Building the Control Panel
After building the arcade cabinet, constructing the control panel is the next most time consuming and significant part of this project. However once you complete the control panel you will have a working arcade machine, for the most part, so you are almost done!
At this point you should have a good drawing of your control panel (here is my control panel layout for Visio) and know how everything is going to connect/ what interfaces to use. Once that is done it is time to make your control panel into a reality.
If you didn’t already, I strongly suggest you draw out your design, to scale, on cardboard first to work any bugs out (controls getting in the way of each other, buttons too close to the edge, etc.).
When it comes to the exact measurements and placements I used good numbers that were easy to work with (total length = 48in, Center line = 24in). This made sure everything stayed a proportional distance from one another. Just make sure the control panel you are building will fit your cabinet (not too deep, not too long or wide, etc.). To place the controls and buttons use the center point of the control as a reference. Here are the full sized print-outs that I used:
- Lusid’s Joystick and Button print-outs for Word
- Orignally Jason’s Visio Stencils with some of my work added in (includes spinner, trackball, buttons, and joy sticks)
The layout I created in Visio was not exact but it helped me plan and get a better idea of what I was building.
After you have a design that you’re happy with on cardboard its time to transfer it to the wood. If you were really careful when designing it on the cardboard you can just clamp it to the wood and start drilling and cutting right from there. I however used the cardboard design as more of a rough draft but was sure to include the measurements of where I wanted everything to be placed.
So once I was happy with my cardboard design I kept it handy as I transferred everything onto the wood. I taped all the print-outs right onto the wood where I wanted them to go. Take your time when transferring the design to your piece of wood, I know your eager to get the control panel finished but remember the saying ‘measure twice and cut once.’
Once you’ve double checked to make sure the design has been accurately transferred to the wood its time to start cutting and drilling. Make any big cuts first (if the control panel is going to be angled, make room for a trackball, etc.).
After that use a centering bit to pre-drill all the holes that need to be made. A centering bit has a very pointy tip but other then that it works like a normal drill bit. Do your best to place the tip in the center of each button/ joystick and then drill about ¼” or so deep.
The next step is to use a 1 1/8” boring drill bit to drill out the holes for the pushbuttons and joysticks. Place the tip of the boring bit into the little hole that has been pre-drilled and then drill straight through your board. I say to use 1 1/8” bit because that is the standard size but double check the instructions for the controls you purchased. On a side note if you are going to be using plexi glass you may want to clamp it to the wood and make the cuts now that you have the tools out, just be sure to cut the plexi glass after the wood is properly cut. Spy did a good job outlining this process in his DIY guide – Constructing the Control Panel.
If you have the arcade controls, make sure buttons fit and test fit the joysticks to see if they need to be recessed (most likely). If you do need to recess the joysticks, flip the control panel over and use a router to create the recession. Try to leave at least ¼” of wood so don’t go any deeper than ½” (if using ¾” plywood or MDF).
As you can see my routing work wasn’t pretty but as long as it’s big enough it will get the job done and no one has to see it as it will be on the underside of the control panel.
To cut the edges of the plexi glass you need to use a scribing tool (pictured above) and ‘scribe’ the plexi glass enough so that you can bend it up to snap the piece off. I clamped the plexi glass to my control panel board and used a ruler to keep my scribing line straight. Don’t rush the scribe job, if the plex glass won’t break don’t force it but scribe some more and try again. You need to be careful and make sure everything is clamped down firmly otherwise you could end up cracking the plexi glass.
Once that is done the next step is to start constructing the side panels. Before doing any cutting I painted the left over MDF, giving it about 3 coats of black spray paint. I then measured and cut 5 separate panels (center, two angled sides, and two sides). The panels were 6” in height which gives the bottom of the controls plenty of clearance when it’s mounted on to the cabinet. The front and two angled panels sat about 3 inches back which will give me room if I choose to mount a steering wheel later down the road and I like the look it left.
To attach the side panels I mounted little blocks of wood using a nail gun. The panels were then attached to the blocks with the nail gun as well. For extra strength I put wood glue on the edge of the panel.
Some of the side panels had to be routed because I placed the buttons pretty close to the edge and they got in the way. After routing out about ½” there was no problem at all.
I know the picture above is jumping ahead a little bit but you can see that I also added a beam across the front that was screwed into a block of wood on each side. Since my control panel hung off the cabinet on both sides I cut a piece of wood to cover up the bottom part so that it fit snug with the cabinet.
Above is a shot from underneath the side of the control panel. Later I used L shaped brackets here to attach the cabinet and the control panel. Don’t bother cutting and attaching these pieces until you’ve wired the controls and found they are working.
I used the nail gun to attach a piece of card board to the back of the control panel that was left open. Don’t worry about this step until the controls are wired and you have the control panel mounted the way you want.
With the side panels attached, take the time to set up a nice work area where you can have easy access to the underside of the control panel without putting pressure on the joysticks and buttons on the top.
Whether you are using plexi glass or counter top laminate its time to place it on the control panel (if you haven’t done so already) and mount the controls. Buttons are easily attached using the plastic nuts that come with them. Some joysticks may require that you take them apart or simply unscrew the top knob before mounting them. Check the instructions that were given with your particular part. You may find that minor adjustments may be needed in order to make room for certain parts. So test fit the controls and make adjustments as needed.
Above is a picture of the player two Ultrastik 360 and the 6 red pushbuttons with the micro switches attached. Note that the micro switch gets put on after the button is mounted in the hole.
Once all the controls are mounted securely, take a quick break and get ready to begin wiring your arcade control panel.