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How Does An Air Hockey Table Work?

How Does An Air Hockey Table Work

Air hockey is a popular sport in bars, restaurants and homes all over North America. Many people take it for granted as a simple game but never ask “how does an air hockey table work?”

There’s more physics involved than you may think.

Although the rules are straightforward, building your own table would be a momentous task and it’s better left to the professionals. Each component works together to provide a unique surface that air hockey players can enjoy for hours at a time.

If you’re looking to own a table, it’s best to do your research first to know how it works and how to care for it. Owning a table should be fun and you want to do everything you can to get the most out of it.

How An Air Hockey Table Works

An air hockey table works by forcing air through small holes evenly spread across the surface. This air pressure offers enough lift on the puck to lift it off the table, so it’s floating on as much air as possible. It’s this lift that creates less friction and mimics similar conditions that you would find with ice.

Physics Behind Air Hockey

The reason why ice hockey is so fast is because of the ice. It offers a low-friction surface which encourages everything on it to slide. Despite a puck being made from heavy rubber, it still glides effortlessly on ice.

Air hockey uses the same rules of physics but accomplishes it in a different way. To reduce friction, air is pushed through small holes, raising the puck off the surface. The holes are purposely small to create more PSI. This way, less air is needed to raise the puck.

Air Hockey Table Physics

Air isn’t the only method used to speed up the game of air hockey. The puck itself is strategically designed to aid in this. It’s made from ultra-light plastic to ensure the flow of air being used is strong enough to lift it. You cannot use a real ice hockey puck because that is made from dense rubber.

The surface of the table is also engineered to reduce friction and is made to be as flat as a mirror. Keeping your table clean is essential because any knicks or scratches will affect how your puck glides across it.

This applies to the puck as well because if your puck is not smooth, this could negatively affect how easily it slides across the table. You should never use your air hockey table unless it’s in top working order. Without air, you can cause severe damage to the surface, which will ruin your games even when air is flowing.

Air Hockey Working Principle

Most people don’t realize how much science plays a part in the success of your air hockey table. If you’ve played before, then you might be wondering how an arcade table works so much better than an ordinary air hockey table for home use. This is due to:

  • How much air is being blown via the fan
  • How clean the surface is
  • How well-maintained the puck is

If everything is taken care of, then your puck should be elevated off the surface. This is almost impossible to see with the naked eye, but experienced players can tell by putting the puck down and giving it a slight nudge. If the puck moves more than an inch, your air hockey table is in fine working order.

Anatomy Of An Air Hockey Table

Anatomy Of An Air Hockey Table

The Surface

The playing surface is the most critical aspect of any typical air hockey table. Keeping this clean and blemish-free should be your number one priority.

Similar to protecting the greens on a golf course, the surface will make or break your air hockey games.

The Air Blower

The second most crucial component is a properly functioning air blower. It’s already challenging to get even pressure through each one of the tiny holes on the table, but if your blower is not maintained and starts to malfunction, your gaming experience will be ruined. You may also cause damage to the entire surface since it’s not made to absorb any kind of friction.

The Puck

Air Hockey Table - The Puck

At first glance, you may think the puck is a simple piece of plastic, but its size and weight are scientifically measured. This is strictly based on the amount of air pressure coming through the holes. While it shouldn’t be too heavy, it shouldn’t be too light either; otherwise, players will have less control over their shots.

Be sure to protect your puck when not using it. Any damage to the puck could cause damage to the table surface which will slow your games down. It could also cause the puck to jump either off the table or hit a player.

The Mallet

Air Hockey Table - The Mallet

Your mallets are made with a little more strength than the rest of your table setup. These are meant to take a licking and keep on ticking. They do not sit on their own air cushion but rather make direct contact with the large smooth playing surface. The bottoms are usually coated with soft felt to protect the table.

Despite this, it’s always best not to push down or apply too much force on your mallets. Due to the nature of the game, you don’t need a lot of power to create hard shots that will stun your opponent.

The Scoreboard

Scoreboards come in many different forms. High-end tables and professional air hockey tables will have electronic scoring. This is where the table is outfitted to recognize when a puck has dropped into the net.

Many home tables simply have markers on each side that can be moved to denote when a goal is scored. Most games go up to ten, but of course, you can keep your own score separately and play air hockey for as long or as little as you like.

The Air Hockey Table

Depending on the age of the players, you have a choice when it comes to strength and size. Younger kids won’t need a heavy-duty table and you can find some that are mini air hockey tables, so they’ll have an easier time playing.

For those who want to engage in higher-intensity games, look for a sturdy table with heavy legs. Click here to find the best air hockey tables. This will allow adults to lean on the table without fear of causing damage over time.

How To Make An Air Hockey Table Slide Better

Ways To Make An Air Hockey Table Slide Better

Clean The Fans

This is at the top of your list of priorities and the number one mistake most owners make. Air hockey tables are only as good as their fans so keep it clear of debris and ensure you remove any dust. If this builds up, it will not be able to produce the pressure needed to elevate the puck.

Clean The Table

Dust won’t be as big of a problem on the surface since the flow of air will keep it clean, but never store anything on the table. Anything sticky will wreak havoc on your games so treat the surface like a delicate flower.

Cover Your Table

When not in use, always cover your table. This will allow you to place light items on it but it’s still best to avoid that. Covering just protects against any accidents and if you have kids, you’re probably well-aware that accidents can happen at any time.

Change Pucks

If you have a few pucks to work with, then be sure to always change them out. You don’t want to wear out one puck and have it cause damage to your table. Don’t use the pucks on anything else other than the playing surface. Any kind of abnormality on the puck can cause costly damage to the surface. Change your puck immediately if your current one looks anything less than perfect.

Lubricate The Surface

Lubricate The Surface

If you want to extend the life of your table, this is how to make an air hockey table slide better. You can get a special solution that will remove anything that you can’t see that may be slowing down the puck. This is specially formulated so be sure not to use any type of regular cleaner. You can find lubricants that have been made for air hockey tables.

Wax The Surface

Waxing the surface is also an option but requires a bit more time to dry and needs to be applied correctly. If applied unevenly, then the surface will have spots in some places. Too much wax could also clog some of the air holes which will not only affect the surface speed but will cause the fan to work harder and possibly overheat. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, an air hockey table needs electricity to power the fan which will force air flow through the tiny holes. Most tables operate with a typical plug that can be inserted into any standard outlet but the cords can be quite short. To solve this, use a standard extension cord that is strong enough to handle your specific table.

Air hockey pucks float from the air being forced through small holes on the smooth surface of the table top. This pressure is produced by a fan that draws air from under the table and pushes it through a small crevasse that leads to all the tiny holes. The puck itself is very light to aid in this process.

Inside an air hockey table you’ll find a fan and two goals. The goals are typically located at either end to mimic a real hockey surface that’s played on ice. Some newer air hockey tables will have multiple goals to make it more exciting. These versions may also include more than one air hockey puck.

No, air hockey tables do not need batteries. They require too much power and if powered by batteries, they would need to be charged too often. By using electricity, you can play for as long as you want without having to stop and charge. It’s also healthier for your fan as it will get the power it needs to operate correctly.


Air hockey is a fun and affordable way to spend your afternoon. It’s great for all ages and you can play some very competitive matches on it. But if you choose to own one, it’s in your best interest to know how an air hockey table works. This will ensure you get your money’s worth and can continue to enjoy it for years to come.

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