Portion of the backglass of the Flash Pinball Machine.

While at work, I saw a post on RGP offering this machine for sale for a very good price ($150).  I immediately e-mailed Justin B. the seller, and picked the machine up the following Saturday at his home.  Although I have never played this machine before, I figured the price was right.  This machine was previously owned by Mark R., who bought it in early 2004 from Dave in Laurel, MD.

The condition of the machine was quite good for its age.  The backglass has some scratches due to the corners of the score glasses, the playfield had some small BB-sized ares of missing paint, and the plastics were all intact and unbroken.  Definitely a machine that could be readily restored as the other parts could be purchased.

Start of the renovation

The machine setup in my pinball room.  The backbox does not hinge, so it is simply placed on a table.
In this arrangement, the cabinet to backbox harness can be mated for test.

The first thing I had to do was troubleshoot the electronics.  When initially powered up, it would only come up in Audit mode (Test 4).  I transferred the board to my CPU tester to continue troubleshooting.  I checked D17 (it was good), and could tell the 5101 CMOS RAM was bad.  After that was replaced, the displays powered up dark.  From what I could tell, the CPU passed the CMOS RAM check, but hung up on the check of the driver board PIA chips.  With the help of Keith Apgar, I decided to replace them, and after that, the CPU booted up successfully.

Once the CPU was running, I could perform test such as the display test.
All of the plasma displays checked out fine.  These can cost $40 each.

The playfield solenoids were checked out with a separate power supply, and found to be all good.  This gave me confidence that all the solenoid drivers would also be fine on the driver board.  With this out of the way, I just hooked up the backbox to the main cabinet, and was able to play a few games to check out the machine.  All lamps, solenoids and switches worked fine.  I just needed to do a thorough renovation on the playfield and its parts.

An overall picture of the playfield before the renovation.

Stripping and cleaning
I will be doing a complete renovation of this playfield, including stripping all the parts above the playfield, cleaning, touch up painting, clearcoating, polishing all the parts, applying NOS target decals, and restoring the parts.  Finally a new rubber kit will be installed.  This kit was included with the purchase of the machine.

The original condition of the center of the open area in the lower playfield. 
It is in the worst shape, and is also the closest to the player.

The same center area after many passes of the Magic Eraser and touchup painting. 
All the inserts were repainted including the area in the red circle in front of the left slingshot.
The middle main insert is cloudy because I started to apply clearcoat to it.

In the original condition, the playfield was rather dirty, and had lots of ball swirls.  These cleaned up well with the Magic Eraser and alcohol.  Then came the touchups.  These were in some small areas.  For example, the area in front of the left sling had some paint missing.  I mixed some acrylics and obtained  a good match.  The touchups were applied with the end of a toothpick for the large areas, and a sewing needle for the really fine work.  For example, the "20" insert was touched up, but I think it looks very original.

Some more touchups.  Left=before.

In the initial set of games that we played, we noticed that the ball would rumble audibly across the playfield.  We compared this to the Space Shuttle, which I had also clearcoated, where you cannot hear the ball at all.  On that machine, the ball seems to float over the playfield.  It became apparent to me that I had to clearcoat the Flash playfield also.  Another problem was that some inserts had bowed downwards over the years.  When the ball rolls slowly, it could sometimes get stuck in one.  One common way to repair this is to fill them in with water-thin super glue, but I decided to use clearcoat instead.

The poly I used for the clearcoating.  Like the proven
product (Varathane) this is water based.

For this project, I decided to try brushing on the clear instead of spraying it.  I went to the local Lowe's and found that they sold Varathane in one gallon containers only ($46).  They also had another product that was similar to Varathane.  It is the Olympic Polyurethane in half pint cans ($6).  This product has the following in common with Varathane:
  1. Available in gloss finish.
  2. Water based.
  3. Does not yellow over time.
  4. In liquid form, the product is milky white.
  5. Alcohol disolves this product.

Center of lower playfield after clearcoating.  Not much change visible from this angle in
my opinion.  The clear on the center insert has not fully dried, and is still slightly white.

The procedure I found worked the best was:
  1. Use a cool area to slow down the drying as much as possible.  This allows the clear more time to flow.
  2. Plug all the holes in the playfield with foam plugs.  Make sure they do not stick up above the playfield.  If they do, small amounts will be dispersed when you use sandpaper.
  3. Use a new foam brush for each layer of clear.
  4. Brush a large portion of the playfield with quick strokes to wet the area.
  5. Pour the clearcoat on the wet area to form a thick film, use the brush to push the clear around.  Try and achieve a consistent amount of milky whiteness over the playfield to have a consistent layer of clear.  You only have a few minutes to do this.  After that, the clear will start to solidfy, so do not touch at that point.
  6. After several hours drying, and a film has formed, a fan can be used to increase air circulation to speed up drying (I did).
  7. Once completely dry, use 400 grit paper between clearcoat layers to smooth out imperfections.  It will take about 24 hours to dry.
  8. When done, buff with an random orbit buffer and rubbing compound, then finish with Novus 2 and carnauba wax.

