I love retro gaming. All those old arcade machines and consoles were just so much fun.
I'd love my own arcade machine but I simply don't have the space. Playing with a gamepad through a console on the TV just doesn't feel right so I needed to make a bar-top machine.
There are plenty of Raspberry Pi based machines like this out there but I wanted something a little more powerful.
This is a complex build and you will need both skills in electronics and woodworking.
Time required: 20 to 30 hours
Plans linked in last step if you want to open them in LibreCAD
Step 1: Tools Required
- Band saw or good quality jigsaw
- Wet & dry sandpaper of various grits from 500 to 3000
- Bench router (this is not strictly necessary but will give a better finish)
- D28.6 x R9.5 bevelled routing bit
- D12 x 20mm routing bit
- Drill press or hand drill and an assortment of wood drills from 3mm to 10mm
- A countersink drill bit
- Hole saws in sizes 22mm, 30mm, 40mm, 50mm and 75mm
- Forsner bit in 15mm size
- Wood plane
- Soldering iron
- Bristle brushes
- Detail sander
Step 2: Parts and Materials Required
- An old laptop (I used a Samsung NP300E5A which can be found quite inexpensively on Ebay) - About £70
- Trust Ziva speakers: £8.99
- 2-player arcade button and joystick set: £34.19
- 2 x button illumination wiring harness (not necessary unless using illuminated buttons): £6.00
- 2 x Ikea Aptitlig 45cm x 28cm chopping boards: £14
- Solder (use good quality lead solder): £5
- Small piece of 12mm MDF board: £2
- 50cm x 100cm 9mm ply wood: £8
- Clear wood varnish: £5
- Woodstain: £5
- 26 x Screws of size 4x30mm: £1
- 16 x screws of size 3x20mm: £1
- Illuminated momentary power button: £2.89
- Coin and player buttons: £2.99
- Rubber feet (12x8x7): £0.99
- 10 x M2x20mm bolts: £1
- 10 x M2 nuts: £1
Total parts cost: £169.05p
Step 3: Strip the Laptop
Once we've tested the laptop, take it completely apart. Everything should be removed from the case.
The parts we need are:
- The motherboard
- The screen
- The USB / Power button breakout board
- The screen cable
- The hard drive
Place these parts to one side in a safe place and dispose of the plastic case, keyboard etc.
Step 4: Cut Your Side Panels
Following the measurements in the plan, cut your panels out:
Start by making a cardboard template of each panel and then drawing around it on the Ikea chopping boards. You should be able to fit both on to one chopping board if you draw them back to back.
I like to roughly cut each panel out first and then gradually work in to the final shape as it's easier to manipulate smaller pieces.
Once you have the panels cut, clamp them together so that you can see where they need material removing to make them perfectly match. Go at them with your wood plane, files, and detail sander until they are an exact match for each other.
Step 5: Shape the Edges of Your Panels
The edges of our side panels that will be showing will need a nice, smooth edge. We're going to use a bench router for this but you can use a plunge router or even gradually work the wood with a plane, files, and sandpaper if you don't have access to a router.
We're using a bevelled routing bit to get a curved finish.
Align the bit so that the bearing is just over halfway across the thickness of the wood. Once you have cut one side, flip the wood over and do the other side. This will give a symmetrical finish.
We only need to rout the edges that aren't joining other pieces of wood (see picture).
Step 6: Add Screw Holes for the Screen Plate
Clamp your wood together again as the holes we're going to drill and cut will be the same on both sides.
Following the measurements in the CAD drawing on step 4, drill two holes with the 4mm drill bit and then coutersink them. These will be the holes to attach the sides to the screen backing panel.
Step 7: Cut the Screen Backing Panel
This panel will be made from the 12mm MDF and should be the same size as your screen. If you are using the same laptop that I used then the panel will be 360mm x 210mm
Drill some 2mm pilot holes so that the panel top edge is flush with the top of the side panels once mounted together. I've taken a picture of the panels screwed together so that you can see how they will be mounted when we do the final assembly. It's not necessary to screw them together at this stage as we're going to be doing more work on the sides.
Step 8: Cut the Top Panel
Following the measurements in the plan, cut your top panel. This should be 410mm X 140mm.
Rout the edges using the same method as we used for the side panels. All 4 edges should be routed.
Drill 4mm pilot holes for the screws at the positions marked in the plan and countersink them.
Step 9: Cut the Control Panel
Following the measurements in the plan, cut your control panel. This should be 410mm X 112mm.
Rout the edges using the same method as we used for the side panels and the top panel. All 4 edges should be routed.
Step 10: Cut the Front Panel
Following the measurements in the plan, cut your front panel. This should be 360mm X 58mm.
