Playfield :: Fabrication :: Blank

The standard Playfield is fabricated from 1/2″ plywood, and is 42″ x 20.25″.

There are many types and sources for plywood, but unfortunately the actual type specifically used for vintage Pinball Playfields is no longer available (see this useful  FAQ from CPR), so the best solution is to try and find something better than the original. You will probably see a lot of options for cores and laminates, and it can be confusing. A lot of the information is good, but not very useful if you’re on a budget or don’t have access to lumber yards or big suppliers nearby.

I’ve tried several options, and luckily one of the best ones is cabinet grade plywood from the local hardware store. But here’s the key: it needs to have lots of plys for stability. This is what will keep your Playfield flat, straight and warp-free in the years to come. Look for at least a 9-ply count, bearing in mind that the surface veneers count as plys but are slightly thinner. Birch is not hard to find, works well and looks great. Another advantage is that your local hardware store is likely to have this in a 2’x4′ sheet size, so you are not wasting wood or money.

Plywood for Custom Pinball

Birch veneer, 1/2″ thick nine-ply cabinet-grade plywood from the local hardware store.

Most vintage tables used Maple top with a hard core (and no voids). If you have the resources, this is still an option, but I personally think the additional cost isn’t worth it. For short-run production… maybe, but we’re talking Pinball as Art here, and designing something for production would take away from that.

To get started, here’s a Playfield blank based on vintage 70’s-80’s Bally hardware. It is similar (or the same) as Stern and Williams from that era, and parts are easy to find:

Custom Pinball Template

Bally blank Playfield template.

You can find a link here to a DXF and SVG version, for use in a CAD or Illustration program respectively.

I usually will purchase a sheet of 2’x4′ plywood and use a T-square to measure out 42″ x 20.25″. Take a look at the surface of both sides first, and decide which will give the best finish on top. I use a bandsaw, but a circular or table saw will work for these initial cuts.

Second step is to cut out the lower edge notches, which are clearance for the shooter (right) and cabinet flipper buttons. Again, here I would print out your CAD layout 1:1 scale and tape to the surface as a guide. You will want to use a band saw or jig saw for this, and to make it look really clean I use a 1/2″ Forstner bit in the corners first to establish the right radius.

The rest of the Outhole Kicker cutouts can be done the same time you’re doing the lenses and other hardware openings.

One comment

  1. Was exactly looking for an Arduino pinball project and your walkthrough more than delivered.
    Congratulations on an awesome project!

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