Clean That Sticky Pinball Shooter Rod

Clean Up the Pinball Shooter Rod

One common complaint about a game is that the shooter rod does not shoot smoothly.   Fixing that problem is usually about an easy 15 minute job.

Supplies Needed

  • 91% (or higher) isopropyl alcohol.
  • A thin cloth rag.
  • Pliers. Or needle nosed pliers.
  • New rubber shooter tip.  We prefer white since black ones add dirt to the playfield.
  • A parts container.  Any plastic or metal tub works for this, to keep parts from rolling away.  A magnetic holder would be nice.

Optional or Nice To Have On Hand.

Lubrication is rarely used on pinball machines, and then sparingly.  Usually it is restricted to metal to metal contact.   Lubrication should not be used on shooter rods as it will gum it up.  Certainly no oil products should ever be used.  If you really want to, restrict it to dry lubricants such as Teflon.Court

Cleaning Procedure

Make sure the pinball machine is turned off.  Unplugging it is a good safe option as sometimes bare wall voltage wires are accessible inside.

Open up the playfield and remove the playfield glass.  Remove the pinballs.  Tilt up the playfield to get it out of the way.  We find it easier for most playfields to be tilted all the way back against the backglass.  Most games have a notch on the inside wooden railing to prevent the playfield from sliding.  If your game does not, it must be secured so it does not fall on you.  We use either pressure clamps on the side – plastic ones so as not to mar the cabinet, or bungee cords at the top to keep it upright.  

Note: If you playfield falls during this procedure, it can seriously harm you, much less damage your machine.

[Note: Click on images for a larger photo.]

1)  Remove the shooter tip and discard it (since you have a new one).  If it is an exceptionally old tip, it might not want to come off.  You will need to remove almost all of the rubber so that the washers and springs can be removed, and can pull the shooter rod out. 

2) Using your pliers, pull out the retaining ring.  Be sure not to lose this.  Place it in your parts container.  Do not let the spring push anything else off the shooter rod.

3) At each end of the spring will be a small washer.  These are easily lost if the spring is pulled off.  Locate the outer washer and remove it from the rod.  Place this washer into your parts container.

4) Remove the shooter spring.  Be careful not to lose the small washer at the other end.  Sometimes this washer will come off with the spring, but usually it will remain in place.  Place the spring in your parts container.

5) Locate in inside washer.  Pull out the shooter rod – so the end is in the middle of the cabinet sleeve –  while holding your hand inside the cabinet and below the rod.  This washer should fall out into your hand.  Place this washer into your parts container.  

6)There maybe a third washer on the outside of the cabinet.  Put your hand under the shooter rod on the outside of the cabinet and pull the rod all the way out.  That third washer may fall out into your hand.  If it remains in the cabinet, remove the washer so it is not lost.

Note: Be certain not to lose these two (or three) washers.  The shooter will not work correctly without them.

7) Remove the outer, smaller coarse spring from the shooter rod and place into the parts container.

8) Take a fine cloth and lightly cover it with 91% isopropyl alcohol.  Higher percent is fine, it is just more expensive and unnecessary.   Wipe the shooter rod until it is completely clean.

9) In most cases, the shooter sleeve is not damaged and only has to be cleaned.  Dampen the cloth with 91% isopropyl alcohol and work the cloth through the shooter hole.  The cloth must go all the way through.  Turn the cloth as working it through the hole.

Alternately, replace the shooter sleeve.

If you insist on using a lubricant, apply a small amount of dry lubricant such as Teflon to the shooter rod at this point.  But you are better off using no lubricant at all. Never use oil.  

10) Place the coarse short spring back onto the shooter rod.  Then insert it back into the game.  Try moving the rod back and forth.  Assuming you cleaned everything thoroughly, the rod should move smoothly.   If it does not, the rod may be bent.  This happens because people insist on picking up cabinets using the shooter rod.  Even a small bend will hang up the rod.  If this has happened, the shooter rod must be replaced.

11) Push the rod all the way in.  Insert the small washer, the shooter spring, the second small washer and then reinstall the retaining clip.

Test and insure that the shooter rod moves smoothly.

12) Put the new rubber shooter tip on the shooter rod.  All done.

Lower the playfield, insuring that the playfield does not hit the shooter rod.  You might have to pull back on the rod while lower the playfield.  Replace the pinball(s), the playfield glass and the lockbar.  Lock the coin door and enjoy!


Comments, including suggestions, improvements, errors, etc. are welcome (see below).

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2 thoughts on “Clean That Sticky Pinball Shooter Rod”

  1. The shooter rod on my Taxi machine wasn’t working, so I followed your advice to clean it. Alas, there was no change in performance. However, there are two things I wasn’t able to do/find:

    1. There was no washer “inside” the sleeve.
    2. I was unable to remove the sleeve itself.

    So, now, if I want to try replacing the springs and sleeve, I will at least need to get that sleeve out.

    Any suggestions?

    1. It is never fun when things don’t go as planned. Plus, the Taxi manual does not have a parts breakdown for the shooter rod, darn it.

      It is possible that, without that washer, the spring was pressing directly on the sleeve, deforming it and making it difficult to remove. Or that the shooter was put back together without the sleeve.

      We put our heads together and came up with the following plan:
      Inside the cabinet, there are (usually) three screws that hold the shooter assembly to the cabinet. We would remove those three screws and take it entirely out of the cabinet and try to get a better look at the insides.
      And getting an isopropyl alcohol soaked rag through the shooter hole, back and forth, might dislodge the sleeve (if it is there). It could be so mangled that you cannot get it out. That might require replacement of the entire shooter.
      The downside of removing this assembly is that when you reinstall it, you will need to carefully align it with the playfield to insure that the shooter rod contacts the pinball roughly in the center of the ball.

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