The top of this panel will mate with the bottom of the control panel and will need to be cut at a 166 degree angle.
Using the D12 x 20mm routing bit at a depth of 7mm, cut a groove down the bottom length of the front panel. This will allow the bottom panel of the case to sit cleanly.
Step 11: Cut the Back and Bottom Panels
Following the CAD measurements, cut the back and bottom panels out of the 9mm ply wood.
The rear panel should be 360mm x 280mm and the bottom panel should be 360mm x 170mm
Step 12: Test Fit the Panels Together
Clamp the side panels together again and drill the mounting holes as per the plans using the 4mm wood drill and countersink.
This is a good time to test fit the main panels to make sure everything lines up as it should. Start with the screen backing panel and then add panels, drilling the mounting holes with the 4mm bit as per the plans as you go.
Step 13: Mark Port and Mounting Positions
At this point we want to mark the positions for the ports of our motherboard. We will need these for later. Place the motherboard inside the case with the ports facing the right-hand-side panel as you look at it (I've removed the screen panel in the picture for clarity), and mark the positions of the USB, HDMI, Power, and Headphones ports.
Draw around the motherboard and mark the positions of the mounting screw holes.
Step 14: Make the Groove for the Screen
To hold the screen in we need a groove in the top panel.
Place the screen inside the case and push it up against the top panel. Mark the position of the screen on the panel.
Take the top panel off the case and rout the groove using a 5mm routing bit at a depth of 5mm.
Step 15: Make the Bottom Bezel for the Screen
Once we have our top panel grooved, fit it back to the case and place the screen in position again.
We need to make a bezel for the bottom the screen to stop it falling out.
Cut a panel out of the Ikea chopping board according to the measurements in the CAD drawing. It should be 360mm long by 29mm at its widest part.
To make sure that the drawing is correct for your build, measure the distance between the joystick panel and the screen.
This piece is a complex shape and needs to be grooved using the router. See the side view.
Step 16: Strip the Speakers
That's enough woodworking for a while. Time to strip the speakers.
Using a small screwdriver, lever around the edge of the speakers until the front panel comes away. Then using a Phillips screwdriver remove the speaker drivers themselves.
The tone and volume controls can be pulled off revealing a 10mm nut holding the controls to the front panel. The control circuit can be unplugged from the wires inside.
The two smaller speakers will need their wires de-soldering to remove them from the housing.
Once it's all apart, discard the plastic housings.
Step 17: Add Holes for the Front Panel Controls
We now need to make the various holes for the power button, the control panel for the speakers, and the coin and player buttons.
Following the measurements in the plans, mark the center points for the 6 holes we're going to make.
Starting at the left we need to drill a 10mm hole for the power button. Drill all the way though for this one.
The speaker controls need to be sunk in to the wood a fair way in order to allow the nut to have enough thread to catch on. Using your 15mm Forsner bit, drill to a depth of 12mm for both holes. Once done, drill an 8mm hole through the centre. This will allow the speaker controls to be mounted through from the back of the panel and for the knobs to be attached.
Next, using your 30mm hole saw, cut the three holes for the coin and player buttons.
On the rear of the panel at the hole for the power button, cut to a depth of 12mm using the 15mm Forsner bit, This allows the nut for the power button to be screwed on.
Step 18: Cut the Holes for the Joysticks and Buttons
Following the measurements on the plans, mark the center positions for all of the holes we're going to drill. I find it easiest to draw a grid on the panel as we can easily see at a glance whether things line up as they should.
Using the 30mm hole saw, cut the 12 holes for the buttons.
Using the 22mm hole saw, cut the 2 holes for the joystick shafts.
Each joystick will be mounted with 3mm x 20mm screws. Drill some 3mm holes in a cross at 36mm apart as per the plans and countersink them.
Sand the top face down to remove the pencil marks.
Test fit the joysticks and buttons to make sure that the layout is as you expect and that everything fits as it should.
Step 19: Add Holes for Motherboard Ports
Using the marks we made in step 11 we will drill and rout holes so that the motherboard ports are available to use.
Start by drilling pilot holes with a 10mm wood drill in the paces we marked before. If your marks have rubbed off or you just want to be sure, re-assemble the case with all panels and mark the positions again.
Once you've got your pilot holes, enlarge them either using a router or with a coping or scroll saw.
Using the bevelledrouter bit, finish the edges of the cutouts we're just made to give them a nice finish.
Step 20: Add Holes for the Speakers and Side Buttons
Mark the positions of the side buttons and the speaker holes at the positions marked in the CAD drawing
Using the 40mmhole saw, cut out the speaker holes from the outside in. This is important because the hole saw will chew up the wood as it exits and we want that inside the case rather than visible outside. Finish the holes using the bevelled routing bit.
