This is a multipart series on how anyone can do a complete overhaul of your pinball machine and make it work like new.
To ‘Shop’ a pinball machine means different thing to different people. When we shop a pinball playfield, we take everything off the top, then clean and repair the playfield. This is followed by rebuilding all the moving parts – most are underneath. All parts including switches are cleaned, shined up, then adjusted. Broken and worn pieces are replaced, while parts that tend to wear out are preventatively replaced. Finally, the upper playfield is waxed, reassembled with new rubber, new bulbs and can look and play like new.
Prior to getting started, it is important to have all your supplies ready. While it is impossible to predict which parts might need replacing, with a little planning, you can be prepared to have few delays waiting for parts.
Note that not all sections may be necessary with all playfields. For example, if there are not any problems with the inserts, you can skip that section. If not repairing the playfield, the touchup and sealing sections can be skipped.
Tools & Supplies
Soldering Iron and Solder– For playfield work, one can generally get away with a 25 watt to 35 watt pencil. But a small soldering iron station is even better with its temperature settings. See suggestions on the linked page.
Nut Driver Set – Generally, English sizes as metric was not commonly used.
Allen Wrenches – English. Required to disassemble flippers and coil stops.
Screw Drivers – Slot and Phillips. Include smaller ones for the occasional little screws.
Needle-Nose Pliers – Have to have these.
Wire Cutters – Small and large.
Fine Sandpaper – 220 or so grit emory or aluminum oxide, designed to sand metals.
Pinball Switch Adjustment Tool – A must have.
Finish Line Dry Bicycle Chain Lubricant – Typically 8 oz. Do not get the cleaner type with wax.
Light sewing machine oil – One with a long ‘spout’ is preferred. Useful when grease is not appropriate.
Silicon Grease – Also known as Super Lube. These three lubricants are somewhat redundant.
Voltmeter (DVM) – The single most useful tool.
Alligator test leads – Clip leads.
Microfiber Towels – Standard rags tend to leave fine scratches.
Playfield Wax – Buy Carnauba or whatever your preference. This will be the opportunity to wax every little part. Do not buy a ‘cleaning wax’ as that contains abrasives.
Socket Wrench Set – Generally 1/4″ and 3/8″ drives.
Magnet Pickup Tool – The day you drop a small screw or nut, you will wish you had this.
Parts Organizers – We use old muffin tins for the small parts, and larger plastic tubs for other parts. Some use zip lock bags. Something to organize the parts is a requirement.
Magnetic Cup – Great to hold a few parts.
Dremel – Battery operated is more convenient.
Dremel Tools – Get the variety pack. We always seem to be reaching for something. Conical stone sander, Sanding brushes, among others are useful.
Rotisserie – We use one every time. A simple one is inexpensive, quick to make and stores easily.
Light Stand – Additional light source.
Rotary or Shaker Polisher and Media – Look at websites for cleaning guns or polishing rocks.
Supply of Stranded Wire – Handy to have if replacing sections of wire. Heavier gauge maybe needed too.
Wire Strippers – While a wire cutter can do in a pinch, it usually nicks the wire and weakens it.
Shrink Wrap Tubing – Buy a kit and keep it handy. Use to keep wires insulated. You will need a heat gun or a hair dryer to shrink these down (don’t use a match).
Wood Screws – If using a rotisserie, remove one of the wood screws that hold the back wood or vinyl edge in place. Obtain at least three that are the same diameter but ~1/4″ longer. This will hold the playfield to the rotisserie. A few flat washer would be helpful, too. Also, three 1/2″ #8 or #10 wood screws to attach the front (player end).
Assorted Plastic Zip Ties – Zip ties are used to hold assemblies in place while work is being done. And sometimes zip ties on the wiring harness have to be cut, then replaced.
Wood Glue – Used for repair of the more severely damaged screw holes.
Wood Toothpicks – We insert those in almost every wood screw hole to tighten the hold.
True Black Pens – For hand repairs of black lines and circles around inserts and other areas of the playfield.
Novus 2 – A mild abrasive. The ‘go to’ cleaner for the pinball industry.
Isopropyl Alcohol – 91% is great. 70% is fine. ‘Rubbing’ alcohol should be avoided as it can have lanolin added.
Novus 1 – Use to clean plastics and make them look like new. Can use standard glass cleaner, but this is better.
Microfiber Towels – Standard rags tend to leave fine scratches.
Carnauba Wax – The standard wax used on playfields.
