How I Built a Cheap, Portable, Nintendo Switch Pinball Machine
A few weeks ago the Ionic Pro team and I went out to Geeks Mania Arcade in Madison, WI. With unlimited play for a flat fee, I tried some games I wouldn’t have been interested in normally, with one of them being Jurassic Park Pinball.
Needless to say, I fell in love.
Here we are three weeks later and I’m the proud owner of this new toy:
It’s a standard width pinball “machine” that uses a Nintendo Switch powered by Pinball FX3 (the initial download and Sorcerers Lair table are free).
Sporting a removable 32" 1080p IPS panel based TV and foldable table legs means I can even pack it up and put it in my trunk by just removing the TV from the mount:
Overall putting it together took me about 15–20 hours across one local Hackathon (thanks RokkinCat!) and two nights. I wanted to put together a little bit of a write-up on how I did it in case anyone else is interested 🎉
The Parts & Materials
- A Nintendo Switch with Dock
- Pinball FX3
- A cheap wired Switch Controller ($15)
- An arcade button kit ($20)
- A small tilt-able TV mount ($12)
- 29" Foldable Table Legs ($25)
- A 32" VESA mount compatible TV (Vizio IPS model I used, $199)
- 1 4x8 sheet of 1/2" Plywood ($36)
- A 30mm hole drill bit & 24mm hole drill bit (I got these at Ace hardware)
- A wire stripper, soldering iron, drill, circular saw, some extra wire, wire nuts, screws, clamps, wood glue, wood stain, polyurethane coating etc.
Total: $108 + TV + Switch + Tools
Phase 1: The “Controller”
I got the inspiration for this project from Stemage on YouTube who put together a video on how he made a Pinball controller for the Switch by tearing apart a cheap wired controller and then soldering an arcade button kit to it:
Here are some tips I found useful:
- The only black wire is connected to the back of the right trigger.
- When you’re daisy-chaining the rest of the black wires, strip the end of the black wires, then solder them directly to the metal connector of the previous black wire. You can also use wire taps, but I didn’t have any luck there (mine were the wrong size).
- When you’re soldering the left and right triggers, don’t remove the “buttons” from the top of the controller, just solder the wires to the back “posts” (use the top posts, not the bottom ones)
- Have lots of patience if you have never soldered, watch some soldering tutorials, take deep breaths.
Once I got all the wires set up, I also put it in a cardboard box just to make playing with it easier. I rewired some of the buttons to get the right combination and positions I liked a well.
Phase 2: The “Machine”
Next up, time to start building the table!
I used a 1/2 inch thick 4x8 sheet of Sandle Plywood from Home Depot for the wooden box portion of the setup. They made some of the cuts for me there (enough that I could fit it in my car at least), but due to a size limit, I had to make some cuts at home. Here’s the pieces you’ll need:
- 22" x 7" piece for the front of the box
- Two 34" x 6" pieces for the sides of the box
- Two 34" x 22" pieces for the top and bottom of the box
Here’s the cuts I made in the board to accomplish this (Home Depot made the purple X cuts for me):
Once I cut all of the boards, I marked on each board where I wanted to make each button hole. 30mm hole bit for the big buttons, 24mm hole bit for the small buttons.
Be sure to double, triple, and quadruple check that each hole is exactly where it needs to be before drilling. Stand up the boards like they’re already screwed together so you can make sure you’re drilling the right side. Also, drill with the side you want outside facing up (the inside got ripped to shreds for me).
When you’re finished drilling the holes, you’ll want to start to screw together the actual boards. I screwed together the top, sides, and front, but left off the bottom while I worked on installing the buttons. The front board covers everything, and the top and bottom boards cover the sides, like so:
Next up you’ll want to install the controller and buttons from phase 1. It turns out some of the wires were too short to reach where they needed to be, so I wound up cutting the middle of them, and then using wire nuts and some extra wire to make them longer:
At this point, I hooked the entire thing up to my Switch and TV and made sure that all of the buttons functioned correctly still. Then screwed down the bottom board. After that, I installed the foldable table legs on the bottom of the table, and called it a day.
Who am I kidding, I didn’t call it a day, I rigged up an old monitor I had laying around and played Pinball until 11pm (that’s late for me, okay).
Phase 3: Sand, Stain, and Seal
Although I probably should have done it before installing the buttons, at this point I decided I should probably sand, stain and seal the box. I used some standard dark wood stain and polyurethane seal.
All I did was pull out the buttons from the wood while doing this, and made sure to be extra careful with the brush.
Phase 4: Installing the TV
I did a fair amount of research on what (cheapish) TV I wanted to use, and landed on a 32" 1080p Vizio from Best Buy that happened to have an IPS panel screen. IPS has much better viewing angles than other panels, which make them awesome candidates for how we’re going to be mounting the screen.
I also made sure that the TV had reasonably placed 100x100 VESA mounting holes that would work with our TV mount.
You’ll want to double and triple check the positioning of your mount and the TV before actually screwing down the mount to the box. I probably spent a good 20–30 minutes measuring and making sure everything lined up correctly.
At the end of the day, you’re pretty much installing this onto the box just like a standard wall mount. I also drilled an extra 30mm hole next to the mount that I could put wires down so they are hidden under the TV.
Phase 5: Play Pinball!
For right now I think I’m at a good checkpoint before I start making more modifications. I know I want to sand it a little more as well as add some metal trim and an official Williams/Bally lockdown bar to the top edges of the table to make it feel super smooth while playing.
My favorite Pinball FX3 tables at the moment are Portal, Epic Quest, and Aliens, time to go get some high scores 💪
P.S. Let me know if there was something I didn’t cover that you’d like me to add to the guide!