Introduction: X-men Arcade Machine

I built this "X-men" arcade machine with my daughter over the course of about two years (it shouldn't have taken that long).

It was a really fun project and we are extremely happy with the way it came out.

A few things about this instructable:

1) I'll be more precise with instructions for the actual building of the cabinet than I will be with some of the particulars regarding the internal electronics. I'll still have a lot to say, but since everyone will have a unique monitor they want to use, a unique sound card they'll want to scavenge, and varying degrees of skill in electrical work, so I'll be more broad in my instructions than elsewhere.

2) This cabinet can be used with a number of game systems. We chose an Original x-box, circa 2003, that we had been using as a multimedia center. We loaded Coinops7, an awesome arcade/home console emulator. It works great. You have other options, though, the biggest being MAME, which runs on a windows.

3) This project will take some thinking on your part. I'm going to show you how we did it. You'll need to work around the fact that you've decided on a different monitor, different PCB (joystick or whatever), or a radically different audio system.

4) We built this machine by looking around the internet, seeing different ideas, and then making our own design. If it looks like machines you've seen, that's because we saw those machines and wanted to copy them! None of what we did with this instructable would have been possible without all the work put into the hobby long before I came around. So thanks to everyone whose ideas we tried to emulate.

5) We didn't always remember to grab the camera. In some cases, you may see pictures that are slightly out of order--pieces that are already painted, parts that haven't been added, etc. That's because we went back and took pictures after-the-fact.

Have fun. We sure did. It's a great way to spend months of your life building a machine with less brains than your flip phone.

Step 1: Material and Tools

This is a list of all the materials and tools we used. You don't have to use them. Use your imagination!

(2-3) sheet (4x8) of 3/4" MDF or plywood. (I used plywood because it's lighter)

(1) sheet (4x8) of 1/8 plexiglass (also called lucite, acrylic, etc)

~40 ft of t-molding in the color of your choice.

(20) Happ arcade buttons

(2) Happ joysticks

(1) 18" fluorescent tube and fixture

(1) 2'x6" soffit vent cover

(4) corner angle brackets (optional)

~4 ft aluminum or steel angle iron (width is 3/4)

~50 softwood threaded inserts (1/4-20)

~10 Brass, Knife Threaded inserts, #4-40

~50 stainless flathead machine screws (1/4 20)

(1) 5 lb box of 1" wood screws

(1) 1 lb box of 4d finish nails

(1) single pole switch

(1) steel or plastic handy box

(1) set PC speakers (or two speakers and an amplifier)

(1) original xbox or pc

(1) monitor (I used a 22" VGA monitor, but an LCD or old tube TV would work, too)

(2) quarts of flat black paint

(1) tube black caulking



Circular saw

Jig saw

Drill and standard bits (1/8", 1/4" ,1")

1/16" slot cutter bit

Table saw (optional)

3" hole saw

Orbital sander (or just some sand paper)

Step 2: Cut Out the Two Side Walls

The two side walls of the machine were one of the most important parts of the project. We wanted them perfect.

Lay one sheet of plywood ("good" side up) on a table or saw horses and measure out the pattern.

We used a circular saw to cut the straight lines, being very careful not to go too far with the cuts. Bring the saw within an inch of the end of the line, otherwise, the circular saw blade will cut too far. You can finish the curved cuts with a jig saw.

The second side can be traced from the first. It's important that they are close.

Depending on how you want your machine to look, you can round off the sharp points with a jig saw, a router, or even sand them down. I'd say it's recommended because it will make it much easier to install the t-molding.

We cut the 12" hole in the side with the intention of buying speaker rings and installing them in front of the "X" artwork, like we'd seen other more talented guys do. We ended up scratching that because the rings were way too expensive. We are happy with the result, but the holes in the side of the cab are definitely optional.

We used a router to cut the hole, but I think a jig saw would work. It was not the easiest part of the build and you could easily ruin your side panel doing it, so beware.

Finally, use your router and 1/16" slot cutter to cut the slot in the side of the panels for the t-molding (pic #3). You also will need to run the slot cutter on the interior of the circle cut-outs (pic #4).

Step 3: Cut Out the Front Panel/coin Door

Measure and mark the plywood to cut out the front panel.

The inner dimensions are the cutout you insert the coin door into. YOURS COULD BE DIFFERENT.

You could also opt not to use a coin door. The one we used is just for show, it doesn't have a coin mech.

