This article is an update to a previous Pinball News Pinball Tools article, and is presented to you in four parts: General Hand Tools, Electrical and Electronics Tools, Soldering Tools, and Damaged Hardware Removal with this, Hand Tools, being the first.
My perspective comes from someone who is a homeowner, a professional electronics technician, and a pinball repair technician on the side.
The driving forces behind me upgrading my general use hand tools were; greater quality than that of the Craftsman brand I once had, and the functional characteristics I deemed necessary. Though, in a few cases, direct availability was the greatest factor.
More often than not, I’ve found myself having to deal with damaged hardware. I find the main reason for this is a previous person never taking time to use the correct tool for the job.
In dealing with this hardware, I learned which tools worked well and updated them accordingly. None of these upgrades were to ‘heavy-duty’ tools. For example, many of the tools and accessories are the more standard ¼ inch (6.35mm) hex or square drive.
Due to limited parts availability from all the new little pinball companies, stock of game-specific replacement parts will be very limited. Eventually, pinball owners will not be able to buy complete assemblies to easily swap out. They will either be forced to make repairs themselves, or find someone to do it for them.
For those who don’t want to perform their own pinball repairs, you can use The Directory here on Pinball News to help find someone who works on pinball machines. NOTE: Pinball News does not promote or endorse any particular pinball repair resource. The businesses listed are only for convenience of its readers.
Having recently updated the last of my pinball hand tools, I am more than willing to share my list and the reasons for the specific upgrades.
The greatest of these reasons is a tool’s dual-purpose; using it for both pinball repair and general home Do-It-Yourself (DIY) work.
An overview of my hand tools is pictured below.
Fully loaded with tools, the hard case shown above weighs about 27lbs (12.25kg). With added home or pinball repair parts, that weight goes up to about 30lbs (13.5kg).
The tools are listed here from most-used to least-used. The list is fairly extensive and has been internally hot-linked for your convenience. Where possible, whenever an older tool is No Longer Available (NLA), a newer model is listed instead.
- Ground Fault Indicator
- Portable Lighting
- First Screwdriver Handle
- Second Screwdriver Handle
- Short Insert Bits
- Flush Cutters
- Slip Joint Pliers
- Needle Nose Pliers
- Locking Needle Nose Pliers
- Thin Wrenches
- Tape Measure
- Bonus Tool
With the exception of any notes, the following format will mostly be used throughout this article:
– Name of Tool
– Old: Manufacturer, Item Number or Part Number
– New: Manufacturer, Item Number or Part Number
– Picture: Left/Top will be the old tool, Right/Bottom will be the new tool.
Ground Fault Indicator (GFI)
This safety tool is used for checking power receptacles EVERY TIME before I start a repair. When plugged in, the number and arrangement of glowing lights indicates the power status.
The additional grey plug adapter shown below did not come with the tester, but can be used to create a temporary ground. This professional tester was an upgrade to the Christmas lights tester I once used.
|Old: Gardner Bender GFI-501A (now NLA – the newer model is GFI-3501A)|
|New: To Be Determined (TBD)|
If I do get another new receptacle tester, it will be a further upgrade to my electrical safety regiment. For about the same cost as the two testers from Ideal, I will most probably go with one from Klein Tools -either the single piece (RT250) or the two piece (ET310), with the later two piece combination tool more likely as it has more functions.
Of course, you will have to use a safety tester which works specifically with your voltage and electrical socket design.
Portable lighting is an essential troubleshooting tool. It is used to illuminate darkened spaces and obliterate obscuring shadows. However, I found myself sometimes needing a little more light.
Liking the Nebo Larry torch I had already been using, I went from little to big. I purchased both of these versions when they were on sale. Newer versions have since become available.
|Old: Nebo Larry C-170 (with different body colours available)|
|New: Nebo Larry BOSS 6431 (sometimes listed as 6431-EB)|
For both pinball and home repairs, I still sometimes use ‘Little Larry’ to get behind certain obstacles, thus eliminating shadows.
Used in conjunction with its front light, the in-built magnetic retriever on the Larry BOSS makes it very useful for retrieving lost hardware.
First Screwdriver Handle
Instead of having multiple screwdrivers, I prefer to have a couple of drive handles and multiple hex bits. I use various hex adapters and extenders for connecting the bits to the handles.
