Introduction: Rustic 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!

This is a homemade skeeball game I built in a sort of Old West/rustic style.

If you've never played skeeball, you're missing out! It's a simple and classic arcade game. I've built several homemade versions of the game over the years, and I like this latest one quite a bit.

In some ways it's a simpler design than my previous versions, but it also incorporates a level of adjustability that none of my older ones had.

It plays very nicely and we've been having a lot of fun with it. All of my other games were eventually passed along to friends to enjoy . . but we might actually keep this one!

This instructable outlines the general process I went through to create this, but there was a lot of trial and error along the way. I didn't have a specific plan in place, but just a general idea I was working towards.

If you want to make a similar skeeball game, I'd recommend checking out my previous versions as well to give you plenty of ideas for how you can make your own. There are so many options and materials you can use to make a fun, functional game like this.

Here are my earlier versions, each with different approaches and methods used:

Homemade Skeeball Game - fairly compact, but didn't play nearly as well as my newer versions

Wooden Skeeball Game - frame made of 2x4s, but finished with a clean modern style

Portable Skeeball Game - made of lots of old junk, in a very funky style but I loved it!

This instructable is photo-heavy. The details are in the photos and photo notes, so be sure to click to see all photos in each step.

Thank you for taking a look!


Several months ago I got a huge pile of old, used pine boards.

The boards had been part of a barn roof for who-knows-how-long and one side was darkened with age, and the other had tar paper residue all over it, along with loads of nails and nail holes. On top of that, the boards had been used post-roof as concrete form boards, so they had a lot of concrete residue as well.

From the original pile of boards, I built a pair of dining benches, a pair of nightstands, an accent wall at the back of my garage, and several other smaller projects.

The handful of boards leftover after all of these other projects were the worst of the bunch (shown here), and these are what was used to make this skeeball game.

Along with these old wood boards, I used a variety of other scrap wood pieces, a pair of antique metal wheel barrow wheels, an old wood headboard, some antique nails, a huge piece of thick leather, and various bits of hardware like nuts and bolts.

Step 1: Ramp

The main ramp is a panel made from pine scraps. During all my previous projects with this pile of old wood, I'd keep the scraps and off-cuts and trim them down to 2" widths.

I began gluing these strips together in groups until I had three sections about 8 inches wide and four feet long.

These were hot glued down onto a sturdy plywood box (the full process is outlined in this instructable), and run through a planer. After flattening the top face, they are removed from the box, and then the opposite face is run through the planer so you end up with two flat, parallel faces.

These flattened equal-thickness sections were then glued together. The panel then had imperfections filled with wood filler, sanded smooth, had the edges rounded over with router, and then sealed with lacquer. The final width of the panel is about 21".

Step 2: Jump

The ball jump was made using scrap wood pieces and a section of leather. The template I came up with for the jump profile is attached below. I added a couple of inches to the front and backside of the template to make the full jump profile a bit longer.

Wood pieces were cut out using a band saw and then smoothed to precisely match the template using an oscillating sander.

The pieces were glued and tacked in place with a brad nailer to front and back boards that matched the width of the ramp from the previous step. Screws were then added to lock everything in place.

Thin wood strips were glued and pin-nailed across the top of the jump profile to make a uniform surface to glue the leather.

The leather piece was glued in place using contact cement on the wood side, and spray adhesive on the leather.

I added carpet tacks all around the edges both for looks but also to secure the leather edges from ever lifting away from the wooden jump frame.

Step 3: Target Board

The target board was made from a section of an old solid alder wood headboard. The template for the cuts is attached (which is from one of my previous Instructables).

The board was cut up according to the template using a jig saw and band saw as appropriate, then individual pieces were sanded with an oscillating drum sander as needed.

A few imperfections were filled with wood filler, and then painted black.

Step 4: Target Rings

The target rings were made from leather. I bought this large piece of leather several years ago for a different project that never happened, so I was happy to finally put it to good use.

This was a whole new experience for me, as I had never worked with leather before. I cut up most of the large leather piece into 5" strips using a straight edge and utility knife.

Holes on the wooden target board were measured and individual rings were cut to fit each hole. This took a bit of trial and error, removing small amounts of leather as needed until each strip fit a hole tightly to create a ring.

A leather beveling tool was used to cut a little chamfer on the outside edges of the strips that would become the target rings.

The leather edges and inside faces (the unfinished "flesh side" of the leather) was burnished with Tokonole (a glue-like gum specifically made for this purpose) which creates a smooth finish on the raw leather. I used a burnishing tool for the edges, and a piece of scrap hardwood with the edges rounded over for the faces. This is neat stuff! If you've never used it before, once you do a leather project you'll get a kick out of it - it works great and is pretty easy to use.

Ok, not going to lie - I tried several things that did not work until I finally came up with a good way to stitch these rings together.

In the end, the process was: I punched holes with a leather punch, and used super glue on the edges with masking tape to hold the edges tightly until the glue cured. Then to permanently hold the rings together, I used cotton thread with a pair of upholstery needles to tightly stitch the butted leather ends together. See photos for a detail look, and additional notes.

Step 5: Assemble Target Board

The leather rings were attached into the holes in the target board with a staple gun. The larger guide rings were added in the same manner, and then the middle circular section was fixed into the main target board with some scrap MDF pieces added to the backside with glue and brads.

A lower section of the target board was pieced together at this point.

There were no specific measurements here - this is just free-form creating with wood, glue, brads and screws. The goal was to create a lower section that was firmly attached to the upper section so it would be one complete solid component.

In the last photos in the set here, you can see a main piece of wood running across the lower backside of the board, which is the main anchor point for the whole target board within the case later on. This board is in the way for the ball return however, so it had a notch cut out of the middle of it after it was firmly affixed in place.