Mean Green – or similar cleaner. Used for soaking plastic parts.
Optional – Might Not Be Needed
Magic Erasure – This is quite abrasive and only used under the most extreme circumstances.
Naphtha – Used to remove any remaining wax (see precautions on the container before using).
If Cupped or Lifted Inserts
If filling cupped inserts:
Water Modified Clear Gloss Polyurethane or cyanoacrylate (Super Glue)
Disposable Plastic Eyedroppers
If removing and replacing inserts:
X-Acto Knife or Similar
Epoxy Glue – If removing or replacing inserts. Clear and fast drying works best.
Primer – To help epoxy adhere to the insert. Similar to 3M Scotch-Weld AC77.
Large C – Clamp – To hold the insert into the playfield while being glued. 12″ deep throated works great.
Naphtha – This allows ‘wetting’ the insert to see if it is sanded clear.
Waxed Paper – To place on the insert when glueing, to keep the clamp from sticking to any extra glue.
If removing a triangular insert, you may need to cut a piece of wood to fit the shape from underneath the playfield. For round ones, a socket set will usually work just fine.
Clear Water-Slide Decals – If replacing decals on inserts.
If Sealing the Playfield
Supplies for this step depend on what you maybe using to seal the playfield. See Section 9 – Sealing Your Work.
Pinball Playfield Replacement Supplies
Rubber Rings – See ‘Replace Rubber Rings’ page.
Flipper Rebuild Kit – See ‘Rebuilding Flippers’ page. If you have not rebuilt the flippers, do it now.
New Pinballs – Replace those nicked up old pinballs. Do this annually anyway.
The Manual – It is important to have a copy of your pinball manual on hand. If you don’t have one, either purchase a copy, or download it from the IPDB, and donate to help them maintain it. Note that some games, especially Williams / Bally WPC pins have two manuals. The second one is the WPC manual which is about the circuit boards and, while great to have, is not generally needed here. EM and early SS manuals are nearly useless, unless they indicate any parts information including rubber rings.
Bulb Sockets for the Pop Bumpers – If your pop bumpers contain the #44 bayonet sockets, they are lousy. Replace them with wedge sockets. Flat wire leads fit the best. Insulated wire leads are easier to install but the bulbs sit higher and may hit the cap.
Flipper Bats – These can usually be salvaged, but are frequently yellowed, and the rubber band has left deposits nearly impossible to remove. Note that many have logos on them. Non-logo bats are cheap, but ones with logos are more expensive.
Flipper Bushings – Most rebuild kits do not contain these. These rarely wear out and can be cleaned. But if they are at all damaged, they must be replaced.
Coil Sleeves – Most coil sleeves can be cleaned and re-used. But they are inexpensive. Might as well replace all coil sleeves. Consult your parts manual and order a supply. Note that flipper rebuild kits come with coil sleeves. Don’t forget the coil sleeves for pop bumpers and other coils.
Plastic Posts – Plastic posts get cracked and broken. Buy a supply of the same color your game uses and keep them on hand.
Diodes – Get 1N4004 diodes for switches and lamps. Upgrade to the 1N4007 for coils. 1N4007 can be used for switches and lamps and are almost the same price.
LED Bulbs – If you are considering switching to LEDs, now is the time to do it.
Pop Bumper Parts – New plastic spoon for the switch is a good idea. Get a color matching pop bumper ‘skirt’ – do this! New pop bumper caps. The pop bumper body and base only has to be replaced if broken. The pop bumper bracket and plunger can be reused if not damaged. The ring rod assembly can be shined up and reused. If the coil works, keep it. If it has a diode, replace it. Pop Bumper Bakelite Fiber Yoke – These get worn and should be replaced. Get the one specific to your machine. Williams / Bally is different from Stern/Sega/Data East or other pins. Consult your manual. Pop Bumper Metal Yoke – If this is not broken, it should not have to be replaced. But they are inexpensive and you might find a broken one. Williams/Bally vs. Stern/Sega/Data East are different. Consult your manual. Pop Bumper and other Solenoid Springs – The pops use two springs. Other solenoids like slingshots use one. These can typically be reused, but it is better to replace them.
Slingshot (Kicker) Parts – See your manual. Spring and coil sleeve. Perhaps the coil plunger assembly.
Screws and Nuts – Old pinball machines have had wrong sized screws used for missing screws. Get the right ones.
Replacement Playfield Inserts – Order those that you plan on replacing.