How Does an Air Hockey Table Work?

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Last updatedLast updated: June 02, 2021
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Whether you first played with one at your local arcade or were lucky enough to have a friend who had one in their homes, the odds are that you have spent time playing on an air hockey table. They are tons of fun for pretty much anyone, regardless of their skill level or budget. They are fun for parties, fun for friends, and fun for families.

But have you ever wondered how does an air hockey table work? It’s a pretty ingenious system that allows for frictionless play without the hassle of ice like in normal hockey. Thanks to this clever design, which has been around since the 1970s, air hockey is fun for everyone. But again, just how do they get this done? Well, read on to find out!

Basic principle

Now we get to the real crux of the issue, how exactly does an air hockey table work. As we mentioned above, it all starts with a completely smooth surface. If the tabletop was rough rather than smooth, there would be too much friction for the puck to be able to move. After all, when hockey is played on ice, there is no friction to speak of. The puck simply glides across the surface. To recreate this, the table is made as slick as possible. But that isn’t all that makes this such a fascinating and fun game.

Even with this smooth surface, the puck doesn’t really want to slide as it does on the ice. That is where all of those holes come in. The holes are laid out in a symmetrical pattern so that the puck is always touching some of them. Underneath the surface of the table is a fan, which, when turned on, sends small jets of air shooting through those holes. This air current helps to remove any remaining resistance between the tabletop and the puck, instantly creating a frictionless surface that makes it feel as though the puck is sliding across the ice.

Anatomy of an air hockey table

An air hockey table is comprised of a few simple parts. They usually have sturdy legs that allow them to withstand hours and hours of gameplay without any issue. The surface is usually made with plastic, which is polished to an extreme smoothness to reduce as much friction as possible. The sides are raised up from the surface to keep the puck from spilling over, with the exception of the goals at either end. The surface is covered in symmetrically drilled holes. Underneath the surface, a fan is installed that blows air through the holes to allow the puck to move with ease.

The playfield

The playfield, or rink, is designed to look just like that of an ice hockey rink. There are several different parts that you make up this design. Each side has a blue line and two “faceoff” dots, as well as a goal. In the middle, there is another “faceoff” dot and a red line. This red line splits that table in half. Players are not allowed to cross this line with their striker, and neither is their opponent.

How Does an Air Hockey Table Work?

The playfield is set up in such a way so that symmetrically drilled holes are found throughout. These holes allow for the passage of air from the fan underneath, which allows the puck and strikers to move without having to worry about any sort of friction whatsoever.

The fan

Underneath the playing surface of an air hockey table is the fan. This fan is quite powerful, though it isn’t usually very loud. It needs to be quite strong. That allows it to create enough air to channel through the holes in the surface to create the proper amount of lift for the pucks and strikers so that they appear to be floating on air. These principles are the same ones that are employed by hovercrafts, though that is, of course, aimed toward the ground, while this fan is aimed towards the surface of the table.

The fan is connected to the bottom of the table with a simple set of screws to hold it in place. It also, obviously, needs to be plugged in in order to work properly. These fans are quite powerful and will need a good bit of power to run properly for hours at a time. They need at least a 120-volt outlet so that they can keep your puck and striker floating freely while you play.

The goals and the scoring system

The goals of any air hockey table are going to be pretty similar. They are usually set up as a cutout in the sides of the table that is just big enough for the puck to slide through. This makes it extremely challenging to score any points on your opponent, especially when you consider that in order for a point to count, you need to get the puck through the goal, or at least to tilt downwards in the net for the points to count. Some tables have electronic sensors built into their goals so that the point is automatically tallied each time a player scores a goal.

If the goal is electronic, like the one on the Atomic 7.5’ Contour Air Powered Hockey Table, then scoring a game is a piece of cake. You simply need to turn it on and start playing. From there, the table will keep track of your score for you each time that a goal is scored. On the other hand, if you enjoy manual control or have a retro style table, there is usually a simple scoring abacus. Whenever a player scores a goal, you slide a tile over to indicate their score.

Does the size affect the way it works?

The short answer to this question is no, but the long answer is a bit more complicated. While the size of the table shouldn’t affect how it works, it will do it in different ways. If you have a small table, for instance, you are not going to need as powerful of a motor to run the fan underneath the table. This could end up saving quite a bit of money since you won’t need to pay for all of that power.

Of course, larger tables, like the Valley-Dynamo 8ft Pro Style Air Hockey Table, need more power to keep everything friction-free. If you were to purchase a larger table, you would want to make sure that your electrical receptacles are up to the challenge. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get the power you need for the fan to play correctly.

How to make air hockey table slide better

If you are lucky enough to own an air hockey table, then you definitely want to take great care of it. Otherwise, that big investment won’t be all that much fun for all that long. Thankfully, there are some simple things that you can do to keep it working for as long as you have it in your home.

Clean it

The very first thing that you should do to keep a table in tip-top shape is to clean it. That way, anything left on the surface, such as sweat or any other type of residue, will be removed so that everything can play as quickly as possible.

To clean your air hockey table, you will want to make sure that you use a small amount of dish soap in warm water. You do not want to oversaturate the table, however, since the water could flow down through the air holes to the fan below. It is much better to use a damp cloth and wipe small areas at a time, drying along the way. That way, you won’t accidentally leave too much water on the playing surface.

Lubricate the surface

Something else simple that can be done to make your table faster is to lubricate it. You can use a synthetic silicone spray lubricant to get the job done. Much like the water you use to clean, however, you don’t want to overdo this. If you put too much lubricant on the surface of your table, you won’t be able to anticipate the play of the puck since it will be going too fast. Your best bet is to spray a little bit in the middle and on each end. From there, you can polish the surface of the table with a lint-free cloth until the surface is good and slick.

Clean the fans

Another key item that you will want to keep up with for your air hockey table is cleaning the fans. Much like any other fan, the ones on the underside of your air hockey table will need to be maintained properly for them to work properly. Thankfully, the designers of these tables had this in mind when building them. To clean your fans, simply unplug the cable and then unscrew the fans on the underside of the table.

Once the fans have been removed from the table, you can use a damp cloth to clean off any gunk or dust that might be on the blades. Before reinstalling them, however, make sure that you dry them off completely, since turning them on when they are wet could cause them to fail on you. By cleaning the fans, you will keep the table from suffering from any dead spots where the air isn’t moving as much as it should.

Wax if needed

If all else fails in your quest to get your table to play a bit faster, you can also wax down the surface. There are many different companies that make wax specifically with air hockey tables in mind, so make sure that you only select one made for your table.

Once you have your wax, simply apply a very thin layer using a dry cloth. Once the wax has dried on the surface, you can use a lint-free cloth to buff the surface to a high polish. Allow this polish to sit for a bit before you actually play on it, however, so that it really has time to set. After that, you should have a much faster playing surface.

Final thoughts

Well, there you have it! Now you have a much better understanding of how an air hockey table works. It’s a simple matter of using air to create a friction-free environment where the puck can move with ease each and every time that it is hit by the striker. This is done by using fans to force air through symmetrically drilled holes in the surface to create an air pocket around the puck and striker. The end result is something very similar to ice, making for fast action and fun gameplay.
Of course, you also need to make sure to keep your table in tip-top shape as well. This can easily be done by cleaning it regularly, maintaining the fans, and putting a small amount of lubricant or wax down on the surface to keep it as smooth as possible. Thanks for reading, and good luck in your next match!

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