Introduction: Custom Bartop Arcade Cabinet

Hello and thank you for checking out my first Instructable on how to build a custom bartop arcade cabinet! Arcades have really started making a comeback as we get older and want to enjoy some nostalgic retro gaming. It makes for a great opportunity to create something that you can proudly show off to your friends, guests, and kids!

I personally find it much easier to learn from watching "How To" videos, instead of reading; so I have created three videos that document my steps, what I learned, and how you can make one for yourself!

As a quick note, I am only demonstrating construction and installation. I will not discuss how to set up your Raspberry Pi. Mostly because there are plenty of other YouTube videos that can show you that step!

Enjoy and please let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything from the videos that I can make more clear!


Parts List:

First off, you can find all of the parts that I bought here in this Google Drive link (Please note that you will not need everything on this list, it is up to your own judgement):

Tool List

  • Measuring Devices
  • Band Saw
  • Table Saw
  • Jig Saw
  • Router with a 1" flush cut bit and chamfer bit
  • Paddle (Spade) or Forstner Drill Bits
  • Hole Saw
  • Drill
  • Utility Blade
  • Hot Glue
  • Wood Glue
  • Wood Filler
  • Nail Gun
  • Wood Clamps
  • Wire Strippers
  • Solder and Soldering Gun
  • Rubber Roller
  • Wood File
  • Spray Paint
  • Sanding Block

Step 1: Watch and Learn!

Before you begin reading, I've made it easier on you by making videos! However, if reading is more of your thing, continue on to Step 2!

Step 2: Plan Out Your Design

  1. Before I get too far into things, one of the coolest parts about the arcade project is that the dimensions are very flexible you don’t have to stick to anything you see specifically on the internet. That being said, do some research before starting to see what might meet your needs. I am designing things based off exactly what I want to fit inside of it.

  2. This entire cabinet was made out of 1/2" MDF, but you have other options. 3/4" MDF will be a heck of a lot more durable, but will also add a LOT of weight to your finished cabinet. Nice plywood is also a viable option and can be cheaper and lighter.

  3. After you find what you would like, either print out the profile to scale and trace it onto your MDF, or use some measuring tools to draw it out as I did.

  4. Very carefully cut it out with a jig saw. Take your time to get nice straight lines and please use a mask when cutting MDF, the dust is very fine and not safe to be breathing. Always use the proper safety equipment. I then did some rough sanding to straighten out my cuts as needed.

Step 3: Making the Other Side

  1. Now instead of repeating the previous step to create the other side, we can use the original as a template and a flush cut router bit to make things easier.
  2. Flip over your MDF and place your template beneath it, being sure to clamp it down to the table with the bottom and backside edges flush. take your time with the router, and again, wear a mask.

Step 4: Add a Slot

  1. Next I used a special slot cutting routing bit to cut around the edges of my sides so that I can later add t-molding. This will give the edges a nice finished, professional arcade look.

Step 5: Create the Bracing

  1. I then used some scrap 3/4” MDF and cut some 3/4x3/4 strips that I will later use as braces when assembling the cabinet.
  2. From there, grab some wood glue and your nail gun
  3. I spread glue on one piece and then used a clean piece as a spacer, that way I would know that the one I nailed down was exactly 3/4 from the edge. Then pull the clean one away.
  4. Once finished, it should roughly like mine in the picture. Do not worry if both sides are perfectly symmetrical because you will not see them when the cabinet is finished. You do, however, need to be certain that they are all the exact same distance from the parallel edge.

Step 6: Cut the Top and Bottom

  1. I decided the width of the base would be 22 inches, which means everything like controller board, tv frame, and marquee will also be 22” wide.
  2. I then lined up the 22” strip with bottom of the cabinet and marked how long I wanted it to be. I did not use an exact dimension, I just eyeballed what looked right.
  3. After that, I decided how long to make the roof and cut that out as well.
  4. Then using some wood glue and my nail gun I attached the bottom, top, and other side. One of the best parts of using the braces is that they allow you to drive most of your nails from the inside, leaving the outside clean and free of holes.

Step 7: Making the Front Panel and Control Board

  1. Next we will create the lower front face of the cabinet, the surface that you see right under the control board.
  2. Using a piece of scrap, I traced out the angle of the brace in order to represent where the controller board would sit. I then marked how tall I could make my strip without interfering with the controller board.
  3. I then cut my strip and glued and nailed it into place.
  4. From there, I roughly measured out how long to make the controller board. When finished, the controller board will actually tuck under the tv frame, so it doesn’t really matter if you make the size perfect. I found that 9" was just right.
  5. Then once again, I used my router and slot cutting bit to cut a slot across the front of the control board for future t-molding.

