Introduction: Furniture Grade Cocktail Arcade Cabinet

About: I'm an industrial designer and inventor. I make furniture, decorative boxes, and other fun stuff in my free time.

I'm a product designer, videogame geek, and apartment hobbyist. I got bitten by the MAME arcade bug, and needed to get a wedding present for my friends Dorothy and Arvon, so I decided to design and construct an arcade cabinet that would be unobtrusive and could hopefully become a family heirloom.

Using the cocktail arcade form factor, I focused on simple, classic games like Pac-Man and Galaga which are displayed in portrait mode on screen. Sticking to these classic games also limited the complexity of the interface, meaning I could go with a simple 4 way joystick, a trackball, a couple of play buttons, and some menu buttons. While I wanted to go simple and elegant, I also wanted it to be versatile and upgradeable. My version only has 2 play buttons, but are arranged so that 4 more could easily be added, and the trackball makes running a jukebox or GUI pretty simple.

The styling I chose for the cabinet is meant to evoke the WHOPR computer from "War Games" and still feel like a piece of furniture. The wooden sides are slatted to allow for air circulation and as a place to mount the speakers. The shelf surrounding the monitor cabinet is there to add space under the glass for the controls and act as a shelf for little Japanese toys and trinkets. The sides and back of the unit are fairly plain since it's probably going to end up living out it's days as an end table.

This instructable is meant to be a record of how I made the cabinet, it is NOT meant to be about making a MAME computer ( although I do include the parts I used ) The resource I used for setting up the electronics was "Project Arcade: Build your own Arcade Machine Machine" by John St. Clair available from amazon.

This entire project was built in a messy corner of my tiny studio apartment, and cost around $600, but I did use my office's drill press, band-saw, spindle sander, and belt/disc sander mainly for working on the aluminum components. I also "farmed out" the production of the sticks to my dad who has a table saw. It should be noted that all my dimensions are in inches and the dimensions I give for the pine wood pieces in the materials section are 1/4 to 1/2 inch over in terms of width and 1/4 in thickness. This is just how their lumber is marked. The original design was created in SolidWorks.

Step 1: Parts

Scrounged Components:
power supply
motherboard (I recommend epia mini-itx, which have built in sound + video)
video card
sound card
monitor (I used a 17 inch CRT)
hard drive
power strip
slot loading combo drive ( not scrounged )

joystick ------------------------50-6084-1125R----23.55
trackball ----------------------56-0300-10----------161.40
microswitch button (x2)---49-0577-00----------0.91
momentary button (x3)----58-9100-L------------2.25
shielded speakers (x2)---50-9005-00----------11.25

McMaster Carr:
36 x 40 x 1/16 perforated aluminum----9232T171-----57.12
24 x 12 x 1/8 aluminum sheet------------88685K16-----31.36
36 x 2 x 1/8 aluminum strip---------------9134K132-----27.62
brass screws---------------------------------92114A110----3.40
adhesive backed felt------------------------8764K3--------21.08
1 1/2 dia aluminum rod--------------------9038K2---------6.40
stainless steel push button--------------???
3/8 inch dia aluminum tube--------------???

One Day Glass:
1/4" solar gray, 24"x24" pencil grind edge,
custom cut 2" radius on corners, no temper clamp marks----26.00

Home Depot:
24 x 48 x 3/4 inch thick plywood sheet
12 x 72 x 1 inch clear pine
10 x 72 x 1 inch clear pine
4 x 72 x 1 inch clear pine (x3)
3/4 inch square clear pine for 50 sticks
black paint
black primer spray paint
spray lacquer (clear)
mahogany stain
1 1/4" Sheetrock screws
wood glue
wood putty
Clear glass table top bumpers

Step 2: Tools

japanese pull saw
1/2" chisel
block plane
cordless drill
circular saw
jig saw
dremel cutoff disc
random orbit sander
quickgrip clamps
circle cutter drill bit
1 1/4" paddle bit
1/2" and smaller twist drills
soldering iron
carpenters square
drill press
metal file
2 foot length of 2 1/4 dia black steel gas pipe
spindle sander*
table saw*
band saw*
standing belt/disc sander*
staple gun*
biscuit jointer*
double sided tape*
spring clamps*
* optional

