(Topic ID: 235092)

Building/Re-building leaf switches

By frunch

4 months ago

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  • 17 posts
  • 8 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 3 months ago by frunch
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    #1 4 months ago

    I've been making my own leaf switches for years now, and thought it might be helpful to some to start a thread about making leaf switches. I was surprised to learn years ago that the Pinball Resource sells all the parts you need to make new leaf switches, or when possible re-build the existing ones when needed. I recommend buying switch leaves of any thicknesses you may need, additional spacers of varying thicknesses--especially if rebuilding an old stack, and plenty of contacts: gold (low voltage) and tungsten (high voltage). All the parts they carry are listed here: http://www.pbresource.com/pfswitch.htm#common

    ***EDIT: For anyone looking to re-use the existing switch leaves and replace only the contacts, I've written another guide further down the comments section here: https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/building-re-building-leaf-switches#post-4844717

    In this example I'm documenting, I decided to make some new switch leaves for the cabinet flipper switches on my HS2: The Getaway. This is kind of an odd example because it's one of the only games Williams made with gold-plated cabinet flipper switch contacts. Regardless, the same procedures apply for rebuilding a leaf switch for any game from EM's to the latest Sterns. Note this is an approach I've been using for years with good results. If anyone has any suggestions to improve the method I'm using (or a different approach entirely!) I'd love to start a discussion.


    While I've seen some use a press to install the contacts onto switch leaves/blades (as manufacturers did and still do), I opt to solder the switch contacts to the switch leaves. I don't have a press and already have more tools than I need as it is. It's worked well enough for me that I decided to share this for others it may help. Without further adieu:

    The old leaf switch: 1 (resized).jpg

    Better view of worn contact from old leaf switch (note how it's pitted in the center): 2 (resized).jpg

    First step is to disassemble the old switch. Luckily, this switch was already replaced at some point and was much easier to pry apart than older switch "stacks" (spacers and switch leaves etc that comprise the switch). I often find using some combination of small flat-blade screwdrivers, prying tools, and channel lock pliers is typically enough to get the stacks to come apart. I usually lay out the pieces of the switch stack for easy reassembly. Arrows are pointing to the switch leaves I will be replacing: 3 (resized).jpg

    Here are a couple new gold-plated contacts. These type of contacts are used for low-voltage/cpu-controlled switches. These types of switches should *not* be filed, as it can damage the gold plating and make the switches work intermittently, or stop working entirely. Use isopropyl alcohol (I apply with a q-tip) for cleaning gold-plated switches, and gently pull a clean piece of paper (a crisp $100 bill works best, in my experience) pinched between the switch contacts in order to clean them. 4 (resized).jpg

    Tungsten switch contacts are typically used for flipper cabinet/button switches and end of stroke switches, and all throughout many EM games. Those *can* be filed for cleaning. Pictured below are some tungsten contacts on the left, and gold contacts on the right: 11 (resized).jpg

    Now to make the new switch leaves. I'm using heavy gauge switch leaves for these since they're flipper cabinet switches. They are a bit more rigid (they're the thickest of the 3 switch leaves aka "blades" The Pinball Resource offers), and have stronger spring to them. Heavy is also recommended for EOS (End-Of-Stroke) switches, I think. Medium gauge is for general-use switches, and have less tension/thickness than heavy, and light gauge (even thinner) is for relay switch leaves (typically on EM games). When making a pair of switch leaves, I will place 2 contacts face-down, then take the 2 switch leaves and position them on the nubs on the backside of the contacts like so--see #2 below. (Note you want to insert the contact into the correct hole for each leaf, depending on the length of the switch. There's typically 6-7 holes on the replacement leaves to make longer or shorter switches. Compare with old switch leaf for sizing) : 5 (resized).jpg