Step 8: Bottom of the Marquee

  1. Next to make the bottom part of the marquee, I did a bit of measurement to make sure that it was exactly parallel to the top of the cabinet.
  2. I then carefully glued and nailed this into place while staying on the line. This was tricky because I did not use a brace here.
  3. I didn't use a brace here because on a previous arcade I built, you could see the silhouettes of the braces through the marquee plexiglass.
  4. In this circumstance, I did need to nail this into place from the outside of the cabinet but it later cleaned up nicely with some wood filler. With that installed, the arcade is really taking shape!

Step 9: Making the Marquee Frame

  1. I then cut out a strip that is going to frame the marquee after the middle has been removed.
  2. Use some 3/4 inch strips and nail them around the edge of the frame. I did not use glue because I want to pull them off when I am done since all they are doing is acting as a guide for my router.
  3. Unfortunately, I did lose the picture of this step, but all you need to do is flip it over and use a flush cut router bit on the inside to create the frame.
  4. I also used a chamfer bit to give the edge a nice looking finish.
  5. I use this same method to create the monitor frame. So jump ahead to those pictures (step 11) if you are confused by how to rout the marquee frame.
  6. From there, attach the marquee frame with wood glue and the nail gun. This will create nail holes on the front face, so you will need to go back with wood filler.

Step 10: Creating the Monitor Frame

  1. I then measured out how tall the monitor frame should be and I believe it came out to about 19”.
  2. But Before I cut it out, I dropped my table saw blade to about 45 degrees. I cut it this way in order to make a clean seam where the frame meets the control board. The angle doesn’t need to be perfect since it can’t be seen from the outside.
  3. Next, take your time as you plan and measure out your screen. It needs to be dead center from left to right and the space you cut out needs to be exactly the same size as your screen (not counting the bezel).

Step 11: Cut Out the Screen Area

  1. After that, I drilled a hole in the screen area so I could do a rough cut out of the area. I will then come back with my router for my finish cuts.
  2. I used the same technique from the marquee to nail in some guiding supports, then flush cutting with my router.
  3. Just like the marquee, I am using a 45 degree chamfer bit to give the front a more finished look.

Step 12: Make the Speaker Holes

  1. Throughout the rest of the steps, you are going to see that I have parts in various stages of primer and paint. I didn’t want to film all of that because it is really up to you on when and how you paint each part. I do recommend that if you use spray paint like I did, make sure everything is laying out flat so you don’t get any dripping.
  2. Next, I measured out where I wanted to put my speaker. Use you own judgement here because like I’ve said, these designs are very flexible. Ive seen speakers in many different places on arcades. I then used a hole saw bit to make my cut.
  3. I then used the same 45 degree chamfer bit on the outside of the hole to give it a nicer finish and I thought the conical shape could also help with sound.

Step 13: Back to the Contoller Board

  1. Now for the control board, I just went to Google and typed in arcade control board layout, and a lot of different options came up. Then just print one out that you like, do a bit of measuring, and tape in place on your board.
  2. I then used my stabby punch awl to mark the center of each button. Dont forget that you will also need a start and select button for each player and you will probably need one more button to act as a hotkey when operating your raspberry pie.
  3. Next use a 1 and 1/8 paddle or forstner bit to drill all of your button holes. Also, it helps reduce blowout if you throw a piece of scrap wood underneath.
  4. Now for the joystick holes, you only need to use a 1” bit. If you go bigger than 1”, the joystick cover will most likely not cover the entire hole when the joystick is tilted in any direction.

Step 14: Marquee Lights

  1. Next, I cut out a piece of wood that will be the back of the marquee and where the LEDs will attach. You can see I cut out 3/4” squares out of the corners so it could fit over the braces inside of the cabinet, and I am also adding reflective tape to help disperse the light. I doubt the tape made a huge difference, but its worth a shot.
  2. Then choose a corner and drill a hole big enough for you to fit your LED power cable through.
  3. Now most LED strips come in a roll and have labeled spots where you can cut the strip. Lay it out and cut your strips to length. I used three strips, but you can use more if you need to.
  4. From there, you may need to expose the copper leads before you can solder. These strips are water proof, so they have a plastic coating that needs removed.
  5. You then need to solder the end of each strip together, positive to positive and negative to negative. After that, use some hot glue to cover up your solder points, this will make things a lot more durable and keep things from accidentally coming loose.
  6. Set the light board aside for now.

