How to Build Your Own Tabletop Arcade Cabinet and Het You Back in the 80s

Introduction: How to Build Your Own Tabletop Arcade Cabinet and Het You Back in the 80s

Are you like me, and you really loved arcade games back in the 80s and 90s, you might want to look at this guide on how I created my own bartop arcade cabinet.

Step 1: The 2008 Project

It all started in 2008, I bought a second hand arcade cabinet, and i wanted to convert it to a MAME cabinet. With not too much resources I got a protoype working. But it had a lot of issues,

  • the screen was too small,
  • no stickers, and they were very expensive back then
  • it took up too much space.

You see some picture of that project. Button assembly, Back of the cabinet, with the computer, screen, and tools Also there with Mame loaded on a Windows XP. It was a first try, it worked kindoff, but it contained a very old PC. It was hardly ever used, took up too much space and upgrading to a better version would cost too much. So it ended it with the trash. By now I regret that I did that, because if I had the resources and tools and knowledge, and low prices of screens 10 years later, I could convert it to a large version.

Step 2: The 2020 Project, Plan I

Then came 2020, corona hit the world, and we ended up staying at home, so I again started to build a new cabinet. It would be a better and improved version. Times changed a lot in 10 years, it is easier to get electronics from all over the world. We have raspberry pi's instead of full blown pcs, software had got better. Stickers could be made by my wife who has a silhouette, wood could be carved because she has a flux beamo laser cutter, I own 2 3D printers, so I got into it.

For plan 1 the idea was to carve the body from 5 mm plywood, and use the laser cutter to make the wooden panels, but after i started prototyping i found some limitations, it can only do up to 30cm, so i would end up with a minitature cabinet. Below are pictures of the prototype of the controller section for that plan. So this plan was discarded rather soon.

Step 3: The 2020 Project, Plan II

So then came plan 2, I had already ordered some of the electronics, so I really wanted to build one. And I found this guide on this site

I have used this guide mainly for the construction, but the electronics I did rather freestyle. I went to the local hardware store, bought a large sheet of 8 mm plywood and let them cut my panels into squares to the measurements in the guide from instructables.

Step 4: Carpenting and Construction

See the previous instructables for information, and use some imagination.

The curves on the side are done with a 'wipzaag' or a tiling saw I think it's called in english, make sure your blades are sharp.

Use wood glue and a nail gun, those nails have no large tip, so you do not have to sand them out later, try to make a construction, so that not too much screws/nails end up on the visible surfaces Also add in some larger 4x4 or 2x4 what you call them in English 😀 to have a solid construction Also make sure that the sheet where the buttons are in is very well supported with some left over wood, when you will be playing with the cabinet, you mostly rest your hands and bash on the buttons, so you want to make that very solid.

On a drawing of the inside in a later step you will see how I handled that.

On the side, you make 2 panels, and put something in between, so you can fit the T mold later, I re-used some iron L shapes that were lying around The oudside panels of the side are glued to, so you have no screws/nail tips ticking out.

The marquee, take your time to get that together, if you are like me, NOT a carpenter it is not that easy. It took me several days of putting it together.

On the picture in the paint step you see that i reinforced the marquee with some L brackets, again left over from ikea cabinets that I had lying around. A big TIP, ikea leftovers or other leftovers, keep them, at some point in time they can become very handy.

Do not underestimate the marquee, I added a lightstrip that works on music into it, and it really gives that arcade feeling.

Step 5: Prepare and Base Paint

Before adding the paint, I sanded all the surfaces so they are very smooth.

Before painting, use transparant silicone to in all corners to have a nice transition I added the door in the back, also the marquee is some freestyle that differs from instructables. On this picture you see the L brackets in the marquee.

Then added the white base layer, it was just painted with some regular white paint I had leftover. I gave it 2 coatings of base paint, so all the little imperfections are hidden.

Step 6: Finish Paint Layer

Painting the final layer. I added a black mat paint, with a spray can. That was not so easy I must say, as It was the first time I used it for such large surfaces.

