Let’s Play Pinball!

What can you do with a cardboard box, wooden skewers, marbles, and hot glue? You can make a pinball machine!

Over the summer, our family took a trip to Las Vegas. While we were there, Kat and I went to check out the Pinball Hall of Fame! We had $18 in quarters and a lot of arcade ambition, we were ready to go play some pinball!

While we were listening to all of the bells and whistles and watching the cool mechanics of the games, Kat and I thought about how great it would be if we had our very own pinball machine at home. We had become very fond of Caine and his arcade, why not try to make our own cardboard pinball machine?

As soon as we got back, we grabbed some graph paper and got to work drafting designs for our pinball machine! We had a lot of things to think about! Some of our questions included:

How big was our pinball machine going to be?
Did we want ramps, bells, and buzzers?
What did we have around the house that we could use in our pinball machine?
How did we want to decorate it?

This was a brainstorming session, so nothing was off limits! Whatever our creative minds could think up, we could probably find something around the house to use to make it happen!

This planning stage was awesome! We were measuring, thinking about the spaces in between things, and we were making blueprints! We did a lot of research to see how others had made their pinball machines. Some of our favorite examples included Ezra’s pinball machine, Coolfolder’s pinball tutorial, and this Homemade pinball machine. We also browsed Instructables, where we found this fantastic tutorial for a DIY pinball machine, which inspired our flipper design.

Finally, we were ready to get to work! We found a big box and painted it in bright, whimsical colors. Then it was time to prepare for construction.. Any flaps were glued down, and any gaps were taped over. This allowed the ball to keep rolling on the playing field without getting stuck.

Now it was time to start constructing the parts of the pinball machine! The first thing we did was work on the flippers. Once we had these in, we were able to focus on fun and easy things like ramps, loops, bells, and adorable decorations.

For us, the flippers involved a lot of trial and error. Because of this, I’m going to give a step by step tutorial on how we made ours. There are a lot of different versions available on the web (especially in the videos and tutorials I linked above), you can look around to find something that works for you. This is what we came up with and it worked beautifully!


Materials Needed:

Pen and a large index card (to make a template)
Hot glue gun
Wooden skewers
Large Phillips screwdriver
Picture frame wire
6 Popsicle sticks


1. Figure out how big you want your flippers to be. Draw a flipper shape on your index card. When you’re happy with the size and shape, cut it out and use it as your template!

2. Trace the flipper shape on to your cardboard. To ensure flipper durability, we traced and cut six flippers, layering three cutouts for each side.

3. Glue your flipper pieces on top of each other. Make sure that they all line up and that there are no overlapping edges.

4. Paint your flippers!

5. Take your popsicle sticks and glue them on top of each other. You’ll want 2-3 layers of popsicle sticks for each flipper. Make sure they don’t overlap!

6. On the widest edge of the flipper, dig a little hole into the side of the flipper with your scissors. Fit your popsicle sticks into the side and use as much hot glue as necessary to hold it in! It will take a while for this to dry, make sure that they are held firm and fast until the glue is completely dry!

7. Cut your wooden skewers into 2.5″ pieces. You’ll need at least six (three for each flipper). Use your hot glue gun to attach three of them together, so that they make a sort of reinforced pillar. When they’re dry, paint them!

8. Take your pen and mark the center of the wide edge of the flipper. Take your screwdriver and start working it through the flipper until it comes out the other side. Wiggle it around to make the hole wide enough to fit your skewers. Then set the skewers aside.

9. Place your flippers where you want them to go on your playing field. Remember that you’ll want them to be evenly spaced apart. Look at other pinball machines to see how far apart their flippers are spaced. Ours are about 2.5″ apart, when placed into position on the board.

With your flippers on the board, take a pencil and mark a hole through the skewer hole. This will mark where you will place the skewers to hold the flipper in place on the board itself. Use your screwdriver to work it through until it reaches the other side and is wide enough to fit the skewers.

11. Take your scissors (or an exacto knife) and cut a slit along the outer edge of your pinball machine. This is where your flipper handles are going to stick out to allow you to use them! Our slit was .5″ wide and 3″ long.

12. Take your skewers and stick them through the hole on the pinball machine. Use a LOT of glue to secure those skewers on to the board! We glued them into the hole and then turned the pinball machine over to add reinforcement glue on the bottom.

13.  Once the skewers are in place and the glue is completely dry, put your flippers on! You’ll have to maneuver them so that the popsicle sticks are sticking out the sides of the pinball machine. Once you’ve got them out, slide the flipper over the skewers and wiggle them down. Flip them back and forth a lot until they move with ease.

14. Wrap your wire over the skewer to prevent your flippers from flying off during play. You’ll want to make sure that they’re not too close to the flipper so that they restrict movement.

15. Cut out 2 1″x2″ pieces of cardboard. This will serve as a stopper for your flippers and a catcher for your ball. Glue those down and voila! You’re done!