Step 4: Back Panel

Measure and cut the back panel.

Step 5: Cut Out the Front Speaker Panel

Measure and cut the front speaker panel. We cut one edge at a roughly 30 degree angle so we could add the piece of aluminum angle iron (pic #5). This will hold the plexiglass "sandwich" for your marquee. We put the piece on my table saw and "eyed" the cut to give me a kerf to stick the angle bracket into. We cleaned up the mess with bondo (GREAT STUFF) .Your mileage may vary.

Your hole size will depend on 1) your speakers 2) your speaker covers.

My speakers were about 3.5" across and my covers were around 4". I used a 3.25" hole saw.

A little trick: If you want your speakers evenly spaced, draw an "X" on the board, using the four corners as start points. Where the two lines intersect (the center of the X), draw a vertical line. You now have two perfect boxes. Use those boxes to draw two more X's. You now have two perfect center points to drill your holes. You can see our pencil lines in the second picture.

Step 6: Arcade Power

Measure and cut the power/sound control panel. I think it's wise not to cut out the spot for the light switch just yet. It will be easier once you have a solid plan on how you'll wire things.

Step 7: Marquee Top

The marquee top and the diagonal top (next step), fit together on an angle. I'll admit it (remember, you get what you pay for)-- I wasn't very scientific about it--We cut a roughly 25 degree angle in the first piece, then used that angle and a t-square to cut the second piece. What you want is a nice even joint on top. The bottom doesn't matter, it's inside the cabinet. All-in-all, no one, unless they are well over 6 and a half feet tall, is going to see it. Ours came out pretty good. The overall angle is about 24 degrees.

We used a 3 inch hole saw to cut three holes in the top. We then covered it with a soffit vent cover we got at the big box store. You could cut whatever you want on the top. I though it would be a good idea for it to top vent as we had no plan to install cooling fans.

We also cut holes in the bottom part of the cabinet (more later) to allow cool air to be sucked from the floor and out through the top of the cabinet.

Step 8: Control Panel Box

By far, the biggest challenge was the control panel. This is where we spent the majority of our time. First, the box to hold the joysticks and buttons. Cut (1) one front panel, (1) one back panel, (2) two sides, and (1) one bottom.

Each of the front, back, and two sides is miter cut at 45 degrees.

In the last picture you can see we cut small strips of plywood and used them as glue blocks to hold the corners and the bottom together. You can use small finish nails to hold it in place if you like, but we just clamped them together and waited for the glue to dry thoroughly.

Step 9: Control Panel Lid

We must've spent 75% of our time on the CP lid. I pulled the graphics from the internet. I managed to find a CP template somewhere (so long ago, I forget, but many thanks to whomever supplied it.)

We then learned a great deal about Adobe Photoshop. The graphics are up to you. This could be as easy as freehand drawing your button layout or as complicated as your imagination and patience will take you.

As for the actual wood work, we wanted to find a piece of wood just the right width so that it, plus a layer of plexiglass, would add up to the 3/4" we needed to make the t-moulding fit perfectly. So, 3/4" - 1/8" equals 5/8". You'd probably be amazed at how hard it was to find this width in any sort of small sized lumber. We finally resorted to prowling the local big boxes with a tape measure and finding this piece of shelving, which is just a bunch of glued together scraps.

Once you have your wood, cut the outline. Affix your template, or draw your grid, or whatever. Drill button holes and holes for the joystick.

You can see in the last picture we routed out square impressions for the joysticks on the inside. You'll need to figure this out on your own, depending on your style and size of joysticks. We didn't go crazy-- we just drew the box and free hand routed them in. Be careful not to go too deep or your wood top will be too weak to withstand the pressure of people using the joystick.

Besides the side panels, this is the only other piece that needs to be routed with the slot cutter to fit the t-molding. Because the wood is 5/8" and you'll be affixing a 1/8" piece of plexiglass to it, the slot needs to be offset so it is in the center of the TOTAL width (5/8" board and 1/8" plexi).

Step 10: Cut the Plexiglass Top

We took a 1/8" piece of acrylic glass (plexiglass) and clamped it to the top of the control panel lid. We set my router up with a standard 3/4" dado bit and dropped it into each hole, through the plexiglass. That's just to get started though. Once I had a hole in the approximate center of each button, we switched to a 1/4" trim bit. Carefully, using the holes in the wood as a guide, I bored out each hole so the hole in the plexi matched to the hole in the wood perfectly. I used the same bit to trace the outside edge of the control panel lid.

