My Donkey Kong Arcade Machine was inspired one cold winter night in 2016 by a pre- mid-life impulse to buy an Atari 2600.
Like any true 70s child, my memories are steeped in Kuwahara runs to the local Mac’s store for Slurpees, building jumps and forts out of any scraps we could gather, the 8-bit melodies from wood-grained Atari 2600s, and ‘Kangaroos’ zippered sneakers (you know the ones!).
I ended up finding a used ‘Vader’ (all black) Atari 2600 in amazing condition on eBay with about a dozen games, two paddles, two brand-new reproduction joysticks and everything I needed to go into full-on geek mode. Anticipation brimmed as I waited for the unit to arrive and introduce my young daughters to some arcade classics. It wasn’t long before the house was filled with the gleeful screams and excitement of little voices being chased the Ms. Pacman ghosts and bold announcements of which ‘fruit’ would be next as they conquered level after each tasty level.
Before long, I found myself down the rabbit hole of wanting more old games and my mind became flooded with bike rides to the local arcade in our small town’s shopping mall with pockets full of quarters to spend on games like Shinobi, Street Fighter, and Pole Position. I reminisced of our home Sega Master System and Turbo Grafix 16 and started to crave some play-time with Space Harrier and Altered Beast.
Upping the Game
My web search soon took me to a beautiful little mini-computer called the RetroPi which could house more games than I’d ever need, all in about the size of one old NES game cartridge – amazing. Pair this to a real arcade joystick, some buttons and an old computer monitor I had lying around and a guy could lock himself up for a week in nothing but his boxers and a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Soon, the designer in me wanted to pretty these components up. I mean c’mon – what kid who grew up in the glorious 80s didn’t dream of having his own arcade game? Remember those cheap miniature plastic table-top Donkey Kong arcades? Man, I wanted one of those in the worst way! With some tools, know-how and an eye for detail, I got to work designing and customizing a Donkey Kong Arcade Game to dress up my new components.
Here are some photos of the buttons, Joysticks, XinMo Controller, monitor and temporary control panel. Really, this is the bare-bones setup and all that is required to get you gaming ‘old school’.
Respect and Appreciation
First, I have to give credit where credit is due. Many thanks to the creators of Atari, Sega, Turbo Grafix and all the game makers who helped build great childhood memories. RIP to Masaya Nakamura the creator PacMan who passed eariler this year (01/22/2017).
Thanks as well to my new friend Robert Fraser over at RAD (Retro Arcade Designs) in Ontario for both sending me a beautiful ‘Vader’ (all black) Atari 2600 and kicking off my inspiration for this build. Rob does some amazing work as well. He is an avid video game restorer who drives countless miles to rescue retro arcade games from being destroyed or left to rot in the landfills.
Respect goes out as well to the guys over at Twisted Quarter in Florida, and Retroactive Arcade in Alberta where I picked up a lot of my parts. Their customer service and products have been top-shelf. I must also send shoutouts to a number of the forum members over at Arcade Controls (you all know who you are), and also to Escape Pod for the bang-up job on my graphics (albeit a long process with some quality control issues, which I’ll address below).
Lastly, thanks go out for the inspiration for the artwork on this cabinet. I found a print online from an artist named Tom Whalen and absolutely love his style. I modified and re-formatted his print to work with my cabinet and recreated the entire image in Adobe Illustrator – a painstaking process but it was well worth the effort.
OK – here we go…
DONKEY KONG ARCADE MACHINE: DESIGN PHASE
Everyone approaches projects differently. My grandfather was a solid woodworker and would often go to task with little more than a rough sketch and a loose idea. I admire guys that can just see something in their mind and then build it without any plans to speak of.
For bigger projects like this, I like to have a clear model and vision hammered out from which to shoot toward. I think this just speaks to the designer in me and satisfies my need for a clear an concise visual. From there, it’s kind of like reverse-engineering an end-goal.
