(Topic ID: 75164)

Building a Gottlieb wedgehead cabinet from scratch?

By NicoVolta

5 years ago

Topic Stats

  • 31 posts
  • 16 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 4 years ago by laanguiano
  • Topic is favorited by 9 Pinsiders


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  • 2001 Gottlieb, 1971

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#1 5 years ago

Hey folks. I picked up a Gottlieb 2001 from CL the other day. Playfield is decent, backglass is perfect, mechanicals are 100%. However... the cabinet... oh dear... oh boy... it's an alcoholic. Had many a drink in its day. The floppy bottom panel is about to fall out. Lots of beer went down there. Also the cabinet is mega-scratched and the backbox is faded and cracked. Doesn't really do "2001" justice if you know what I mean.

I guess you can tell where I'm going with this. Was thinking of taking stencils and reverse-engineering a new wedgehead cab from scratch. And, of course, learning how to do the proper webbing splatter.

Anyone try this before?

The alternative would be to sand everything down and repaint/re-stencil and replace the bottom panel entirely. Assuming the side panels aren't also water-damaged. Need to recheck that.

Sounds like a big, ugly job...

#2 5 years ago

I would opt for saving the cabinet if it's not too majorly damaged. The bottom panel is not that hard to replace. Either way, you will end up with lots of prep work for the restencil, so why not save yourself the trouble of building from scratch. A fresh coat of paint on the inside after some prep will make it seem almost new, and the advantage of all holes drilled properly, etc. is worth it. Not to mention a preservation mentality, vs. replacement. Just my two cents.

#3 5 years ago

if it is water damaged, that is the hardest to repair. you might be able to find a donor cabinet from another parted out machine from the same era.
I have saved many wedgeheads other than major water damage I just strip them down and repair them.
let me know if you go that way, I can give you some tips

#4 5 years ago

Nic...It's Dan from the DFW group. Get with Adrian on a new bottom for the cab and any woodworking repairs. Get with Ken Head on a cab repaint. His repaints are magical.

#5 5 years ago

Sounds like you can repair the original cabinet...Does it have any water damage?
If you can..send some pictures of the game.

#6 5 years ago

Im with Dan, ask Adrian about the wood working. He is putting out beautiful work. Ken is the goto for cab repaints for sure. Check out his last 4 Bank a Ball repaints!


#7 5 years ago

Dan the man! OK... advice from all taken to heart. I'll save the original cab if I can. Will take a closer look when I'm not suffering from the flu. If it looks OK, I'll contact Ken and Adrian and get some options. Though of course a big part of the pinball thing is the challenge of taking on something new. Might be fun to turn a cab assembly into a group project.

Will post some photos after the sick subsides. *blechoo*

#8 5 years ago

I have a spare 2001 cabinet I you want another option.

I'm in the Kansas City area and should be able to get it to the TPF in Maech. Cabinet is not perfect. Body could use a new bottom panel and there is a piece of wood split off the bottom edge. But it is a very solid cabinet.

Let me know if interested.

Mike O.

#9 5 years ago

These guys have built new cabinets from scratch:


(Scroll down about half way.)

Might be a source of info.

#10 5 years ago


I'd just buy a new cab from XP.

If they don't have the specs for the Wedgehead, you might have to give them a few measurements, but $250 for a brand new cab is the best way to go and you won't forever poison your garage or basement with all that lead paint dust ( you can never get all the lead out).

#11 5 years ago


Adrian has taken trashed cabinets and made them look new. He works with wood for a living. Ken Head has turned 40 year old scratched and trashed cabinets and made them look factory accurate like the day they came out of the factory if not better. There are only a handful of people around the US that can do this type of quality work. If I wasn't spending money on actual machines then I would have Adrian putting a new bottom on my Abra-Ca-Dabra and Ken painting that machine.

#12 5 years ago

Dang... you guys are a wealth of options and advice. I've seen that Kickstarter before - ambitious indeed but their designs are INTENSE. A unique look for sure.

Ack! Didn't think about the lead paint issue. Definitely a problem. No way I'm going to pollute my communal workspace with lead dust. What year did they stop using it?

#13 5 years ago
Quoted from NicoVolta:

Ack! Didn't think about the lead paint issue. . What year did they stop using it?

