(Topic ID: 33446)

Vid's Guide to Ultimate Playfield Restoration

By vid1900

10 years ago

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Topic index (key posts)

143 key posts have been marked in this topic, showing the first 10 items.

Display key post list sorted by: Post date | Keypost summary | User name

Post #7 Playfield damage assessment. Posted by vid1900 (10 years ago)

Post #8 Insert damage assessment. Posted by vid1900 (10 years ago)

Post #34 How to sand your new inserts flat. Posted by vid1900 (10 years ago)

Post #35 Cleaning old glue out of the insert holes. Posted by vid1900 (10 years ago)

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There are 8,543 posts in this topic. You are on page 1 of 171.
#1 10 years ago

So lately we have all been seeing these terrible "restored" playfields. Decals lifting under the clear coat, dirt sealed into the shooter lane, too thick coats of clear, water based clear coats with clouding starting to appear, inserts bucking under the clear, no restoration under ramps or slingshots, faded decals under the clear; simply awful work done by some so-called experts that seem to be spamming the forums constantly.

When I mentioned that I was going to publish a "real" guide to playfield restoration, a few of the playfield restorers that I respect asked me not to do it. They worried about the income loss if people start doing their own work, and they worried that some of the hacks that spam the forums would step their game up.

My logic is that the little information out there is more dangerous than if people were fully informed. All these game owners who get a bit of info here and a bit there, are ruining a bunch of playfields because they are following too many leads, rather than having a single resource.

Also, I would be happy if the spammy "pro restorers" DID step up their game. They are going to continue to get orders because nobody checks up on their work and they price their work cheap, so they might as well learn to do it right.

(Asay made a hotlink TOC for you guys):


#2 10 years ago

Looking forward to it. I appreciate all your guides.

#3 10 years ago

Looking forward to seeing this too.

I really like your other guides, very informative.

#4 10 years ago

First, not all playfields "need" to be restored.

If the game is a player's machine, if the game has a single small wear spot, if you are simply not artistically inclined.....just leave it. No shame at all having games that show their age.

You can practice the examples on some plywood and see if you have what it takes, without jeopardizing a genuine playfield.

#5 10 years ago

Thank you for doing this. The idea that some people in the hobby want less information out there is disappointing. Then again, some in the hobby seem to thrive on as little info as possible.

#6 10 years ago

You want to start by removing the Mylar.

At least once a month somebody asks if they can clear coat over the Mylar. Usually the clear lifts off after a year, so lets just say no to that idea.

There are about 100 internet guides to removing Mylar, but the system that works best for 1990's playfields is to freeze it with canned air (just turn a can of Dust Buster or Maxell upside down). The propellent will freeze the adhesive causing it to separate from the Mylar film. Carefully peel the film back a section at a time.

With really old SS playfields it is often better to use a hair dryer or a household iron and remove the Mylar with heat.

If the film lifts off the playfield paint, or even the top layer of wood, the playfield is not a good restoration candidate. Sometimes a game was stored in an unheated garage and went through a freeze/thaw cycle.

There is some risk, and there is often no way to know until you start. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, not every game needs to be restored.

Always try lifting the Mylar far from the player's view. That way if you start lifting paint, you will not have ruined the entire playfield front and center.


After you get the Mylar off, pat down the residue glue with white baking flour. Really press it into the glue, and let it sit a few minutes.

Next, wet the flour with 91% or higher isopropyl alcohol, and allow it to sit until most of the alcohol has evaporated.

Starting at the edge rub all the glue into little crumbs with your thumb.

Even the inserts clean up easily with this method.

I've given up on Goo Gone. The flour/alcohol method works 10x faster with no scraping, or obnoxious smell.

Even really stubborn Sys9 and Sys11 Mylar adhesives are no match for the flour/alcohol method.

rubbingalcohol.jpgrubbingalcohol.jpg flour2.jpegflour2.jpeg

#7 10 years ago

Now with the adhesive gone, you will see your playfield in the harsh light of day.

You will need to assess its needs but usually you will have:

PAINT LIFTED FROM INSERTS - the paint has a harder time sticking to the plastic than to the wood, so often the Mylar lifts off the paint too.

GHOSTED INSERTS - the paint AND clear coat have partially lifted from the insert leaving an air gap between the insert face and the clearcoat.

RAISED/SUNKEN INSERTS - the plastic has expanded at a different rate than the wood and is now proud or below the playfield surface.

