Regular Maintenance

Games affected: all



Tim with a Silver Sails asks about lubrication, so here is my opinion this week. There are only a couple places where lubrication really matters, and in general, the less oil and grease laying around, the less crud you'll have building up. When in doubt, don't lubricate. The amount of wear a home machine gets is minimal. However, here is what you can keep an eye on (every year or so :-)), in order of most to least important.


Some of the motors have sealed gearboxes, and if they work, they are probably best left alone. If they are getting noisy or sticking, drill out the rivets in the gearbox and open it up.

The multiproducts motors (mixer/control unit) are typically the motors that will go bad, as they got the most use. Usually it's the gear on the motor rotor and the mating gear in the gearbox that wears. In the good old days, you could buy another rotor and gear. Maybe you still can from Pinball Resource, as multiproducts turned over a lot of their old motor parts to them.

A talk at pinball expo in 2008 by mark patzke, the president of multiproducts, produced the following:

  • for gearboxes, use magnalube (a synthetic grease)
  • for the sleeve bearings (the brass oil tubes), use 3-in-1 motor oil (blue can...not the red can!) or other teflon impregnated oil

Clean out the old grease with carb cleaner or other degreaser, and regrease the gearbox using Magnalube or other gear/bearing grease (not white lithium). The only thing to watch out for is the very thin spacer washers that may be between some of the gears. They need to go back in the same places, but if you screw up just try and get the gears centered between the surrounding ones. Also, don't pack the gearbox...too much grease will bog down the motor, especially between the gear faces.

For open motors like the ball lifter, I use some of the teflon-based spray lube (dura-lube or whatever).

Clutch Washers

Almost all the machines had clutches with leather washers. A couple of the earliest games were like most one-balls ... they had clutch plates that just had some sticky grease between the plate and the thing it was driving - usually a bakelite cam or rotor.

The leather clutch washers in the control unit, mixer unit, and some game feature units (magic square, magic screen, etc) can dry out. When this happens, the leather will start to shave off resulting in a buildup of particles around the edge of the clutch washers.

Bally specified neatsfoot compound (available in hardware stores...look around the cleaning products). I have always taken the units apart, and when the leather is sitting there, it is easy to keep applying neatsfoot compound until it stops soaking in - or just dump the washers in an oil bath, and then you wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel so the surface has no liquid film.

When the washers are on the game, you only have access to the edge, which may or may not soak up the oil.

Due to springs on the shafts, it is possible to slide the cam assemblies horizontally a little bit and squirt oil between the leather and the metal next to it. Most will get squeezed back out again, but you may have too much and get slipping. If you can't move the cams horizontally, the shaft is probably too cruddy. Don't bust the cams by levering them a lot!

Metal-on-metal Moving Parts

I use (sparingly) some of the teflon-based spray lube on things like shafts, step-up mechanisms, and the ball lift assembly. Keep the lube out of the coils and electronics, and you should be ok.

Contact Plates/Wiper boards

This is a little more controversial, but I like the contact cleaner/lubricant (not TV tuner stuff...try and fine something that purports to resist crud buildup). I generally use MG Chemicals "Nu-Tron". As usual, wipe off the just want a thin coat. If you don't lube, that's ok, but check to make sure the unit resets easily. The wrong solution is to increase the spring tension...the right solution is to clean the contact plate. If nobody sprayed WD-40 on the ratchet, you'll never need to take the unit apart to clean off the sticky mess.


Keep you eye on it for signs of burning from the lamps behind the glass (you did replace the #55 bulbs with #47's, right?). The other problem will be lifting/bubbling/flaking of the ink. Humidity and changing temperature is your real enemy. If you have the time, coating the back of the glass with a clearcoat (like Krylon triple-thick) may help keep the glass in good shape from all the elements except the occasional beer bottle that cruises by.


Well, what can I say. The current thinking is you either strip the playfield and clearcoat/varathane it, or you use a nice HARD paste wax on it. The Novus products are for plastics and plastic coated playfields (late model bingos had these). The creamy waxes/cleaners like Millswax seem ok, but the hard wax lasts longer amd probably protects better. Varathaning/clearcoating is overkill for the amount of ball travel you get on a bingo.

Replace the rubber rings when they start cracking or just lose their bounce. The rings are so cheap that it's not worth trying to clean/reuse the old ones.


If you are in the habit of shooting the balls into each other, or you live in the rust belt, the balls will ding up or get pitted. Replace them. They cost about three bucks each (remember, for Bally, they are 1-1/8" diameter, which is bigger than a standard pinball. United used the standard 1-1/16" balls on some games, which are cheaper). Crappy old balls will do a surprising amount of damage to the playfield over time, especially if there is no wax.