The newer handle has ‘Tang-Thru’ construction, giving it the advantage of also being able to be used as a striking handle.
|Old: Wiha, 10820|
|New: Vessel, 230W|
My ‘spinner’ type handle was updated to a ‘striker’ type. Both deep screwdriver handles have been used many times in conjunction with old Wiha System 6 screwdriver bits and a hammer to gently ‘tappy-tap-tap‘ deformed screw heads.
A long hex male-to-female adapter may be used in place of the Wiha System 6 screwdriver bits. The female end allows a multitude of hex insert drive bits and sockets to be used.
This system allows me to easily replace used ends as they wear out, rather than replacing entire screwdrivers.
On the right side of the picture below are mostly the old Wiha System 6 screwdriver bits I currently use, and will continue to use for some time.
The old Wiha System 6 screwdriver kit is NLA. The new, interchangeable and telescoping replacement kit is available in several different configurations (Drive-Loc VI).
The Vessel Ball Grip bit-replaceable ‘Tang-Thru’ screwdriver handle is again shown below, but this time configured with a universal Wera Rapidaptor and a short ‘griping’ titanium-nitride-coated #2 Philips bit.
Although I have new fixed and ratcheting handles, because the Wera Rapidaptor Universal Bit Holder (05052502001) ‘lives’ on the fixed handle, I use that handle more often.
Staying non-technical, this is probably because the Rapidaptor will easily accept and firmly hold hex components with a ‘groove’, ‘notches’, or a ‘smooth shank’.
That all being said, for its ease of operation, sureness of use and overall aesthetics, I like my new ratcheting handle much, much more.
Second Screwdriver Handle
My second spinner handle was updated to a ratcheting one. In practical use I actually find the ratcheting action more convenient and just as easy to use as an electric screwdriver.
|Old: Wiha, 10820|
|New: Anex, 397-H|
I no longer use an electric screwdriver on pinball machines. The new ratcheting handle fits better into confined spaces.
On top of that, when my customers have sometimes paid over $10K for a game, I am not going to slip and put a divot in their expensive playfield.
Anex currently makes two versions of their full-sized ratcheting drivers: lever on back (395-H) and (lever on side) (397-H). These base handles are then used with various kits (which will not be listed here).
A 90° ratcheting handle can be very useful working in even tighter spots than a spinner handle can.
Ratchets can be configured with various adapters, bits, extensions and sockets to make them extremely useful for the task at hand. I upgraded my ratchet because the old one was just plain junk.
|Old: Uxcell (NLA), AMATEA078854|
|New: Ares, 42045|
I hated the old, crappy female hex ratchet from moment I picked it up. However, it was directly available to purchase when my previous one died.
The old one has the single advantage of being able to directly use standard hex bits without needing an adaptor.
Its hard plastic handle and spinner knob are ineffective, though. The exposed metal causes hot spots under any strain, of which the tool won’t take much before its ratcheting mechanism slips – in either direction. Also, the small number of teeth forces the handle to be over rotated. This makes the tool almost usable in any situation with space constraints. Its direction selector gets accidentally activated merely by gripping the ratchet. Lastly, the force required to overcome the back drag is excessive.
Shown below is my new favourite ratchet together with several accessories.
The new ratchet can be adapted, as needed, with accessories, converters, extensions and sockets. The ratchet itself is small enough to get both between and behind obstacles. It is not exactly ‘heavy-duty’, but can still easily work on pinball head and leg bolts.
As there is an overwhelming number of hex and square support items available, the small selection shown in the picture will not be specifically covered in this article. Simply select whichever items you need for your own purposes.
Short Insert Bits
Standard hex bits come in various styles and sizes. They are a wear item which needs to be replaced once they become worn.
I discovered specific bits which work well for removing damaged hardware. Best of all, those same bits also work well to prevent hardware from getting damaged in the first place!
Due to the great variety of hex drive bits I use, not all of the bits I’ll be mentioning here are pictured above.
In addition, due to the fact that I am usually called in to troubleshoot and repair means I’m frequently forced to work with damaged hardware. The following bits have helped me most in dealing with this.
I’ve kept the diamond-coated cruciform and slotted bits, shown top right in the picture above. I’ve upgraded from standard hex to grippier ‘Hex-Plus‘ bits. The security bit version is expensive but worth it for the time, hassle and frustration you will save.
I’ve switched from standard Torx to grippier ‘Torx Plus‘. Again, the security bit version is expensive but worth it for all the frustration, hassle, and time you will save.
Lastly, I’ve added JIS cruciform bits to my arsenal. These are the double-ended bits shown at top-left in the picture above.