When I took my lead abatement class they said 2001 for commercial, but that some samples were still turning up latter with lead or mercury.

#14 5 years ago

Few pics and measurements and I am sure I can create you a replacement. Just drawing up the early stern cabinet at the moment.

#15 5 years ago
Quoted from DirtFlipper:

These guys have built new cabinets from scratch:
(Scroll down about half way.)
Might be a source of info.

I have issues with people that take NICE games and sand all the artwork off to make a custom. Use a TRASHED game and save the good ones for us!
Personally, I do not recommend supporting them for this reason.

#16 5 years ago

I generally agree, unless the cab is a weak one to begin with. Like Discotek. I can't imagine putting in hours of work to save such a dull, empty-looking playfield. Worse, the layout looks pretty weak, which a re-theme wouldn't fix.

Just ew.

#17 5 years ago
Quoted from LEE:

I have issues with people that take NICE games and sand all the artwork off to make a custom. Use a TRASHED game and save the good ones for us!
Personally, I do not recommend supporting them for this reason.

Agreed. I feel the same way about repainting a decent original cabinet or replacing a reasonably good playfield with a repro. Before doing this, try to find someone who is willing to swap one that really needs a paintjob or has a very worn playfield. There's lots of games with brown painted cabinets that could be swapped to someone who would settle for a less than perfect original. Same with playfields. I've seen original playfields with only minor flaws removed
from games and a repro installed in it's place. Original condition is usually preferable and should be preserved whenever possible. That's how I feel anyway FWIW.

#18 5 years ago

I will agree with Rat_Tomago (Dan) and recommend Ken Head for cabinet repaints and Adrian for cabinet woodworking repair.

Adrian did a great job replacing the front and top of the head from my Slick Chick. It was a wreck before with lots of water damage, plywood delamination and a cracked top but soon it will look brand new once Ken Head gets my Slick Chick cabinet repainted. Adrian is fair on his prices and knows woodworking and has the right tools to make it come out looking good. Adrian posted photos of the before/after to the DFW Pinball & Arcade FB group.

There is still a slight chance my Slick Chick will make it to the Texas Pinball Festival... The cabinet will look great even if the playfield is still a work in progress...

I also attached some before/after photos of the head from before it was sent off for Adrian to repair and after he had replaced the front and top.



-- Shawn

#19 5 years ago

Is it just the photo, or are the sides of the front of that cabinet head considerably wider than the original?
If so, it would mask off much of the art along the sides of the backglass.

#20 5 years ago

It does look a bit wider.

#21 5 years ago

Maybe it's an illusion. The outside is a trapezoid, while the inside should be 'square' (which makes the bottom part narrower than the upper part).

#22 5 years ago

One thing to consider with this type of thing is if it matters to you how faithful the repair is.

Original wedgeheads were built from solid wood.

Later they migrated to plywood. I have seen a lot of birch and some fir. It looks like they used ash for the solids pieces of wood or some other "cheap hardwood".

I would at least request birch veneer plywood as the grain is real tight. The grain on oak plywood is typically very open and raised, which requires a lot of filling or a look that is not original. Oak and birch cost about the same.

#23 5 years ago

The joinery/details look good, but I agree with the others I would want a tighter grain *and* have it go the same direction as original! If the front 1/4 inch ply is not the same dimensions, that would be a deal breaker for me.

#24 5 years ago

It appears that the opening for the backglass is tapered parallel to the outside edge. It should actually be rectangular with rounded edges. At least that's how it appears in the photo. If that's the case, hopefully it can be repaired before painting takes place.

#25 5 years ago

A few years ago, I wrote an article for the Pingame Journal on a head rebuild I did. I have cut and pasted the test from that below. The slideshow (including many additional pictures) is here:


This is my first time contributing to The Pingame Journal. Depending on how it works out and the feedback I get, I'll either be a one hit wonder, like The Honeycombs or I'll kick out a few more articles. My intent is to do a deep dive on a particular restoration technique, rather than an overview of the entire process. I'm thinking along the lines of "Pinrepair 530 – Techniques Not for the Feint of Heart." These would be major tear ups to machines, probably more appropriate for basket cases (when you have nothing to lose anyway) than decent pins. I hope to be a regular contributor.