    Once I place the contact into the slot on the leaf I'm soldering it to, it doesn't sit perfectly flush...so in order to keep the switch leaf fairly level while soldering the contact to it, I will use a thin switch stack spacer that was pulled off the switch stack I'm working on and slide it under the side of the leaf with the 2 screw holes (arrow #1 above). To ensure a good bond for the solder between the leaf and the contact, I will then add a little bit of paste flux to the nub on the backside of the contact and on the region of the leaf surrounding the contact nub (#2 above). Solder typically has flux in it, and some of the better solders I've used (which indeed contained flux) worked well enough that this added extra flux isn't necessary. YMMV. Anyways, the contact can now be soldered on. Note you want the solder tabs at the ends of the switch leaves (#3 above) to sit away from each other when you reassemble the switch! I always set up both leaves with the solder tabs in the same orientation when soldering the contacts. One leaf will be flipped when you put it back together, and doing it this way ensures the tabs will be sitting far apart from each other when you do. If you don't pay attention to the way those are aligned, you can wind up with both tabs on one side, which is difficult to work with when soldering the wires back on, and could cause trouble once installed. Avoid at all costs! It's an easy mistake to make, and I only point this out because I've made the mistake too many times. Forgive my sense of humour, but Drake knows what I'm talking about: 10 (resized).jpg

    Contacts soldered on. Maybe not the prettiest work, but the contact will not be going anywhere, and it will function perfectly fine. Once they cool down, take some 99% isopropyl alcohol and clean off the remaining flux (flux cleaned off lower leaf in pic, the amber-looking sticky residue still present on the upper leaf around the soldered area). Note that the solder is clearly attached to the metal switch leaf *and* the contact. If you don't use enough heat, you might just have solder ball up on top of the contact--which might even be enough to hold the contact in place. Don't leave it that way, make sure the solder has pooled around the contact and has essentially welded the contact to the switch leaf like in the pic. A 30-40 watt iron should be sufficient, but I use my 100w solder gun because it's fast and easy and does a good job (though I'll be the first to admit it's overkill): 6 (resized).jpg

    Finished pair of switch leaves. (top one is face-up, bottom one is face-down) Note the solder tabs will be as far away from each other as possible once mounted back on the stack. Take this opportunity to clean off any remaining flux residue and also the face of the contact with alcohol: 7 (resized).jpg

    First leaf reinstalled: 8 (resized).jpg

    Installing other leaf. Remember to install any tension leaves (leaves with no contacts that help stabilize leaves sandwiched next to them) and spacers the same way it was taken apart: 9 (resized).jpg

    Finally, the finished product. Next stop is back in the cabinet where it will be soldered back in and hopefully resolve my intermittent flipper issues. 13 (resized).JPG

    Note it's also possible to remove the old contact from the existing switch leaf and install a new one as well. I've had mixed luck going that route, but I have made it work numerous times. It's really a matter of trying not to damage the leaf in the process of extracting the old contact. Sometimes a good sharp pair of side-cutters is capable of cutting off the nub on the back of the contact, which will allow the other side of the contact to fall right out of the leaf if you're lucky (or skilled). I don't have a drill press, but I imagine that would be another method of extraction that could work well.

    Hopefully this helps some folks out there. I've spent many hours searching for part numbers for switches on my games, and this has really saved me a lot of time and money. I'm also the type of person that *can't wait* for new parts to arrive, especially when troubleshooting/repairing, so it's also nice to have these parts on hand for that reason too. Again, if anyone has anything to add or different approaches/ideas to recommend, please chime in!

    #2 4 months ago

    I wish PBR would offer the larger silver contacts...

    #3 4 months ago

    I like to solder contacts as well.
    Before I solder them I usually peen them over with a punch.

    #4 4 months ago
    Quoted from dasvis:

    I wish PBR would offer the larger silver contacts...

    Come to think of it, does anyone else offer switch contacts and parts like PBR? It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a second source for parts...

    #5 4 months ago

    Nice writeup.

    #6 4 months ago

    This is great, thank you for the write up


    #7 4 months ago
    Quoted from frunch:

    Come to think of it, does anyone else offer switch contacts and parts like PBR? It wouldn't be a bad idea to have a second source for parts...

    Marcospec does.

    I usually just peen these but I have soldered them as well, the softer brass on the stem seems to be made for this.

    Now, where do we buy the stuff that's like the originals that has to be installed with a press like the originals are? (At least non-Gottlieb....)

