Building an Arcade Cabinet

After my house burnt down recently I needed something to relax me and remove some of the stress of day to day work, filling out endless insurance documents or thinking about what needed to be done to build our next house was getting to me, this kind of stress is common place at the moment, something I see a lot of people can relate to in these pandemic times!

For a while now I have been looking into building an Arcade Cabinet but never really found time to do it.

Given my unique point in life where I literally own nothing, and as something fun to do I set about watching YouTube videos, talking to friends and searching the web for how to put one together and what I would need.  I found my stress relief project!

The idea in this blog post is not to claim I am now an expert at building Arcade cabinets, far from it, its more to share my experience as I cam from knowing nothing and there were questions I had that I had to look in multiple places to answer, this will hopefully provide someone some useful information and help them.

Objectives

It was clear from talking to people that I needed to identify what I wanted from an Arcade machine, there are people who take this very seriously! Its their main hobby or sometimes their livelihood.  I knew I was not going to take it as serious as that but I did have some goals for this.

Personally my goals for this project were:

  • Something my family and I could have fun playing
  • Easy to assemble given I had no tools any more, but I still wanted something fun to build.
  • Multiple games on multiple old systems, when I was younger I owned everything from a ZX Spectrum to a Commodore 64, Amiga 500, 600, 1200, CD32, Super Nintendo, Master System, Megadrive (Genesis) and much more.
  • Multiple Players (2 most of the time but a way to expand it to 4 if needed)
  • A nice looking cabinet
  • Something that reminded me of playing Streetfigher 2 at the back of the 7 Day shop when I was a kid with my friends
  • Something I didn’t have to bend over at an awkward angle to play, that didn’t look a toy.
  • Something I could move around if needed
  • A unique custom design, something fairly original.

Based on my goals I was able to make some important decisions around the design of my cabinet, when building your cabinet you should ask yourself similar questions.

What type of cabinet do you want to build?

There are multiple kinds of cabinets from the pre-built 1up arcade machines to bar top cabinets to full size arcade machines and many variations of all of these. I chose to build a full size arcade cabinet, I wanted something I could stand up at and play, something that had the nostalgia feel to it.

As I didn’t have any tools at all and didn’t want the expense of buying wood cutting tools I opted for a Arcade Cabinet Kit. This is a great way to still have the fun of assembly and customization whilst not needing to go overboard on making sure you have a plan you like or the tools to make the awkward precise cuts etc.

There are multiple companies who sell these, a simple google search will find many and you can find the style of cabinet you want often close to where you live or at least shippable to you. I purchased the LVL32J 2 Player Upright Arcade Cabinet Kit for up to a 32″ screen.

Resources

The following items where what I ended up buying and using:

LVL32J 2 Player Upright Arcade Cabinet Kit for up to a 32″ screen$519.99
Glue$6.78
2 x Primer$8.98
Sand Paper$6.99
1 x Oil based paint$9.98
Rollers and brush$14.79
Buttons and Joysticks$39.99
Raspberry Pi Starter Kit$59.99
Amp and Speakers$44.99
32″ TV$169.00
1 x Extension Cable$12.49
4 x lockable wheels$13.88
Squeegee$6.95
Exacto Knife$5.49
Custom ArtworkDepends on what you want but I used this person who gave great results $depends
if you like mine then download them here
Extend to 4 player games with some Bluetooth controllers$23.99
TOTAL$944.28

Building Process

Here are the steps I took to build my cabinet and some pictures to help along the way, the main thing to remember is to take your time and have fun, double check everything before you do it…

  1. Unpack your cabinet and make sure you have all the pieces and a basic understanding of what they are.

2. Lay one of the sides on the floor (on a blanket) and put in each of the support beams to make sure you have them in the correct places, once you are certain use the wood glue to glue them in place.

3. Lean the sides up against the glued in support beams and make sure you know which parts go where, once you are certain you can start to screw them in place

4. Continue assembly until you have completed the shell of the cabinet

5. As this is MDF and the paint loves to soak into the wood I put a couple of layers of primer on the unit, I also took the time to sand the unit down to ensure everything was smooth before applying the last coat of primer.

6. As I knew I would be moving the cabinet a few times and didn’t want it being fragile or hard to move I added some lockable wheels to the bottom

7. Next I used a roller and paint brush to paint the cabinet in black, this would make sure that if I had any issues with my end artwork it would be a black undercoat and wouldn’t show wood underneath, it also covers the edges if you are not going to use T Molding.

8. Onto the fun part… the Artwork. I wanted a Tron Legacy theme for my cabinet, the cabinet maker is very protective over his template measurements so I took a measurement and produced my own measurements (make sure you measure yourself), I sent these off to Fiverr and gave them a brief on how I wanted my artwork designed.

9. The artwork came back in super fast time and after a few revisions it was exactly what I wanted, I took the raw files and found somewhere local to me that could print them on the following Material: 3M IJ35 Laminate: 3M 8510 Matte, I did this to support local businesses during this tough time and also to ensure I could ask questions about the process as this was my first time. I used Cattos Graphics who were super helpful and took me through every step of the way and a few revisions of what I needed to ensure it was 100% correct. The basic artwork I received would look like this in a mock up of the final version:

10. Once the artwork arrived I set about taking each piece of the cabinet off one by one and slowly applying the artwork, the kind of material I used meant it was best applied to a dry finish, I took my time, had an extra person help me hold it as I moved down and pushed out the air bubbles out, i then went around the edges with the my advice: watch youtube videos and take your time!

11. Ultimately it starts to look awesome

12. Until you have the entire cabinet covered

13. Next you can start to attach the joysticks and buttons, this was fairly straight forward, they normally come with instructions and most have a wiring diagram and plug straight into the USB of your compute device

14. The compute is obviously down to you, the easiest route for me was to use something that was heavily supported, low cost, easy to setup and compatible with the systems I wanted to emulate, this ultimately ended up being a Raspberry Pi 3, there are hundreds of preconfigured images and RetroPie configurations ready for you to choose from, a great getting started page is on their site here.

15. Next I chose to add some speakers and a small AMP to the system to get better sound than the TV speakers could provide

16. I purchased some Perspex from the local hardware store and a scoring knife, score it enough times and it makes a nice tidy cut through the Perspex until it fits for the marquee sticker to go on and also for in front of the TV with the bezel sticker on it to hide the outside of the TV and the gaps down the side.

And finally you can plug it all in, turn it on and enjoy the nostalgia of playing the old games from your childhood… well thats if you are as old as me.

The Final Result

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