Before clearcoat (top) and after (bottom).

Although the finish does look nice, and enhances the contrast of the colors (black is blacker, colors are brighter), the result is not as flat as the Space Shuttle's finish.  Spraying directs material at the playfield in a large diffuse pattern, which prevents local high spots.  Locations where the clear is not thick enough can be reapplied with a quick burst of spray.  In the case of brushing, one can only pour a small local mound of clear on places that need more. 

So in the end, I thought it was a worthwhile experiment, but I will probably spray the next time.

A glancing angle of the clearcoat shows the remaining ripple on the finish.  Although it is very shiny and reasonably flat, there is much more
remaining ripple compared to the Space Shuttle.

One area that was especially challenging were the rollover insert switches.  I decided to remove the star-shaped portion, tape over the hole, and then clearcoat them by hand using a small brush.  After a few coats, I cleaned the star with alcohol and a toothbrush and reinserted it into the playfield.

Left: original condition.                                   Right: taped closed and clearcoated

Left: After clearcoating and taping removed.              Right: clearcoated, star insert cleaned and replaced.

The techniques and methods used were described in the Space Shuttle Playfield renovation.


Photos after final assembly.  I also have tear down pictures.  If you need assistance with where a part goes on your playfield, let me know.

Back to the Electronics
Although the CPU and associated electronics were working, there were still reliability problems.  After about half an hour of play or use, the CPU would lock up.  To get it to work again, I simply had to press down on the ROMs in their sockets.  Clay recommends upgrading from System 4 to System 6 ROMs.  This required the replacement of the flipper ROMs (U17 and U20 also).  Since a different socket is used for the main code, I did not have to use  the problematic sockets.  After installation of the new ROMs, there were no resets after several hours of game play and letting the machine run in attract mode.

Sealing and touching up the backglass
Close inspection of the back of the glass shows that the missing paint was mainly due to the scraping of the score glasses.  Thus the paint was not flaking due to age.  This meant I could safely clean the back with a paper towel dampened with alcohol.  I took off lots of dirt, but no detectable paint.  Afterwards, I masked the score windows with Vaseline Petroleum Jelly, and sealed the backglass with Krylon's Triple Thick, per Clay's site.  I started with thin coats initially, and then heavier coats later as I was afraid the solvent in the Triple Thick would affect the backglass.  After it was dry, I cleaned up the score window, and was pleased with the results.

The next step was to touch up the backglass with acrylic paints.  Mixing this paint can be difficult, and after several hours, settled on the color.  The dark blue could have been matched better, but the light blue was very good match.

Left: before, Right: after touching up with acrylics.

Another example of touchup.

To prevent future damage of this type, I covered the sharp corners of the score glass with a few layers of black electrical tape.  I then removed a few lamps behind the backglass to reduce the overall temperature for less thermal stress on the backglass. 

Note that the above touchup method with acrylics will only work for the opaque areas of the backglass.  Acrylic paint is too thick to be translucent.  I realized that a thinner and darker (more saturated) ink was needed.  I decided to experiment with thinning out the acrylic with water, and achieved good results.  The basic process is to find the darkest and brightest version of the color that you can obtain.  Then thin the acrylic with five parts water.  Apply first to some transparent plastic to get the feel for the thickness needed.  Beware that the paint will be very watery and runny.  After it dries, hold it up to the lit backglass to see how much light transmits through.  Reduce the puddle of paint if it is too dark.  By doing this, I was also able to touchup the translucent areas.  Since the paint is so dark, it reflects the right amount of light when the machine is off.  When the lights are on, the paint is thin enough to pass about the right amount of light and color.

Area of the backglass that is translucent and missing paint.  Sorry for
the blurry image.  The white parts of the dress have missing patches,
revealing the lamp socket in the backbox.

Picture afterwards.  Since the paint is so watery, I have little control
over it.  At least it has the approximately correct color, and the
bulb socket is no longer visible.  In any case, I can remove the
touchup with one swipe of alcohol and try again in the future.

More touchups.  Since I do not have a 'before' picture, the touchup areas are circled. 
I had to reconstruct the '3' by freehand, and it turned out quite well.  The red is translucent, and looks correct when back lit.

The final result.  After all the touchups.

  • March 25 2006 - Picked up machine.
  • April 1 2006 - Played first game after repairing the electronics.  It's alive!
  • April 8 2006 - Start of clearcoating.
  • April 10 2006 - Start of reassembly.
  • April 15 2006 - Playfield reassembly complete.
  • April 20 2006 - Touching up of backglass.
  • November 11 2006 - Sold this machine for $800.

Main Pinball machine page

Back Home

(c) 2006 Edward Cheung, all rights reserved.