Step 6: Begin Cabinet

The target board is enclosed in a cabinet that was was put together with glue and screws.

The target is attached to a brace at the bottom inside of the cabinet with some old hinges. See photos for details.

Step 7: Wheels

The wheels are a key part of this project. One wheel was given to me by a neighbor several years ago. It had an axle rusted firmly in place that could NOT be coaxed out by any means I tried. I had to drill it out which was a huge chore, but I eventually got it.

The other wheel came from an antiques store. Both were rusty and neat looking, and I thought were perfect to use to make a cowboy skeeball game.

I wire-brushed away all the loose rust and then sprayed the wheels with satin lacquer.

One has an axle of 5/8" and the other 1/2" so I used a 1/2" metal rod to hold them to the frame later on, with spacers to make the 5/8" wheel fit.

One is 16 1/4" diameter and the other 15 3/4" so a quarter-inch shim has to always be placed under the smaller wheel.

I didn't want to make a fix to compensate for this small difference built into the actual frame, because someday I might find a wheel that matches one or the other and this way I can easily swap it in.

Step 8: The Frame

At this point my supply of decent boards to use was getting pretty thin. I had kept two nice-ish boards aside to use as the runners for this frame however, and with these and a whole bunch of scraps I put this frame together.

The two boards were cut length-wise and used to create an upper and lower pair of of ladder-like sections. The upper holds the ramp, jump, and the target board cabinet, and the lower holds a simple V-shaped return ramp.

See photos for details. The frame was pieced together with glue and brads and screws, along with the lot of clamps in order to persuade the wood into compliance.

With the basic frame completed, front legs were added as well as a catch place for returned balls.

Step 9: Adjustable Rear Assembly

I stared at the various components I'd completed up to this point for a few days . . or weeks . .

Until I figured out how I wanted to proceed. With my past skeeball games, I had to commit to angles and live with the results, which weren't horrible - but with this one I wanted to be able to fine-tune everything once I set it up in the house.

So all decisions from this point on were made with that in mind - everything was made to be adjustable, and since everything has to work together it got a little complicated to sort out how to make it all work.

The wheels are attached to essentially a trailing arm assembly that is attached to the main frame with hinges, and locked in place with adjustable arms that determine the angle of the ramp/lower frame.

The target board cabinet is attached to the frame on top with a hinged bracket, and supported to the backside of the trailing arm with adjustable support arms.

Yeah, there's a lot going on!

Check out of the photos and photo notes to see all the details.

Step 10: Ball Return System

The ball return system on this is intended to be as simple as possible. In my past skeeball games, I made multi-lane return systems with automatic analog scoring, which was always fun to figure out.

I have no desire to have an electronic scoring system. I'm on a continual quest for less beeps and blinky things in my life.

So for this version the return ramp is a simple V-shaped track to return the played balls back to the bottom of the ramp. To keep score, a simple scoring block was made that is covered in a later step.

Within the backside of the cabinet I made a funnel shaped guide to divert the balls to the middle. A back plate encloses the cabinet and has foam floor mats glued to it to act as bumper as well as sound deadening.

Pieces of an old rubber mud flap were used to create a funnel-like section at the back/top end of the lower frame, to direct balls arriving from the cabinet into the V track.

Step 11: Cabinet Walls

The upper cabinet had walls added at this point, using bits and pieces of scrap wood along with some chicken wire. These walls were built with glue and brads, and then screwed in place to the cabinet.

The rear support arms were beefed up at this point to make them them a little stronger.

Step 12: Scoring Block

I made a simple scoring block that uses 10 nails (heat treated masonry "cut nails" which are available at Home Depot) to indicate points scored for each ball. Each person's "turn" is 10 balls, which is tracked by placing each nail for the points scored. The scoring rings on the target board are from the top: 100 (top two corners), 50, 40, 30, 20, 10.

This scoring block was made from some scrap walnut with holes drilled on a drill press. The underside has little rails glued on so it sits securely on the side of the frame, but can be lifted off or switched sides if someone wants.

Step 13: Final Details

An upper board was added to the top back of the cabinet, and a piece of the same old wood was added to the front of the frame, which acts as a stop block for the return balls so they drop into the catch area below.

I had a bunch of antique nails, and decided to use these to put a name on the game.

After considering a lot of options (among which were Cowballs, Cowboy Skeeball, Saloonball, Skeebull) I settled on a hybrid of cowboy + skeeball and went with "COWBALL!"

I straightened the bent old nails and cut them each in two.

These cut pieces were used to spell out the name and were attached with hand-bent little wire "staples" that were tapped in place into drilled holes around the nails.

The entire frame was given a coat of satin spray lacquer to give it a little color. It's fairly rough but I sanded off the most splintery bits . . . this certainly isn't fine woodworking. It's more like "eh, that's fine" woodworking.

Step 14: Play Cowball!

I set up the game in my basement and made several adjustments to fine-tune the angles of everything.

The jump was shimmed a little on the backside and then screwed in place along with the ramp to the underside of the frame.

The target cabinet was screwed to the frame as well, and angled so it's somewhere around 40 degrees which seems to be ideal. The balls should jump up, hit their apex and then fall to the holes - if you make one of these and the balls are line-driving off the jump then you need to make some adjustments.

I've tried several different types of balls with these games, and the best balls I've found are plastic street hockey balls, and specifically the type that have water in them. They don't cost too much, they do not bounce at all, and are also very quiet. The ones I have are Franklin brand "warm weather" balls that I got at a sporting goods store.

This game was a fun challenge to create, but even more fun to play with.

If you're working on one and have any questions, please feel free to reach out. If you make something similar, I'd love to see your results.

Thanks again for checking this out!