Hardware

Playfield :: Hardware :: Bumpers

One of the most ubiquitous pieces of Playfield hardware is the Bumper.

It has at times gone by the name “Thumper”, “Jet” or “Pop Bumper”, but when people say “Bumper” they are generally referring to the switch-and- coil-activated mechanical Bumper that is standard to most modern games. At one time these Bumpers were passive, with just a rubber ring and a switch to add to the score, hence the need to have names to distinguish active Bumpers. But by the time of Pinball’s peak in the mid-80’s, most all Bumpers were active, except for a few notable games like “Silverball Mania” or “Space Invaders”.

Most machines typically have three Bumpers, but almost any combination of number or location you can think of has probably been tried. This is where the grammar and language of Pinball comes in…

If you are unfamiliar with all the Bumper variations that have been used it the past, check out the Internet Pinball Database (IPDB), and the reproductions section of the Visual Pinball (VP) website. When you design your game, you should be aware of what other games have used similar layouts. Even if you are not trying to emulate or reference vintage tables, there will always be some comparison and connotation associated with them. It’s important to understand this grammar so as to not create some unintended meaning.

The “standard” Bumper has undergone some evolution to make things easier for manufacturing, assembly and repair, even though the basic components remain the same. Here are representative examples:

  • Evolution #1 : Added Nutplate: The earliest improvement was to add a plate with pre-tapped holes.

Gottlieb Thumper

  • Evolution #2 : Combined Plate and Switch: The second improvement was a plate with built-in mount for a spoon switch. This unit could be built as a sub-assembly prior to installation.

Stern Thumper

  • Evolution #3 : Molded Plastic : An incremental improvement to number #2, this was probably a cost savings, but also presented a cleaner fit and finish on the top play surface.

Bally Thumper

Any of these would be a good choice for a custom pinball machine. You would want to make the decision early on, however, since the Playfield would have to be drilled to accept the specific hardware. Most likely, you will base this on what’s available in your stock or on eBay.

It’s much cheaper to buy a used Bumper unit, and if necessary rebuild with new top-side parts for cosmetic considerations. A used unit that already has the brackets, coil, metal ring assembly and the switch, can be re-built to like-new condition with the following parts:

Bumper re-build parts

These can be found at Marco Specialties or Pinball Life:

And if you decide to start fresh instead of rebuilding, you can find this as an assembly:

Here’s what the top-side parts look like assembled:

Assembled Bumper Parts

If your assembly already has a base, you probably will not need the Playfield insert. These parts can then be added to the rest of the sub-assembly, making the installation and future repair that much easier.

Downloads:

  • CAD diagram of EV2 version of Bumper, showing Playfield cutout. You can right click here and “save as”, or click through to preview in most browsers. Keep this item as a template in your custom pinball artwork file, then import into Inkscape or other drawing programs.

Playfield :: Hardware :: Apron

To kickoff the Playfield section of the custom pinball blog, I’ll start with something relatively easy: the Playfield Apron.

This will be very important later, as the dimensions of the chosen Apron will have an impact on the table layout. Most Aprons are standard width, but there will always be slight variations that will have to be accounted for or modified. Since Playfield geometry is defined from the bottom-up, it’s critical to get the Apron mechanicals established before laying down the rest of the hardware.

As with most posts, I’ll will try to outline two or three fabrication methods to chose from… And will post links later to CAD or graphics files for download.

Step 1:

Decide New Or Used. The Apron is one of those pieces of standardized hardware (like Thumpers, Drop Targets and Flippers) that you will want to source from either a parted-out machine or buy new. Since we are customizing here, it makes sense to find a used one that would otherwise be thrown out. For this purpose, we check eBay (try searching simple keywords like “pinball apron”). You should be able to find a rusted-but-decent one for around $15, minus shipping. To be consistent with this blog, get a “standard” size one, not a “wide body”.

Step 2:

Sand, Clean and Paint. I use an orbital sander, which I recommend, since you will want to sand all the way down to the bare metal. I start with a medium grit disk, around 180, to take off paint as quickly as possible, then 220 and 320. For this first pass at 180 grit, you don’t want to use too much pressure, since any gouges will have to be sanded out later or will show up in the finished product. Once most of the paint is off, wipe clean with a rag and follow up with 220, and then again with 320. Wipe down and clean with isopropyl, then use Rust-oleum or some similar spray enamel in the color of your choice. If you’re going for a light color, best to use a white primer, and sand lightly with 320 (by hand) between coats.

Orbital Sander

This orbital sander has been a good choice.

Step 3:

Add Artwork. Here’s where we come to some alternate fabrication choices based on what look you’re after and what tools you have at your disposal…

  • My first example is probably the easiest and yields decent results. If you have a computer and printer, you can create your artwork in a vector graphics program (like Inkscape, which is free) and print out onto gloss sticker sheet paper. The Apron in the photos below was done this way. Before applying to the painted surface, I spray the paper stickers with a matte acrylic designed for sealing artwork, sometimes called a fixative. This gives the paper a longer lasting finish.

CustomPinball_Apron1

Rusted vintage Apron that was being thrown out.

CustomPinball_Apron2

Same Apron, after first coat of paint.

CustomPinball_Apron3

Finished Apron with graphics applied.

  • Second example is a little more complicated, but gives professional-looking results if you have access to the equipment. Using a vinyl cutter (like a Cameo Silhouette), your same vector artwork colors can be cut individually and stacked to give the impression of a silk-screen process. The results are cleaner and will probably last longer. The example in the photo below was done with the vinyl cutting method.

CustomPinball_Apron4

Old apron sanded and cleaned.

CustomPinball_Apron5

Painted with high gloss enamel.

CustomPinball_Apron6

Finished apron with vinyl decals applied.