Choosing an Arcade Plan
First, there are literally hundreds of arcade plans out there ranging from classic reproductions of Galaga and Space Invaders to Donkey Kong 3 and Mario Brothers, and countless other amazing ‘MAME’ arcades which run thousands of games and have some stunning artwork. The sky really is the limit when it comes to building your own arcade. Researching a cabinet that suits your style and space is a pretty exciting and key part of the process. In short, build what you like and what speaks to your tastes.
Part of my approach was finding a design that, a) didn’t overwhelm our space, and; b) kept my wife on-board. The arcade was a bit of a hard sell to her to begin with, but she understands and appreciates my desire to make stuff.
Actually, when I had the demo set-up running in the living room she spent more time manning the controls on Tetris than anyone else in the house and has since given me kudos for the attention I put into the build. I think I won her over in the end although I did get an eyebrow raise when mentioning a second build.
A Modern Theme
The Classic Nintendo cabinet fit the bill size-wise, but the classic artwork on those cabinets just didn’t speak to me. They do have their retro charm, and any Nintendo purists out there may shake their heads at my bastardization, but I chose to compliment this build with a mix of modern and retro elements that would still say ‘classic’ but with a more unique approach. Hey, it’s my cabinet.
Making a 3D Rendering
For this project (and most of my builds), I look to Google Sketch-up. The free version is loaded with features and there are enough YouTube videos out there to get you designing quite intuitively in no time. I absolutely love this program as you can quickly render 3D models and bring your ideas to life in a few evenings. To date, I’ve used it to design the arcade, a mission-style toy-box and a garden shed and a tiny home, which I may make some posts about in the future.
Here is my Donkey Kong Arcade Design using Google Sketchup:
Respect goes out to Chance and Gaetan for meticulously measuring out and drafting up the plans for a classic Nintendo cabinet. They took the actual measurements from an original Nintendo cab and detailed all the specs. You can find these guys over at the Arcade Controls Forums, along with tons of other incredible designers and builders who are making some amazing arcades.
Other references I used were the Donkey Kong Arcade Design Plans over at Jakobud.com.
DONKEY KONG ARCADE MACHINE: MATERIALS
The main construction consists of 3/4″ MDF. The base is constructed of 3/4″ oak veneered plywood that I had on-hand, but this is definitely overkill. If I had to buy wood for the base, I’d likely pick up some 1×4 material such as pine or poplar.
Regarding assembly, I didn’t want any unnecessary filling and sanding, nor did I want to drive screws through the faces of my cabinet panels. To get around this, I glued and screwed batons on the interior of the cabinet to which I could then affix my panels using screws from the inside.
If I were to do this again, I would purchase the Kreg K4MS Pocket Hole Jig as it would have saved a ton of time. Being my first arcade build, there was something kind of ‘zen’ about taking my time and pouring myself into every detail. On my second run, I’d marry detail and precision with working smarter versus harder.
Here’s a list of materials I used for the main construction:
- 2-4′ x 8′ sheets of 3/4″ MDF for the sides
- 1/2 sheet (4′ x 4′) of 1/4″ ply for the marquee shelf and bracket retention strips
- 1-4′ x 8′ sheet of G1S 5/8″ ply for the back panel
- 1-4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ unfinished birch plywood for some of the cross-members
- #8 Robertson Screws
- Titebond Original Wood Glue
Here is a list of paint materials I used:
- 2 cans – Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Grey Primer (I had a can kicking around so bought another for the base)
- 4 cans – Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Black Primer
- 6 cans – Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Semi-Gloss Black
- 3 cans – Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Gloss Orange
- 2 – 3M Sanding Sponge – I used these to wet-sand as they are easy to rinse out.
- 1 roll – Frog Tape – This stuff is great for getting a clean edge and no bleed when spraying.
