Arcade Cabinet

I was one of those kids who spent their youth loitering in darkened rooms with nothing to see by but black lights and video games.

Some years back I discovered MAME which stands for Multi Arcade Machine Emulator, and allows you to play almost all the old arcade games on a computer

I found Frogger, Dig-Dug, Tempest, Centipede, Tron, and many more titles that I spent a small fortune on as a kid. It was just like being in the arcade again, accept for the controls. It was just no fun trying to play Centipede or Tempest with a mouse and soon I lost interest.

After a few years I discovered MAME again, and decided to see if there was a way to interface the old arcade style joysticks and buttons to the PC. I was not prepared for what I found. On the internet I found that there were not only people interfacing Spinners, Joysticks, and Buttons to their computers, but building entire game cabinets around their computers. I was hooked!

I ordered a joystick, some buttons, and an arcade controller to USB interface board called an I-Pac. It worked so well that I decided to build a MAME arcade cabinet of my own.

I got the design for my cabinet from Scott's Unicade design. I decided to create my own controller design, but most of the rest was taken directly from here.

Below is small taste of what it took to do.

Click pictures to see an enlarged version.

The front of my prototype controller.
  • 1 8Way Joystick
  • 2 horizontal buttons - Black
  • 2 horizontal buttons - Purple
  • 1 horizontal button - Player 1 Start
  • 1 horizontal button - Player 2 Start
  • 1 mini puch button to emulate the coin slot
The back of my prototype controller.
You can see the I-Pac in the bottom left of this picture.
The frame is constructed from mostly 2x4s. All the wood is connected using half lap joints.
After the frame was built I cut the side panels.
The entire outside shell and control box are made with 3/4" MDF.
  • I marked the first one, and cut it out with a jig saw.
  • Cut the second one slightly bigger with the jig saw.
  • Positioned the first (smaller) side panel under the second (bigger) side panel
  • Used a flush cut laminant trimmer router bit to make the bigger one an exact match
  • After both side panels were cut out I used a slot cutting bit to cut a slot around the edge of both panels for the T-Molding to fit into
The side panels are atteched using #8 drywall screws and glue.
  • Lay the frame on its side on top of the side panel
  • Trace the frame onto the side panel so you can see where to put your screws
  • Drill thru the MDF with a #10 countersink bit.
  • Apply glue to the frame
  • position the side panel on the frame and screw it down
The front with ledgers attached to the side panels.
These ledgers are attached so that when the inside panels are inserted you have a 1/4" reveal all the way around the cabinet
The back with ledgers attached to the side panels.
The side with wood filler.
I filled all the screws with Elmers wood putty, and then sanded when dry.
I used 3 coats of primer, and 1 coat of satin black Rustoleum applied with a smooth surface roller to finish the cabinet.
You can still see the holes a little even after the finish. I hear now that if you really don't want to see the holes use dowels to fill them, and not putty.
The dowels seemed like too much work, and I am happy with the finish in the end.
The control box with the markings for the track ball plate cut out.
Router jig for the trackball cut out.
I made a router jig and then cut the recess for the trackball plate with a 1/4" pattern cutting router bit.
I cut all the holes in the top panel with wood boring bits.
Then I clamped an 1/8 inch piece of Lexan to the panel and used my 1/4" pattern cutting router bit to duplicate the holes.
The control box inside with the contrls, I-Pac, and Opti-Pac installed.
The control box inside closeup of the Opti-Pac stacked on top of the I-Pac.
I used an Opti-Pac to interface the 4" Blue Translucent Track Ball and Oscar pro Spinner
I used an I-Pac to interface the Coin Door, Buttons, and Joisticks
Cabinet front with the 27" Wells Gardner monitor installed.
Computer installed inside the coin door compartment.

It was a good project. I would suggest building the cabinet in the location you are going to want it. Since it is made of mostly 3/4" MDF is weight about 400 lbs.

You will also need a good assortment of tools. I used:

  • Table Saw - Lap joints
  • Miter Saw - Ledgers and frame
  • Drill Press - Control panel, misc holes in control box, Lexan monitor cover, etc.
  • Palm Sander - Finish sanding between coats of primer, and all services before painting.
  • Jig Saw - Side panels, hole for coin door, Lexan
  • Circular Saw - Side Panels
  • Router - T-molding, side panels, Lexan
  • Various sockets, hole saws, screw drivers, players, wrenches, etc.

I am sure you could get away with fewer tools, but even with all of these this project proved to be difficult in many aspects.

In the end I would do it all over again. It is so fun to play these games in their native environment once again!