Introduction: DIY Retropie Arcade in a Fancy Wooden Box

About: Find me on YouTube and Instagram (@robertjkeller)!

Here's how I made this awesome little RetroPie arcade that just looks like a nice wooden box when it's not in use.

I'll cover everything in this tutorial except downloading/installing .rom files (the actual games). A quick Google search is all you need there.

I've also attached the YouTube tutorial I made for this project for your reference.

Let's get started.

Step 1: Required Electronic Components

For the electronics portion of this project, I used:

  • A Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
  • The standard Raspberry Pi Power Supply
  • 2 USB Super Nintendo-Style Controllers
  • The standard Raspberry Pi 7" Touchscreen
  • A 32gb microSD Card

Step 2: Installing RetroPie

RetroPie is a an excellent emulator sweet designed to run on the Raspberry Pi.

Begin by downloading the version of RetroPie that corresponds to your Raspberry Pi version here:

Next, you'll need an application that can burn the RetroPie image to your microSD card. I used Etcher-- it's free and available here:

Open Etcher, drag the RetroPie image into the application, select your microSD card, and click "Flash."

Once the image is burned to the card, insert the microSD card into the Raspberry Pi and power it on by plugging in the power supply. Let it run through its boot sequence. Once it's finished, plug in your USB controllers and follow the prompts to configure them to work with RetroPie.

Step 3: Attach the Raspberry Pi to the Screen

Use the 4 bolts included with the 7" touchscreen to attach the Raspberry Pi to the back of it. Don't over-tighten the bolts! Screwing the bolts in too far will drive them into the back of the screen and cause noticeable distortion.

Step 4: Creating the Sides of the Wooden Box

I used walnut for this box, but you can obviously use any wood of your choice.

Using a table saw, I ripped a 1/2 inch thick board down to 3 inches. This will end up being the depth of the box.

I then cut 2 pieces to 12 inches long and 2 pieces to 9 inches long, using 45 degree miters on the miter saw. I then used blue painter's tape to line up the 4 pieces and glue them together with regular wood glue.

After the glue dried, I undid all the clamps and used a rabbeting bit in my trim router to notch out a slot in the bottom of the box that the back with eventually fit inside.

Step 5: Filling Defects With Epoxy

The wood I used had quite a bit of wormholes and other imperfections in it, so I used epoxy resin to fill all those in. You may not need to do this depending on the condition of the wood you use.

Step 6: Reinforcing the Miter Joints With Dowels

I knew the corner joints of the box would be pretty weak without any kind of reinforcement, so I decided to add 2 dowels into each miter. I used a 1/4" oak dowel from Home Depot.

To ensure equal spacing of the dowels, I made a template with 2 1/4" holes in it. I made sure it was flush in the corner of each joint and marked the locations to drill the holes for the dowels.

At the drill press, I used a 1/4 forstner bit to drill out the holes.

I applied glue to each dowel, hammered them carefully into each hole, then trimmed them flush with a hacksaw blade (use a flush-cut hand saw for this if you have one).

Step 7: Making the Top of the Box

I used walnut and maple for the top of the box. I simply cut everything so that the top would be slightly oversized after gluing it up. I ran it through the planer to smooth it out, then clamped it in place on top of the box. Then I used a flush-trim router bit to trim it down to the exact size as the rest of the box.

I got some small hinges from the hardware store and taped them in place with blue painter's tape. Then I used a self-centering drill bit to pre-drill the holes for the screws before attaching them with the included screws.

Step 8: Cutting the Bottom and Main Panel

I used the box itself to trace the dimensions for the bottom and main panel onto 1/4" pine plywood. Then, I used the table saw to cut the panels to size by referencing the traced lines.

*The "main panel" is the panel that the screen and controllers will eventually be attached to.

Step 9: Making and Installing the Pivot Brackets

In order for the main panel to be able to pivot upward to a more comfortable viewing angle, I needed to make some brackets that would allow that motion to happen. I cut a hole into some scrap poplar, then used the miter saw to cut down the center of the hole, forming to brackets with a hemisphere removed from each.

I used wood glue to attach these brackets to the back of the main panel, then used epoxy to attach some washer to the brackets. In a later step, screws will be driven through these washers to attach the main panel to the box.

Step 10: Completing the Main Panel

I finished the main panel by removing areas for the Raspberry Pi, the 4 bolts that will attach the screen to the main panel, the 4 holes that will secure the controllers to the main panel, and 2 holes for the controller wires to feed through.

I secured the controllers in place with blue painter's tape, then flipped the main panel upside down. I used epoxy to attach magnets to the back of the controllers. By doing this through the back of the main panel while the controllers are taped in place, it ensures a nice even, symmetrical alignment of the controllers when they're stored on the main panel.

Step 11: Sanding

I used and orbital sander to sander everything with 80, 150, 220, then 320-grit sandpaper.

Step 12: Attaching the Main Panel to the Box

I cut 4 small pieces scrap wood to 1 inch high to act as spacers while attaching the main panel. I turned the box upside down, put the spacers in place, then put the main panel in place (upside down). I drove small wood screws through the bracket washers to secure the main panel to the box, ensuring that they were loose enough to allow the main panel to pivot freely.

Step 13: Installing Stops for the Main Panel

I drove 2 small finish nails into the top side of the box to ensure that the main panel would rest at a level attitude.

Step 14: Installing the Kickstand for the Main Panel

I drilled a hole through a small piece of scrap poplar and cut it to a length of about 5". I drove a screw through the hole and into the side of the box, ensuring that the kickstand was loose enough to move freely. Make sure that the length and location of the kickstand result in a viewing angle that you're comfortable with when the screen is raised.

Step 15: Steel Strips for the Controller Magnets

The magnets on the backs of the controllers need something to cling on to, so I epoxied some strips of steel behind the controller magnet holes. You could really use anything magnetic for this-- it won't be seen except through the small holes when the controllers are removed.

Step 16: Applying Finish

Apply the wood finish of your choice to the box/main panel. I used butcher block oil.

Step 17: Final Assembly

I fed the controller wires through the main panel and snapped the controllers into place. I then used 3mm bolts and some washers to attach the screen/Raspberry Pi to the main panel. Again, make sure not to overtighten, as the bolts might press against the back of the screen if you do.

Step 18: Attach the Back With Brad Nails

I attached the bottom of the box with some brad nails. I used them sparingly and didn't use glue in case I ever need to remove the backing for some reason.

Step 19: Enjoy!

That's it! Hope this was helpful, check out the video for a little more clarity on the process. Adios!