Arcade Project: Part 6: Build It!

Finally, after almost a full year since I completed the project, I’m completing my blog about it.  Rather than a step by step guide on how to build an arcade machine, this is just a high-level documentary about how I assembled mine.

If you missed my previous blog posts you might want to check them out first:

After months of planning and prep work, I was finally ready to put it all together.  I read many articles and watched many YouTube videos of other people’s arcade projects and how they assembled their cabinets, so I had a pretty good idea of all the parts and steps involved.  So before building a full arcade cabinet, I thought it might be a good idea to build a prototype control panel and hook all the electronics up and make sure it was all going to work first.  So I did that fairly easily.  Here it is sitting on my dining room table.

For the full build, I didn’t have many tools or much experience with carpentry.  But luckily my younger brother had done a few projects and had a lot more tools than I, and he was willing to make a 3-hour drive over to my place for a weekend to help me out.  Also, I have an awesome and enthusiastic mom who is always excited to help out on projects.  So they came to my house together on the last weekend in July 2016.

For a cabinet design, I really wanted to go with the Mortal Kombat 2 look.  It was my favorite arcade game growing up and I really like the style of it.  So with a lot of google searching, I found some rough plans and a lot of good reference images to give me enough of a starting point to draw out detailed plans.  Here’s one of the references I used.



Day 1

We started with 3 sheets of MDF and a couple of 2x4s.  The first step was to take the plans I had and draw the side panel layout on one of the pieces of MDF and cut it out.

Rather than try to do the same thing twice, we then laid out the one cut piece on top of another sheet of MDF and traced it with a pencil and cut it out.  To ensure that the pieces were identical, we clamped them together and ran a sander around all the edges so that they would match perfectly.  After sanding, we used the router and slot cutter bit to cut a small slot around the front and top edges so that we could attach the t-molding trim later.

Then we cut some of the 2x4s into 1×1 strips to use as ledger boards on the inside of the side pieces.  These are used to screw all the pieces together without having to drill screws in from the outside of the cabinet.  Makes it a cleaner finish in the end.  You can see these ledger boards in the the image a little later that shows where we first attached the sides to the base.

Then we started on the base.  I got some heavy duty 4” casters (two swivel and two straight).  We basically just mounted them to pieces of 2×4 and screwed that into the MDF piece we cut for the base.

Utilizing the ledger boards we made earlier, we were able to assemble the sides to the base and top.  We tried to ensure that there was a slight gap between the side pieces and the floor so that it would roll easily.  In hindsight, I should’ve made the gap a little larger – after everything settled and all the weight was in there is almost no gap at all.

Next, we worked on making the front extension piece.  This is a unique feature of the Mortal Kombat 2 cabinet.

Next up was the back of the cabinet.  The back is three different pieces.  There’s a large top piece that has holes drilled out for ventilation.  There’s a small piece as the bottom that also has ventilation holes.  Then in the middle is the access door. We drilled screws in from the outside of the cabinet for this as it will be on the back anyway and not noticeable.  It also allows me to take it apart at some point if need be.  We mounted the access door by using a piano hinge.  It worked okay.  After we got it together we found that the piano hinge kept trying to pull out, so maybe the weight of the door was too much for it.  But if I figure its rare that I’ll need to open the door, so as long as I can get it shut, it should be okay.

Then we got to another fun part – the control panel.  This was basically a box with a slightly sloped top.  One challenge we had was that the joysticks felt a little too deep because we were using ¾” wood.  So, to make up for it we used a router to grind out about a ¼” recess on the bottom of the top panel so that the joysticks would stick up a little higher.  We had to do the same thing for the trackball.  To mark the exact spots for drilling the holes, I printed out the control panel layout on paper, laid the paper on top of the wood, and then poked holes through the center of each button or joystick hole.  Then used a paddle bit on a drill to make the holes.  We used a large hole saw for the trackball.  I wanted to make sure that the wiring was easy to get to later if I needed to, so we attached the top piece with a piano hinge on the front side, so the back of it would lift up and towards you.  This works great because I can use this as a place to store a wireless keyboard and mouse for times that I need to interact with the PC.

