A homemade skee ball machine intrigued me as a challenging project.
After a little research I became discouraged by the 'electronic scoring' aspect. The few who have attempted to make a Skee Ball Machine with an actual realistic electronic scoring panel, have often been met with crashes, burn outs and the big expense of replacing circuit boards. So I decided to design one which is all wood, with the only electrical being lighting and some carnival music (or any music you want to load on the micro SD) via MP3 embedded in the control box.
Step 1: Step One Scribbly, First Thought Out Plans and Cutting the Side Panels
It started with some rambling freehand scribbling of which changed many times over the next 3 months.
I had plenty of room so I made the dimensions accordingly. I made it with a total length of 8 feet. This can be made to your size preference.
I started with gluing some boards to form the two side panels of the ramp assembly.
I cut out an oblong pattern so it would not look like a big ol' box.
Step 2: Making the Ball Rolling Surface Support Rack
Picture one shows a side panel clamped and ready for the cut out mentioned before. Now it is time to make a
frame that will support the plywood ball rolling surface aka 'alley'. The two side panels will hold the frame and a long plywood board will serve as the rolling board, which will later be surfaced with a rubber liner. (More on that later)
Step 3: Side Panel and Ramp / Alley Assembly
The two side panels are attached to the inner frame. Foot braces are added for solid base support.
The cross beams will support the alley ball rolling board. Now the ball return, which will be completely a gravity fed system, as you can see in Picture 2 are rails sloped down. A plywood board will rest on those rails under the alley board for a ball return as pictured. Now, how to control the balls coming down the board? TRACKS. Picture 4 shows a test placement of the alley board.
Step 4: Designing a Controlled Ball Return
Lets figure a way to control how a ball returns to you. I cut 1" wide strips of plywood to serve as tracks (about 8' long). 4 strips were cut in my case to create 5 ball returns. You need some long C Clamps and wood glue, heavy books, rocks or whatever you have to keep heavy pressure on the strips. This is vital, be generous with the glue, do it right and the strips will be impossible to lift. The 5 tracks will be for different channels which will be matched to the corresponding hole you score in the head piece. Hang in there, I will explain.
Step 5: Ball Return Tracks Done! Testing the Fit With a Dry Run
The plywood strip tracks are firmly attached and I tested the incline by dropping rubber field hockey balls which is my ball of choice for this project. Baseballs are too heavy and actual wooden Skee balls are an option but not cheap. Wooden balls also will wear and chip over time. I use Field hockey balls as pictured. I find they have the perfect bounce for this project.
Step 6: Making the Target Board With Holes
This was a challenge fabricating a system that will take a ball through a cup and deliver it down the pike. I decided to use the same design I thought of for the return ramp...TRACKS. But in this case the tracks will need to be WALLS. First I cut a plywood head board (same width as your side panel frame) and used a paint can as a guide to trace my holes, then used a jigsaw to cut them out. You can design the hole pattern any way you want. I diverted from the standard holes that are usually lined up the center. I instead strategically placed the holes to areas where I can make the multiple track walls fit easily. In the last photo I placed a cork mat over the board and carefully used an exacto knife for the hole cutouts.
Step 7: Track Walls for Head Unit
Place your hole cutout board on top of another same size piece of plywood. Trace the holes onto the bottom board. Then I cut plywood pieces to form walls around the traced pencil marks to guide a ball to its proper channel. This head board unit will eventually butt up against the ramp tracks for a continuous run. These track walls need to be glued AND use small L brackets (Lowes) to keep it strong. My method was to attach the L brackets on the walls first, then glue the bottom edges, and while the glue is wet, secure the L bracket to the head board.
Step 8: Head Board Cups and Dry Run Fitting
Now that the Track Walls are attached, we will screw the hole cutout board to the bottom piece. Be sure the holes align with your tracks. Dropping a ball should drop it down to its designated track. I used PVC couplings as cups and attached them with the same L brackets I used for the Track Walls. In photo 2, I prop up the head board to meet the return ramp, and drop a few balls and it went smoothly. (The cork sheet was added after the dry run). In photo 3 you see I am designing the rings which guide the thrown balls which have missed the cups.