- 40′ – 3/4″ white T-molding
- Rustoleum Spray Grip
Here is a list of safety supplies (*Please use common sense and respect your health and safety.):
- 3M 6200 Respirator
- 3M 6001 Organic Vapour Filters
- 3M Particulate Filters
- 3M Safety Glasses
- 3M Ear Muffs
Here is a list of some of the tools I’m using in my shop:
Here is a list of gaming hardware and internals:
- CanaKit Raspberry Pi Kit (main computer for the build)
- Xin Mo Controller Module
- Samsung Syncmaster P193 monitor
- Arcade Buttons
- Zippy Arcade Joystick
- 4″ Speaker
- Hi-Fi Micro Amplifier
- 8-32 x 1 1/4” zinc coated carriage bolts (for the control panel)
- Matching nuts and washers
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 1: Side Panels
Start with a scale drawing
Day one was spent getting my side panels ready. For this portion, I took my scale drawing into Staples and for $12, they had a full-size plan ready for me in less than 24 hours. This was probably the best $12 I spent on the hole build as it saved me transferring all of my measurements by hand.
I laid the scale drawing on top of my MDF panel and trimmed the shape on the paper template with an Xacto knife. I then taped it down, traced, and then removed to cut out the rough shape with my jigsaw.
The beauty of this method is that one perfect side doubled as a template for the second side. I used my belt sander to clean up my first side and get everything as close to my outline as possible keeping my edges flat and my corners perfect. I used an orbital palm sander for my corners and kept sanding slowly starting with 80 grit and working to 120 grit for the final sand.
Use your finished side as a template
Once finished, I simply laid panel one onto my second side, traced it out, and then used the jigsaw for a rough cut getting fairly close to the line. Doing so puts less stress on the router blade as there’s not as much material to remove. From there, I clamped the two panels together and used a 1/4″ flush-cut bit to make a perfect replica of the first side.
Cut the slot for your T-Molding
To finish up, I routed the slot for my T-molding using the Whiteside setup which includes a 1/4″ shank as well as the 6700A Slot Cutter. In my case, I used 3/4″ T-molding to match the thickness of my side panels, so I picked up the corresponding slot cutting bit for a perfect fit.
This thing went through the material like a hot knife through butter! I was sure to do a test cut on some scrap material of the same thickness to insure the T-mold would line up perfectly and then went to town on my side panels.
NOTE: It’s far easier to do this with the panels lying flat than trying to run the T-mold slot vertically on a finished product. Plus, I didn’t want to screw up once the cabinet was glued together! Overall, I was pretty pleased with the progress I made.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 2-3: Building the Base
Thanks to a great YouTube video from the gents over at ‘The Canadian Arcade’ on ‘Building a Better Nintendo Base’, I dialled in my arcade base and got her ready for paint.
With a few coats of primer down and some light sanding between coats, the base was ready for the black semi-gloss. For this I used Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Grey Primer and gave it 2-3 coats, sanding lightly between coats w/ a fine 3M Sanding Sponge.
Here is a great video outlining the build process:
DONKEY KONG ARCADE MACHINE: DAY 4-6
I should note that when I say ‘day’, this doesn’t necessarily mean a full day. Day 1 took up a good part of my Saturday, but some days I was only in the shop for a few hours or less if I was just gluing something up to prep for the following day.
With the paint dry, it came time to dry fit the base ‘top’ that the cabinet would be sitting on, and to test fit the wheels. This is where I ran into a few issues.
- My wheels stood too tall (or put a more accurately, I didn’t account for wheel height when I cut the verticals on my base!)
- My wheels spin 360 degrees which may* have worked out okay, but I didn’t want to run into issues with them rotating sidewise when pulling the cabinet.
I suppose at this point, I could have rebuilt the base, but finding stationary casters seemed to be a better option as I knew I could use these wheels in the shop somewhere else or on a different project. Really, there is no need for swivel-type casters on an arcade.
Little did I know, this would be easier said than done. To get the right height casters I needed, the base plate hung way over the edge of the base. You’ll see what I mean on ‘Day 7’ and how I fixed the issue.
