How Air Hockey Tables Work: All You Need to Know

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Have you been to an arcade lately?

In truth, there aren’t as many arcades around as there were even a few decades ago. While it is too bad that these entertainment institutions have fallen by the wayside, this change in the entertainment landscape has allowed several arcade mainstays to end up on the home front.

Chief among these arcade favorites is the air hockey table, which has remained popular even after leaving the arcade behind.

How Air Hockey Tables Work: All You Need to Know

Whether you’ve played it at an arcade or at home, air hockey remains an easy game to learn, but a hard game to master. Though its operation and rules are simple, many folks still wonder precisely how this tabletop sport functions. Some folks even wonder what an air hockey table is made of, perhaps in hopes of making their own table from scratch.

If you’ve wondered about any of those matters, then this guide is for you. Herein, you’ll learn all about air hockey tables, including their numerous sizes and their standard construction materials.

This guide will even dig into how an air hockey table works, as well as provide some troubleshooting for common problems with these tables.

What Are Air Hockey Tables Made Out Of?

If you’re planning to build your own air hockey table, you’ll need to gather the proper materials. While you may be able to make some substitutions based upon what is available to you, the following are the most common materials used in commercial and consumer air hockey tables today.

Body and Legs

For the most part, the main body of an air hockey table (including its sides and legs) are made from MDF wood. This is a common type of composite wood used in other similar entertainment tables (such as some pool tables).

Compared to regular wood, MDF is fairly resilient and far more lightweight.

However, the most lightweight air hockey tables almost exclusively use reinforced plastics in their sides and legs. This allows for maximum portability, regardless of the unit’s overall size.


An air hockey table’s surface must always be smooth and even across its entire length and width.

As such, it is very common for an air hockey table’s surface to be made of MDF wood covered in a laminate sheet. This reduces friction across the entire surface, especially when small air jets are introduced.

However, the laminates used for this purpose can be a bit fragile and prone to damage from hard impacts.

Interior Sides

Some air hockey tables also include some kind of interior wall that rises from the sides of the playing surface.

Typically, these walls are made from a resilient material that can effectively push back against a puck impact. This can be accomplished with nylon stripping as well as aluminum plating.

Pucks and Paddles

In theory, an air hockey paddle can be made from any durable plastic, so long as it is properly shaped.

However, it is important to only use air hockey pucks that feature a raised outer edge and are made from Lexan polycarbonate resin. This particular plastic is very resistant to impacts while remaining lightweight enough to “float” on an air hockey table.

If you are making an air hockey table from scratch, it is best to just buy these pucks online.

How Large Are Air Hockey Tables?

While shopping for an air hockey table, you’ll likely notice that there are a couple of common sizes available. These include the following, which range from miniature to full competitive regulation scale:

  • Mini or table-top: Usually, these tables are around 2 feet in total length. It is also common for them to fold up into a more compact form factor for easy transportation.
  • Standard recreation: Most standard air hockey tables designed for in-home use measure around 7 feet in length. They are usually around 4 feet wide. These dimensions require an air hockey table to be given enough clearance that any user can play without hitting any nearby walls or objects.
  • Competitive regulation: When it comes to competitive air hockey, most tables follow these precise dimensions – 99-1/2 x 51-1/4 x 31 inches. This provides ample room for play in an area where spacing is not usually an issue. However, if this kind of table is placed in a home, it will end up taking a significant amount of floor space.

How Do Air Hockey Tables Work?

You may be surprised to learn that an air hockey table’s basic operation is fairly simple.

To start, the unit is turned on, which starts up a sizable fan mounted on the table’s bottom side. This fan draws air in and forces it into the hollow interior of the table, which is sealed on all sides to prevent air from escaping. Instead, air is only able to escape through the small holes cut into the top of the hollow interior.

These holes then act as channels and guide the pressurized air up to the table’s smooth playing surface. There, the air channels funnel out slightly. This causes a very slight lifting effect on light, broad objects such as an air hockey puck. This effect makes the puck appear like it is floating.

These air channels, along with the smooth playing surface, allow the puck to be pushed around and manipulated without losing its momentum.

What Are the Most Common Problems with Air Hockey Tables?

There are several common air hockey table problems that any owner should be able to spot and resolve as needed. The first, and most common, among these is a dirty table surface. You’ll likely know that this is the issue at hand if your pucks move erratically or are “sticking” in a certain area of the playing surface.

To resolve this problem, use a damp cloth to wipe up any dirt and debris before polishing the surface to its original smooth texture.

As an extension of a dirty table, you may also discover that one or more of your table’s air holes has become plugged up. This can become apparent when a “dead zone” appears on your table’s playing surface. To remove any debris in those holes, place a vacuum cleaner’s brush head over each hole for about 5 seconds each. If this does not work, consider poking a needle carefully into each hole until all debris is dislodged.

Also, don’t forget that your table’s fan can also become clogged up with debris.

If you believe this is occurring to your table’s fan, unplug the unit and unscrew the cover on the fan apparatus. Clean off this cover entirely and remove all visible debris from the fan blades. If this does not resolve the issue, there is a chance that your motor has simply worn down and needs to be replaced.


When you get down to it, air hockey tables are a really impressive form of entertainment that relies on such a simple operation mechanism.

With just a little air and a friend, you can extract hours of fun out of an air hockey table in your own home. Now that you know all about their size and what they’re made out of, you should feel ready to build your own table. Alternatively, you could also buy your own table because you also know all about maintaining your table for the long term.

Either way, be sure to fully enjoy the game at hand next time you’re challenged to a round of air hockey!