Step 3: Part Dimensions

bottom-----------------------22.5 x 22.5 ( with 1 1/8 inch radii )
front face---------------------18.5 x 17.73
back face---------------------18.5 x 18.5
front side (x2)--------------( see drawing )
back side (x2)-------------15 x 4
back shelf------------------( see drawing )
shelf (x2)--------------------( see drawing )
box side long (x2)---------18.5 x 3.5
box side short (x2)-------17 x 3.5
box top long (x2)-----------18.5 x 3.75
box top short (x2)----------11 x 2
brace--------------------------17 x 1.5 ( 10 deg angle planed along the edge )
triangle (x8)-----------------( see drawing )
sticks (x50+)----------------3/4 x 18.3

Step 4: Preparing the Pieces

For the base, you can probably get them to cut the 24 x 48 inch piece of plywood in half with their panel saw at the store before you check out and then trim it to a more exact dimension when you get home. I used my cordless circular saw and trimmed off the corners with a jigsaw.

To make the front and back parts you will need to glue up 2 12 inch wide pieces. I didn't have any long pipe clamps, so I pressed them together by hand, stapled across the joint, and then put a heavy weight on top of the drying piece. If you've got a biscuit joiner, use it! This worked out pretty well since later on they both get a brace somewhere across the grain and the joint. You might notice that there's not quite enough wood to make up boards of the exact length after taking the saw's kerf into account. Don't worry - the front gets 10 degrees trimmed off later and both pieces can be up to a 1/4 inch too short before anyone will notice.

From the 10 inch wide board you should cross cut off enough to make the 2 front side pieces and then you can rip the remainder down to make the back sides and top sides. The rest of the pieces can be cross cut to length and then ripped or planed to the correct width later. Some pieces need very specific notches and radii to be cut so that the pieces will fit together. Look to the provided measured drawings for proper dimensions.

--- EDIT ---
I've added a second layout image so you can see how to get the needed parts from two 2x4' 3/4" thick MDF sheets (medium density fiber). This will make the unit very heavy, but is a cheaper and simpler way of building an arcade cabinet. If I was going to mass produce them, this is how I'd go :)

Step 5: Creating Sub Assemblies

There are 3 sub assemblies which should be completed before the final cabinet assembly. The front assembly consists of the front piece, the 2 front side pieces, and the brace. The back assembly consists of the back, the 2 back side pieces, and the back shelf. The notches on the back shelf should face towards the front. The monitor cabinet is made from the 2 long box sides, the 2 short box sides, the top long pieces and the top short pieces.

I didn't use any fasteners, just wood glue and clamps so far - the glue joints are pretty long and not under any major stresses. If you feel like you need stronger joints, you can just add square strips which will add glue area or you can screw into these pieces and avoid having to screw directly into the edge of the boards.

Step 6: Assembly

I used 20 1 1/4 inch sheet rock screws and 5 minute epoxy to mate the sub-assemblies. 3 screws go up through the bottom into the side pieces and 2 go down through the side shelves. The monitor cabinet is not mechanically attached to the rest of the unit, but it will cover the 8 screws going through the side shelves. It's best to store the whole thing upside down until you install the casters. The front and back skirts are not terribly strong.

In order to mount the CRT into the monitor cabinet, I stacked up 2 triangle pieces in each corner and trimmed them to position the screen as close as possible to the top surface of the table. I epoxied up each triangle pair with the grain running in opposite directions before trimming them to the correct thickness. After the triangles are installed into the monitor cabinet, you have at least 2 inches of wood to screw into to mount the CRT.

Step 7: Painting

Wood putty, sand and paint the whole thing. Use the best process you're comfortable with because the look we're after is lacquered wood, which I don't really know how to do :P
Stain the 50 square sticks red.

Step 8: Metal

I used my cordless circular saw to cut the perforated aluminum sheet in half and some 2 1/4" black steel gas pipe clamped to a table to bend it to match the radii on the shelf and bottom parts. Positioning the bends the correct distance apart is pretty important - one end should just touch the front side and then once the 2 bends are made, you can trim off the excess on the back side. The perforated sheet's top and bottom edges have a small border with no perforation - position this on top.

You can use some heavy card to make templates of the screen surround pieces and then cut them out on the band-saw. the corners of these pieces are mitered an then force fit into place.

Use the circular saw or band-saw to cut out the 2 control plates. For the upper game control plate, choose the number of buttons you think you'll need and cut them on the drill press. I used a paddle bit for the 1 1/4 inch game buttons, but that was pretty nasty. Using the circle cutter was just as bad, but try using some lubricant to cool the metal and keep the cutters from sticking. I used the circle cutter only to cut the track ball, and ring holes. The outside of the ring was cut out on the band-saw. All the other holes are done with traditional twist drills. The most difficult part of shaping the aluminum is cutting the disc slot. I masked off the area with lots of masking tape to protect the surface in case my hand slipped and then cut the slot with a dremmel cut off wheel. I then cleaned up the slot and other holes with a metal file.