CUPPED INSERT - especially on old Ballys, the thin face of the insert has become cupped from age and heat from the bulbs. Inserts without the reinforcing facets on the backside seem much more susceptible to cupping.

FADED INSERTS - UV from the bulb and other light sources like sunlight, have removed the color from the inserts.

CRACKED INSERTS - Damage to plastic from air balls or trying to level raised inserts with a hammer and wood.

WORN PAINT - The paint on the playfield or inserts have worn off.

PLANKING - The paint has checked along the surface of the wood. This can happen to any game, but you see it especially when a game is stored in an unheated garage.


#8 10 years ago

Light up inserts from the front with a flashlight and check each one for damage. You want to look from the back because there will be less to distract your eye.

You can sometimes reinforce a broken insert with epoxy and chopped glass fibers, but if you are putting a lot of work into a machine, you probably want to order new inserts from Gene at Illinois Pinball.


#9 10 years ago

This is going to be great info. You are going to be up all night finish the info in this thread.

#10 10 years ago

I don't think good restorers need to worry one bit. Pin restoration is a ton of work, and people will still be more than happy to pay someone else to do it all for them.

#11 10 years ago

Vid - this is OT, but what is your avatar pic from?


#13 10 years ago

Not sure what his avatar is but always makes me think of Young Frankenstein?

#14 10 years ago
Quoted from RTR:

Vid - this is OT, but what is your Avatar pic from?


Quoted from Whridlsoncestood:

Not sure what his Avatar is but always makes me think of Young Frankenstein?

Pretty sure its from the Phantasm movies

#15 10 years ago

Before we pull an insert out from the playfield, we want to be sure it does not lift any of the surrounding artwork.

Most Williams games have no, or almost no clear coat (whenever someone talks about wanting Stern to have "Williams quality", all the ops laugh).

Just to be safe, run a brand new Xacto blade around the parameter.

If it's a new Stern game, or if it has been clear coated, REALLY make sure you have cut the insert free of the surrounding clear coat.


#16 10 years ago

Cool thread man, looking forward to more.

#17 10 years ago

Another awesome vid guide! We need a new sub-menu for them or a new sticky category or something as these are some of the best referance links out there. Any ideas? Robin?

#18 10 years ago
Quoted from RTR:

Vid - this is OT, but what is your Avatar pic from?

The Tall Man from Phantasm. His infamous quote is "Boy!" Thus the initials.

Nice guide so far, Vid. Keep it up.

#19 10 years ago
Quoted from vid1900:

When I mentioned that I was going to publish a "real" guide to playfield restoration, a few of the playfield restorers that I respect asked me not to do it. They worried about the income loss if people start doing their own work, and they worried that some of the hacks that spam the forums would step their game up

This is a BS argument at any rate...

People will pay, because people are LAZY. And regardless of any information you may be able to disseminate, a lot of this comes with practice, not by reading stuff online. Some people just aren't going to do artwork restoration....myself likely included.

I'll enjoy reading whatever you put out, but personally, unless it's something really minor, I'm leaving PF resto to the pros anyways. I don't have the time, the tools, the space, or the experience to do as nice a job, and if I end up ruining a playfield then I'm out the same amount of money either way....or more.

#20 10 years ago
Quoted from vid1900:

Light up inserts from the front with a flashlight and check each one for damage. You want to look from the back because there will be less to distract your eye.
You can sometimes reinforce a broken insert with epoxy and chopped glass fibers, but if you are putting a lot of work into a machine, you probably want to order new inserts from Gene at Illinois Pinball.

Illinois Pinball doesn't have inserts on their website...?

#21 10 years ago
Quoted from ChadTower:

Illinois Pinball doesn't have inserts on their website...?

I think 99% of what Gene sells is not on his website.

#22 10 years ago

Heh, sort of hard to acquire game specific parts with that system.

#23 10 years ago

(DO NOT remove any inserts from the playfield, unless you have it's replacement "on hand". DO NOT assume you will be able to find replacements, as many have been unavailable for decades. Even if you see that a certain size (especially arrow inserts) is available online, make sure that it fits BEFORE you start. You have been warned )

Next after cutting through any clear coat, it is time to remove the damaged/faded insert. (remember we only remove inserts that are damaged, don't remove inserts for no reason).

1. Find a wrench socket that just fits into the insert hole on the bottom of the playfield. On strange inserts like the chevron arrowhead insert pictured, I use a small nut driver.

