Pinball Machine

Digit Counter

Objectives of the counter:

  • An electrical pulse should advance the units digit.
  • A different electrical pulse should advance the tens digit.
  • Another different electrical pulse should advance the hundreds digit.
  • Advancing from 9 to 0 should also advance the next reel.
  • A mechanical movement should allow the reels to be reset to 0.

At first I tried using Electromagnets to advance the reels. The way I tried was via a Ratchet Wheel which has twenty teeth and a 1:2 ratio to the reel. So each one tooth movement of the ratchet wheel will move the reel by a tenth of a revolution.

This did not work well because the Meccano Electromagnets are not powerful enough.

Instead all the reels are on a friction drive from a motor and the reels try to revolve at about 60rpm. They are held in position by escapement mechanisms. There is a 1:5 ratio to the escapements from the reels. There are two diagonally opposite stops on the escapement. Half a turn of the escapement moves the reel by one tenth. The Electromagnet pulls a rod disengaging the escapement on one side, but engaging it on the other so the reel doesn’t continuously turn if the Electromagnet is on for more than a short pulse.

To make the 9 to 0 transition work, the reel pushes a rod which acts as if the next Electromagnet had been pulsed. This means no Electromagnet is needed for the thousands reel.

The reset to 0 is achieved by two steps.

Firstly stops are moved to each reel stopping them just shortly after the 9 position.

Secondly the escapements are disengaged allowing the reels to turn freely.

Once the two operations are reversed the reels make their final movement to 0.

It didn’t work too well at the April 2013 meeting due to me not having enough parts, which were bought on the day.

After the April 2013 meeting I made the following improvements:

  • The detents have been redesigned, using Pallet Pins as the stops instead of long Grub Screws.
  • The escapements have been redesigned. They used to be directly underneath the detent. They are now to one side.
  • The friction drives have been moved to a separate rod away from the reels. This results in less wear on the compression springs, and means the reels once resting are completely stationary.

I seems to be working quite well now, but still needs more adjustment.


A big problem with the chassis is torsion. Just connecting a number of Angle Girders at right angles to each other does not work.

Instead I used a ‘compound Angle Girder’. Two Angle Girders are connected to each other by a number of 3 Hole Couplings. A 1 1/8” Bolt passes through a hole in the girder, the coupling is added and then the other girder put on the end. Three of these compound girders are equally spaced along the base, going from front to back. Extra Angle Girders are placed at right angles.

The playfield is inclined at about 6°. There was a lot of trail and error in attempting to achieve this angle. The actual support for the playfield which is just a 24½” Angle Girder each side is easy, but the outer frame needs careful positioning of Flexible and Strip Plates.

Each leg is Angle Girders forming a 2½” x 2½” support. These are screwed into the frame using four Bolts. This is too unstable so 5½” Angle Girders are also connected from the legs at an angle to the frame. For transportation purposes the legs are removed.


This is made out of MDF 6mm thick and seems quite sturdy. It needs to be cut with care as the dust is hazardous. Tools used are a drill, long arm fret saw, sand paper, and a large saw.

I did at first consider using Narrow Strips all the way around the playfield but standard Strips are good enough. Nine hole and seven hole Curved Strips come in useful because of their radii. I don’t usually but non-Binns Road parts but have made an exception for the pin table. The strips are typically fitted in using ¾" Bolts or 1 1/8” Bolts. Heavy duty rubber bands are used to allow the ball to bounce off. 2½” rubber bands are used for lane separators.


The flippers are a Crank with a 2” Narrow Girder connected to them. Some rubber bands are placed over the Narrow Girder to reduce noise. The flipper mechanism is fairly simple. A motor continuously runs, and Electromagnets operated by the flipper buttons move a Rod slightly to engage a friction clutch. This moves the respective flipper up very quickly. The flippers are sprung to allow them to move to their resting position once the Electromagnet has switched off.

Why not just use an Electromagnet to move the flipper up? Meccano Electromagnets are not powerful enough. Five could be used in parallel maybe, but that would use 3½ amps and power supplies are pricey.

Rollover Switches

There are seven lanes on the pinball machine. Three at the top and two either side of the flippers. The ball rolls over the switch, which is a 1½” Corner Bracket. This makes an electrical contact to advance the score. The ball is not very heavy so the switch needs a very light trigger. It is balanced to about 2 grams. The switch which is a 1” Wiper Arm is placed ½” away from the pivot. The Corner Bracket is 1½” away from the pivot. This means the up force from the Wiper Arm is reduced three fold.

Arcing is a big problem here, as the contacts arc they rapidly loose conduction. There were two solutions to this.

  • Instead of directly operating the Electromagnet at 0.7A, operate it through a Meccano Relay at 0.02A. This considerably reduces the arcing.
  • Add a ‘snubber’ circuit in parallel with the switch. This is a capacitor and a resistor in series. When the circuit is open the capacitor charges. When the circuit closes, the capacitor discharges, meaning there is a rapid change of potential difference over the contacts, but not immediately 12V. When the circuit opens again there is a reverse operation in effect meaning there is no immediate potential difference between the contacts. According to a formula the capacitance needed is 47pF and the resistance 15 Ohms. This is for a 700 Ohm Meccano relay.