I decided to continue on, screwed and glued down my base top from the underside, clamped her up and let sit overnight. With the glue setting up on the arcade base, it was time to start laying out my batons to affix my panels together. Below you can see the interior ‘batons’ I referenced earlier. These batons (strips) will serve as my screw points for attaching my panels, top and base.
For the most part, I used my plans for the main panel layout, but I also departed from the plans a little when laying out the back batons in particular. Basically I made a jig using some scrap material the same thickness as my back panel (3/4″). With this jig, I could quickly align the face with the back edge of my panels and screw the batons down, keeping everything tight and square as I worked my way around.
The key, if you’re going to use this method, is to pre-drill and countersink your batons. Even doing it this way left me with some split pieces, so it’s a bit of a fine art to get your torque correct; It wasn’t long before I got a feel for the drill and torque needed. One thing I would recommend is to pre-drill the batons in place and drill right into the MDF. I used 1×2 pine that I ripped down (3/4″ x 3/4″) but as mentioned earlier, if I were to do this project again, I’d pick up the Kreg K4MS Pocket Hole Jig – this is currently in my Amazon ‘wish-list’.
Use a drill stop or some tape to insure you don’t go through the face of your panels, and then before you screw your batons down, countersink both the top of the baton and the pilot hole in your MDF to remove any raised material. This will insure a nice tight fit between the baton and your MDF surface.
Day 6 was spent mirroring the batons on the second side. As this will dictate the alignment and everything being square, it was vital to take the time to double check all measurements. Once done, I laid the baton sides together to feel and double check that all was reflected perfectly.
Here is a gallery of the build so far:
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 7-10: Wheel ‘Hack’ and Getting her Upright
Remember those wheels that didn’t fit?
The only ones I could find locally that stood the correct height had a huge base that overhung my platform. To remedy this, I just trimmed them with my angle grinder using a cutting blade, smoothed out the edges, and then drilled some new mounting holes on the drill-press.
I then affixed these to my base, added some vinyl furniture feet to the base, and then started to dry-fit my side panels to my cross-members. Assembling the cabinet on it’s side made it easy to line everything up and double check fitment of all my pieces.
Once I was happy, I screwed the whole cabinet together through the batons on the inside and then stood her up for the first time. Okay, okay – I geeked out here and pretend I was playing a video game. Can you blame me?! I have to say, it felt pretty good to get her upright and see everything coming together.
Here’s a gallery view of the build so far:
With this squared away, I continued on with the control panel section. This took some time but for my build, the angle here was 15 degrees on the table saw. I just made repeated passes moving the fence slightly to make my dado, and then I used a small chisel to clean out the groove. The end result was a perfect fit!
To sum up, I cut the back panel, adding a rabbet cut to hold the bottom as I’d be securing the top with a tumbler and key. Next, I added the 1/4″ plywood strips to the marquee area which serve as a support for the plexiglass and then she was ready for primer and paint. I screwed up with my rabbet as my G1S plywood has the good side, inside. Not a huge issue, but still a ‘hand to the forehead’ moment, but nothing some filler and paint can’t remedy.
Admittedly, painting the inside is overkill apart from the area that will be seen from the front of the cabinet around the bezel, marquee and coin door. The way I look at it, for the little extra work, I want the inside to look good as well.
For spray, I highly recommend picking up the Rustoleum Spray Grip for better control of the spray. If I were to do this build again, I’d invest in an HVLP gun like this one from Neiko for a quicker job and better control (not to mention, it would keep the costs down as rattle cans aren’t cheap!).
The last step for the day was to spray a test piece with the Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Gloss Orange. I didn’t want a gloss finish, but this colour only came in gloss. The finish actually works really well with the cab (as you’ll see at the end), and I’m glad I went with it.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 11: Speaker Grill
I’d been putting off the speaker grill for a while mainly due to inexperience with using a jig and a plunge router. The speaker grill truly is an iconic part of the build, and you’ll see it on any old Nintendo cabinet, ranging from Donkey Kong, Popeye, Fix It Felix Jr. and Mario Bros. Getting this correct seemed like a rite of passage for the build.