Step 9: Adding Rings and Bell Sounds
I used Black lawn edging material (thick, heavy duty and ridged) to form the rings which guide the balls that miss the rings. Again, using L brackets to secure the edging to the plywood/cork board. I wanted a 'bell ring' when each ball dropped in a hole. So I got 6 micro pressure switches (very inexpensive) and cut holes in the bottom board where a ball would first land thru the cup. I mounted the micro switch so just the lever was sticking proud of the surface. I wired all the switches in parallel to a wall wart and a 'clapper' style bell.. A test run, with dropping a ball in, I found that the bell did not ring long enough. So, as pictured, I screwed in some Styrofoam strips so the rolling ball would keep the lever down longer. I also constructed the cabinet to hold the entire head unit using wood rails inside to cradle the target board at the proper angle.
Step 10: Let There Be Light
After realizing the ball was still dropping down too fast, you can see I cut PVC couplings downward in half and used PVC cement to extend the cups enough so that the ball drops more gradually. Now some lighting. LED strips on ebay are the best. I used an 18" white LED strip and I had some heavy duty rubber padding laying around. So I lined the underside of the top cabinet and back wall with it. I cut a slit to accommodate an LED strip and laid some hardware cloth over it to protect it from flying balls. All electrical features with wires are being tunneled thru to the lower inside wall of the cabinet where there will be a power strip.
Step 11: Lights and More Lights
Now that the head unit is lit, and the bells are working, lets work on the ball return. I labeled each cup with a point value, now I will match the point values to the ball return end point where the player stands. Also we will paint it bright yellow and use another LED strip light mounted under the ball alley surface. The ball alley surface and ramp underneath can now be secured. A wire running from this LED is channeled underneath to the head units power supply.
Step 12: Making the "Jump"
This is by far the most difficult to master and may take a few frustrating adjustments. The ball needs to jump up at just the right angle to make all the rings a feasible possibility. I used a general pattern sketched out like 'bookend' style shaped pieces. I glued them all together to make one heavy jump piece. I placed the jump unattached on the alley, and sanded as necessary to achieve the desired pop up.I then used some 4" wood screws to drill through the side panels into the Jump. I added another board in front of it to prevent balls from getting stuck.
Keep in mind I designed this as a 2 piece unit so it can be carried with handles.
Step 13: Designs, Rubber Mat Attachment, Painting and Stencils
The cork sheet was rather bland so I made some stencils on my own. Stars and arrows and flames and lettering for the side panels as well. I used images from the internet, printed them, them laminated them and used an exacto knife to cut out the pattern. I then used acrylic paint (Michaels) to dab it on the stencil. Spray painting is too messy and more likely to drip under the stencil. In photo 3 I tried spray painting but ended up doing it over with the dab method. After you tape your stencil to the surface, use a thin stick to hold the edges down as you dab each area. Now we are ready to secure the rubber runner.
Step 14: Adding a Net
The netting was a painful design project that had me scrapping plans over and over. I finally decided to use a PVC frame which easily attaches and detaches from PVC clips. The angle of the net was toyed with until I got it so a hard thrown ball would not hit the underside of the net. The net is completely removable. The finished project works as intended and has withstood the torture that kids and overactive adults can lay upon it. Its very solid. Handles were added, 4 for the alley unit and two lift latches for the head unit. The Ball return LED has a connection that dangles out between the 2 units that needs to be disconnected before separating them. Otherwise the head unit simply slides up against the alley unit. On the following step I added misc photos that I had not included in the previous steps. I added music by buying a neat little $13 MP3 player that cycles songs with a boom. I secured it inside the cabinet power supply. I downloaded some carnival themes and makes for a nice ambience druing the game.