“This game is such a simple concept that really is endlessly entertaining thanks to chaos theory and a little creative thinking.”
Plinko is a fun game that originated from “The Price Is Right,” and with a little creativity it can become a great backyard activity for the summer. In the game, players drop a token at the top of a pegboard and win a prize depending on where the token lands. The board is a great substitute for a prize wheel and adds an air of friendly competition to a family game day. Just assign each color at the bottom of the board to a small toy, candy bar, or a certain number of tickets to be used to claim a larger prize.
Alternatively, you can skip the prizes and turn Plinko into its own game. Assign varying amounts of points to each color at the bottom of the board, then set a number that needs to be reached in order for someone to win—or set a timer for each player and see who can get the most points in that amount of time. This game is such a simple concept that is endlessly entertaining thanks to chaos theory and a little creative thinking.
When I decided to design a Plinko board, I was surprised at the DIY options I found online. It seemed like every homemade Plinko board was both very large and fairly complex. The original Plinko board was huge—which is part of the fun—but I was worried about being able to store a 6’ tall Plinko board. Almost every design I looked into also involved drilling holes, cutting small lengths of dowels, and hammering them into the holes. While that certainly works, I found myself wondering why no one was going the simple route and using nails. I also wanted to avoid cutting triangular pieces of wood for the sides of the board, and I found I was able to get the same effect by placing nails close enough to the edges that the disks wouldn’t get stuck.
Overall, the end product is simple, small, and easy to store. The challenges of this project came in the design process, which means that I've done the brunt of the work for you! I had hoped the math would be fairly straightforward—and it was in the end—but boy, did it take a long time getting there. To figure out the math for installing the nails in the right place, I had to consider both the size of the disks (we used pieces from a backgammon set we ordered from Amazon) and the width of the board, and it was surprisingly challenging. My big mistake was trying to place the nails as close together as possible while still letting the disks pass through them. Having the freedom to space the nails out made the math much simpler, and the added space allows the disks to bounce off the nails more, which lends itself to the randomness of the board. Because the math was tricky, if you want to alter the size of your Plinko board from mine, I highly recommend building a prototype to test it out first. Now, let’s get started!
Step 1: Cut and paint backboard
Measure the length of your one-by-twelve and make a mark at 16”. Then, use a speed square or combination square to mark a line straight across the width of the board. Because my speed square isn’t large enough to span the width of the one-by-twelve, I flipped it over and made marks from both sides. Cut the one-by-twelve along the line you made with a hand saw or circular saw. A speed square can be used to help guide the saw to make a straight cut.
Once the board is cut, smooth out any rough edges with a sanding sponge. Lay out plastic or paper underneath the board and spray paint it with white glossy paint. This isn’t necessary, but I picked glossy paint to create a smooth, slick surface for the disks to slide down. A clear coat of finish on the wood will accomplish the same goal.
Allow the board to fully dry before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Measure spacing and add nails
Using a combination square, measure across the face of the one-by-twelve board and mark the positions of the nails with a pencil.
Start your first row 2 3/4” from the bottom of the one-by-twelve. Mark eight rows above this across the length of the board, spaced out every 1 5/8”. From the bottom up, your marks should be at 2 3/4”, 4 3/8”, 6”, 7 5/8”, 9 1/4”, 10 7/8”, 12 1/2”, and 14 1/8”.
Starting at the bottom again and using the combination square to make sure your rows are straight, mark across the width of the board at 1 5/8”, 3 5/8”, 5 5/8”, 7 5/8”, and 9 5/8”. For the second row, mark at 5/8”, 2 5/8”, 4 5/8”, 6 5/8”, 8 5/8”, and 10 5/8”. Repeat this pattern, alternating between the first and second rows until all eight rows are marked.
Once every row is marked in pencil, add 1 1/4" finish nails at each mark. Try to hammer in the nails as straight as possible. I tried to, but my less-than-perfect attempts didn’t seem to disrupt the randomness of the board. The nails should stick out of the wood by about 3/4”.
There's a possibility of the disks getting stuck on the nails that are 5/8” from the edge. I wasn’t too worried about this, but if it becomes a problem for you, draw a 45-degree angle from the nails up to the edge of the board and add an extra nail centered along this line. Note: It may be hard to add in these nails after the frame is added to the board, so now is a good time to install them.
Step 3: Cut boards for frame and legs
For the frame of the board, use a hand saw and miter box to measure and cut a one-by-four into two 16” pieces and one 12 3/4” piece. Cut a one-by-two into two lengths for the legs—one end of each leg should have a 45-degree angle and the other an opposing 22.5-degree angle (both of these angles are on the miter box). The length of the shorter side should be 12 1/2”.
Sand the pieces with a sanding sponge, then paint or stain if desired.
Step 4: Secure frame to board
Position the one-by-four frame around the sides and top edge of the one-by-twelve board, overhanging it in the front by 3/4”. Secure the frame to the board with wood glue and nails.
Step 5: Make slots
Use a combination square to draw a straight line 3” from the end across the face of the leftover one-by-twelve. Mark along this line at 7/8”, 2 5/8”, 4 5/8”, 6 5/8”, 8 5/8”, and 10 3/8”. Clamp the marked board on top of a scrap piece of wood and use a 1 1/2” spade bit to drill through each of the marks. This will give you six holes evenly spaced across the width of the board. Note: The holes at the ends will be closer to the edge of the board than the rest of the holes are to each other.
Use a hand saw or circular saw to cut through the middle of the holes, following the line you marked as a guide. These are the slots for the bottom of the Plinko board. Sand out any rough edges with a sanding sponge and a piece of sandpaper for the curves.
Now it’s time to mark the slots. If you know how you’ll be playing this game, you can mark the points or prizes each slot represents. You can also drill holes for magnets below each slot and make labels with magnetic backs so you can switch out the prizes. I decided to paint each slot a different color so I can make cheat sheets for what each color represents depending on the occasion. This was a simple matter of taping out lines and painting with acrylic paint and a small brush. I love acrylic paint for these kinds of applications because it dries so fast.
The colors I picked are from the Dunn DIY color palette, which is an easy go-to because it’s on-brand for both Dunn DIY and my personal style, although it did involve some paint mixing to get the perfect shades. If you like the idea of having a color palette to use but making your own feels daunting, do a quick Google search for color palettes to find something that suits you.
Step 6: Add legs
Now it’s time to position the legs in the back of the board and secure them to the frame. The legs will be hinged on a bolt and open until the top 22.5-degree angle of the leg rests flush against the back of the board.
First, measure 2 1/2” down a side of the frame from inside the top and make a mark. Position one leg so the side rests along the back of the board and the top point (the 22.5-degree end) lines up with the pencil mark you made. Clamp in place.
On the outside of the frame, measure 5 1/4” down the side from the top and 1” from the back to mark the placement of the bolt. Pre-drill through the frame and the leg with a 9/32” drill bit. Add a bolt with a washer on either end and two in between the leg and the frame. Secure the bolt in place with a nut. Repeat with the opposite side of the frame and the remaining leg.
Step 7: Add slots
The last step is to secure the slots to the bottom of the Plinko board. Apply glue to the back of the slots and clamp in place until dry.
You’re all set! Grab your tokens and get to playing. To play the game, players must start with their disk flat against the board above the top row of nails, but they can drop the disk above any slot. If a disk gets stuck halfway down, remove it and start over. If a player dislodges it and it drops into a slot, it doesn’t count.
For even more backyard fun, check out our tutorials on how to make a ladder golf game, a cornhole set, and life-size yard Yahtzee.