    #8 4 months ago
    Quoted from slochar:

    Marcospec does.

    Good to know! I checked their site and found many different styles of switch leaves, which will definitely be helpful in the future, especially for odd switches for VUKs and saucers. I couldn't find replacement contacts at Marco though, possibly due to the search terms i used. Do you have any links to the switch contacts they sell? Thanks!

    #9 4 months ago

    I swear I'd ordered the contacts from them in the past but I don't see it now either.

    #10 4 months ago

    I wonder if it would be a good idea to use the lightest gauge leafs in rollovers, and other quick-close switches - I have a Strike and Spares i'm refurbishing and am thinking about the 10 rollovers in the middle of the playfield. Nothing worse than hitting a rollover 3 times and having it not register -

    #11 4 months ago
    Quoted from pinzrfun:

    I have a Strike and Spares i'm refurbishing and am thinking about the 10 rollovers in the middle of the playfield. Nothing worse than hitting a rollover 3 times and having it not register -

    The solution is hopefully a lot easier than replacing all those switch leaves! Chances are you've got some worn out switch capacitors that need to be replaced on a number of switches under the playfield. The capacitors are 0.047 uf, and can be bought from great plains electronics here: https://www.greatplainselectronics.com/proddetail.asp?prod=CCD-0.047uF-100V

    Check out the switch diagram on the Strikes and Spares manual, I've attached it here: 1655313603.png

    The red arrows are pointing to 3 of the switch capacitors (vertical line with 2 perpendicular, parallel lines in the middle of it--the schematic symbol for capacitor)...Note that not all switches have capacitors. They're installed on switches that may not pick up a quick activation by the ball. Those capacitors go bad very commonly, causing the switches not to register (often intermittently) when the ball activates them. I would seek out all the switch capacitors under the playfield and replace them with new ones from the link above. The schematic will show which switches are supposed to have a cap attached to it. Good luck!

    #12 4 months ago

    Update! My new flipper cabinet switches are working beautifully (so far, at least!). Played 10 games or so and the flippers are strong and responsive. Note that this approach will also make it easy to replace the contacts for those switches again in the future if necessary. It's pretty easy to desolder/remove the contacts if needed.

    2 weeks later
    #13 3 months ago

    I'm adding an update to this post to document the process for re-using old switch leaves when replacing contacts. Sometimes they will be of a particular shape or have spacers attached (as mine do on my Black Knight), which may leave you with no other choice but to try to re-use the existing leaf. In this case, my Black Knight has been having intermittent trouble with the upper-left bank of drop target's scoring switches for a little while now...today I finally decided to replace the gold switch contacts on them. I've had good luck most of the time trying this, and today was another success. Anyways, here's some pics and tips for the process:

    Old switches mounted:
    1 (resized).jpg

    ...and on the table. 2 (resized).jpg

    Here's what these originally gold-plated contacts are looking like these days:2a (resized).jpg

    First, disassemble the switch (leaves that will be getting new contacts have yellow arrows) Note that the spacers (aka Separators) from old switch stacks may be brittle, and can break if forced. For that reason, I highly recommend ordering some of the spacers The Pinball Resource sells, get several of each thickness just in case. http://www.pbresource.com/pfswitch.htm#common They carry 1/16 and 1/32 sizes, part numbers GTB-A463, and GTB-A464. They're cheap and will be extremely helpful if you should have trouble with any of the existing spacers. 3 (resized).jpg

    Now to remove the old contact. These ones have nice big nubs that are easy to cut off with a sharp pair of side-cutters. 3a (resized).jpg

    Before cutting off the nub, I will grasp much of the switch leaf with pliers before making the cut. This ensures the leaf itself won't flex too much as you try to cut off the contact. I've been surprised at how mangled a leaf can get when trying to cut off a contact, so I've started doing it this way and have had the fewest problems so far. Note the nub will likely take off like a projectile, so wear safety glasses, and make the cut over/in a waste can or what have you. Don't shoot your eye out! 4 (resized).jpg

