Friday Five Years Ago! - Pinball Wizard

Find out how Jez Speed turns a broken old Bally pinball machine into a highly stylish piece of furniture

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A couple of years ago I bought an old Gottlieb mechanical pinball table dating from the mid-1950s with a view to restoring it to working condition. Having spent a few months searching for the necessary parts - including the unobtainable decorative back glass - I quickly came to the decision that sadly it was beyond economical repair. So, what do I do with it?

The single thing that attracted me to it in the first place, was the incredible graphics on the play table. I needed to do something with this and thought it would make a great coffee table for my own house - I ain’t seen nothing like (it) in any amusement hall! Having always been a fan of mixing the old with the new, I thought, I can’t be the only one who would love to own one of these! Little did I know at the time that my first pinball conversion would lead to a number of commission pieces. This is a problem in itself, as the only affordable options available are broken machines, but they need to be in nice enough condition to re-use. So, when I came across this old Bally Circus pinball table dating from 1974 (this time with the back glass intact), I knew exactly what I needed to do with it – another coffee table - his time with a matching wall mounted light box - and luckily, just the client to buy it... how’s that for an outrageous wedding present?

So I began the delicate job of disassembling. The play table was stripped to its component pieces, cleaned and polished and refitted with a replacement rubber ring kit from a supplier in the States.

The table needed to be a combination of an original old part, and the rest contemporary – and as it was a commission, it needed to have the precision of a factory made piece. As a fan of end on plywood – a true modernist wood grain – the carcass was made from furniture grade birch plywood and faced in gloss black Formica laminate; mitred and bonded with hid- den fixings. The legs were designed to be a short stumpy take on the originals, and were made by hand from 4mm sheet aluminium, filed, drilled, countersunk, and bent 90 degrees in a large industrial press, then finally polished to a mirror finish.

A must for a pinball coffee table is to have it illuminated, as it would have been when in full working order. The problem with a coffee table is that it generally sits in the centre of a room, ruling out any external power supply, so the only route was battery. A programmable switch, AA battery pack, LED driver and 50 low voltage LED’s were wired to the rear of the play table to give a variety of subtle
lighting effects allowing many hours of life between battery changes.

Lastly I’m still awaiting delivery of a custom made piece of 10mm toughened glass for the top as we go to press – so, sorry you’ll have to wait to see the finished piece online on the VE website – but not before my client! (This appeared in Issue 18 of VE - October/November 2014.)

Buy a copy of this issue.

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Woo Gilchrist