Introduction: Portable Skeeball Game

About: Hi, I'm Sam and I like to make things - check out some of my projects below. I worked for this site from 2014 - 2023 and have nothing but love for the Instructables community. Keep making great stuff!

The game of skeeball is quite fun and has a simple premise: roll balls up a ramp, off a jump, into different-sized holes for points.

I'm intrigued by the challenge of making homemade versions of the game, so over the years I've made a few of these but with very different styles (here is my last one).

Each of these has been a bit of a longer-term project that provided various challenges for me to work on over time. (Some people have "project" cars they work on little by little . . I tend to have "project" projects!)

The scoring systems have all been similar in that they are physically built into the game.

Balls are sorted into point-value-based return channels according to which hole they land in. There are no lights, sounds, sensors, scoreboard display screens, or any of that - completely by design.

My skeeball games are basically large, non-electronic ball-sorting machines.

This one was especially fun because I used primarily old junk to make it. It's also collapsible, portable, and has built-in chalkboards for tracking high scores.

This "junkyard" aesthetic isn't for everyone, but I really dig it.

Thanks for checking this out!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Several design features are a result of what materials I happened to snatch up over the years.

I bought a section of an old chalkboard at a thrift store and thought it might come in handy some day.

Same story with a pile of metal bed frames, a pair of rubber mudflaps, stack of colorful foam floor mats, an old basketball backboard, and so on. Some of these items appeared new and unused, but were discarded or donated for whatever reason. I'm a bit of a scrounger and tend to hoard any materials that looks useful! : )

You can make a game with the same essential function using a variety of materials and tools, depending on what you may have access to. Be creative!

So even if you can't duplicate this exact thing, I'm hoping this Instructable will act as inspiration and a jumping-off point for anyone interested in making something similar.

Here's a list of the primary materials I used:

  • old metal bed frames
  • rubber mud flaps
  • rubber floor mat
  • foam floor mats
  • old plywood and other scrap wood
  • old road signs
  • new baltic birch plywood for some key parts
  • an old chalkboard
  • drain pipes
  • plastic zip ties
  • thick polycarbonate (or maybe it's acrylic, not sure) from a basketball backboard
  • two worry-free tires from Harbor Freight (these)
  • 5/8" metal rod

Tools used:

  • common woodworking tools (tablesaw, jig saw, drills, sanders, nail guns)
  • common metalworking tools (grinders, welding tools)
  • all sorts of hand tools

Specific tools are mentioned in the photo notes.

Step 2: Templates

I wanted the finished width of this game to be about 24", and I knew I wanted to use 3" flexible drain pipes for the return tubes.

So I was on the lookout for appropriate balls that were under 3" but provided a nice balance of size-to-weight and didn't cost a lot.

Across the several versions of skeeball games I've made, finding the right kind of balls to use has always been a tricky part. You can buy real replacement skeeballs online, but they are way too pricey for me.

For this skeeball game I went with polyurethane pitching machine baseballs ($20 for a dozen, when I bought them). They are the size and weight of regular baseballs, but with no seams, and the price was excellent.

And they work great!

Based on the size of the baseballs, I made the target board with the measurements shown in this diagram. This should be especially helpful as a reference, as it's one component where precision is needed.

I'm also including a template of my jump profile which should also be helpful.

For all of the other parts, measurements will be noted in the steps.

Step 3: Target Board

With this project I was working toward an idea without a fully detailed plan in place, so there were many changes and tweaks along the way.

To simplify the documentation of this project I've put the full build process of each component into it's own step, even though all of the parts were built in conjunction and tested back and forth against each other.

This step covers how the target board was made.

There are lots of photos in the individual steps. Be sure to click the "More Images" button to see all the photos, and the photo notes where I've included many details.

Step 4: Frame

This is how the frame was made.

This was a pretty complicated design and fabrication project just on it's own!

I'm new to welding, but I've been taking on a lot of metal projects because I enjoy it so much. When you have the opportunity, it's a fantastic skill to learn.