We ended up with a perfect cover for the top of the lid.

Step 11: Build the Base

The base is made of 2x6's on the interior. We nailed them together, then added corner brackets (pic #3 and #4) for added strength. The outside is made of 3/4" plywood, mitered at the corners, then glued and nailed to the 2x6's. The top is 3/4" plywood, glued and nailed.

We cut four 3" holes for ventilation with a hole saw (pics #2 and #5). We used small pieces of scrap insect screen over the holes, simply stapled in place, to keep stuff out of the cabinet.

Drill appropriate holes in the bottom corners (pic #3) to accept the four t-nuts that will hold your leveler legs (pic #4) and attach. I added two-part epoxy to the t-nut sleeves to ensure they would not come out.

Step 12: Add Plywood Strips to Edges to Hold It All Together.

Use roughly 1.5"- 2" strips of plywood as a "stop" to assemble the pieces. Essentially, they give you something to attach your sections together. From here on, we'll call them "mounting strips". They should be about 7/8" from the edge of the side pieces-- 3/4" for the panel you're attaching to it, plus another 1/8". You need that extra 1/8" to have enough clearance to attach the t-molding.

This is a good place to use scrap. It doesn't matter if you link two short pieces together or if one side of the 2" board is ragged-- all that matters is that the outside edge is straight and that you have adequate places to screw things together. (see pic #2)

Attach the strips with glue and 1" wood screws. Clamp for extra strength. Dry fit all your pieces to make sure you're not obstructing anything. This is especially important around the base and bottom of the cabinet (see notes, pic #1).

Leave the strip in front of the monitor cavity off until you're sure everything is working the way you intended. Any measurements I could give you will likely not match against your monitor, even if it's the same size.

Step 13: Mount the Side Panels to the Base

Attach the side panels to the base. I used two strips of plywood, glued and screwed on inside of the panels, to hold the base at the proper height, then drove screws from the inside into the outer panels. You should glue the panel to the base as well.

Be careful here-- you don't want to end up with the side panels uneven. Make sure the base is completely level before you attach. I ran a board across the front, on top of where the control panel goes, and used a level to check.

Step 14: Attach the Marquee Tops.

Nail the marquee top on, followed by the "diagonal top". Use a nail set to hammer the nails slightly below the surface of the wood. We filled ours with bondo for a flawless appearance.

We used the black caulking on all the seams inside the cabinet. We wanted to make sure no light "leaked" out of it.

Step 15: Attach the Power/sound Panel

At this point, you'll want to make your cut out for the on/off switch. Cut out a hole appropriate for your handy box, making sure it will clear the plywood cleats you installed for the back panel.

Mount the panel with glue and finish nails. Use a nail set to hammer the nails slightly below the surface of the wood so you can fill them with bondo.

Step 16: Build Your Monitor Shelf

So now we get into a gray area... how you mount your monitor. We went with a HEAVY 22" CRT monitor. Many people use LCDs, old televisions, etc.

We used 2x4's to build the shelf, experimented with a bunch of angles, and generally just winged it. We ended up removing the plastic case from the monitor. The unit is held in place by screen window flanges (pic #5), wood gussets (pic #3), and some odd angle iron.

Step 17: Attach the Coin Door Panel

Using glue and finish nails, attach the coin door panel. Use a nail set to hammer the nails slightly below the surface of the wood so you can fill them with bondo.

Step 18: Install Mount for Marquee Backlight

Measure and cut a scrap board to mount your marquee light to. In the picture you'll see that we had to cut a notch to get around the 2" plywood mounting strips. You can attach it with glue. I won't give you our measurements because it all ties back into what monitor you use and where your mounting strips are positioned.

Put a nice bead of black caulking around the edges to prevent light from shining out of the seams.

When it dries, mount the light strip.

This is the last piece that's installed permanently. The rest of the panels will be removable.

Step 19: Attach the Speaker Panel

The speaker panel is removable--it has to be to get the monitor in and out.

Drill (4) 1/4" holes through the panel (pic #1). They should be at about 3/8" from the side to be on center for the mounting strips behind it. Dry fit your panel before drilling to make sure you're in the right area.

Using the panel as a template, mark the mounting strips so you know where to drill your holes for the threaded inserts.