The knob is made by squaring up the ends of the rod with a file or disc sander. Centering the axle of the knob is extremely difficult without a lathe, but I got as close as I could and then trimmed the existing edges of the knob on the sander to make it concentric. With the axle (3/8 inch aluminum tube) installed I mounted the knob in the drill press and held the metal file against the corner to grind the chamfer. Then I notched out the hash marks with a file.

Neaten up the edges so you won't cut yourself on anything and get the faces to the point where you're happy with how they look. Glue the ring to the front plate with epoxy or super glue, using the knob to help center it. To keep dirt and fingerprints off the raw aluminum, coat them with clear lacquer spray. Coat the perforated sides with black primer spray.

Step 9: Component Installation

Assemble the monitor cabinet by screwing the CRT into the triangles and applying strips of felt to the bottom of the box.

To assemble the side panels, you'll need to find the center and screw on the first stick. Make sure it's vertical, because this is where the rest will be positioned from. To correctly space the sticks, I made 2 spacers by taping a 3/8 inch stack of pennies together and then clamped the next stick in place. Now you can screw through the holes in the perf, but make sure they're positioned away from where the sides will touch the side shelves and bottom part. When you get to the bends in the metal, you'll probably need to plane off the corners of the sticks to make them fit correctly. The speakers are just screwed through the same perf holes and into the sticks.

Cut a slot in the front where you want the disc drive and front control panel. Make the slot so that the slim drive fits snugly and then use a dead CD to help position the control panel. Make sure the CD doesn't rub on the edges of the slot so you don't scratch up all your discs. Mark the position of the buttons, knob, LCD, and bolt holes and then drill. Now you can bolt on the front control plate. To connect the knob to my amplifier, I crushed the aluminum tube axle a bit and then pushed it over the amp's knurled axle. There is a layer of felt on the back of the knob to keep the aluminum surfaces from grinding.

The way I built the main control panel was probably not the best, but I didn't want to have bolt heads interrupting the clean metal face, so I epoxied the joystick and trackball in place. You'll also want to put a strip of felt on the top edge of the front assembly, where the panel rests on the body.

The last step is to punch a hole in the bottom large enough to pass the power strips cord through. The only part I'm skipping over is the shelf I installed inside to hold my amplifier, which is way too hardware specific to cover here.

Step 10: Final Assembly

To attach the side panels to the body, I used the same brass screws that hold the sticks on. Make sure all your electrical connections are good and everything is glued or screwed in place. The front control panel is bolted on and the game control panel is wedged in place between the 2 side shelves. The last step is sticking on the 4 clear rubber bumpers which the glass top rests on.

Now your cabinet is ready to play!

Step 11: 1 Year Look Back

So on a wintery February night I delivered the cabinet to Arvonn and Dorothy, who were ecstatic. Arvonn is a huge geek and immediately stripped it down and installed his own build of linux . Later while moving across the country or playing with the hardware, the CRT broke and was replaced with a cheap LCD, so now when they want to play, they remove the glass table top, and tip the monitor cabinet up on it's side. They were having trouble with the LCD's viewing angle distorting colors and the smoked glass blocking too much light.

Looking at the comments in the instructable, I've decided to add some ways of making the whole thing a little simpler. First off, the whole thing is much easier to build if you use MDF instead of pine. I've added an image showing the layout on page 4, but it's reproduced here as well. Second, one of the most annoying parts of construction was accurately building the side covers - it is pretty much totally unnecessary to use the perforated metal. Just make two curved end braces per side. Thirdly, I wish I had put some hinges on the thing. Right now the sides are screwed on and the top just sits there. You'd need to find some of those "European" kitchen cabinet hinges which have a virtual axle. Along with that you could put some desk braces on the lid to make the cabinet adjustable.

The finished product is a little larger than I'd like, but works very well. If I was to make it again I'd try to make it more modular and upgradable. Technology is always going to move forward, and it would be great to be able to take advantage of it. Also - make sure to get samples of all the buttons you want to use - button feel can really vary and the ones I chose for the top 3 feel really crappy :(

Step 12: Extra Photos

These are just some extra photos for the Instructables book contest.

The Instructables Book Contest

Participated in the
The Instructables Book Contest