Portable Arcade Control Panel




For some time, I've wanted to build my own arcade controls to relive some of my favorite games from when I was a kid.  Due to space, time, and budget constraints, I decided to forego building an entire arcade cabinet and instead opted for a portable box to house just the controls and wiring.  This allows me to take my arcade experience anywhere!

Step 1: Gather Materials

Materials Used:
 - 3/4" MDF
 - High impact acrylic plexiglass
 - 30" Piano hinge
 - Diamond plate vinyl decal
 - Chrome t-molding
 - Wood screws
 - Machine screws
 - T nuts
 - Wood glue
 - 2-player arcade control set (purchased from xgaming.com )
 - 2 1/4" Trackball assembly
 - Tackball mounting plate
 - Decorative 8 ball
 - Ultimarc Mini-PAC with wiring harness
 - Wire
 - Crimp-on quick connectors
 - 6 pin male and female wiring harness
 - Black spray paint

Tools Required:
 - Power drill
 - Jigsaw
 - Router
 - Hole saw
 - 3/4" forstner bit
 - 1/16" slot cutter router bit
 - Hammer
 - T square
 - Measuring Tape
 - Bar clamps
 - Pencil
 - Utility knife
 - Sweat
 - Braun

Step 2: Plan Your Design and Layout

Coming up with the design and layout was a bit more intensive than I thought it would be.  After a lot of research on several arcade forums, I came up with a layout and spacing that seemed right to me.  If you're still at all unsure of how you'd like your layout, you can always install your controls on some sort of cardboard box to test out the feel of them.  Many people suggested a shoebox for testing the joystick/button layout.  I followed my plans, and the controls feel very comfortable to me.

Plans for the box enclosure are pretty straight forward.  I definitely made the box a bit taller than it needed to be, in order for it to sit at the right height at home.  Play around with different dimensions until you find what's right for your application.  Again, cardboard is a quick and cheap way to mock everything up and get a good feel for how it will look.

Step 3: Transfer Design and Begin Construction

Carefully mark where everything will go using a pencil.  Measure twice and cut once.  Luckily, I had extra MDF leftover from building a couple closet systems, so I didn't have to purchase any.  Once the layout is transferred, carefully cut out the top piece , and then you're ready for the most intensive part of construction.

Step 4: Top Panel Construction

Using the hole saw, drill out all holes for buttons and joysticks.  At this point, I also used the forstner bit to recess the t-nuts used to mount the joysticks.  Using the jigsaw, cut out the hole for your trackball.  This took me a bit of trial and error to get a good fit.  Just go slow, cut the basic shape, and make adjustments where necessary until the trackball and mounting plate sits flush and looks superbad.

At this point, you can also cut the slot for the t-molding.  The instructions that came with the t-molding said to use a 3/32" slot cutter, but my experience has been such that this seems a bit big and doesn't provide the tightest fit.  I used a 1/16" slott cutter bit, and was very happy with the results.  Be sure to get it centered very well, or your t-molding might end up off center and not reach its awesomeness potential.

Step 5: Body Construction and Prep Work

I didn't take any pictures of the body construction and won't go into much detail about it, as it's pretty straight forward.  After all parts were constructed, I put several coats of cheap black spray paint on everything.

Once your top panel has dried, use it as a guide to cut out the plexiglass top.  I used scrap MDF as a bottom layer and sandwiched the plexi in the middle, using bar clamps to secure everything.  This was my first experience with the high impact plexi, and I'm absolutely sold on it.  It's a few bucks more than regular plexiglass, but WAY stonger and much more forgiving.  Lexan would be the next step up, but at over 3 times the price of regular plexiglass, I just couldn't justify it.  I found using the hole saw in reverse to be the way to cut out the holes in the plexi.  It literally just melts right through it, leaving a perfect hole and edge.  Do this for any smaller mounting holes as well using the proper size drill bit in reverse.  The trackball hole is a bit more tricky.  Get a large starting hole going in the middle of it, and S L O W L Y cut out the shape with a jigsaw.  If you have a dremel tool, it works wonders to adjust any cuts or holes.

Step 6: Decoration and Assembly

Apply your decoration over the top panel, and use a utility knife to carefully cut out all the mounting holes.  I used diamond plate vinyl for that good old-fashioned industrial look.  Notice how the sunken t-nuts got covered up.  You can now apply the plexiglass top to keep the decoration looking pristine.  Next, apply the t-molding to the sides using either a mallet or hammer and scrap wood.  using the utility knife, I cut chunks out of the insert part to make the rounded corners, and this seemed to work very well.  After the t-molding is installed, turn the top panel over and mount the piano hinge.  The whole top can then be mounted to the base, and component installation can begin!

I didn't take any pictures of the component installation and wiring.  Mounting the buttons, joysticks, and trackball was very simple and straight forward.  If you purchased the Mini-PAC and wiring harness from Ultimarc, wiring everything is very easy as well.  Here's a link to the wiring diagram for the Mini-PAC.  It would be very advisable to purchase a few extension harness packs as well.  The one snag I did have was getting the trackball wired up, as the harnesses weren't even close to being the same.  This ended up being a simple fix with a DIY 6 pin harness from Radio Shack (see parts list for hyperlinks). 

Step 7: Test It Out and Enjoy!

Once everything is wired up, it's time to test out your new creation!  I recommend a good 8 hour marathon session.  You know, just to be sure everything's working...  :)

For those of you interested in MAME, check out their website for more information.

Arcadecontrols.com is also a great resource for different arcade project ideas.

Best of luck on your own projects, and happy gaming!

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    17 Discussions


    3 years ago

    do you think this would work for four players. I thinking that I would have to change up the measurements of the box, right?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    I was thinking the same thing. Maybe building a second unit that housed extra accessories instead of the computer. Just have to figure out the simplest was to add the extra controllers to the configuration.


    4 years ago

    Did your ever think about making this wireless so it could work with consoles


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    no,thank YOU for giving me an inspiration on my controller,couldnt even wire mine,not till i find yours!cheers!

    I love your version where as my husband bolted the electronics for a gauntlet underneath the coffee table to keep it out of the way and then the controllers were stowed away till time to use. It was very popular for many years.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Haha! I love those old 'cocktail style' arcade machines! Best of luck keeping the new coffee table safe from harm... err... awesomeness. :D

    Oh oh! My new coffee table has a removable glass panel..ummm he just read this instructables over my shoulder and ah...Honey??


    8 years ago on Step 3

    IMPORTANT: MDF dust is extremely bad for your lungs - wear some kind of filter protection!

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Fantastic point to make. Using the circular saw in particular kicked up a TON of dust. While we're on the subject of safety, eye protection is a must as well.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    MDF is great to work with, but the dust is really pernicious - it generates microfine dust, which isn't so good for you to begin with - but since MDF is made with urea-formaldehyde, it will goof you up.

    While technically it's portable in the sense it isn't a huge arcade cabinet, this still seems like it's quite heavy to me and not that portable. How heavy did this turn out to be?

    I like it though.

    3 replies

    Just weighed in at a svelt 37.5 lbs. About a large bag of dog food... It's definitely more bulky than heavy.


    Wow. Not bad. It does have the look of it being much heavier than that. Handles would probably be a good idea to make it easier to carry, like you mentioned.


    It's very manageable. I've had to make lots of adjustments to it since taking the initial pictures, and also to add the coin button to the front, so I've carried it through the house several times over. I've definitely considered adding handles though...