Remember, there are different screw heads which may look identical, but are merely similar. For best results, make sure you match the bit to the hardware.
The male square / female hex ratcheting wrench in the picture is popular among some RC car enthusiasts. This is the shorter – approximately 4¼ inch (107mm) – version from Keenso (Keensohv53gn86sq-01). A longer – approximately 5 inch (130mm) – version is also available (Keensohv53gn86sq-02).
For pinball, I have only used a ratchet on one set of pinball leg bolts. At home, to tighten four door handles. Therefore, it has yet to earn a spot in my pinball repair kit.
The extension on the ratcheting wrench has female / male square ends. It is an upgrade, from a spring loaded ball detent, to a locking ball type. After trying other similar extensions, I chose this Wera version (05003531001) for its positive retention at both ends.
I always keep a sharp pair of flush cutters handy. They are another wear item and are only used for cutting soft materials, not hard metals.
|Old: Excelite, S42-4JS|
|New: Knipex, 72 01 140|
For pinball repair, I mostly use flush cutters for cleaving wires and zip ties. It also gets used to flush cut dowels and toothpicks when repairing stripped screw holes in playfields.
For home repair, flush cutters are also used for wires and zip ties, but are additionally great for removing loose threads and severing the plastic hardware holding tags or items to packaging.
Pro Tip: They are great for trimming hangnails!
My old flush cutters will now be relegated for use as an aid in damaged hardware removal. The blades of this cutter are still sharp enough to ‘bite’ into the damaged heads of small bolts and screws.
Slip Joint Pliers
A good pair of slip joint pliers is one of the most essential hand tools. The grip surfaces and geometry of the jaws allows this type of pliers greater flexibility when grabbing and holding.
Though not actually a new tool technology, I switched to a fairly newly-available pair of screw grabbing pliers. The added features of these pliers give them additional usefulness, which makes them a definite upgrade.
|Old: OXO, Good Grips (NLA)|
|New: Knipex, Twin Grip 82 01 200|
For pinball repair, I mainly use these pliers to hold newer style playfield posts, or sometimes their associated hex nuts. I do so to keep the posts from spinning while removing hardware on top.
For home repair, I mostly use the new pliers for removing and replacing the recessed filter on my clothes washer.
The increased number of jaw positions and diverse grip geometries of the Knipex Twin Grip make them more versatile than a standard pair of slip joint pliers. This is blatantly evident when removing damaged hardware. The number ‘200’ on the Twin Grip denotes the overall tool length in millimeters (nominally 8 inches). If Knipex comes out with a 130mm (nominal 5 inches) or 150mm (nominal 6 inches) length version, I will switch one of those out for this 200mm version.
Needle Nose Pliers
Needle nose pliers are great for temporary holding tasks where slip joint pliers are too big but a hemostat is too small. Flush pivot hardware allows the head of a needle nose pliers to slip easily into small places without snagging.
|Old: OXO, Good Grips (NLA)|
|New: Tekton, PMN21001|
The OXO is technically a pair of ‘long nose’ pliers. They came as part of a set with the OXO slip joint pliers covered above.
The Tekton pliers are actually flat nose pliers; sometimes referred to as ‘duckbills’. I found myself constantly needing greater purchase than my previous thin nose pliers could afford. For me, these new pliers are possibly the perfect answer.
I specifically chose this approximately 5 inch (130mm) ‘mini’ size and style so I could use it in confined spaces. Its fully serrated jaws are almost file-like, affording great purchase but without being too aggressive.
Locking Needle Nose Pliers
I use locking pliers when I want part of the assembly I am working on to remain stationary. I then use another hand tool to manipulate the hardware on that assembly. So, I basically use these pliers as a temporary handle.
|Old: Vise-Grip (now updated to Irwin Vise-Grip), 6LN|
|New: Knipex, 87 51 250|
For pinball repair, I use long nosed vice grip almost exclusively on leg levellers. Long nosed pliers are sometimes referred to as ‘snipes’.
I actually only once used the new thin nosed pliers at home, and that was on washer and dryer leg levellers.
I went back to using the vice grip as my primary, long and thin, gripping and holding tool. The positive lock of the vice grip works better for me in all home and pinball applications, while its smaller size allows it a dedicated spot in my (NLA) Chicago attaché tool case.
For pinball repair, the new Moody wrench can be broken down to get into tighter spaces than the old Craftsman.
