:
g (100)
d (100)
r (50)
f (40)
a (30)
s (20)
q (10)
w (0 - miss)
1 (up, controls menu)
5 (open menu, select options and close menu, start new game)
p (down, controls menu)

Here are all of the files needed including:
Flash game, Ledwiz controller, joy2key with profile, the final Google sketch-up file.:

Latest Software (Current as of 6/17/2022)

Download this to your PC and unzip this all to the root level of C: drive. Open the start-up folder and make shortcuts to the SkeeBall-MainController.swf file, the JoyToKey.exe file, and also the Ledwiz87.exe file. I also included FlashPlayer11.exe just in case your computer is missing the SWF player software. This will load all of these files each time your PC starts-up. It will go full screen and hide the cursor on start-up. LEDWiz will listen for commands, and the JoyToKey is ready to convert buttons into keystrokes. Restart and your skeeball game select screen should load up ready to go.

Step 7: Finishing It Up

Only a few hundred more steps to go! Just kidding, almost done. At this point you should add your vinyl numbers if you haven't done that already, create a PVC cage for the safety net if you are going to use one, and I also drilled some holes for the hidden speaker just above the monitor area. I just eyeballed the PVC cage using loose measurements. As long as it fits the size isn't an exact science here. The PVC is held together with super glue, but PVC cement is a better solution. Once I cut the PVC and built the cage I took it out back and spray painted it black with some Krylon plastic paint. I bought some nylon netting on ebay, and attached it to the cage with little, black Velcro straps.

Once finished I went around and wood filled any screw holes. If screws were sticking out I would remove it, drill a countersink hole for it, and put it back in. Once filled I sanded the entire machine. I wish I spent more time sanding, as every blemish stands out now that it is painted. Sand sand sand - don't stop until smooth! Then it was masked, primed, and painted with a glossy black oil based paint.

I should mention that I had to make a button to turn the PC on and Off. I just found the cord that connect to the power button on my PC, and sliced in my own pushbutton as described in step 5. This is located at the back of the machine in an easy to reach spot. Push the button once and the PC powes up. Push it again and the PC shuts down. The monitor and PC (and also the siren light) are connected to a powerstrip at the back of the machine. Once the PC is shut down I unplug it which turns off the monitor.

At this point it is time to sit back, crack a beer, and wait for the kids to come running in saying "Can we play it yet?"
It is nice to be able to look at them and finally say, "All finished, have fun!"

Video here:

*More games and multi-player games such as Super Skee, 301 clone 310, Time Bomb, and more...
*Improved UI including a game select screen
*LED controlled lighting for each scoring ring
Coming soon - stay tuned!

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