LED Pinball Coffee Table




About: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!

There I was, minding my own business, when all of a sudden (as all good stories start) I found an old pinball machine at the dump.  I promptly took it home and has help putting it in the house where it sat in my living room long enough to put rust stains on the carpeting where the metal feet sat.

It wasn't complete enough to make it work without spending a lot of time and money on it.  I live too far away from a market to sell it as-is.  And honestly, the wife didn't seem too keen on starting a game parlor with our limited space.

So I decided to make a coffee table out of the main playing surface.

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Step 1: Tools and Materials

This will largely depend on what you have available...
  • a pinball machine
  • lumber
  • plywood
  • screws
  • staples
  • hot glue
  • tempered glass
  • aluminum stock
  • wood glue
  • a few strings of LED Christmas lights
Some suggested tools...
  • screwdrivers
  • drill and bits
  • pencil
  • tape measure
  • glue gun
  • staple gun
  • small nailgun
  • belt sander
  • miter saw
  • table saw
  • bench grinder
  • reciprocating saw
  • pliers
  • wire cutters
  • bolt cutters

Step 2: Disassemble the Pinball Machine

Once you have a derelict pinball machine the hard part is over.  Now start taking the thing apart.

NOTE:Vintage pinball machines are collectors items.  Make an effort to get parts into the hands of people working to restore these collectible machines.  You won't be using all of the parts in this project so save the rest and don't send them to the dump!  (Note that this machine was salvaged from the dump before you blast me for cannibalizing it in this way.)

Now you need to have the thing sit around your house long enough that your wife wants it gone so bad that she'll even help with the monotonous disassembly.  That worked for me!

Remove the scoreboard area, the legs, and then get to removing the guts - well, most of them.  You'll want to leave in the flippers, and any other items that project onto the play surface.  If the mechanical system extends too far below the play surface you might want to fake it by cutting off a part and reattaching it later.

Step 3: Replace Lights With LEDs

I carefully went through the machine and replaced with LEDs where there had been incandescent light bulbs. 

First you need to remove the plastic ends put on the light strings to make them "icicle-like."  I found that some came  off easily with just a twist of my fingers.  Others needed pliers to pe worked loose and some needed to be clipped off with wire cutters.

I then used a combination of staples and hot glue to affix the lights to the back side of the board.  Be extremely careful not to pierce the insulation of the wires when using the stapler.  I used the stapler mostly to position the lights that penetrated through the play board.  I used the glue-gun to position the ones that needed to be glued in place against the transparent plastic indicators.

Step 4: Build a Frame for the Table

I had two dimensions i had to work around - the size of the pinball play field and the size of the tempered glass that i had on hand.  You might live somewhere that you can just order a piece of glass to fit the same size as your machine.  Or you might have the glass from the machine you're working with.  I had to use two pieces that i had kicking around though.  And i don't have the tools to cut tempered glass.  (And will not ever I suspect.)

So your assembly here will probably be a lot easier than this.  I'll skip the carpentry details and let the photos do the talking.

I used yellow cedar for the frame.  I notched out a groove for plywood on the bottom side for rigidity.  I used stainless steel screws that were countersunk in the wood for the frame corners.  And i used some strips to support the sides of the glass just above the play field.

Step 5: Add Legs

I have a problem figuring out the legs for the tables i want to build.  But i had some aluminum rectangular stock  kicking around that i decided would do the trick.

I drilled pilot holes and then used screws to attach the legs to the frame on the inside.  By using rough-cut lumber i had almost a full 2 inches of thickness to work with on the leg attachement points.

Step 6: Enjoy It!

...Now to put an electric outlet in the middle of the floor of the living room so that extension cords are not necessary.

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    52 Discussions


    9 years ago on Introduction

    You got geeked! http://www.geek.com/articles/games/pinball-machine-gets-a-second-life-as-a-coffee-table-20100930/

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Cool! Thanks! I often check the "Stats" sidebar for incoming links and hadn't seen that one yet.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Not a bad idea!

    I think i can sell a set like that here. But nobody wants a project machine here. Well - other than me for this kind of use I guess.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    This Idea got me interested in making some theme type tables for our game room. if you don't have a spare pinball table lying around you can find the backboards(in the pinball industry, they're called "translites") online http://www.pbresource.com/transl.htm this is just one place i found after a 5 min search, reasonable prices too. on the tables i want to do, i was thinking about using actual pinball table legs(which can also be found on the same site) for the table legs.


    9 years ago on Step 4

    Nice; I like that you used salvaged lumber as well as the salvaged pinball machine!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you - I managed to not spend any money on parts or materials - just used things i had kicking around or (like the lights) had purchased a while ago.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    whoa, dump-find...cool!
    Great build, and good call on getting those vintage parts to the right people. I can't believe you found it in the condition you did. The table looks awesome!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    C'est clair. En plus je me demande si c'est jouable. Il n'y a pas d'inclinaison ni de boutons. En fait c'est une table éclairée.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I have to agree! What's the next ible? Making a model t ford into a planter box? Or perhaps a P-51 mustang garden fountain?

    It was your classic piece of americanna I guess you can trash it if you like. I would have paid you $700 for the PBM BTW.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I'll take the $700 if you'll pay for shipping it to Seattle on a barge line and then the freight to wherever you live. I'll reassemble it (with the exception of the plastic pieces i cut) and package it nicely on a pallet with the legs off and the back removed for safest shipping.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I'll call your bluff. Here's one on Ebay that is more complete than the one I have for well under the price you mentioned... http://cgi.ebay.com/Bally-Paragon-Pinball-/290503332597?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item43a35912f5 And no bids with a day left!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    1...The POINT is that turning an old PBM into a table PISSES OFF anybody who likes pinball machines.

    2...using Non original REPLACEMENT parts LOWERS THE VALUE and it is NO LONGER ORIGINAL.

    3...I could get that unit from Alaska to my door for around $150 because it could be DRIVEN DIRECTLY. (No ship to Seattle) (Even cheaper if you can tag a ride with someone who is going to make the trip anyway.