Step 15: Prepare the Monitor Frame and Controller Board for Installation

  1. Next, on the back of the monitor frame, I measured out a spot for 3 screw holes so I can later attach the frame to the braces beneath.
  2. In the past, I glued the frame in place, which can make it nearly impossible to make any future modifications or fixes if something were to break.
  3. This is especially important for the control board because if you are going to any issues, it will probably be with your button connections. So you need to make those easy to access.

Step 16: Mount Your Monitor or TV

  1. Now the next step is one of the toughest parts, and that is trying to get your monitor screen perfectly aligned with your frame.
  2. I really don’t have any great advice other than maybe taping it in place before using glue and nails. I just used a bit of measurement and trial and error before bracing the tv at the top bottom and sides. If you can think of a better technique please let me know. But at least for now, this worked.
  3. I then cut some blocks that are the exact same height as the back of the tv, and I am going to use that to run a board across the back to hold it in place.
  4. But before I can do that, I need to figure out where exactly the mounting holes are on the back of the tv. So I just poked some holes through a piece of paper and used a ruler to make a square.
  5. Next I grabbed some scrap that I knew was wide enough to cover the screw holes on the TV. Then I used a square to get that square nice and square.
  6. Then use a punch awl to mark where your screws will go.
  7. I then used some spare screws that came with a previous TV mount I bought, because if you have ever bought a TV mount before, you’ll know that it comes with a bunch of spare screws.
  8. Now these screws were too tall, but it doesn’t really matter because they are only there to hold everything center.

Step 17: Mounting Continued

  1. I popped the tv back into place and used a pencil to mark where that back support met the supports underneath it. I later cut the excess off on the bandsaw.
  2. I then carefully drilled some pilot holes to the supports underneath so I can attach it with screws.
  3. I am using screws instead of glue and nails because I want to be able to remove curtain parts if they ever break, you will see me do this a lot with the internal components of the cabinet.
  4. Once the TV/monitor is secured, you can remove it to finish painting the frame.

Step 18: Make a Handle

  1. Here I have cut out a strip that will be the top of the back side of the cabinet when it is finished.
  2. I am measuring out a spot for a handle right in the center. However, I might recommend that you put in two handles instead, one near each side. The final cabinet was bit too big to make any good use of this center handle.
  3. Take your time with your measurements so that your handle is exactly where you want it.
  4. From there, neatly cut out that rectangle with the jig saw.

Step 19: Add Spots for Power and Switches

  1. Now I’ve switched to what will become the bottom panel on the backside of the cabinet, and I have two switches and an HDMI port that I’d like to install.
  2. So once again, use some measuring skills to draw your cutouts and take it back to the jig saw.
  3. The hdmi port only needs a neat 1” circle.
  4. While I had my 1” bit out, I also drilled a hole near the corner of one side of the cabinet so I can later add a usb cable for easy access. However, I did not pay attention to what was on the other side and ended up drilling into the half of the brace underneath, which was a pain to drill through.

Step 20: Finish the Bottom

  1. The next thing I did is flip the cabinet over and drill in the feet where I wanted them using some simple wood screws.
  2. I then drilled a 5/8 hole in the corner that I could run LEDS up through. These strips are more convenient than those used in the marquee because they already came in two individually wired strips because they are actually meant to be attached to the back of a TV. So no soldering required here.
  3. In hindsight, I probably would have used two more strips in order to get some brighter light, but it did the job.
  4. I then used some electrical tape to help manage the cables and I added some reflective tape to make the lights brighter.

Step 21: Prep Your Power Switches

  1. Now what I am about to show you is a solution to bit of a unique problem. When I tested out my raspberry pie and TV, I found that the TV would not find the PIE video signal if they were turned on at the exact same time. But if I turned on the TV first and then the pie, it worked.
  2. So I ended up cutting the pie's power cable in half and wiring it to its own switch. I will also say that the pie worked fine when I tested it with another computer monitor, so this problem might not apply to you.
  3. I then prepped the main power switch that we will use and will hook up to a power strip inside of the cabinet.
  4. Look at the picture to see which leads on the switch need connected together.
  5. The other spots will be hooked up later.