Step 5: Main Ramp

This is how the main ramp was built. This was made using 7-ply baltic birch plywood.

I figured since so many of the components were made from junk, I could use some nice plywood for the main ramp and target board area. If you have to work plywood with any kind of precision and pleasantness . . it's well worth it.

The completed ramp rests within the frame without any fasteners.

Step 6: Jump

This is how the jump was made.

This was made in a different manner than how I had made these in the past, and I quite like this method. It's a smooth curved surface without a lot of fuss.

The completed jump rests in place atop the ramp without the need of any fasteners.

Step 7: Ball Return Ramp

This is the ball return ramp. It was made with using old plywood, scraps of wood and MDF, and pieces of old road signs.

See photos for details and notes.

Old road signs turn up in a lot of my projects, and it always tends to create the same debate:


Here's why it's not:

Cities regularly remove damaged signs or replace them for a number of reasons. Ideally, they'd recycle them.

But if you ask and they are willing to give or sell you some old signs to make stuff out of, there you go.

Just ask nicely and make it clear that you're making funky furniture or whatever, and you don't intend to use them for nefarious purposes.

They are not illegal to have, and in fact you could just buy them new or used from a variety of places online. You're simply not allowed to put them up on public roads, or obviously, take ones down that you don't own! ; )

Step 8: Number Board

I wanted to put some simple numbers on the edge of this front board, and this is the solution I came up with.

Numbers were shaped using thin wire, and pounded into the wood to make impressions. If the wire shapes didn't pop out on their own, I used a large sewing needle to gently pry them out of the wood.

The wood was sealed with several coats of lacquer FIRST (learned I needed to do this the hard way), and then paint was dabbed into the impressions.

Excess paint was wiped away with a damp paper towel.

On my first, second, and probably third tries, the paint bled away from the numbers into the surrounding wood grain. So I trimmed the board a little and kept trying till I figured out a method that stopped the bleeding.

Step 9: Target Board Side Walls

The side walls around the target board are made from 1/4" masonite that lived a former life as a chalkboard.

This was a neat find, as it allows marking high scores and such on the game itself.

This part of the game posed some challenges because I wanted the game to be foldable.

So the walls around the target board needed to be made in such a way that kept this possible. The final design looks simple enough, but it took several "ah-ha" moments to allow it to all come together.

Step 10: Return Tubes

Ah, the return tubes . .

These were a nightmare at first, and I wasn't sure they would even work. But I eventually figured out enough tricks and techniques to make them work as I wanted.

3-inch flexible drain pipes were used to make these, along with many, many 14-inch zip ties. There was quite a learning curve to figure all this out, but they work fantastic now that they're all done.

Step 11: Assemble and Test

With all of the individual components completed, the game was assembled and we play-tested it for a while.

This is an important step, because with a project like this you're not really done until you've identified and worked out several little bugs and quirks.

Step 12: Bumpers

Fortunately, our play-testing only revealed a couple little issues.

It became clear that some bumpers were needed in two different places.

The back wall of the target area is prone to direct hits from more active rolls, and would make a loud BANG each time it was hit.

Also, the very bottom the return ramp had the same issue.

I cut some pieces from a square of carpet tile and used a small torch to run a flame over all the cut edges to burn back any loose strands. These pieces were then glued in place with contact cement.

Step 13: Money Ball

One ball was colored green with a permanent marker to make it the "money ball" that counts for double points.

After coloring the ball green, it was cleaned with denatured alcohol. This way the green color that remains is less prone to leaving inky green marks around on the game.

Step 14: Play Skeeball!

We play with 9 balls. So with the money ball, a perfect score would be 1000.

This was a great project and I'm glad to finally have it completed. Because of the scoring system it forces players to do a little math too, which is a bonus.

It will be awesome to take out for barbecues and such. Skeeball is not limited to indoors anymore!

Thanks for reading!