Robotron Cabaret Scratch Build – Part 4.

Well, it has certainly been a while since the last Roby update, but now is the time to break the fast and see what we have been busy with.  Strap yourselves in returning readers and let us embark on the next chapter.  We have a panel to control….

In the last update (some embarrassing weeks ago now) the cab was cut and constructed and looking like the Robotron Cabaret Cabinet it one day dreams to be.

Next up though was to populate that rather bland looking control panel.  And this was where I had to don my thinking trilby, but the more I thought and considered the panel, the more intricacies it seemed to throw up at me.  Here’s where my thinking got me;

The William’s panel is a slab of wood with a long piano style hinge running the full width, attaching it to the front panel.  Basically I don’t particularly like the aesthetics of this and so decided to replace with matching t-molding on my cab. Which also meant that I had to find a secure way to attach the control panel (CP) to the cab.  Remembering how frenetic games of Robo can get, the fixings would have to be solid.

And talking of aesthetics, I needed to be able to fix the controls to the panel with no visible bolt heads, etc, on the face of the CP, to mar the looks or catch your hand. Yet again, the stick fixings needed to hold their own in the heat of the action.

Finally the stick height on the Wicos had to be correct for my own playing style.  Having taken measurements from other cabs that I have played on, I wanted approx. 35mm between CP base of the ball-top.

So, with all the above on the shopping list I started to think how to set about it.  This led to a little trial and effort, with some early tries binned, a few jigs made, adjustments and alterations, until I got where I wanted to be.  The end result is possibly over engineered, but it is as solid as a rock, hits all the above points, so without further ado, lets get some photos uploaded.

First to be tackled, was fixing the wico plates to the CP, remember – no bolt heads through the top and still accessible if needed to replace/fix parts.  First try was simply screwing the plates directly to the underside of the panel, but this resulted in the shafts being too short above the CP and with the screws/bolts, not going all the way through the panel, they just didn’t feel secure enough.  Bin.  Start again.

I found that to get the shaft height correct I needed to gain an extra 1cm, or about half the depth of the panel.  So I decided to try and rout out the exact size/shape of the wico plate into the panel. This would allow for the plate to sit snuggly into the recess and allow for a further piece of wood to be secured on top to prevent the base from coming out, essentially sandwiching it in from all sides, top and bottom, without the need for any screws/bolts going through the panel. Confused – let me show you;

Now the first attempts routing the rectangle out of an 18mm slab, did not come out good enough.  Even using the router table and jigs the recess just wasn’t a tight enough fit or match to the wico base, having to effectively rout it blind with the piece upside down on the table.  So I used two 9mm pieces, routing the recess right through the 9mm section, using a preconfigured jig to ensure a perfect and tight fit when the base was inserted. This worked well and allowed for the top holes to be cut on the top section and then the two sections laminated together, to each other.  You can see what I mean in these photos.

To get the holes for the sticks and buttons in the right place I used a mock up of the actual overlay I would later look to use once finished.  This way I knew that everything would match up exactly at the end.  Happy that everything was where it should be it was time to populate it and trial fit everything.  This is usually the time when you find out your mistakes.

First up were the sticks, bases already in, it was just a case of assembling the rest of the components.


Then the player select buttons, which are held in place by corresponding nuts.


For the buttons I needed some leaf switches, so it was back to the forums to see if anyone had any to sell.  Within a matter of minutes, a good friend, and presenter of the 10Pence Arcade Podcast, Vic, had replied with 2 of the very such switches, in the post, completely free of charge.  Again another amazing example of the community spirit that exists within this hobby.  A couple of days later I had them in my hands and fitted nicely onto the underside of the CP, with a small mounting board fitted to position the switches at the right height to suit the buttons.


With all this fitted it was time to turn it over, fit the mock up control panel overlay (CPO), cross fingers and hope everything looked like it should………..


Not bad at all.  But the next part of the challenge was to work out how to secure the panel to the cab, sufficiently so, so as to not come loose or cause problems.  Again, nothing could go through the CP so as to be visible from the top.  After a bit of head scratching, I came up with the idea of fitting right angled brackets in  similar vein as to the wico bases.  To that effect I chiselled out a shallow recess in the piece of wood that secures the joystick base, I then fitted the bracket into this and was able to screw through the wood, through the bracket and into the upper part of the CP, but not through.  This is rock solid and going nowhere.


Happy with all of this so far, it was time to strip it all back down and rout in the groove along the front edge, where the T-molding would be fitted.  Back to the router table for this, with it being quite a small piece of wood it’s far easier to do this on the table. Scrap wood used first to ensure the height is right, then one simple pass.


And with that, the woodwork side was finished.  Next up is the really boring, but essential preparation to get this ready for paint.  Remembering the old adage, it is 90% preparation, 10% application.