Step 7: Assembly Time


Then I moved from the outside, it was a nice summer this year in Belgium but then it was time to go inside in my mancave/office. First thing to do was to glue the T moldings.

Here i added the moldings, in this picture they are not yet glued. But just measured.

T mold In this picture they are glued and the buttons are in, buttons are the hard part, a lot of wire and not that much space. I used this kind of glue (PATEX) for that job since you are gluing wood onto plastic. And the T molding are very sturdy so take your time for that job. You can use painters tape to hold them down, but that can damage your paint work.

T mold finished & buttons added Earlier I mentioned the reinforcement of the buttons panel, this you can see nicely on the picture below. Now wiring up the buttons is not that easy job, A lot of wire in a small space, and to hook up the inside of the button into the button itself can be tricky. You need to push it up and then give it a little twist so it clicks into the plastic button, but it can be a pain sometimes, because one button then released the next, so again take your time for it.


Hook up all the buttons into the breadboard that come with the kit, and then you have a generic USB joystick interface. I have a 8 button setup, there were more supplied, but this was sufficient.

The 2 buttons in the front I map later to SELECT & START, for Mame this means inserting a coin and playing. And then I still have 6 buttons for gaming, that is for most of the games sufficienct in my mind. When this is done i used a tool on my mac to check if all buttons were working and in the correct order and place. It is called controllers lite, you connect the usb from the button bread board to your mac, and start clicking and the tool indicates which button is being pressed. You see the button number, so the 2 on the front are 1 and 2 Then the first row is 3,4,5 And the second row is 6,7,8 You can see that nicely in that tool. If you later on start your PI, you can configure those buttons

Step 8: Mini Computer Part I

Then i started to add my monitor, the first one I tried was broken, you see also on the right a small lcd hdmi monitor (from plan 1), that was the original plan for the small version.

But i found it too small for a double player setup. Also here is a tip, i made the screen fit the wood panel, and constructed everything, but then I ended up with another monitor not fitting that gap, you can see that in later picture. A better solution was a larger gap, and then make some plastic to fit around your monitor, but I will get around that one time.

And now a first picture behind the screens of my first setup. The blue box is not the raspberry pi but an orangepi lite, but it was not strong enough for powering everything, so that is why i switched to a rapsberry PI4, a really strong machine. It looks far from cable porn but that is for later 😁.

You see the inside of the first attempt. But already from that setup, i could play Soccer Brawl on Mame, yezzzzz, by this stage I was already head in the clouds with what I did.

Then i replaced the screen with the dell monitor you see below, and I gave killer instinct a go, it worked but hardly playable.

You also see the first version of the marquee. There is a light strip that is music controlled behind it. In my final movie you will see that is a nice touch. By now it was mid september, and then I started to look for stickers.

Step 9: Stickers

And now we wait for stickers :D, they arrived and were too small, but again some freestyle and i cut them in half and added the retropie logo myself. And then they had a nice fit.

But the marquee is still looking funny so i need to adjust that. Here is a picture of the back and inside, cable porn needs to be done, and also the screen needs better fitting.


Here is a picture of the inside, actually is it not that hard, i tried to make everything modular, so that it is easy replaceable later.

So to the PI is connected

  • USB: 2x joysticks
  • USB: 1 external keyboard
  • USB: 1 mouse mini hdmi, then a mini hdmi to hdi converter, linked to the screen (try to find and old minitor with a digital input)
  • mini USB: power the raspberry PI
  • mini jack: goed to the amplifier
  • ether net cable

The amplifier

  • 2 cables for the speaker (regular speaker cable)
  • 1 cable for the woofer (not seen on this picture)
  • 1 cable soldered to usb for power Power extension

The power divider

  • 1 for the monitor
  • 1 dedicated USB for the raspberry PI
  • 2 splitter USB for the light strip and the amplifier
  • 1 spare

Step 10: Bill of Material

Step 11: Support Me

If you like this guide and you wan't to support me, buy me a coffee: , you will find my other hobby there 3D printing.

Or drop me a message here or on any social platform. I am not that hard to find

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    1 year ago

    Nice, these are so much fun. Well done on yours!