To dial this in, a simple jig and spacers were used to get the space between each slot perfect. I set up a stop block on either end of each slot and basically just took my time and made several passes removing a little material at a time. Don’t try to take all material out with one pass as you’ll likely burn your material.
For a full detail, a fellow member of the Arcade Control forum did a walk-thru for the speaker grill. This is pretty much the method I followed.
Once finished, I hit the panel with a few coats of primer and then this beautiful orange gloss. Another point of detail for the grill is blacking out the insides of the slots. This was a tedious task by way of a small artist’s brush, but the end-result was well-worth the time.
Here are some photos of the process and finished product:
Getting the speaker grill finished was one of the most satisfying parts of the build. If you’re worried about this part, just follow the jig method, practice on some scrap material, and take your time.
Some other build blogs drill out each end of the groove with a quarter inch bit, scroll-saw the material out and then file the edges to get the slots straight. I would avoid that approach as the router will give you a perfect factory look and finish as you can see.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 12: Orange Paint
Things are really starting to take shape at this point. I painted up the front panel for the coin door and test fit the 18″ florescent light for the marquee. I was tempted to use an LED light but thought it may be overkill. However, if I decide I want the marquee brighter, this would be easy to swap out down the road.
As far as the paint goes, again, I opted for Rustoleum Painter’s Touch Gloss Orange and couldn’t be happier with the end result.
Here are some tips when painting:
- It’s 90% prep, 10% paint. Take your time!
- Make sure you have a few good primer coats and wet sand between coats.
- Remove all dust and degrease your surface before paint.
- For your top coat, paint horizontally if possible and let gravity help you vs work against you.
- Don’t be a ‘one coat wonder’. Several lighter coats will give you a better finish.
- Spray one coat side to side, second coat top to bottom to avoid ‘tiger stripes’.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 13-14: Speaker Mesh, Marquee Light & Coin Door
Things are starting to get fun at this point of the build! Today I installed the coin door, the speaker panel, the control panel and the fluorescent light in the marquee.
With the speaker panel in place, I wanted to put some steel mesh material forward of the speaker to prevent any damage from the prying and poking fingers of my two young girls. I searched the shop for some scrap material I could use, but came up short.
I then started thinking about other items I could use, such as perforated cooking sheets and so forth and then found this wire mesh office organizer that I wasn’t using. Some tin snips and about 5 minutes later, I had a small section of mesh that would work perfectly and it was already powder coated black.
To complete this section, I installed my 4″ speaker, control panel latches and coin door.
Here’s a photo gallery of the build so far:
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 15-16: Graphics Mock-up
With much of the build complete, it was time to start thinking about getting the graphics printed. I did all of the layout and design using Adobe Illustrator and wanted to test fit the graphics to insure the sizing was going to work before firing off the artwork to the print shop.
While time consuming to print, cut and tape the black-and-white graphics, this proved advantageous as there were some discrepancies that I needed to square away. Also, I learned that with a standard printer, you can span a larger print over multiple pages. This did mean some cutting and pasting but the time was well worth it and started to bring the cab to life.
You can see on the side art that I started to run out of ink, but this was enough to satisfy my OCD and give me a good feel for the finished product and insure my measurements were spot on.
With everything checking out, it was time to send my artwork over to the folks over at Escape Pod. See my update below regarding my experience using Escape Pod.
I’m really pleased with how the graphics turned out as you’ll see below.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 17-18: Monitor and Monitor Bezel
With the cabinet insides being blacked out, I wanted to address the shiny bezel of my Samsung Syncmaster P193 monitor. It took a bit of time to disassemble but took the unit apart, sanded the bezel and hit it with some of the semi-gloss spray paint I had from the cabinet.
