As I began to find myself getting more and more into retro gaming, one thing quickly became apparent. The sheer number of arcade games released in the golden era of the 80’s through to the early 90’s was utterly vast.
Now whilst most would see this as a positive, for someone, like myself, wanting to take the bold steps into actually owning my very own arcade cabinet, it made it incredulously difficult to make any kind of informed choice as to what to buy.
After all, despite what you may think or remember, I can honestly say that not everything from the 80’s was actually that great and some things should maybe be best left alone, treasured as memories, rather than revisited, shattering your rose-tinted glasses forever.
So, in order to try-out a few different games before I bought, I turned first to the world wide web, where many sites offer the option of playing games within the browser, but as with modern gaming apps for tablets and phones, the controls are awful and just don’t work. I needed something better. At the same time, a friend of mine had bought a QanBa arcade stick, Raspberry had released their wondrous Pi computers and I had some scrap pieces of MDF knocking around. A plan was hatching…..
Time to get building.
The plan was simple, build a wee box, recess in an acrylic top, fit a decent arcade stick and button combo with some side buttons to access menus etc, sort out the components to connect to a Raspberry Pi and splash on some paint.
As with all projects, time spent planning and prepping is time well spent and this build went together in no time at all. In fact, I was so busy building, I cleanly forgot to take any photos, so I must apologise for the lack of content here, I promise future posts to be far more illustrative.
But before we see what I built, I just want to show you where I built and indeed, where I build all my projects. Just to allay anyone who is thinking “ah but that guy will have a huge workshop with loads of machine tools”, well I don’t. I have this;
It’s a 6′ x 8′ shed with a table router, table saw and belt/bobbin sander. That’s it. (Plus a rake of hand-tools and lots and lots of clamps).
Here’s my arcade stick, it’s not perfect, it’s clearly inspired by the Japanese Candy style cabinets and blatantly copied from a quick search on Google.
The basic structure is a double skinned box made from MDF strips with supports inside for the top to rest upon. Screwed and glued and clamped to ensure square all round. (the photos are slightly out of sync – this one shows a bit of primer applied to check for imperfections)
The blocks on the inside are carefully positioned so that the gap at the top is exactly the thickness of a sheet of MDF plus a sheet of 4mm acrylic. The gap at the bottom is that of just an acrylic sheet. Again, time spent, getting this right here will make for a far better finish later on.
It is also worth pointing out that the amount of preparation you put in at this stage will be reflected (literally) in the finish when you apply the paint.
But before paint, all the wooden components are fitted together and checked for fit, gaps, etc and it’s also the first real opportunity to get hands on and ensure that it all feels right.
A close look at this photo shows plenty of imperfections at this stage, but nothing that cannot be filled/sanded. The gap between the MDF panel and the top of the sides is exactly 4mm. The stick is a Seimitsu LS32 (other sticks are available) and the buttons are Sanwa with the quieter switches.
Next job is to sand/fill all the surfaces ready for priming. There is little skill here other than having patience and plenty off it. With any holes, gaps and discrepancies addressed I applied some primer. This is essential when working with MDF as it seals the hugely porous surface ready for the paint, but it also really shows up any imperfections that you may have missed earlier when sanding.
So, back to the filling/sanding routine until all surfaces are sound. Another coat of primer applied and wet sanded back using 1200 grit paper. Then out with the paint and lots of light coats to build up the finish. Do not be tempted to try and cover with one or two heavy coats as the paint will run or pool and look crap!
I don’t have any kind of spray booth and so dust is always my enemy at this stage, but further wet sanding between coats with more 1200 grit removes any particles.
For this project I used Plastikote gloss white as that was the finish I wanted, to try and replicate the Japanese candy cabs that I was modelling this on. Now as I mentioned earlier I really didn’t take anywhere near enough photos so the next shot is off the finished product but have a look and then I’ll go through some more parts of the build.
Looking good! But again I appreciate the lack of photos, likely at the point when you wanted it the most, but with this fettled in a quick weekend, I just cracked on with it, and never thought I would be here talking about it. So, what did we do to get to here?
The finish is just the paint finish, this is where the afore mentioned preparation time pays dividends. To cut out the holes for the stick and buttons I downloaded a template from the tinterweb and simply punched the centres onto the MDF panel and used auger bits to drill out the holes. You then need to transfer these holes exactly onto the acrylic, which is notoriously difficult to cut without it either chipping or melting. For this I make a sandwich with some scrap wood on the bottom, then the acrylic, then the already cut out MDF panel. Then using the already cut holes as a pilot and controlling the speed of the drill, I crossed my fingers and took the plunge. First go was crap, drill speed was too high and the acrylic melted around the edges of the hole, second go was spot on. I then used some double sided tape to temporarily hold the acrylic to the MDF panel and used a flush cutting bit in my router table to trim the acrylic to the exact same size of the wooden panel.
Once finished, sandwiched between the MDF and acrylic is a piece of vinyl artwork which transforms the finished piece into the actual cab that inspired the build.
At the rear I fitted a simple USB socket which is the only connection this needs. I had toyed with fitting the Raspberry Pi inside this box, making it a truly portable games system, but as you will see, space is at a premium, I would’ve need to add some venting to the base and it would’ve also required some further connections to power the Pi. Coupled with the fact that I do not intend to take this anywhere I chose to keep the Pi separate.
So what is inside? I hear you ask, should we have look? It’s not pretty, and my OCD hates this next photo but in the interest of sharing here it is….
I really, REALLY, REALLY must tidy this up, the problem with scratch builds and resto’s is that once you get to them to a playable stage, you erm, spend more time playing and less time finishing!!!!
The small PCB you are looking at is a Xin-Mo interface which just configures the controls ready for the Raspberry Pi to receive.
And that is about it. I hope you like it, it was an easy build for me, I had the MDF already and the acrylic, paint cost about £5 from B&M and the components from Arcade World.
Very pleased with how it turned out and this gets more play than all my other cabs and consoles.
Thanks for reading…