Phase II – Cabinet Design & Building

There are a lot of original old arcade cabinets out there for sale, in various conditions. I was going to get one and do a conversion project. Finding a cabinet that suited my ideas just right wasn’t as easy to find as I thought it might be. Also, very few people deal in them full-time so getting a hold of dealers wasn’t easy either. I spent a bit of time browsing and posting to the newsgroup and realized that although a lot of MAME people were getting cabinets there, a lot of restoration people were too. Restoring an old game to it’s original condition is a respectable art in itself. Out of respect to the restoration market, and the idea behind it, I decided to scrap my conversion plans and build a cabinet from scratch.

Arcade reboot construction

Within the pages at I read a lot of plans but found none that used the X-arcade as the main control panel. After some Google-ing, I found a few good sites: ArcadeCab (formerly Mike’s Arcade) and other good sites that are no longer online. I really like the overall professional appearance of ArcadeCab’s finished product.

Another idea was to have a rotating monitor so vertical games would fit full screen. I read several example (like Russ’s, and other that are unfortunately offline now) and decided that it was probably more trouble than it’s worth. Especially since I am using a 21″ computer monitor.

I wanted to have my X-arcade sit on a shelf instead rather than cut-outs, so it I started looking at original arcade cabinet plans as well as other home designed cabinets. I figured I could just substitute a shelf where the control panel would normally go. My favorite set of plans was at LuSiD’s Arcade Flashback (sigh..also now offline).

After printing out a bunch of different plans and dimensions and looking them over, I was ready to make mine. I used Corel Draw. It has nice drawing tools, including auto-dimensioning, and makes nice PDF files. What I came up with is mostly based on LuSiD’s, with a little bit of some other favorites, some overall dimensions of the original PacMan, and of course my own ideas and preferences.

Based on all my reading, the only real cabinet material conclusions I had were that it should be 3/4″ MDF and I wanted T-molding on the exposed front edges. A lot of sites recommended using MDF rather than standard particle board since it is stronger and won’t chip or break as easily, especially when cutting a groove T-molding.

I ordered all my cabinet parts from Happ Controls. While looking at their site, I saw some additional nice extras that I added to the design. Here’s what I got:

  • 1 – Marquee Retainer
  • 1- Key lock for cabinet door
  • 1 – Anchor plate for lock
  • 2 – 3″ wheels for the bottom back of the cabinet
  • 2 – Leg levelers for the for the bottom front of the cabinet
  • 2 – Anchor plates for leg levelers
  • 2 – Cabinet corner protectors for the bottom back corners
  • 1- Light fixture for marquee
  • 2 – Momentary contact pushbuttons (to be wired to my PC’s ON and RESET buttons)
  • 25′ of Dark Green T-molding
  • and an Arcade Bar Stool – a must for authenticity!

When the parts showed up, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how the marquee holder was installed. It is basically a bar of J shaped plastic. Thanks to Clay, who created the cabinet Doughcade, for help regarding the marquee holder. He sent me the sketch shown here.
I took wood shop in high school many years ago, and I’ve done a few small fix-it projects, so I figured I was qualified enough to make the cabinet since it is really just an oddly shaped box. However, I live in a townhouse and have no power tools other than a drill. I did a barter job and got a new router, found a jigsaw to borrow, and was ready to get started using my deck as the “workshop”.
Then a breakthrough occurred. My brother in-law, Rick, offered to fabricate it for me. He is a fine woodworking craftsman who does custom cabinetry and artistic furniture for a living! Here is his website: Richard Cantwell Woodworking. Even though he is in Massachusetts and I was in Maryland, I knew this meant going from having a hack-job cabinet to having an awesome cabinet. So I gathered my plans and parts and went to MA and we got the cabinet started.

I’m not going to go into great detail about how it was cut out and constructed since I didn’t do it. For those who don’t have the facilities, time, or skill to build their own cabinet, or perhaps want even more customization (natural wood veneer maybe?), consider getting it built by a professional. If you have more money than free time, Rick could build your cabinet and I’ll help you configure the guts.

Minor changes were made to my plans during construction, mostly by Rick, to make it sturdier and more professional looking. So I will measure all of the final dimensions when I get the cabinet to my house in MD and update my drawings. I’ll make the final drawings available on this page. For now, if you wish to see and use my original plans you can download the Arcade Reboot Original Cabinet Plan .

Here is the cabinet only partially finished, but standing. Soon it will be ready to bring to MD. Now I just need to figure out a way of getting it home when it’s done.

Meanwhile, back in Maryland…. Oh, crap! I realized that once I get the cabinet to my house it might not fit down the basement stairs. That would be a big problem! My wife does not want me setting this thing up in our living room (I’m not sure why). My stairs are a downward sloping 180 degree U-turn: go down, turn right, down a little more, turn right , then down again and you’re in the basement. The problem is that it would take some tricky calculations due the odd shape of the cabinet and the odd geometry of my stairwell. The quick and dirty solution became obvious. I built a full scale mock-up out of cardboard with all the critical dimensions intact. The good news is that it did fit down the stairs! The funny news is that it was strong enough to support a monitor and controls so TrashCade was born!

While Rick was finishing the cabinet, I kept the excitement going by reading a few good related books: Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984 which is a nice historical account of the classic videogame genre, and Lucky Wander Boy which is a novel about a guy that becomes obsessed with his favorite game when MAME comes into his life. They are both great reads for anyone into this stuff.

I got the green light from Rick to get the cabinet. After several deals with friends and/or family bringing it to me didn’t pan out, I decided to have it shipped. I found Boston Truck Company (1-800-899-8706 /no website) and they were the only place that was up front about their pricing from the start. They were honest and quick and blanket wrapped the cabinet so it wouldn’t need a crate or palette. I got the complete runaround trying to get a shipping quote online. If you are ever in this situation, don’t waste your time with online quote companies. 99% of them are just brokers and quote a low price only to nickel and dime it once you try to confirm the shipment.

Here’s a picture of the assembled cabinet before it left the shop. The board in place of the monitor glass was just to show how it might look.

next page… Phase III – Putting it all together and Finishing touches

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