Drill 1/4" holes in the mounting strip, then install your threaded inserts. We put a bit of two-part epoxy on each before driving them in for extra strength.

Using a 1/4" flat head screw and washer, attach your panel.

Step 20: Attach Back Panel

Attach back panel in the same manner you attached the speaker panel. Drill 1/4" holes through panel (We used four screws on each side), then use it as a template to mark the positions for the threaded inserts on the plywood mounting strips.

We used a strip of plywood behind the power panel (pic #3) to reinforce connection and to make sure no light leaked out of the inside of the cabinet. You also get a good view of the threaded inserts installed on the mounting strips.

We also added a cabinet handle at the top of the panel so it would be easier to handle.

Step 21: Bezel Mount

The bezel mount holds the bezel in place. It's removable. The length is 24 1/2", but the width will depend on your monitor, etc. Mine is 4" wide. The bezel is held in place by a kerf (a slot as wide as a standard table saw blade, roughly 1/8".

Step 22: Bezel

The bezel is a piece of 1/8" smoked plexiglass that's painted on one side with flat black spray paint. It's held in place by the kerf in the bezel mount, two pieces of aluminum angle stock, and plywood strips inside the cabinet.

We put the monitor inside the cabinet, mounted the bezel, then covered the entire viewing area (i.e., the actual picture on the monitor) with painters tape. We then spray-painted it with flat black paint and flipped it over. You need to make sure the monitor is perfectly centered and level to use this method, of it won't match up when you flip it over.

Your bezel will most likely be different than ours. Better to measure your opening and move on from there. The angle stock is held in with #4-40 threaded inserts and small screws. The top of the plexi goes up into the cabinet toward the speakers.

Step 23: Assemble the Marquee Art and Plexi

The marquee art was cooked up in photoshop. We measured and cut two pieces of plexiglass (the back one can be pretty rough and sandwiched the art between the two. We also added a strip of paper towel to soften the brightness of the marquee. The bottom section is in the aluminum angle we put into the speaker panel. The top is another piece of aluminum angle, secured by driving two screws through the top of the angle. You can use threaded inserts as well.

Step 24: Attach Control Panel

The control panel is mounted with (3) three threaded inserts.

Position the control panel onto the arcade machine "arms" and measure to ensure it's perfectly centered. Mark the locations of the arms where they come in contact underneath the control panel. Remove the control panel and drill a 1/4" hole in each location from the bottom of the CP into the interior. Remount the control panel and use the holes to drill down into the arcade machine "arms". install (3) threaded inserts into the holes, then screw in with a washer.

We used a piece of vinyl weatherstripping to make sure no light leaked through.

Step 25: Sound

We salvaged an old amplifier and speakers from a set of pc speakers. In our case, we decided to mount it on a scrap piece of plywood and extended the volume pot out through the power panel. We had to splice some wires to make the speaker leads long enough.

Step 26: Prime and Paint

Prime and paint your machine. We used flat spray paint on all the screws, washers, and aluminum pieces.

We went with oil-based Rustoleum flat black for all the wood. I actually went to apaint shop and asked for the best grade of flat black they had for wood, and the owner was adamant that Rustoleum, even on wood, was the best choice.

We were very happy with the result.

Remember that you don't need to paint the insides, though that would be a superior job. We had done enough at this point, however, so we only did visible sections.

Step 27: T-molding

Install the t-molding. Use a rubber mallet to gently bang it into place. If you did a good job on your slot cutting, this should be easy.

We had a few spots that weren't quite perfect-- In some cases the slot was too wide and we had to add a bit of epoxy to hold it properly.

Step 28: Wiring

The Happ buttons and joysticks are wired up with female spade connectors (3/16), crimped and soldered into place. As you can see from the pictures, a common ground wire is shared across the controls.

Step 29: Your Electronics

The heart of our arcade machine is an original xbox, softmodded and loaded with Coinops, an arcade emulator. There are a lot of resources out there on how to set that up. You could also use MAME on a PC.

We had to solder multiple wires to two xbox controllers to wire up the arcade machine's control panel.

If you go the X-box route, there are tons of resources out there for the diagrams and software you'll need.

We made a box to hold the controllers. We also made a wiring harness out of cat5 cable and cat5 receptacles. has a huge amount of information on hacking these PCBs, including advice on soldering, diagrams, etc.

Step 30: That's a Wrap.

Well, that's it. Hope you have as much fun with the build as we did.