2. Take a hair dryer, set it on high and warm both sides of the insert. (I use a heat gun, but I don't want any beginners thinking that this is a good way to learn - too risky until you have a feel for this stuff).

3. While keeping your hand on the face of insert to control its release, push the insert out from the bottom of the playfield. It does not take much pressure at all. On Williams games, you might get the feeling that the insert "wants" to come out - its that easy.

Look how faded this insert is. Note that the playfield itself, nor the cab art had any fading. All this fading can only be attributed to crappy plastic and UV light from the bulb for 20 years.


#24 10 years ago

This is a great video on removing inserts on a funhouse:

Sorry, proceed Vid

#25 10 years ago

Keep in mind that you can use a LED to help make a faded insert look better, but it will still look terrible when the game is off - and if you are going through this much work to restore a playfield, you might as well do the job right.

#26 10 years ago

Many people don't know how playfields are manufactured, so they don't understand that you can't just put a new insert in the holes without working them first.

The sheet of plywood is CNC routed with all the holes.

Then the inserts are glued in by a Pick N Place machine.

Then the entire playfield gets run through a drum sander. The drum sander sands the wood and the inserts all down to one level.

Finally the wood is coated with sealer and it goes to the silk screen to print the graphics.


So, brand new inserts are not flat. They don't have to be, because they get SANDED flat after installation in the playfield.

We don't have the luxury of sanding the entire playfield (unless we are installing a printed overlay over the entire surface), so we have to flatten the inserts first.


#27 10 years ago

Could you describe your method for sanding the individual inserts? I'm picturing something like an upturned belt sander and holding the insert with vice grip.

#28 10 years ago
Quoted from ChadTower:

Could you describe your method for sanding the individual inserts? I'm picturing something like an upturned belt sander and holding the insert with vice grip.

Just lay the sandpaper on a flat surface and rub the insert across it. I wet sand stepping up through the grits.

#29 10 years ago

Ah, yes, that's probably safer. Now that I think about it the belt sander is probably way too much for plastic.

#30 10 years ago

Wow, I don't think a belt sander is gonna give you the desired smooth finish.

#31 10 years ago

More. I want more.

Seriously, thanks for doing this.

#32 10 years ago

so....who sells the "V-shaped" inserts for the F-14 machine?

I can't seem to find anyone selling them.

#33 10 years ago
Quoted from ChadTower:

I'm picturing something like an upturned belt sander and holding the insert with vice grip.

All I can think of when I read your post is that scene from Tommy boy where he launches the oil filter, lol.

#34 10 years ago

To get the inserts flat, you start with 100 grit sandpaper.

Place the sandpaper face up on your table saw (or any other really flat surface), and move the insert around in a circular motion. Apply even pressure, checking your work often.

You don't want to take too much off, because thin inserts are more likely to crack.

Next sand with 220 grit.

And finally 300 or 400 grit. Do not polish further. You will see why in the clear coating section of this guide (if the insert is opaque or prismed, you can even leave it at 220 it will give the clear coat some extra tooth).


Video of Whitewater inserts being installed.

#35 10 years ago

The old playfield glue can be epoxy or a sticky mastic of some sort.

You want to clean it all out so the wood can accept the new glue.

The sticky mastic stuff does not readily take to other glues, so be extra careful if you encounter it.


#36 10 years ago

If the soft mastic is hard to remove, use the Burr tool with your Dremel.

Don't enlarge the hole by removing wood, just spin out the mastic.


#37 10 years ago

As you have probably noticed, even brand new playfields have problems with inserts lifting up.

Wood contracts and expands at different rates than does the plastic insert.

We sure don't want to spend all this time restoring a playfield and have the inserts rise up again and ruin our clear coat.

We want to glue in the new insert (or reseat an old one) and never have to do it again. That means we have to do a better job than the manufacturer did.

If you have ever put a glob of epoxy on an insert, you have noticed that you can chip it off after it has dried. Obviously, this is not an acceptable bond for something we never want to do again.

We need to give the epoxy some "tooth", so we sand the edge of the insert with 100 grit sandpaper.


#38 10 years ago

This is where you start to separate the boys from the men in playfield restoration.

Even sanding the edge of the insert is not enough.

The final step is to prime the plastic with 3M Plastic Primer.

It goes on thin like water and dries in a few seconds.

Now when you apply the epoxy, you can't chip it off.


#39 10 years ago

This is great keep it going. Thanks for taking the time.

#40 10 years ago

Clear two-part epoxy is the glue of choice here.

