Choosing an air hockey table can be more complicated than you think. Your search for nostalgic and exhilarating entertainment is not as simple as making a single-click purchase on Amazon. At the very least - it shouldn't be. Air hockey tables have a lot of moving parts, and a purchase made in haste can cost you in the long run.
We've put together this blog in order to help you maximize the enjoyment you get from your table, while minimizing long-term expense and inconvenience.
Large vs. Small Puck Air Hockey Tables
If you've never made the conscious distinction between large and small puck air hockey tables - fear not, because most people haven't. Full-sized (large) air hockey pucks are about 3 ¼ inches in diameter and usually accompany full size air hockey tables. These air hockey tables are approximately 99 inches long and around 51 inches wide.
Conversely, small pucks can be as little as 2 ½ inches in diameter and accompany smaller tables, such as children's tables, which can be as small as 48 inches long and 36 inches wide. Puck size goes up and down according to table size, and you'll rarely find a table that is accompanied by pucks that are oversized.
The size of table you choose will depend greatly on how much space you have available. If you have a large den, then a full-sized table is probably most appropriate. It is recommended that you have 3 feet of clearance on every side of your table, however, you can play safely with as little as 22-28 inches of clearance on each side.
Generally speaking, air hockey doesn't require a ton of foot movement, the exception being extremely aggressive and/or experienced players. Having extra clearance, however, can do a lot to keep surrounding appliances and decorations safe from flying pucks, so keep that in mind when designating your space.
Do I need a Professional or Casual Construction Hockey Table?
Professional construction tends to be higher quality and quality matters when it comes to air hockey tables. The most common issues with air hockey tables - air motor shut down and surface wear and tear tend to be less common in tables constructed for professional use. For example, the playing surface of a professional table is at least ¾ inches thick, which lends itself to longevity and high-quality play.
Professional tables also have most of the features that a casually constructed table would have - minus only a few things like musical chimes on scoring and arcade-themed lighting. Normally, these things can be purchased in addition to a professional table and added on later. All these things considered, you won't be losing much if you decide to purchase a professional quality table instead of a casual table in terms of entertainment value.
Of course, this does not exclude casual tables from the discussion entirely. So long as you verify the quality of materials used in the construction of your table, a casual table can have a lot of utility. Casual tables tend to be a happy middle ground for people hoping to save a little while getting a moderate lifetime out of their machine.
If for example, you are expecting to only use your table occasionally when company or family visit you, then a well-built casual table will probably give you a few years use before you encounter any real issues.
What to Consider when Getting a Used Hockey Table?
Normally we would strongly recommend against purchasing something that has a lot of moving parts second hand. Air hockey tables, however, are the exception that proves the rule. Surprisingly, air hockey tables have a notably good used table market and generally you can expect - with some work - to find a table that suits your needs.
Used tables that are stored in good condition can be a real blessing, especially if they were purchased within the last 10-15 years and have spare parts available online.
If you're considering shopping for used air hockey tables, here are some steps you can take to ensure you save as much as possible and minimize your stress in the future.
- Turn the Table on and make sure air holes are functional
Airflow and blower function are the two most important facets of any table. They are the reason your puck can glide with close to 0 friction, so any malfunction here is critical to assess early on. While you're doing this, you can double-check the function of lights and sounds on the board
- Ask about Extras and Features
Once you know the basic functions of the board all work, ask what extras come with the board. If you are getting a large number of add-ons - like side walls, options for scoreboards or extra padding for your sides and board, then a used purchase could be even more worthwhile.
- Test playing surface as much as you can
You need to pay special attention to the playing surface when purchasing second hand. If the table you're looking at has a peeling surface or is severely scratched, you might want to consider your options. If you can have the table refinished without too much trouble, then the table is probably a steal of a deal.
- Ask about past machine failures and storage conditions
Your final inquiry should be about any past machine failures and how the machine was stored before the sale. If the blower motor has failed in the past and was repaired instead of replaced, you may need to consider another board or find a replacement in advance.
Now that you've made an informed choice on your air hockey table, here's a look at a few extras worth considering.
Scoreboards - If you're an old-school arcade fan, then the classic abacus style scoreboard is probably something you're interested in. There is a particularly satisfying rattle of beads as you tally your score, not to mention a significant nostalgia. If you're going for the 80's and 90's versions of arcade air hockey, though a digital scoreboard and arcade-themed music might be more your fit.
Side walls - Side walls are a useful consideration if you have teenagers or very experienced players using your board. Aggressive shots and angles can sometimes cause the puck to fly off the sides of the boards, despite the padding commonly found there. Side walls are a simple but effective way of preventing the majority of accidents possible during play.
Leg Levers - Leg levers are a simple feature to add-on, even if your board happens to not have them at purchase. These tiny add-ons make having a balanced board -and thus, a fair match- extremely simple. Just twist them until your board is balanced on all sides and voila!
Mallet Felt - If you're looking to maximize the longevity of your table, then you should consider choosing mallets with a felt bottom. This extra bit of padding prevents the scratching that is common to air hockey tables, thus preserving your playing surface for longer. Some players feel like felt bottom paddles can slow down the play, though most casual players won't notice the difference.