I have not used either wrench at home.
|Old: Craftsman (standard Ignition Wrench Set), 9-42319|
|New: Moody Tools (Standard Open-End Wrench Set), 58-0143 MT-04-01|
There can sometimes be retaining nuts under the large mounting brackets of some flippers. Either wrench has been able to get between the brackets and underside of playfields to help remove those nuts.
The thinness of this Moody wrench makes it ideal for holding the top of older-style playfield posts while plastics are still installed. This keeps the post from spinning while removing the plastics’ retaining hardware.
Moody Tools also makes other open end wrenchs.
Pro Tip: The largest Moody wrench also makes for a great Flipper Shaft End Play Spacing Gauge.
For pinball repair, these have been used along with an ancillary bit kit, for removing or reinstalling small or specialty hardware.
The same holds true for home repair, especially with toys.
|Old: Wiha (System 4), NLA|
|New: iFixit (Mako), IF145-299-4|
Pictured directly below is my cheap, crappy, terrible and yucky ancillary micro-bit kit. I won’t even bother trying to remember its part number.
Due to bolt hardware getting smaller, while in the middle of a home repair on a modern Stern pinball machine I had to run out and get a Mako iFixit kit. That kit is not pictured here because the pinball owner was so impressed with this kit, he ended up with it.
I will eventually repurchase that iFixit kit for myself, but for now I’m stuck with the bad bit kit and its ‘magically bending bits’.
At home, I still use my NLA Wiha System 4 kit to make repairs where more standard small hardware needs to be manipulated. A new ‘telescoping’ version from Wiha is the hard to find DRIVE-LOC 4 (00616). Fortunately, other similar, although more expensive, kits are more readily available.
I use both hammers in the same way; for pounding or light strikes.
|Old: Workforce, 676-922|
|New: Marketty (Seiko), B07CXRQDTX|
My wife kept ‘stealing’ my “cute” hammer, so I bought one just for pinball.
A hammer can be used in conjunction with an 11/32 inch nut driver to chase a stubborn sleeve out of an old coil. A hammer can also be used to tap in dowels used for stripped playfield screw hole repair. I have used the ol’ toothpick and superglue trick many times to shim loose playfield hardware.
The soft face of this new hammer is used when re-seating playfield ‘jewels’.
At home I use the screwdriver handles, long screwdriver bits and a hammer to knock any paint off the hardware I am manipulating, while seating the head of the bit.
Pro Tip: Long bits are particularly useful when working on doors.
For pinball repair, I have only ever used the old shears for cutting Mylar.
At home, both the old and new tools have seen much more use for all kinds of heavy-duty cutting tasks.
|Old: Fiskars, (NLA, but similar to 12-79266984)|
|New: CANARY, NAW-205B|
The old Fiskars are actually ‘shop snips’, upgraded because, after years of faithful use, their micro-serrated blades started dulling.
The new shears have two advantages over the old; finer micro-serrations and handles out of the cutting path.
Various manufactures make either of these shears in different sizes. Once again, I kept to smaller sizes.
For pinball repair, I have only used a tape to measure a game’s legs.
For home repair, the tape has mostly been used when put’n up lights and shelves on walls.
|Old: Lufkin (12 feet – Engineer), (NLA but similar to W9212 and W9312D)|
|New: Lufkin (10 feet – PEE WEE), W616 (alternatives: T613ME, W6110, W616BO, Y613ME & T613ME)|
I switched from the 12 feet to the 10 feet because either gave me all the length I needed, but the smaller 10 feet model fitted into the little pocket of my tool case.
My wife gladly took the old 12 footer and immediately pealed off the label – to make it prettier.
The blades on the Lufkin tapes are replaceable. But, if I upgrade again, it won’t be a repair. It will be to a new tape; the ‘auto-lock’ version of a 25 foot Stanley Fat Max (FMHT33338). This tape will be easier to use, especially around the house, while still quite handily stashing into the bottom of my pinball tool kit.
Bonus Tool: Scale
I used the digital luggage scale, pictured below, to weigh my loaded tool kit.
This small but feature-packed scale is very dependable. The size of its permanently-attached hook makes the scale very useful. Depending on the seller, some versions also come with an additional strap meant to fit around luggage handles.
Pro Tip: Wait for your load to settle and the scale to ‘beep’ before taking your reading.
For more specific information on dedicated pinball repair tools, you can check out the great “Tools of the Pinball Trade” YouTube video below, featuring Butch Peel (then) of Jersey Jack Pinball.