There are basically three Cabinet options for a custom Pinball machine:
- Purchase a new reproduction.
- Find a used beater to refurbish.
- Build new from scratch.
Any of these are good, viable options that I would recommend, but there are pros and cons with each. I’ll detail these in the order of preference…
Build From Scratch
I’ll start with the down side: It’s likely to be either more expensive or more time consuming than the other options.
Full CAD design of custom pinball cabinet with head.
But there are some big up-sides…
- Cheaper than buying new (but not cheaper than used).
- Less bloat, so overall the machine can be lighter.
- More engineering options for setting the rake angle and depth.
- Artistic ownership of the final product.
and best of all…
- The pride of doing it yourself.
Here is an example Cabinet design in CAD, where all the base pieces are laid out on a single 4’x8′ sheet of plywood ( 3/4″), which you can download as DXF or SVG here.
All the necessary base Cabinet parts laid out on a single 4’x8′ sheet.
Hidden lines are drawn in magenta, and are there to show where a miter-lock joint will be. If you don’t have access to a router table, or don’t feel comfortable creating a miter joint, you would simply cut along two of the magenta lines and create a butt-joint. Preferably cut the side panels to preserve the flush finish on the front, which is most visible.
The large panels are cut with a circular saw, and the smaller pieces can be band saw or jig saw. Worst case, if resources are limited, it should be possible to cut all the parts out with a jig saw.
Depending on what type of wood you chose (MDF, plywood, etc), the cost of a 4’x8′ sheet is going to run about $50-$100. I recommend paying a little extra for quality, even though the finished product will be painted. Good quality plywood will end up looking better, last longer and less likely to warp.
The other cost is going to be in the hardware. You will still need to source of the components of a vintage cabinet (see below), or purchase new from a company like VirtuaPin…
A new hardware kit runs about $400. Lower cost options can be found if you’re willing to lurk on eBay. But even when used, be prepared to spend on the order of $200 total for legs, coin door, side rails, lockdown bar and other hardware. If you really need a low-cost option, then best to…
Refurbish a Used Cabinet
This is a good, cheap option that has worked well in the past. However, depending on your location, an old beater cabinet could be hard to find. Best bet is to keep an eye on Craigslist and eBay, or network with local machine owners.
Almost all “standard” width Cabinets will accept a “standard” size playfield with a few modifications. Usually the lockdown bar bracket also serves as a receiver for the playfield hangar brackets. So when laying out your playfield, you may have to shift these to match your existing Cabinet hardware.
If you do go this route, try and pick up a Cabinet that has most (or all) of the hardware still attached. This would include:
- Coin door with mechs.
- Lockdown bar and receiver bracket.
- Side rails.
- Flipper buttons.
- Leg mounting plate brackets.
I didn’t include Legs in this list because often a perfectly good cabinet might be missing the legs, and second, you will probably want to purchase a new shiny set of legs anyway. These can be found for as low as $50 for a set at places like Pinball Life.
If there are any electronics in the cabinet, you can probably re-use things like the power switch, AC cord, filter, fuse, etc. but you probably won’t need the transformer…
Later on, there will be more posts about the control system. In this section, we detail how to install all new switch-mode power electronics, which are easer, safer and lighter than the old-style transformers.
Buy a Reproduction Cabinet
There has been a renewed interest in reproduction pinball cabinets with the introduction of “Visual Pinball”. We’ll go into this more in later posts, but basically people are creating computer-based virtual pinball games, and installing large flat-screen monitors into cabinets for a more realistic game playing experience. We can take advantage of this new phenomenon and cottage industry that has grown up around it.
The most popular off-the-shelf reproduction cabinet is made by VirtuaPin.
In the DIY category, you can find cabinets in the $300 – $500 range depending on the finish. On top of this, you will need a hardware kit that runs about $400. So we are talking about a total of around $700 – $900, but bear in mind that the hardware is about half of that cost, and you will still need to buy that with a custom cabinet (although maybe cheaper on eBay).