We know it sticks to our primed plastic, we know it sticks to wood.

Any glue you can easily chip off of an old sacrifice insert like wood glue, Gorilla Glue or silicone is obviously not going to give us the permanent bond we require.

I use Two Heads epoxy, but you can use just about any brand. One of my favorite restorers has been using the Harbor Freight $1.50 stuff (http://www.harborfreight.com/super-strong-quick-drying-epoxy-92665.html ) for years with perfect results.

Pick a brand with honey-like consistency, you don't want a big mess dripping out the bottom of the playfield.

Always apply the glue from the bottom of the playfield. This way you won't drip on the painted surface and the "squeeze out" will head towards the underside.

Never apply glue to the insert itself, or the squeeze out will all be on top of the playfield.

If you do somehow get glue on the playfield surface, wipe quickly with a rag lightly dampened with Acetone.

Use an "acid brush" to apply the glue. Epoxy dries quickly, so you will throw a bunch away as you work. Don't bother trying to clean or save them.

If you are a beginner, glue up maybe 2 inserts at a time. Don't get too far ahead of yourself, once the glue hits its "work time" it starts to set up fast!


#41 10 years ago

Acid Brushes are disposable brushes used to apply flux on copper plumbing.

You get a big bag of them for $5 at any plumbing or tool store like Harbor Freight.


#42 10 years ago

I vote for "vid1900" should get his own Sticky Guide on Pinside all your guide are really helpful and full good info... How bout it Robin!? Thanks vid!!

#43 10 years ago

I second that vote !!!

#44 10 years ago

that's all well in good if the inserts exist. Not all inserts are available. And must be careful when removing inserts that are not available, because sometimes it's impossible to get them out without shattering them.

btw, about bitching about under slings and stuff not restored...you do know that many restorers offer different levels of restoration. Different levels means different pricing. Not everyone gives a shit about what's under the post or plastics once it's in the game. And don't want to pay the extra for it. It's a significant price difference when you only have to worry about the visable areas of playfield. As far a too thick goes, do you realize how difficult it is to bury insert decals, especially if the company someone buys them from are the wrong ones. You can't always tell until the clear hits it, and then it's too late. Playfield restoration is not as easy as you think. There are so many factors that can go wrong, and many are out of anyones control. Playfield to insert shifting and edging will happen eventually to any playfield that has clear on it. It's inevitable.

#45 10 years ago

also, you don't know the history or budget of the person getting it done. Your doing a super high end restoration on a F-14. To do that kind of restoration, with new inserts and time, your looking at $1200-$1500. Who the hell is going to pay that for a game that's worth $1000? Unless your doing it yourself and it's a labor of love. Should be so quick to make judgement against others, until you know the history and story of the situation. Not everyone has money pouring out of their ass. Some of us like to try and make restoration available for all even with smaller budgets.

#46 10 years ago

Sometimes you find that an insert has "a mind of its own" and won't stay down for the epoxy to set.

There could be some tension in the wood (maybe the reason the insert popped out in the first place).

To fix this, we use a 12" C-clamp ($9 at Harbor Freight) to hold it from rising above the playfield surface.

Knock the edges off of 2 blocks of good quality (flat) plywood, and clamp with 2 pieces of wax paper (in case any glue squeezes out). Don't forget the wax paper, you won't be happy if you glue a piece of wood to the playfield....

#47 10 years ago

bah, if you glue the wood to the playfield, you can just clear it in and even it out.

#48 10 years ago

I wish you were local, this would make fantastic material for a video series

#49 10 years ago

Sometimes you hear someone tell you to just use a piece of wood with a hammer and bash the inserts back down level with the playfiield. Often they say "go ahead, you won't hurt them".

The problem is that although they will stay down for awhile, whatever forces that were in the wood that ejected them in the first place are still there, and they tend to pop up again.

You can heat inserts with a heat gun and press them down with the 12" C-clamp - this tends to last longer than just hitting them, but still they tend to pop back up.

Once you have a nice clear coat on the playfield, you don't want to ever mess with the inserts again, so just reglue them the correct way.

#50 10 years ago

There of course will be inserts that you will not need to replace or reseat.

After 20 or so years, you would think that if they were going to move, they would have already moved. And certainly there is some truth to this.

But a new clear coat is going to put new tension on the playfield that was never there before, so usually you will want to apply some glue to the back lip of those inserts.

I know, it's not as good as roughing them up and using plastic primer, but it is better than a surprise 6 months down the road.

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