In 1988, I spent 30 lifetimes in the Amazon Jungle, defending Earth against an alien takeover.
That is to say ... my brother and I were in my parent's basement, blowing into Nintendo cartridges and playing Contra, until our thumbs were consumed with debilitating numbness. At which time, the pause button was employed and snacks were consumed until the opposable digits were able to return to the battle. 30+ years have passed, but I can still remember some of those days like they were yesterday.
Bandannas and biceps looked deadly, but the spread gun was my favorite weapon - followed by the machine gun. Admittedly, this arsenal wasn't enough to achieve success, which brings us to the all powerful "30 Lives Code." I may not be able to remember what I ate for lunch, but I can still rattle off the code while in deep REM sleep.
Alternate names like "Contra Code" and the technically correct "Konami Code" became more popular, but 13 year old BALES knew it as the 30 Lives Code ... ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA.
Sadly, I no longer have the Nintendo, but I have a workshop and the desire to make some video game inspired wall art.
1/4" Poplar Dowel
Black Leather Dye
Spray Paint [Red & White]
Spray Shellac - Clear
Step 1: Milling Arrow Stock
A laser cutter would make quick and accurate work of a project like this, but I don't possess one of these magnificent machines. I did consider cutting individual arrows using the bandsaw, but knew I'd never be able to get them as consistent as my brain desires. My method of choice was to mill some square stock into the shape of an arrow, which could then be sliced into individual buttons ... like a tube of ready made cookie dough.
Note: The dimensions of this arrow stock is directly related to the round stock, which will be used for the B and A buttons. Since I had 1 1/4" dowel stock, I cut my square blank to 1 1/4" x 1 1/4".
After drawing the four lines of symmetry onto one end of the stock [Fig. 1], I connected points in the top quadrants to form the triangular tip, and then used a combination square to mark out the "base" of the arrow [Fig. 2]. Then it was onto cutting.
My Cut Order
1. Flat cuts under arrow point - set the blade height [Fig. 4], set the fence [Fig. 5], make the left and right side cuts [Fig. 6].
2. Angled cuts for arrow point - set the blade to 45°, set the fence [Fig. 7], make the left and right side cuts [Fig. 8&9].
3. Side cuts for arrow base - set the blade height [Fig. 10], set the fence [Fig. 11], make the left and right side cuts [Fig. 12].
Note: I believe this order provides the most stability/balance for each successive cut.
Step 2: Button Pads and Slicing Buttons
Prior to the fun of button slicing, I quickly milled a strip of poplar for the square button pads. After finding a 1/4" thick strip of poplar on my off cut shelf, I ripped it 1 3/4" wide and ran it through to the drum sander to remove any tooling marks. I then used a small parts cross cut sled on the table saw to cut the strip into 1 3/4" squared tiles.
Note: The design calls for 10 tiles, but I cut a few extra for paint testing and possible failures.
Onto the fun part ... button slicing.
Using the same sled, I set the stop block to 1/4" and got to slicing buttons. The dowel stock was a breeze to cut, but the arrows posed a few challenges.
1. I made the first cut with the arrow pointing towards the blade, which resulted in the side points getting torn off. With the arrow point resting against the back fence, this issue was eliminated [Fig. 4].
2. A few slices were grabbed by the blade at the end of the cut and either shattered or marred beyond use. This could be resolved by removing the stop block and just making a mark on the sled - or use a bit of painters tape as a stop.
Note: The design calls for 8 arrows, but I cut 12 for dye testing and imminent failures.
All of these pieces were hand sanded using 150 grit to eliminate any fuzziness and knock down the hard edges.
Step 3: Layout and Frame Stock Milling
The 10 buttons were roughly laid out to make decisions on spacing between them, as well as the size of the backer board. I decided on 1/2" spacing and overall board dimensions of 25" x 8 1/2".
The 3/4" backer board was ripped to 8 1/2" using the table saw and then a crosscut sled was used to cut the length down to 25" [Fig. 2].
For the frame stock, I used more 3/4" plywood. I ripped two strips to a width of 1 1/2" and then used the router table and 3/4" straight bit to cut a 1/4" deep groove down the center [Fig. 3-7].
Step 4: Dye and Paint
The backer board and arrow buttons are black and my go to pigment when I want things blacker than black is Fiebings USMC Black Leather Dye. I recommend buying the 32oz bottle because you're going to love it so much that you'll never bother with ebony stain again. In fact, you might just leave stain for dye altogether, like I did. The USMC Black pigment is so dense that you only need one application.
I haven't expanded my dye inventory yet, so the remaining colors were achieved with spray paint. I did 2-3 light coats - just enough for consistent color coverage without making the wood grain. I do plan on using only dye on wood moving forward, and only using spray paint when working with PVC and EVA foam.
8 button pads were painted gray
2 button pads were painted white
2 round buttons were painted red
Note: I painted the extras in case I encountered paint runs, overly aggressive sanding, or breakage during assembly.
Once the paint was dry, I lightly sanded with 220 grit to knock down the sheen.
Step 5: Button Pad Assembly
If you know one thing about me ... it's probably that I love making jigs to improve accuracy. While paint was drying, I made a quick offset jig to ensure all of the buttons were in a perfectly straight and centered line.
A 1" wide strip of 1/2" plywood was glued and nailed to the edge of a hardboard scrap. Once the glue partially cured, I ripped the hardboard to a width of 4 3/8".