The great thing about this monitor is that it has an adjustable folding arm and also swivels, making alignment a snap as I didn’t need to figure out the exact angle when installing my monitor shelf. I simply installed the shelf horizontal, figured out roughly where I wanted it to sit, height-wise, and then secured the monitor through my new shelf with some bolts. The base even had some pre-drilled inserts for my bolts, so all is solid and secure.
From here, it was time to start wiring up the peripherals.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 19-20: Coin Door Lights, Serial Number Plate and Internals
Just a few odds and ends today. I applied the ‘Insert Coin’ sticker that Mike’s Arcade sent out with my artwork brackets, and started playing with the artwork for my serial number badge.
Serial Number Plate
Admittedly, the badge plate was a bit overkill as no one will see it, but it kind of polished off and customized the build a little bit. Plus, all the cool kids over at the Arcade Controls were doing it and I was feeling inspired. I think the end result turned out great and just puts the cherry on top of the build. It’s all in the details!
After doing the artwork up in Illustrator, I had the aluminum badge made up at Kelowna Badge Makers & Engravers here in the Okanagan, BC.
Coin Door Lights
The last step was to get the coin door lights going. It turns out, my 5V power supply was underpowered for the lights and made them look like a dim flashlight bulb. It was pretty underwhelming after all the effort to hide my wires and make a neat job of things. I contacted ‘Twisted Quarter’ where I purchased the coin door and they confirmed that it required a 12V supply which made all the difference.
It turns out, the little T10 LED replacement bulbs I purchased for my RV were the same size, so I swapped out the two analog bulbs for bright LEDs – check out the difference on these bulbs! Now the coin door really pops when the lights are out.
Internal Arcade Components and Wiring
Tackling the wiring took a bit of time to map everything out and make as neat a job as possible out of everything. One of the first tasks was to wire a power switch to my power strip so that everything inside the cabinet could be turned off and on from the main switch which was connected to my power cable and then to the wall outlet.
This process involved slicing the standard plug of my power strip and then wiring to my control module as you can see in the photo:
Once I was sure the wiring was correct, I installed the switch and power strip into the cabinet. From this point it was a matter of mapping out my wiring, installing my hi-fi mini-amplifier to my mini 4″ speaker, and routing the monitor, and Raspberry Pi back to the power strip.
I used 1″ velcro tape as well as zap-straps and saddles to keep my wiring as neat as possible and then used wiring loom to black everything out.
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 21: Applying the Side Art
Today I applied the 3M artwork that I purchased from Escape Pod to the sides of the cabinet. To do this, I laid the cabinet on it’s side so I had a horizontal working surface.
Here is the proof that Escape Pod sent me after I sent them my artwork files… Getting excited!
Here are some bullet-point tips for applying 3M vinyl to your arcade:
- Start with a flawless finish – I like MDF for this reason. From here, I primed, sanded, painted and then wet-sanded my finish to get it nice and smooth. Any imperfection on the surface would show through your finish coat when painting, and the same is true with vinyl. If you’ve got a spec of grit on your surface, it’s going to show through.
- Anchor your artwork – once you’ve adjusted your artwork to the correct position, tape it down in a few spots so it doesn’t shift. From here, peel back the artwork from the paper backing by about 3-4 inches and then trim the paper so that you can affix the artwork to the cabinet along the full width and about 3-4 inches. Start at the middle and with your squeegee, smooth any air toward the outside edges.
- Clean as you go! If your artwork is rolled, the vinyl creates a static charge that will attract dirt, hair and other debris. If you don’t clean the roll and your surface as you go, you’re going to get some grit showing through (don’t ask me how I know that).
- Soap it up – with a small spray bottle, add 2-3 drops of baby soap or dish soap. You don’t need a lot here. Spray your surface so it’s damp, but not soaked. Doing so will give you some wiggle room if you need to adjust and also makes easy work of smoothing out any air pockets. Again, remember to work from the middle out.
- Recruit a buddy – for the first side, I applied the vinyl myself. I kept the roll of artwork held with one hand and slowly fed it out as I smoothed out the artwork with the other hand. The second side was way better as I recruited my wife to slowly feed the artwork as I squeegee’d the artwork a few inches at a time.
