(Topic ID: 230593)

Agents 777 Restoration

By sethbenjamin

5 years ago

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#1 5 years ago

Mark Hankowski over at Mystic Pinball in Turner's Falls MA asked me to take on a restoration of his very rare and exceedingly strange game "Agents 777."

Your eyes do not deceive you. Those really are a bunch of anthropomorphized number sevens, driving a car in hot pursuit of anthropomorphized fruits. A fever dream of the unseen "Untouchables" inner life of a slot machine?
The 80s were a fascinating time in pinball history. Anything that even slightly stuck to the wall when thrown got a green light. Plus, there was a whole lot of cocaine going down, so maybe this made more sense through that lens...

The game was rescued from a bar in west Texas. The nice thing about that is, being in a dry environment, the wiring and mechanisms are surprisingly clean, almost like new. So the lamp sockets are pretty much good to go, switches are clean, all that fussy, messy stuff is kind of a non-issue. Which is GOOD, because GamePlan didn't follow the strategy of isolating the switches from the lamps from the solenoids, no sir. They just bundled the whole kit and caboodle into one big mess of wires. So if you think you're gonna strip the back of the playfield, you're basically agreeing to peer deep into an abyss of madness. Did I mention every lamp is connected by that brittle ground braid? Even the ones that are in big clusters and could be mounted on brackets? Yeah. Hoo boy.

Anyhow. I decided to leave the wiring and mechs in place. I'll be rebuilding the pop bumpers and replacing the Gameplan flippers with Williams mechs, but aside from that it's looking good down below.

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#2 5 years ago

There's a bunch of work to be done restoring this playfield.

The dry, hot, west texas environment seems to have somewhat baked the varnish into a cracked, crazed mess. And it was in a bar, so cigarette smoke has probably contributed a lot to dulling the color. The whites are really sad, very yellowed.
Beside that, there is the fact that this damn game is NOTHING BUT BALL SWIRLS.
I spent an ungodly amount of time rubbing away at this playfield with M.E. and alcohol. The swirls are well beyond just the varnish coat, so it was a *super delicate* dance to know when to stop. There wasn't going to be any ridding this playfield of swirls, I just tried to reduce the ugliness as much as possible without destroying the paint. Not an especially satisfying phase of the job. Pics below show before and after (yeah, not the exact same area, but you get the idea.)

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#3 5 years ago

The wood was cratered up something awful around most of the wood screw holes. I took @vid1900's advice and got a jeweler's dapping die set for the purpose of pressing the wood fibers back down flush/under the surface. I can't think of another tool that would work nearly as efficiently at this particular task.

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#4 5 years ago

I hear people all the time say you can fix a torn out wood screw hole by stuffing toothpicks and glue into the hole.

I'm a professional cabinetmaker, and before that I was an old house renovator. I'm here to tell you, that almost never works.

Wood glue really doesn't have any strength in a void, so if you are going to try and restore a hole with a wood plug, that plug has to fit *snug* in the hole. You want to use lots of glue, not to fill the hole - you're doing that with a well-sized plug - but to make sure all the surface area of the walls of the hole and the plug itself are swabbed in glue - and that the surfaces don't drink up the glue into their interior, leaving nothing to create a bond.

To wit, if you squirt some Elmer's in the hole and stuff some bits of broken toothpick in there, it isn't doing much of anything. And it'll be doing even less once you screw a post screw in there and put it under tension from a big-ass Titan band.

I pulled bits of toothpick out of holes up one side of this playfield and down the other. And various other junk, too - little bits of that metal stuff that ostensibly stop doweled furniture parts from moving (they don't), strips of zip tie, even a ring shank siding nail. Out it all had to come. Gameplan used way the hell too many wood thread post screws in this game - probably defensible under the objective of pinball manufacturers at the time, but a lousy way to build a game to last. I ordered a whole mess of metal threaded post screws and will install t-nuts wherever possible in this playfield - in my mind, always a better option than glueing in dowels, though inevitably I'll end up doing some of that as well.

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#5 5 years ago

By far the worst problem with this playfield was its badly sunken inserts. While a few of them are OK, the playfield has wear around almost every insert in the playfield. Making matters worse, the printing is misaligned with the inserts, so merely restoring the key lining alone won't cut it in most places. Some of these areas are so tricky to restore, it'll be a judgment call how deep to get into that versus just making it look better and calling it good at a certain point.

Before the initial clear coat, I dutifully swabbed the backside of the inserts with epoxy, to reduce the chances of the inserts moving in the future.

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#6 5 years ago

Having gotten the base coat of clear on and leveled off the sunken inserts with clear in an eyedropper, it's time to get into gear on cleaning up the art.

A note: next time I work on a playfield with this much insert cupping, I will do fill the inserts at the *end* of the process. Filling them necessarily means ending up with high spots, and it's a risky venture to try to level the little mounds of clear with only an initial coat on the game. It'll all even out in the end, but I think it's probably smarter to get all your paint and decal work done first and safely buried under 2PAC, *then* fill inserts and level sand.

The central "slot machine" graphic, dominating the playfield, is obviously something I want to try to restore as well as I can, so I've focused on it first. I'd read @vid1900's description of this method of fixing key lining, and dreaded it. It's not a fun job. You really have to be hyper-focused and not hesitate while cutting out the circles. I have a few circle templates, and ended up using both metric and english sizes, surprisingly. I found that the thicker clear template was much easier to work with in terms of cutting, but it was hard to align until I put masking tape on the back side. Vid mentioned using metal ones, which I'd be psyched to use, but I haven't been able to find a source for those.

Short version:mask the area with Frisket, use circle template to cut inside and outside diameter of key lining, remove little ring of frisket, airbrush black key lining, remove frisket, apply clear to preserve your work.

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#7 5 years ago

It's so nice to gaze lovingly at the playfield before you have to scuff sand it again...at least you get a bit of a preview what it will be like when it's finished...

I should've taken a couple more shots of this part of the process. Basically, it involved re-doing what I had just done with the key lining, but this time in order to restore the brown background. So, after scuff sanding, mask the entire area again, cutout the circles (just the outside diameter this time, blessedly), use a straightedge to cut along the perimeter, and carefully remove the masking film from between the circles. Paint repair on pinball is just like painting your house - the overwhelming majority of the work is in the prep.

Brown is an intensely weird color to try to create at all, much less match. I was able to get a reasonable approximation by making a tomato-ey orange (about a 5 to 1 mix of yellow to red), then knocking it down gradually with black until it looked about right.
Some Createx colors darken considerably when dry; I forgot to take this into account and had to back off the color by adding a lot more yellow. I'm amazed that it worked at all; I try to be rigorous and scientific in my paint mixing but this I really just did on the fly (and couldn't reproduce exactly the same if my life depended on it!) I don't think there's a human being capable of making a perfect match to this color, and I don't see the point in getting too crazy trying to. It's impossible to tell what color it was when it was new; this has now yellowed and gotten dirty with nicotine and ball swirls. Since I'm doing the entire field of brown over, when it's all done it looks completely appropriate and is a massive improvement.
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#8 5 years ago

(By comparison, this is what it looked like before I started)

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#9 5 years ago

Keep up the good work!

It might be nice to include sources for all of your materials for people just starting out.

#10 5 years ago

You can get everything I'm using on Amazon. I'd shop for it locally but there are no hobby/art supply shops nearby.

The Frisket brand masking film I bought on Amazon has been a problem though. It's been leaving adhesive residue on the surface, a real PITA.
Vid 1900 recommended this kind "Custom Shop" brand frisket film:

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