    After the contact nub is cut off: 4a (resized).jpg

    After the nub is cut off, a lot of times the contact will simply fall out the other side of the leaf. If it doesn't you may need to drill out the remaining metal from the nub, or if you're lucky a gentle squeeze on the sides of the contact face with the side cutters may be enough to pry it off. Usually the contact is only held on by a very small amount of leftover material from the nub, and it *usually* doesn't require much force to get it to finally let go. Just take your time, especially if it's an odd-type of leaf that cannot easily be replaced. 4c (resized).jpg

    These leaves were pretty dirty after almost 40 years of action. That dirt and crap will make it difficult to solder the new contact on, so I found using a scotch brite pad or 600 grit sandpaper will clear it off, revealing a shiny surface that will be easy to solder to. 4b (resized).jpg

    I'd like to point out again that I find it's easier to get the contacts to sit flush on the leaves by using a spacer under the far side of the leaf. If you simply place the contact on a work surface, then place the leaf on it, it will sit at a slight angle. The contact may attach to the leaf at an angle for that reason. 6 (resized).jpg

    Scotch brite cleaned the surface of the leaf for easier soldering, and now the contact is in position for soldering. 6a (resized).jpg

    Even with my little tricks, sometimes a contact still goes on at a slight angle (this one isn't as bad as others I've run into trying to do this). 7 (resized).jpg

    If that happens, place the leaf with the face of the contact face-down, and press a pair of needle-nose pliers on either side of the contact nub while heating the solder/contact/leaf. It only has to be long enough to melt the solder, at which time the pressure from the pliers should push the contact flush against the leaf. Remove the heat, and the solder should harden with the contact now flush against the leaf. It can be a little tricky, but I generally find it works. Apologies for the blurry pic: 8 (resized).jpg

    Here's the new gold contact installed. Sometimes I find the solder will find its way through the small hole the contact sits in, and pool up around the underside and sides of the contact. They work perfectly fine that way, and appears to be an even stronger bond between the leaf, contact, and solder. I like the way it looks, too Clean off any remaining flux with alcohol, as well as the face of the new contact. A scotch brite pad can also be gently used to clean off any crap/residue/etc that got on the contact face from the process of soldering it to the leaf. 8a (resized).jpg

    Switches re-installed, with new diodes and wiring: 10 (resized).jpg

    Old switches, close up:9a (resized).jpg

    New switches, close up: 9 (resized).jpg

    Hope this helps some folks! Also, for what it's worth I found the Pinball Resource sells "lifters" for switches of various lengths, so it's possible I could make entirely new switches for my drop targets if I should ever need to.

    #14 3 months ago

    I sat down a minute ago to rebuild some EM flipper switches from parts I ordered from PBR but I'm not sure about a couple things. I'd like to build the new switches without soldering. I have a rivet press I made using the kit from pinrestore.com. The tubes on the gold contacts are much much smaller than the rivets I use with the press so I'm not sure I can use it for those. However the other contacts (the ones I'd be using for these switches) don't even have a hole on the back. They're solid metal.

    Basically how are these supposed to be attached? Would removing the die and just using the press as it was originally intended work? How are the plastic spacers supposed to be attached? In a similar manner? Does the plastic mushroom out instead of just cracking/breaking?

    #15 3 months ago

    Nice work.

    When I was building airplane wings I drove a lot of rivets.

    One common trick in the tool box for when there was a gap between two pieces of metal we would lay a flat piece of lead over the rivet butt and shoot the rivet. This action would force the two pieces of metal together and then we could drive the rivet and lock everything down.

    You might try a small soft fishing weight to straighten out your angled contact.

    Great write up. I have some contacts I bought to try this. Now I know I will be doing this for sure.

    #16 3 months ago

    Well I answered my own questions.. Decided to just forge ahead and use the press as a press. I believe it worked.

    #17 3 months ago
    Quoted from pinball_ric:

    Well I answered my own questions.. Decided to just forge ahead and use the press as a press. I believe it worked.

    Interesting! What type of press are you using? Any chance you could share the brand and model? That could be good information for those looking to go that route.

    Edit: i found the press you were talking about. Very nice looking tool! Here it is for anyone thinking of going that route:


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