Let me cover a few points here before we begin.  We are going to be painting bare MDF, which requires the correct prep, prime and paint.  First stage is to get the surfaces sanded, I use about a 400 grit here, during which you should find any bumps, gouges, scratches that may have been collected whilst under construction.  Fill these with a decent filler that will not shrink and can be fine sanded.  Then repeat as many times as necessary until you are completely happy.  Any shortcuts taken here will really jump out at you after the paint is on and, well, look crap.  Any time you see poor paint finishes it is likely due to the prep and not the application.

Once done, it is time for a suitable primer to be applied.  Again personal preference really, as to method of application, I prefer spray, and for this, I’ve used Halford’s spray primer in grey.  This can then be wet sanded (sparing on the water as mdf will soak it up and swell) to 1200 grit.  I repeat this for 3 coats of primer.  When I’m finished the surface is like glass.

Then it is time for paint.  For this, it’s back to Halfords and their spray gloss black.  As with all primer/paint applications, do not try to achieve the complete coverage in one heavy coat, as it will simply puddle and run.  Lots of thin, light coats will always work better.

Unfortunately this whole process is very laborious and does not make for exciting photos, so here a couple with the primer and paint applied.


Keeping up with attention to detail, I also primed and painted the screws that would be visible from underneath the CP, to match.


Then we can partially fit some of the underneath components


At this point, it was now time to apply some artwork, the overlay, to the piece and really bring it to life. As this is the first time on this build that we are applying vinyl, I’ll go over it in a bit of detail, but there are far better guides, widely available on the internet, if you are still unsure.

First up, again, is the preparation, not just making sure the surface is clean and dust free, but also in ensuring you have everything you need to hand.  As once you start sticking this down, there is no going back, or walking away to get something out of the garage or kitchen…  Tools required; cleaning solution, kitchen roll, scissors, masking tape, squeegee tool, oh and the vinyl.


I order all my artwork from my friend Olly at his great website – Arcade Art Shop.  Olly is a great guy, who really knows his stuff and will always do his absolute best to meet your needs, no matter what they are.  He has been trying to develop/find a thicker textured vinyl for some time now and having finally found one that met his standards, I was lucky enough to be one of the very first to get this vinyl for my CP.  And getting hold of it, it really is amazing quality.  Cannot see this one ‘ever’ wearing out.  Ever.

For this particular application (not always this way), I used masking tape to position and secure one half of the CPO in the final position.


This then allows me to fold the left side back on itself, about a third or quarter and cut away the backing strip.


Then, using the squeegee tool (which has a felted edge to avoid scratching), starting from the cut edge and pushing out to the outer edges, knowing that the taped, right side is holding everything in the correct place, eliminating the worry that it may have slipped or shifted slightly.


Then it is simply a case of removing the masking tape, and starting from the left side, peeling back the backing sheet as you work the squeegee along.  The importance is in not rushing, taking your time, doing it evenly, and always pushing out from the centre to the edges to ensure no air bubbles are left.  Once complete you should have something looking like this.


I then left this for a couple of days before starting to cut out the relevant holes for the components to be fitted through.  Tools for this are nothing more then a very sharp, very clean, craft knife.  New blade every time.  I started with the player buttons, as when fitted the buttons will cover the actual cut out edges, and provided me with a safety net, before moving onto the stick holes which would be completely visible after cut.  They went well, the new vinyl cutting easily and leaving a really crisp, smooth edge.


On a roll, I moved onto the stick holes which also cut really nicely.


With these now cut, it was time to re-install the remainder of the stick components.


Which when installed means that this part of the build is finished, want to see it?

Well, why not, we have came this far after all.  Ready…….


The T-molding is still to be fitted, but I haven’t ordered that yet, so for now, this is this piece completely finished.  I hope you liked what I ended up with.  There was probably an easier/simpler way to get to this point, but I got there none the less and enjoyed myself along the way.

The next instalment will cover the painting of the cabinet, which is a necessary evil, takes loads of preparation, creates masses of paint ‘dust’, requires masking and many coats, but boy, do it right and it looks incredible.

Be sure to tune in.  Until next time, thank you very much for taking the time to read my pages, if you can find time to hit like, share on social media, or even leave a comment, I really would be ever so grateful and all the buttons to do so, are just below.

See you all next time.


7 thoughts on “Robotron Cabaret Scratch Build – Part 4.

  1. Hey Niel, about to begin an arcade project of my own and I’m just wondering how much time I should leave between application of each coat of primer and sanding? Touch dry/an hour or similar? Or a day between each coat?


    1. Hi pal. A lot will depend on what primer you use, how thick a layer you put down, application method, temperature/humidity etc. It should tell you on the tin. I always left mine overnight if that helps. The wet sanding will reactivate it anyway smoothing it out as you sand.

      Good luck.


      1. Cheers. Just wondering – if the wet sanding reactivates it should I be wiping the moisture/residue off before my next coat? Or do I risk lifting off more of the first coat?


  2. Yes. So wet sanding will further smooth the primer helping it to level out any inconsistencies. Wipe it clean once finished. When dry, you are good to go with next coat, etc.


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