Trimming the Artwork
Once all the vinyl was applied, it was time to deal with the excess. I created my artwork about 1″ bigger than the cabinet dimensions so that I’d have some room to trim. You can see these reference marks in the design proof above.
SIDE ONE ARTWORK APPLICATION
For the first side, I used an Xacto knife to trim the artwork perfectly to the edge of the cabinet. When I tapped my T-molding into place using a (clean!) rubber mallet, there were a few spots where it pushed the finished artwork up a bit. I then had to go back along the edge and really press and work it down onto the material.
SIDE TWO ARTWORK APPLICATION
For the second side, I thought it would smart to wrap the artwork over to the T-mold groove I routed out earlier and then just trim the vinyl along the groove. My thinking was that the T-molding would then just suck the artwork tight over the edge.
ISSUES I RAN INTO
However, I ran into the same problem. Due to the vinyl being so thick, the 90 degree ‘fold-over’ caused the vinyl to lift slightly in some areas along the edges. I ended up removing the T-mold in some spots, trimming the vinyl along the edge as I did on the first side and then tapping the T-mold back in place. This seemed to be the better application and if I were to do this again, that’s how I’d roll.
All in all, I’m pleased with the side-art application. It wasn’t a flawless job and I’d rate it about a 9/10 but picked up some tricks along the way. Like most projects, I’m likely the only one to notice unless you happen to swing by my place for a close inspection ;).
I then stood the cabinet up and slid her back into the corner where she’ll live. Those vinyl floor sliders work great for moving the cabinet around on the wood floors.
Here’s a few shots of the process:
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 22: Drilling the Control Panel
Like the speaker grill, I put this off for a few days as I wasn’t sure how I would get the already drilled control panel (CP for short) with the artwork affixed to line up perfectly with my MDF panel on which it would sit.
The other issue is that I modified my CP to include 3 additional buttons but the print shop uses a ‘master’ template from which they cut all of their Nintendo-style cabinet control panels. Basically the CNC cuts the shape, the perimeter bolt holes, the joystick hole and the 3 buttons but that’s it. As a note, they also cut the button holes to match the original Nintendo cabinet buttons which measured 1″ in diameter. The buttons I purchased (like most) measure 1-1/8″.
In short, I had a lot of drilling to do.
Here’s my task list to dial in the control panel:
- Get a step drill bit that would go up to 1-1/8″
- Centre-punch and make new holes for my additional three buttons
- Enlarge the buttons that were pre-cut into the panel from 1″ to 1-1/8″ to house my buttons
- Line up all of these holes on my MDF panel and make the two line up perfectly
- Enlarge perimeter holes to accept carriage bolts
- Drill my perimeter holes to line up
The stepped bit worked amazingly well. Really, it went through the plexiglass like a knife through butter. As my artwork was stuck to the back, care was taken to insure that the vinyl didn’t tear. This meant going slow as well as coming at each button from both the back and the front.
Additionally, I used a strip of 3M 1/2″ tape to mark my step bit so I’d know when to stop each hole. Once drilled, I cleaned up any burrs or vinyl ‘artifact’ using the Xacto knife and ended up with some very clean holes.
Drilling the MDF
The next step was to place the CP onto my MDF, clamp it down and then simply trace all of the holes out with a pencil.
From here, I removed the CP, and then found the centre of each circle using a ruler. I centre-punched each hole and then using a 1/8″ spade bit, drilled out all the material in my MDF. The key here is to have a scrap of wood on your drill-press table below your working piece so that you don’t get blow-out (aka an ugly hole).
As you can see in the photos, the holes lined up perfectly and I couldn’t be more happy with the job.