Alright! Now that we had finished with the flippers, it was time to reward ourselves with some of the fun bells and whistles! After all that work, we wanted something for our ball to interact with on the field!

Bells, Ramps, Flaps, and Other Fun Things!

These little flaps were really easy to make and they gave us something fun to play with on our machine! All we needed was a skewer, some cardboard, some paint, and some glue!

We painted our wooden skewer, cut out some flaps of cardboard (keeping them the same size!), and got to decorating. We painted little forest critters on our flaps, and stuck the skewers through the top of each flap. We took a pencil to mark where the skewers would go on our board, poked holes through it, and we were done!

Now it was time to put some ramps on our board! Since we already had our flippers, it was really easy for us to figure out where we should put them. We just hit the ball over and over again and lightly traced the trajectory of the ball with a pencil. Then we could figure out where we could place our ramps where the ball would actually go!

The ramps were really easy to make. We used toilet paper rolls, paint, glue and 2 wooden skewers. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out just how high we should make the ramps. We found that for us, 1″ off the board was perfect! We took our pencil and lightly marked where the ramp would begin and end and set to work putting together the skewers.

The skewer set up for the ramps are the same as for the flippers. This time, we cut the wooden skewers into 1″ pieces, painted them, and glued three of them together. Then we marked the spot on the board where we wanted them to go, and used the screwdriver to work the hole into the board. We stuck the skewers through the board where the ramp was going to be lifted up.We glued the skewer in place (just like we did with the flippers, use a LOT of glue!), and then glued the ramp on top of it.

We found that our ball kept getting stuck under the ramp, so we glued these strips of cardboard down the side to prevent that from happening. It worked like a charm!

Once we had our ramps in, it was time for some bells! Kat wanted a bell tower, and I wanted to make a bumper. We went to Walmart for a cheap bag of bells and set to work! For Kat’s bell tower, she painted a toilet paper roll and covered it with owls and kittens. Then she filled it with bells! She put this in front of one of the ramps, so the ball would hit her tower after launching into the air.

Our bumper was made by sticking a bunch of bells inside half of a plastic Easter Egg. We glued it to the bottom of our pinball board and it worked beautifully! Every time the ball hit the bumper, the bells would ring!

We used another egg to make a ricochet corner for the ball to land into after launching off the rocket ramp! You can see it in the above picture, in between the two trees. This was a great way to use something that had been taking up space in our craft cabinet, and they looked great on our pinball field!

Now that we had all of the pieces on our playing field complete, it was time for our reward…. making adorable forest critter decorations! We knew that once we had finished these, we would feel like our pinball machine was complete, so we saved these for last. This was so much fun!

Squirrels and Bunnies and Bears, Oh My!

Oh my goodness, we had SO much fun making these little forest critters! I asked Kat what kind of animals she wanted and she immediately suggested bunnies and squirrels. This was absolutely fine by me, but how about we add some jumping gymnastics bears too?

We could also make a lot of little bunnies and have them do adorable things like peek out of trees, or give each other little bunny kisses! There are so many adorable things you can do when you have cardboard, paint, and a little bit of imagination!

We also made little rose trees to decorate our little ricochet pocket in the corner of our pinball field. These were made by cutting out little tree shapes, and then gluing tiny pieces of tissue paper to them to create little roses. We also made one last little bumper out of cardboard, in the form of little bunnies saying hello to each other by a little flower bush. We made sure that the bush was lined in the back with a triangle of cardboard, so that the ball wouldn’t get stuck during play.

Speaking of the pinball… What kind of pinball should you use for a cardboard machine like this? We found that large marbles worked really well, as well as large wooden craft balls. We found 1″ balls to work the best for our machine, as they would be big enough to launch off the ramps and ricochet off the flippers with a decent speed.

When we finished our pinball machine, we played with it constantly! It is such a cool thing to bring out when we have friends over, the kids all have a great time playing with it. Since we put so much work into making everything sturdy (so much glue, so many skewers!), everything has held up really well, despite hours of playtime with a ton of kids.

This is easily my favorite project that we’ve made together this year. Our pinball machine became absolutely adorable as we added new decorations to it, and we were so proud of ourselves for constructing it! We learned so much while working on this and we really put our problem solving thinking caps to work!

Now we just need to put together a video of our pinball machine in action….


  1. I Was just describing to my complicated (…) ???? LOL… 'IHOPE' LOL
    how I use to make functioning pinball machines as a child with flippers that worked using physics and since im off work for the next few weeks due to a terrible fall longboard racing without a helmet I have decided to turn my concussion into memory exercise and cognitive brain function I would be happy to share the blueprints with you I just broke down a Gibson hollow body guitar case and I know it will be a hit hope to see it posted at some point soon Thanks
    TheRobShow from Vancouver

  2. This is great! Science, Reading, Imagination and Creativity… And you can do awesome things.

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