Using the 22mm hole saw, cut out the holes for the small, side buttons.
Offer up your speaker to check that it fits, then mark and drill 1mm pilot holes for the speaker mounting lugs.
Step 21: Add Holes to the Rear Panel
We need to make mounting holes for our rear panel. Following the marks we made in step 13, drill 2mm holes for the mounting points for the motherboard.
Mark the position of the fan intake and cut out using a 50mm hole saw.
Cut out the rear speaker hole using the 75mmhole saw.
Step 22: Make Sure Everything Fits
At this point we should have all of the panels cut and shaped with all of the correct holes made. Double check all the previous steps to make sure you have everything where it should be and do a complete test fit of the cabinet before continuing.
Step 23: Stain the Panels
I wanted to go for a darker look so the panels needed to be stained.
Start by wiping down all of the panels with white spirit to ensure any grease and dust is removed. Then using a cloth dipped in woodstain, apply gently following the grain of the wood.
You will want at least 2 coats but keep applying until you achieve the colour you want. Bear in mind that the stain will be darker when wet. Allow 30 mins between coats for it to dry.
Step 24: Varnish the Panels
To achieve a lasting protection and a nice shine we want to varnish the panels. This step is not strictly necessary as the stained wood will look nice when waxed if you want to just leave it like that. I have kids though and kids bash things so a hard varnish coat was the order of the day.
I used cellulose varnish for a really solid finish but you can use water-based varnishes if you don't want to wait a day between coats.
Apply each coat with the grain of the wood using a soft bristle brush. You will want to apply at least 5 coats of varnish, waiting 24 hours between coats.
Between the 4th and 5th coats, sand the varnish down with 600 grit wet and dry to get rid of any bubbles or imperfections.
After the 5th coat, leave the varnish to cure for a week before sanding it with increasingly fine grades of sandpaper up to 3000 grit. This is very time consuming but will give you a near mirror finish.
Step 25: Make Standoffs for the Motherboard
I chose to make standoffs for the motherboard using M2 bolts and nuts. Put the bolts through from the rear of the panel and affix using a nut. Then screw a nut down the bolt to the position you want to motherboard mounted at (approx 1cm).
Once this is done, affix the motherboard to the panel along with the hard drive.
Step 26: Add the Buttons and Joysticks to the Case
Fit all of the panels of the case together apart from the top panel (we need to leave this off so that we can slide the screen in).
Fit all of the buttons, speakers, volume controls etc to the panels in the places we created for them in previous steps.
Step 27: Start Wiring
Start by wiring up the LEDs as per the wiring diagram. As they're LEDs we can wire them in parallel (join all the +ves together and join all the -ves together.
Add the leads for the joysticks and the buttons and offer up the joystick controller boards to the positions they will be mounted on the screen bottom bezel. Once you're happy with the positions and the wire lengths, screw the joystick boards down with 3mm wood screws.
At this point we need to shorten the comically long USB leads that came with the joysticks. 30cm is more than enough. Cut the leads and strip the wires back. Solder them back together making sure to connect wires of the same colour together.
On one of the USB leads we need to take a 5v tap to drive the speakers and the LEDs. Solder two additional wires on to the red and black wires and leave them hanging.
We also need to shorten the audio leads (again, 30cm is plenty) and solder them to the speakers.
Step 28: Modify the Power Button
We don't want to use the power button that came with the laptop but we do want to make use of its connections. Solder some fly leads of about 30cm to the positions on the power button in the picture. These wires will go to the power switch on the front of the cabinet as per the wiring diagram in the previous step.
Step 29: Take an Audio Tap From the Headphone Socket
We need sound so we need to take a tap from the audio socket. I've annotated the picture above to show you where to solder wires to get your audio signal.
Solder these wires to the appropriate connections on the audio board as per the annotated picture.
Step 30: Power It Up
Check and double check your wiring. Make sure it agrees with the wiring diagram and that everything is where it should be.
Apply the power supply to the motherboard and press the power button. Everything should light up and the computer should boot. If everything is as it should be, tidy up your wires and screw the remaining panels on.
Step 31: Finishing Touch
Add the rubber feet to the bottom of the chassis to give it a solid base when on a table.
Step 32: Install Your Operating System of Choice
You can now set the machine up with whatever emulation or gaming front end you want. I favor Lakka as it's lightweight and easy to configure. I'm not going to go over the installation here as there are loads of guides on how to set up emulation software all over the web.
Once your software is on, give the cabinet pride of place in your living room and enjoy all those retro classics.
Plans are downloadable here: Plans