Crack in the Cosmic Egg
After high-5’ing myself for a flawless job on the control panel, I went down to admire my work a few hours later to find some spider legs shooting out of one of the perimeter holes underneath the carriage bolt. Needless to say, the swear jar was topped up and I can only conclude that I over-tightened the nut putting too much stress on the acrylic. As a note, I was careful about torque when securing these down, so it doesn’t take much to compromise the plastic.
Equally frustrating is that this put the wiring of the buttons and joystick to the XinMo controller on hold unless I wanted to redo all the wiring again when the new control panel comes in… ah – still no game-play. Can you tell I’m excited to put some miles on this thing?!
As mentioned above, the folks over at Escape Pod agreed to print a new control panel graphic and include it with the bezel that was mis-cut saving me on extra shipping. This time, I’m having the control panel artwork printed separately on a low-sheen vinyl, which I’ll just place below the acrylic versus being reverse-printed and affixed to the acrylic. This way, if the same thing happens or if I ever need to replace the acrylic due to scratches or damage, the artwork won’t be compromised.
Don’t bother doing this…
Out of desperation to complete the build and start actually playing the arcade, I thought I may be able to hit the vinyl with a heat-gun, carefully remove it from the acrylic, buy a new piece locally and then re-apply. Yeah, no. This was a good idea in theory but the slightest bit of tugging distorted the artwork, rendering it useless.
As an aside, I could have just had a new graphic printed locally and picked up a piece of acrylic since I now have the tools to drill out the holes. However, since the bezel was ready to ship and the cost was extremely reasonable, I just had the print shop add it to the box.
Pros and Cons of Using Escape Pod
- At the end of the day, the artwork looks fantastic on the cabinet. These guys are a print shop, so I would expect nothing less.
Would I use Escape Pod for my graphics again? Likely not – here’s some objective facts:
- Initial shipment included the side art, marquee artwork, marquee plexi, control panel artwork / acrylic and smoked acrylic bezel with artwork attached. The dimensions for the bezel were completely off.
- Second shipment of the bezel acrylic sent with the right dimensions took over a month.
- Response time consistently took 2-3 days via email – quicker via phone.
- I botched the original control panel artwork up with the cracked plexi, so I paid Escape Pod add a replacement to the shipment. They agreed to put this in the same box at no additional shipping charge (which I would expect).
- Control panel artwork was just put loose in the box. When it arrived, it was crushed and not useable. This held up the project by another month.
- When I contacted Escape Pod to express my dissatisfaction, my contact’s response was that he didn’t oversee shipping of products.
In sum, there were just too many avoidable issues that I wouldn’t expect, especially from a company that specializes in arcade game graphics. While the folks at Escape Pod were willing to make everything right, the time delay and deficiency list would have me source out another printer on my next build.
OK – back to the build…
Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Day 23: The New Control Panel
With two failed attempts at drilling the acrylic, I decided to change up my approach. This time, I purchased a brand-new 1 1/8″ spade bit with nice sharp teeth. I then transferred my holes onto a piece of scrap MDF and made a hole template.
The next step was to sandwich my new piece of acrylic between this template and a backing board of MDF and I taped this all together to keep it tight and from shifting around.
Finally, a trip to the drill press and using my template as my drill guide, I blasted some crisp clean holes into my new control panel. I then drilled out my perimeter holes and the end result was perfect. Ahh… finally. I was cautiously optimistic after I mounted the control panel in place. After checking it a few hours later, there was no cracking or spider-legging around the holes – mission accomplished.
Apart from wiring up my coin door to trip my ‘add credit’ switch (which I’ll save for a winter project), the Donkey Kong arcade build is complete! The Raspberry Pi can be accessed via FTP from my main computer, so after acquiring my ROMs, it was just a matter of putting them into the corresponding folders (NES, Atari 2600, etc.). The other great thing is that the RPi will scrape for video game data, pulling up artwork and game specs that can be read in each emulator’s main menu screen… very cool.
I’ll post a video of the machine in action soon.
I hope you found my Donkey Kong Arcade Machine Build post to be be helpful with your own Arcade Build. If you have any questions, comments please post below in the comments!