Timer mechanism

The pinball machine will have a x10 mode on some sections. For this there needs to be a timer mechanism to activate it and deactivate it. The timer mechanism is simply a motor running through a gear reduction to an Axle Rod which rotates at about 0.6 rpm. When the timer expires the rotating Axle Rod switches off the motor and stops it turning. To start the timer an Electromagnet pulls one of the Axle Rods and disengages the gear on it. Another Axle Rod further down the chain is weighted to one side and rotates the Axle Rods to restart the timer.

Drop targets

The drop targets consist of three in a row. When the ball hits a target it drops, scoring points. The targets are raised on a ledge, when they are pushed back they come off the ledge and drop.

A difficult part was to get the dropping of a target to provide a sufficient intermittent pulse to the digit counter. This is achieved by a slow moving armature that the drop target pushes. It is a counterbalance but the balance is fine, so it moves slowly.

The raising of the targets is achieved by a cam operated by a motor. There is another armature above the targets and once they have all dropped the armature lowers completing a circuit to the motor.

There are two minor problems with the design. If two targets drop at the same time only one score is registered. When the targets a raised they score again, but this could be seen as a feature.

SELMEC 2013 Exhibition

Remarkably successful. It worked for 5 hours with only 15 minutes downtime. The top score of 690 was made by a youngster. There was always somebody waiting to play. I did not mange to take any photos on the day but hope to obtain some made by friends. The down time was caused by a 50-tooth Gear Wheel which was free running on a shaft, but it started to crawl in one direction causing the flipper to raise even though it was not being used. The solution was to replace the Gear Wheel.

Kick-Out Hole

This is currently version 3 which is the working version. The kick-out part is just a Pawl with Boss. It is held down by a Ratchet Wheel with its own Pawl. It is kept in tension with a Tension Spring. When the Pawl on the Ratchet Wheel is released the kick-out Pawl ‘kicks out’. To reset the Pawl a cam mechanism cranks it down and the mentioned Ratchet wheel keeps it down.

There is a motor which achieves all the above, making one revolution on the shaft which releases the pawl and then later on cranks it down. There are also two electrical mechanisms. One keeps the motor running after the ball has been kicked out (the ball makes an electrical contact for the motor). The other does the scoring and generates two pulses for either 20 or 200 points.

SkegEx 2014

From the 4th to 6th July the pinball machine was exhibited here. There were major problems with the flipper clutches wearing out. This was solved on the 6th by using an army road wheel against a 50t Gear Wheel. Top score for 5 balls was 1,620 by a young lad on crutches. The kick-out hole worked well. Comments from other exhibitors were always positive but it did not make the top five models. Lawrence Rabie from Spinmaster commented it was ‘awesome’ and wanted it in his front room.

SELMEC 2014 Exhibition

I arrived at the exhibition at 8.00am and had the machine set up in 30 minutes. Then there was two hours trying to get it all to work. Almost everything had issues. Anyway it did work fairly well during the day and the high scores can be found below.

On from SkegEx the following features were added.

  1. A second kick-out hole.
  2. Reset mechanism. It resets the digit counter to 0000, resets the x10 timer, lifts the drop flags and puts the first ball into play.
  3. 5 ball play.
  4. Kicker kicks the ball from its resting place to the plunger.
  5. x10 mode light.
  6. Game over light.

Almost at the end of the day the flipper mechanism gave in. A special pulley/gear combination on the motor had lost all its teeth and started slipping.

I am currently redesigning the flipper mechanism. There will be a motor for each flipper and no bevel gears will be used which means all the rods will be vertical.

SELMEC 2015 Exhibition

The pop bumpers were a disaster. After a couple of adjustments they jammed in the down position and had to be switched off. Other than that there were just three repairs during the day and it was very well received. Top score was 1,320 by Rayne. I now need to look at the pop bumpers. I think the main problems are the activate switch and the latch defeat switch.

Final exhibitions

NELMC December 2015.

Skegex July 2015.

Henley September 2015.

Last showing will be September 2015 SELMEC meeting.

High Scores

These are the highest scores achieved by players, as of 25/10/2014…

1 BRIAN2 1501
2 MARTIN 1160
3 ROSA3 1121
4 ANON10 1101
5 CHRIS 833
6 BRIAN 774
7 NIC4 751
8 GRACE 750
9 BRIAN3 722
10 ANGUS 713
11 JASON 703
12 ZAC 702
13 CHARLIE 701
14 NIC3 673
15 NIC5 652
16 CONOR 652
17 TIM 613
18 THOMAS2 610
19 OLIVER 600
20 JOSHUA 542
21 JAMES 481
22 LUKE 474
23 JACK2 474
24 FENN 473
25 NATHAN2 465
27 NATHAN 453
28 SAM 444
29 ISAAC 443
30 JAKE 434
31 DAISY2 424
32 OLIVER2 421
33 CHRIS2 414
34 SAUL 391
35 CHRIS2 383
36 EOIN 383
37 ROSA2 373
38 JUDE 371
39 JACK 360
40 SAM2 344
41 AADAM 333
42 MICK 322
43 LEXIE 303
44 ARCHIE 273
45 ZAC2 264
46 ROSA 263
47 NICK2 255
48 NOAH 244
49 JOHN 235
50 MATILDA 224
51 JASON2 222
52 ADAM2 201
53 THOMAS 143
54 DAISY 141
55 DAVIDS 82
56 ADAM 60

Your e-mail address will not be displayed in public and will not be added to mailing lists. Please see our privacy policy for further information.

Please wait while we post your message…