8 1/2" - 1 3/4" button pad = 6 3/4" [3 3/8" above and below]
3 3/8" + 1" plywood fence/hook = 4 3/8" overall width
This offset just just gets registered with the bottom of the backer board and clamped in place.
Button Pad Assembly
I marked the left/right center point on a piece of blue masking tape and then used a small pocket square to position the 1/2" plywood spacer [Fig. 2]. With that in place, I could attach the middle two button pads - one on either side of the spacer. Each pad was attached with superglue and 2 pin nails.
Note: Keep the pin nails towards the center where they will be covered by the buttons.
Once the first two are in place, it's just a matter of working your way out to the edges [Fig. 3&4]. Just keep in mind the placement of the white tiles - they go on the right side [Fig. 5].
Step 6: Button Assembly
I liked the offset jig so much that I decided to make another to help center the buttons. This one was just a 1/4" rabbet cut into a scrap piece of 1/2" plywood [Fig. 1].
The arrow and round buttons were attached with superglue and 2 pin nails.
Note: Pay attention to arrow directions or you'll be prying off an arrow, masking the board, and repainting a gray tile.
A stencil and fine point sharpie were used to label the red buttons as B and A. A touch up application of black leather dye on the arrow tops, helps conceal the metal pin heads.
Step 7: Framing
The finished board gets framed with the 1 1/2" grooved, plywood strips and it's a pretty basic process. I used a crosscut sled from Rockler, which has an adjustable fence for different angles. It has a build in ruler, which is pretty accurate, but I always double check and dial it in with a speed square.
A miter was cut at one end and then the desired length marked using the work piece [Fig. 1&2]. The frame stock was then cut to size by cautiously sneaking up on the cut and test fitting a few times. When the fit is perfect, I set the stop block and cut the opposing side.
Note: Painters tape keeps the plywood veneer from tearing out during the cut [Fig. 3].
Note: The stop block track wasn't long enough for the long sides, so I just clamped a block of wood to the fence [Fig. 4].
Once all four sides were cut, I ran a bead of glue in the grooves, put them all in place, and used painters tape as a clamp.
Note: I didn't attach the frame with pins or brads because I had planned on leaving the frame natural, so I was avoiding holes and the need for wood filler.
Step 8: Miter Splines
The frame didn't need miter splines for strength, but I wanted to use them as a visual detail, which becomes a moot point as you'll see.
My shop made spline sled is modeled after the Eagle America spline jig. It supports the material on both sides, has two stop blocks for positioning and holding of the work piece, and keeps your hands safely away from the blade [Fig. 1-3]
For the spline stock, I used a poplar off cut. The strip took a few trips through the drum sander to thickness it for a perfect fit [Fig. 4]. Triangles were cut from the strip using the miter saw, but the band saw also works well [Fig. 5]. These triangles were slathered with glue and pressed into each corner slot.
Note: If you aren't using painters tape as a clamp, apply some to the corners before cutting the miter slots. It will keep any glue squeeze out from getting all over your work piece, which means less sanding and possible discoloration.
Once the glue was dry, I cut off the excess spline material using the bandsaw and then sanded them flush with a random orbital sander. I had applied additional masking tape on each side of the spline to ensure I wouldn't sand through the veneer layer - seemed like a brilliant idea at the time [Fig. 8]. However, I was too much of a manimal and blasted through the veneer in one spot [Fig. 9].
Moot point in 3 ... 2 ... 1. The more I looked at the overall piece, the more I thought it would look better if the outside edge of the frame was black. It would defeat the purpose of the spines for visual interest, but it would cover the missing veneer. I went with my gut and applied the black dye - very happy with that decision.
Step 9: Hanger Wire
My go to method for hanging projects on the wall has always been shop made keyhole washers, but I wanted to switch it up this time and use twisted wire. Turns out, my local home center stopped carrying it due to low sales. For some reason, I had a small package of wire at my utility bench, so I decided to try my hand at twisting it.
I drove 2 screws into my miter saw station and wrapped the wire around them so that I had three strands [Fig. 1&2]. I removed one of the screws and chucked that free end of wire into my cordless drill. At that point, I lightly pulled the trigger and watched the wire twist itself nice and tight [Fig. 3].
After determining my necessary length, I wrapped each end around a screw and drove it into the frame stock. I used a piece of scrap wood to ensure symmetric placement [Fig. 4].
Step 10: Sanding and Finishing
Last item on the punch list was to break the edges of the plywood frame using 150 grit sandpaper and apply two coats of clear spray shellac. Once the shellac was dry (10 mins tops), I lightly sanded with 220 to knock down the sheen and make everything smooth to the touch.
Of course I had to hang it on the shop wall and take a look.
Step 11: Glamour Shots
It's geeky and the Warden probably won't let me hang it anywhere in the house, but I'm perfectly happy keeping it in the workshop.
I think the design could easily be modified for the video game enthusiast in your life. Does his/her favorite game have a power up code ... aka cheat code?
Another idea would be the button combination for specific actions. Think Street Fighter special moves or Mortal Kombat fatality codes. The possibilities seem endless and material cost is quite low.
Size could be scaled up or down.
Large: Perhaps a headboard, back bar, bar front, accent wall in a gaming room.
Small: Maybe a key rack, desktop sign, knick knack shelf.
Runner Up in the