Finally, we cut out the speaker panel and holes for the speakers themselves, just using a 4″ hole saw.  The cabinet was basically done as far as construction goes.  Time to paint it!   I bought a flat black paint with primer mixed in it already.  We disassembled the whole thing and put on one coat on all sides, then a second coat on the exteriors.  The main reason we took it apart was because the arcade machine was going to live in my basement, and if it was fully assembled I wouldn’t be able to get It in the house and down the staircase.  It was too big.

That was one day of work.  Three of us for about 14 hours.  We were beat!

Day 2

Time to put this thing together!  First thing we did was the control panel.  We carefully applied the vinyl sticker to the top and my brother cut out all the holes with a razor.  We cut some of the red t-molding trim and put that on the edges.  Then my mom and brother worked together to wire all the controls up.  I’m too blind to see those tiny wires, but I knew what was supposed to be wired up to where, so I just supervised and instructed on this part.  They did an awesome job!

Then we took all the painted pieces from the garage down into my basement for assembly.  That went pretty smoothly.

Next it was time to figure out how we were going to mount the 27” TV inside the cabinet.  Unfortunately, the TV that I got was a little wider than the cabinet dimensions.  So we had to get creative.  So we took the back off the TV, exposing the insides, which can be very dangerous.  I had read all these warnings about not doing this as the amount of charge that is on the back of those things can be life-threatening.  To prepare for this, I had left the TV off and unplugged for almost 2 weeks, which is more than sufficient to ensure that there was no charge left in it.  We removed the TV’s speakers from the sides and then took a saw to it to trim it down to the size we needed.  It was awesome!

To set the TV inside the cabinet we built a small shelf for it to sit on.  But since it would be setting at an angle we had to mount some supports to the shelf and the sides of the cabinet to keep the TV from sliding or tipping backwards.  Turned out to not be as difficult as I had imagined.

We then mounted the speakers and the light inside the cabinet.  Then put the marquee in to see it lit up.  The marquee was just a print on transparency that was in between two sheets of plexiglass and held in place by two pieces of corner trim painted black.  Looking good!

Now it was time to apply the large side decals.  First we sanded down the sides with fine sandpaper, cleaned it with a little bit of windex, and then dried it thoroughly.  We lined up the decals as best we could and then used clamps so that it wouldn’t move.  With half of it clamped, we peeled the backing off the other half and carefully applied the sticker.  Then unclamped the other half and finished applying.  We used a squeegee to go over the whole thing multiple times, pushing out any bubbles so that it would be all nice and flat and smooth.  After we felt good about that, we used a razor and trimmed all the excess.  Then finally we attached the red t-molding trim around the edges of the entire cabinet.

Getting excited, we wanted to hook it up and play a game.  So we opened up the back and put the PC in and wired it up to the speakers and TV and we were rolling!  To make it easier to turn the PC on, we mounted an arcade button to the back of the cabinet and wired it directly to the power on the PC motherboard.  Works great!

After that fun little break, we needed to start on the bezel – the trim that goes around the monitor to hide everything.  There are websites that sell these things, but it is difficult to get one for the exact size monitor you have and also fits the dimensions around the monitor that you need.  So I decided I’d make my own bezel, loosely based on the instructions I found from this YouTube video.  We measured and cut a few pieces of the MDF for the top and bottom as well as some small strips along the sides.  Then I bought a couple of black poster boards and cut and installed them to create a decent bezel.  There was still some wood showing at the bottom because I ran out of poster, but I fixed that up the next week when I bought some more.  Once I put the plexiglass front on top of it, you couldn’t’ really tell that it is just cheap poster.  And the plexi, surprisingly, didn’t need to be attached with anything – gravity and friction just held it in place just fine.

It was about 3:00am.  So it was time for bed!

The next morning, my boys enjoyed the fruits of our labor!  So awesome!


So that was it.  Mission accomplished!  It was so much fun to build.  And now when we have company, the arcade is always a hit.  And it is nice to be able to tell them I built it!  And my boys are playing it almost every weekend.  Their latest favorite is NBA Jam.  🙂

I hope you found this article useful or at least interesting.  If you have any questions just let me know!