Like most of you, pinball machine collecting is not my first or only hobby. My other hobbies include or have included: auto/motorcycle restoration and body work and wood working/cabinet making. I have noticed a lot of overlap between these hobbies and my intent was to try to bring some of the skills and techniques used elsewhere into pinball restoration. For instance in auto body repair, if a panel is rusted or badly dented, you have a few choices: Bang out the damage and fill it, or cut out the damage and replace the panel. Generally, with rust or any major damage, it is considered best practice to replace the panel. Likewise in furniture repair, it is often better to cut back to good wood and replace a larger piece of wood, rather than try to fill and repair damaged wood. This article will look at similar techniques used to restore the head of a Gottlieb Wedgehead.

History of the Machine:
The machine I repaired was a Gottlieb Pop-a-Card. Shortly after I finished that head, I did the same thing for a local collector on his Gottlieb Sweethearts, so the process is well tested. My Pop-a-Card machine was an EBay "prize." I already owned one and was looking to upgrade the playfield and backglass when this one showed up on EBay. I entered a bid on eSnipe with the intent of reevaluating the whole thing prior to the end of the auction. Then I went on vacation with my family and by the time I came home, I was the proud owner of an "EBay accident." The machine was in Green Bay, Wisconsin and I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so that was going to be a bit of a hike. I grew up in the shadow of Lambeau Field, so I am a bit partial to AABs. Also, I still have a lot of family in Green Bay, so the trip could also double as a visit to Mom and Dad. Plus, to top the whole thing off, it turns out the seller was a guy I went to high school with, proving once again, it is a very small world indeed.

The machine was a mess. It had been repainted "bathroom yellow" to simulate aged white. Whoever repainted the machine didn't bother with webbing and had also painted over cabinet defects. The machine had seen water and the bottom was a stinky mess. The head had a bit of damage as well. The face was broken in three corners. I believe this is typical of the damage you get when the head is dropped on a corner. Additionally, the top back of the head was broken out. It looked like somebody had tried to pry their way into the locked head and broke out the wood in the process. My original intent was to save the playfield and backglass and part out the rest. Emotions overcame reason and I decided to save the entire machine. The first task was to fix the head.

Fixing the Area by the Back Door
To fix the damage from some prior owner or crook prying the back door off, my plan was to cut back to solid wood and replace the missing wood with new wood. I wanted to minimize the use of fillers and keep the back of the head solid wood. The tools I used to accomplish this were a plunge router, a shop made router table and a 3/4" straight cutting bit. A guide fence or even a guide attached to the router could have been a reasonable substitute for the router table. I like the stability safety the router table affords. Also, I don't like to trust my skill as a woodworker if I can get the job done relying less on skill and more on jigs and setup. I set the depth of the router bit to form a natural ledge and cut back about another 3/4" past most of the damage to give me some solid wood to attach the new piece of wood. Since the router bit is only ¾", this operation required two passes. I cleaned up the corner where the router bit couldn't reach with a chisel. At this point I was left with a clean, solid, and straight groove to glue a new piece of wood to.

To make the new piece of wood, I used #2 pine. I picked out a clear part of the board and cut it a little longer than required. Next I ripped it to the exact width using a table saw. After the wood was ripped to width, it went to the portable planer for the proper thicknesses. I like to sneak up on this dimension, taking off about 0.05" per cut after I get close, until I hit it exactly. Keep trying it over and over until it is right. The last step in making the replacement wood was to cut it to length, using a power miter saw. If you are skillful and careful, you could probably make the whole piece using just a table saw, but I have "Norm envy," so I used all the tools at my disposal.

The final step in repairing the area by the back door was gluing and clamping the new wood into place. You really cannot ever have too many clamps in place on a glue up. I use three maple wooden handscrews along with two Bessey K Clamps. The Bessey K clamps are about the best you can get. They retain the alignment of the parts you are gluing an offer a large clamping area. Good money spent on good tools is never wasted.

Replacing the Front Panel
To me, replacing the front panel was really the fun part of the project. Initially, I had considered filling it with bondo and sanding it smooth. After some reconsideration, I felt that since the front face was structural to the box and since it was damaged in three of the four corners, I would be best off replacing it. I also felt it would end up being less work and look better as well. The challenges in replacing the front piece were to cut it to the exact size required on both the cutout for the glass and around the perimeter of the cabinet. It may be possible to carefully mark out, cut, and sand the interior hole (the cutout for the glass) to the correct shape, but it is impossible to cut the outside to exactly the correct size and then install it. It needs to be trimmed to fit after the installation. To do this, I cut the front face to a rough approximation of the final size and then trimmed it to the exact size on both the inside and the outside with a router and a bit known as a pattern cutting or flush cutting bit.