Step 22: Add the Buttons

  1. Now start installing buttons and joysticks from the underside.
  2. I am mounting the joysticks with half inch wood screws. You can also see that I have applied a decal here on the front.
  3. From there, go back and install all of the switches that attach to the buttons. I recommend that you face all of the leads to the outside so they are easier to wire up.
  4. You can then start attaching your wires to the controller circuit board.
  5. Then I just screwed the circuit board up under the control panel, out of the way of the buttons.

Step 23: Add the Vinyl Decals

  1. Now using some very basic photoshop skills, I was able to make this cool side decal and had it printed at a local sign shop.
  2. To apply it, I taped the bottom in place, then cut off some of the sticky back at the top, pressed that down, then removed the tape from the bottom and slowly unrolled the entire decal while using a rubber roller.
  3. Next, use a utility blade to trim your excess to fit.
  4. However, I’d recommend that instead of trimming right up to the edge, trim it maybe a quarter inch from the edge, that way you can fold it over and tuck it into the t-molding slot. Then once your t-molding is installed, the edges will look a bit nicer than mine did.

Step 24: Feed the USB Extension Through

  1. As I fed through my usb extension, I realized that the hole needed a bit of filing for a better fit. Instead, I tried to force it with a mallet and ended up breaking the top usb. Just file it, there was no need to rush.

Step 25: Add T-Molding

  1. I then started installing t-molding by first using a bit glue, then guiding the t-molding into place.
  2. I only needed the glue because my slot cutting bit was designed for 3/4” t-molding, so the 1/2” I have here was a bit loose.
  3. As you come to the corners of your cabinet you may have trouble bending the t-molding around sharp turns because of the spine on the back. So use a blade or snips to cut out a little notch in the spine to make those corners a lot easier.

Step 26: Finish the Marquee

  1. For the marquee, I carefully installed the plexiglass from the inside of the cabinet and I did not need to use anything to hold the glass in place.
  2. It happened to be such a tight fit that it stays on its own just fine.
  3. I then added the light board to the back side and just screwed in a small piece of scrap wood to hold it in place.

Step 27: Mount the Controller Board

  1. Now before I mount the control board you can see that in the bottom left, I have pulled my sound system volume controls through and will later mount that there for easy access using some double sided tape.
  2. Then I mounted the control board with some black finish screws using the holes I drilled earlier.

Step 28: Add the Speakers

  1. Now to mount the speakers on the back of the tv frame, you could use something like hot glue, but I wanted to be able to remove the speakers if I ever needed to.
  2. So instead, I used some velcro tape that can be easily pulled away if I ever need to fix something.

Step 29: Mount the TV and Speaker Grills

  1. Now just like before with the control board, we will carefully place in our monitor and mount it with some more black finish screws into our pre drilled holes.
  2. The speaker covers I bought came in two pieces, an outer ring, and the grill that goes in the middle.
  3. I used some painters tape to eye ball where the outer rings should go, then drilled some small pilot holes.
  4. I then added the grill and put them in place with some more finish screws.

Step 30: Add the Electronics

  1. Now the next step is to start cramming all of electronics and accessories into the back and hopefully make it look good as we do so.
  2. First up, you can mount your Raspberry Pie wherever you’d like, I put it right here in the center for easy access.
  3. Then with some glue and nails, I installed the lower back panel that I had previously precut the switch holes in.
  4. Next, chop off the end of a power strip and feed that through the hole from the inside.
  5. We can now wire that up to our flip switch. The green goes to the bottom. black to the middle, and white to the top.
  6. Next I took the two separated ends of the pie power supply and fed them through from the inside and wired those to our second flip switch. I then installed my hdmi port, if you are wondering why I used an hdmi port, skip to the end of the Part Three video above. I then added a usb bus to the power strip to power all of the LEDs.
  7. I then moved some wires around and stuffed in the sub woofer.

Step 31: Close Up the Back

  1. All we have to do now is finish up the back side!
  2. I mounted the top board that had the handle in it, and put in two smaller strips on the side.
  3. From there, cut yourself a door and screw in a handle.
  4. I then folded a few pieces of paper in half so I could make a gap to rest the door on before mounting the hinges. That little bit of lift will help eliminate any friction that might happen when opening and closing the door.
  5. Then I installed some hinges and added a sliding latch near the handle.
  6. Lastly, I added one more decal on to the front with my roller and that is it, its done!

Step 32: Enjoy!

Thank you so much for taking the time to learn something new! The world could use more designers, makers, and problem solvers like you! I hope you enjoyed your time and share your experiences with others!

-Thank You-

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