Canadian Woodworking

A wooden pinball machine and more about pencils

Blog by Rob Brown
Wooden Pinball Machine

While chatting with a friend of mine about a classic pinball machine (Creature From the Black Lagoon) he had just finished restoring, he mentioned a wooden pinball machine he and his son made a few years ago.

His wooden version was complete with working flippers, elastic bands attached to wooden dowels to increase the bounce, and a host of other bits and pieces to cause the ball to move around during play. It even had a plunger to kick off the whole game.

It wasn’t the most refined piece of woodwork I had ever seen, but I was impressed by what he and his son put together. The inspiration obviously stemmed from playing the classic pinball machines that were more popular a few decades ago. Even though I was never a fan of those games, I respected what it took to design and make this little wooden pinball game. It’s great to see what can be made with a bit of inspiration, simple materials, loads of ingenuity and some woodworking skills.

More pencil talk

A few weeks ago I wrote about my contractor friend and his approach to marking lines with pencils. I received a few emails from readers about the column and thought I’d share them with you.

Hi Rob,

I just read your pencil column. Just wanted to share what I do with pencils. I teach a program called “Make Tools in Schools” where I teach kids to make their own pencils. I also teach them how to make rulers, T-squares, calipers, compasses, hammers and much more from everyday objects. The goal is to introduce students to hand tools, what to make with hand tools and the hand-eye skills you can gain by using them. You can check out my YouTube channel for wood bending tips, tricks and tool making ideas.

Brad G. 

Sequim, Washington, USA

I think what Brad is doing is great. Introducing hand skills to kids will go a long way to giving them the skills and confidence they need to take on small woodworking projects in the future and even do certain repairs on furniture and all sorts of other things.

Thanks for sharing your experience with pencils. I spent my high school years in the woodwork shop and greatly appreciated the accuracy of tools whether laying out joinery or making the cuts to fit pieces together. And, indeed, the process could only be as accurate as the mark on the piece. Upon graduation I entered the construction world: low-range custom homes and commercial buildings. I would argue that a pencil as blunt as shown would have no place on our site, often with a bit of ridicule but mostly jest. We were a small company and some of the carpenters were better than other,s but the foremen and superintendents that ran the jobs were insistent on starting the day with a sharp pencil. It became a habit; when the belt would go on, out came the knife and pencil to sharpen it to a point that was useful and accurate.

 Since those days I’m happy to note there are carpentry-specific mechanical pencil. Pica makes a couple options with various lead types, depending on the task, and while one has a traditional sharpener on the end the larger version has a piece of sandpaper to hone the edge a bit. All this to say I agree that accuracy has its place and that framing and finishing won’t have the same tolerances as furniture, but striving for a balance of accuracy and efficiency is where these modern carpenter’s pencils find their place. 

 I’d recommend checking out the company called Pica, which make pencils and marking utensils for the trades. They recently came out with a 0.9mm diameter mechanical lead pencil you may like.


Via email

Thanks, Aron. Safe to say, I will be checking out Pica’s website shortly!

Wooden Pinball Machine

A friend of mine built this pinball machine with his eight-year-old son.

Wooden Pinball Machine

Useful Tools

Some very basic materials can be used to make useful tools. Here, paint stir sticks, binder clips, pencils, and a few other bits and pieces come together to create a wide array of very functional measuring tools.

Useful Tools

Popsicle Stick Tools

Come on kids, finish off those popsicles. We have some tools to make!

Popsicle Stick Tools

Pencils and Rulers

These tools are simple to make and work well.

Pencils and Rulers

Just About Anything

Who would have thought an exterior faucet handle, cork, twine, tennis balls and other random bits and pieces would make such great tools?

Just About Anything

Simple Tools Are Great

One of my favourite tools a reader sent me was the coat hanger hacksaw. Simple and brilliant!

Simple Tools Are Great
Last modified: August 19, 2022

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


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