A pattern cutting bit is just a straight bit with a guide bearing on either the top or the bottom. The bearing is exactly the same diameter as the cutter, so you put your pattern above or below the piece you are cutting. The location of the pattern is dictated by the location of the bearing, so if you have a bottom bearing, the pattern needs to be on the bottom. In this instance, since the head itself will be used as one of the patterns, I used a bit with the bearing on the bottom.

I used a sheet of ¼" birch plywood to make the new face from. I laid the old piece on top of the new plywood and traced both the inside and outside. For the initial cut, close counts. In fact you need to leave about ¼" on every dimension to allow for the final trimming. I cut out the outside of my Wedgehead face with a table saw and used a portable jig saw for the inside. I could have just as easily used a jigsaw for everything. Just be sure to leave a little extra on all sides.

The next step is to trim the inside or window hole to the exact size. Clamp the old piece, the pattern, underneath the new piece. Make the necessary adjustments to the router depth to make sure the bit stays piloted on the old piece, turn on the router and make the final trim on the window. There are a few things to be careful of during this step. One thing to be careful of is that you need to make sure the router is being fed in the correct direction relative to the rotation of the bit. The router spins clockwise so you need to move the router in a clockwise direction. This is done to avoid a "climb cut" where the bit rotation actually pulls the router along. This can lead to an out of control, poor cut and can even be a little dangerous. Note that the feed direction will be reversed when you are trimming the outside of the face. Be careful and make sure you are feeding it in the correct direction. The direction you move the router or the work piece should always be such that the router bit rotation opposes movement. The actual feed direction will change depending on if you are routing the inside of a frame, the outside of a frame, if you are moving the router (free hand) or the piece itself, as when using a router table. The key is that the rotation of the bit cannot "help" the movement of either the wood or the router, whichever you are moving.

The other thing you will run into is that you will need to reposition the clamps at some point. The router cannot cut where the clamps are, so you will need to add new clamps, AND THEN pull off the old ones. This will retain your alignment. Some people use two sided tape to avoid this issue, but I don't trust the stuff. So route out as much as you can, put new clamps on, remove the old clamps, and then finish routing the window where the clamps were. At this point the inside, or window is complete and the outside needs to be trimmed to size.

The next step is to attach the face plate. Apply glue to both the new plywood piece and the old Wedgehead frame. Align the lines indicating the outside of the head (These are the lines that should have about ¼" excess material still), and attach the face to the head using either small brads or an air stapler. I used a stapler, as I feel it does the best job holding thin plywood.

Now use the pattern cutting bit to cut the outside of the face to the exact dimensions of the head. Turn the router on and trim back the bottom and both sides of the face to the outside of the head. Again, be mindful of your feed direction to avoid a climb cut. Here you should be moving the router in a counter clockwise direction. You can make two passes if required. Do not trim the top back yet, or you will have a disaster on your hands.

The top needs a little extra attention due to the vent holes. If you follow the same procedure you used on the bottom and sides, the bearing will follow the outline of the top and plunge into the vent holes. This will ruin your piece and you will have to start over. To get around this, I covered the vent holes with some thin melamine edge banding prior to running the router over them. This left the top edge a little proud of the head yet, so that had to be taken back the rest of the way with a random orbital sander. If I would have had a longer bit, I may have been able to set it deep enough to go beneath the vent holes, but I was working with what I had. Also, sometimes it can be difficult to control a bit that set as deep as would have been required. Any cocking of the router would have damaged the piece.

At this point, the head was essentially rebuilt. I finished it up by sanding, filling any imperfections, priming and painting. I used a touchup gun and unthinned lacquer to do the webbing, but that has been covered before elsewhere, so I won't get into it here.

I was very happy with the end result. The head looked as good and new and was structurally sound. I got to fire up the power tools, so that is always a good day. This is just one way to get this job done. Many other tools and techniques could be substituted. For instance, if you are careful you could trim back the outside of the face using just a sander. You could maybe even use a block plane if you are real good. You will need to adapt to the tools you have or are willing to buy, but this should give you plenty of food for thought.

Materials Used:
• 1x6 #2 pine
• ¼" Birch Plywood
• Tightbond Glue
• Staples
• Tape
• Melamine Edge Banding (any veneer would be fine)

Tools Used:
• Table Saw
• Router
• Router Table (with fence)
• Jigsaw
• Planer
• Air Stapler
• Chisel
• ¾" Straight Cutting Bit ($9.95 from MLCSwoodworking.com)
• ½" Pattern or Flush Cutting Bit ($9.00 from MLCSwoodworking.com)
• Bessey K Clamps
• Maple Handscrews
• Misc. C Clamps

One More Thing – Geometry 101
While working on these machines, I usually consider what the engineers and designers may have been thinking when they did something a certain way. In the case of rebuilding this head, I put some effort into laying out the face on my sheet of plywood in the most efficient manner. In the process, I noticed that the head, if cut from a single square, would require an area that is nominally 26 inches X 26 inches. This would be an inefficient size if it were square, but the Isosceles Trapezoid shape of the Wedgehead allows for four 26 inch x 26 inch pieces to be nested and cut from a 48 inch x 96 inch sheet of plywood as shown below. So perhaps the classic design was dictated by cost, not style.

#26 5 years ago

Good catch on the spotting that the opening not being cut out as a square from the photos I posted earlier... I had not seen it in person yet and after looking at the photos you are right about it not being cut out as a square but angled on the sides. It is being fixed... Compared to how rough the head was before getting the top and front replaced, it is a huge improvement and is now structurally sound again. I had written it off as scrap and was just going to find a donor head but they thought they could fix it for a very reasonable price so I said to go for it. Very soon it will look like new again and I will be very happy...

-- Shawn

#27 5 years ago
Quoted from newmantjn:

A few years ago, I wrote an article for the Pingame Journal on a head rebuild I did.

Great information and pictures are outstanding. Thanks for sharing.

1 year later
#28 4 years ago

I'm never on pinside but decided to do a search for my name and saw this thread. And wanted to respond to a few comments I saw.

1) Thanks for the positive comments folks. I'm happy to see my happy customers and friends. I hope to have many future customers with similar praise in the many years to come

2) I have taken a lot of heads and cabinets apart when doing repairs and Gottlieb and Williams EM's used a mixture of plywood and hardwood. Not all 1 or the other; a combination of both. They also used Poplar as their "hard wood" and i see some alder, and some soft maple.

3) Plywood grain orientation doesn't mean anything since plywood doesn't expand and contract. Hardwood on the otherhand is critical what the grain orientation is. I care more about the fidelity of the plywood plys and voids than if its birch or if its oak or imported. Birch and oak is just a micro thin veneer. And if you are painting it, you are spending money on expensive veneer and not necessarily good inner plys. The open grain I used in this project is either wood putty'd or bondo'd before it is painted by my good friend Ken, so the grain doesn't show through. Incidentally though I normally use Birch ply because of its availability in America, but I had come across some great quality Oak Ply that I used on this one case. PS if you shop at home depot or lowes, the plywood is a C grade, and will have some voids.

4) Yes I made the inner cutout square for some reason when i sent that picture. Long night I think. Quick fix... of course my rework is no extra charge. One interesting thing on Gottlieb Wedgies is none of the heads are symmetrical on their wedge angles. You cant tell by the naked eye, but because I like to be extremely accurate it makes me laugh a little.. but they were cranking out machines by the thousands. So when I cutout the centers I have to adjust to their angles, to make sure not only does it "look square" but is also square to their weird symmetry issues. Just the little things that normally you wouldn't even think about, but I pride myself in my work.

5) It is nice saving these old cabinets. They are getting fewer and fewer. It has the history the serial number usually, and after seeing Shawn's restored game.... I think you would agree.

Long live the EM's

#29 4 years ago

Hey good to see you on here! I'll keep the cabs rolling your way.

Your services are an important asset to our hobby & you do great work!

#30 4 years ago

Adrian, you will have my Ship-Mates at some point. front left corner is splitting open.

#31 4 years ago

Thanks Nic, I think i'm finally over my sickness, so into the garage i go this weekend. Yeeehaw!

Sounds good Dan. Ahoy!

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