As with any potentially dangerous project, you need to exercise due care in operating power tools, using dangerous equipment and other tools. Keep dangerous items out of reach of children, ensure you wear appropriate protective gear and that all people in the area of your work are properly protected, warned of your work and minors removed and forbidden access to the work area. Don't try this project if you are not experienced. Work under the supervision of one who "is" experienced.
OK, so I put together this site to help someone like me. Someone who has used MAME, likes it and has an urge to build an arcade cabinet to get that "authentic feel" (and impress your friends.....)
I started from scratch with this project, first trying to find an old used cabinet. I had no luck as no cabinet had what I "really" wanted: space, sturdiness, ease of access and customizability. I decided to build a cabinet on my own. I first thought I could use my own handy power tools in my garage and just work on it over a long period of time. Big mistake. You really need access to a wood shop (or lots of space) and important tools like a table saw and a big sawhorse setup to accomodate a 4' X 8' sheet of plywood or medium density fiberboard (MDF). Luckily, I had my friend Ernie who a) is a woodworking master and b) has his own woodshop. I could not have gotten this done without Ernie's help. I also had my friends Paul, Russ and Don give me key guidance in design and construction. It would have been a mess had they not all been involved.
I knew very little about woodworking and learned, through research and brain picking, about the things I would need and what they do. Here are some important power tools you will need:
Router: a rotating power tool that can help you cut molding. You hold it from the top and the bit cuts at the bottom. In this case, we used two bits: a pattern bit (once you cut one side of your cabinet, you can make a mirror image copy using this bit) and a slot cutting bit (it cuts sideways so you run the router along the side of the wood and it makes a linear hole so you can bang in T-molding.
Table Saw: this is critical in cutting down huge pieces of wood and also in getting exact right angles. It also cuts fast enough so that plexiglass won't melt (which happens when you use a jigsaw and it gets hot).
Jigsaw: this is a great versatile tool for making short curved cuts, but has trouble making straight lines.
Circular Saw: this is good for cutting straight lines. the only thing you need to ensure is that you have ample space to clamp down the wood and make sure you don't cut through the table.
Clamps: extremely important to make sure the wood you are cutting is secured. The clamps help keep the cutting piece from moving and vibrating while you cut. The more clamps you have, the better. I used a mix of C-clamps of various sizes and these big adjustable clamps (Ernie's) that looked like huge lug wrenches.
Sander: a power sander will be your best friend. I got a rotating hand power sander with various grains. The higher the grit number (220+), the finer the sanding. The lower the grit number (60-100), the more coarse it is.
Drill: a power drill is just a given. The higher the amperage (14.4+) the stronger it is. Cordless is key. I am very happy with my DeWalt 14.4. Porter Cable also makes a nice drill. Ernie had a screw gun which also made life very easy, but is not critical.
I also learned about electrical wiring (but I had a pretty good base as I have built, dissected and destroyed - in the far past - many a PC). Here are some key things to know:
Each connection has a live wire and a ground wire. Both must be connected for your control panel to work. The ground will come from your PC via the USB cable or PS/2 cable to your interfaces. You can then use the ground connections on the interfaces to daisy-chain it through the entire control panel. You will also need to ground the coin door to the control panel if you plan on allowing it to accept coins and generate credits.
Get a line tester to ensure when you route power, that you are connecting the right wires to the right spots.
Learn about soldering. I used quick disconnects for the Control Panel, but had to do some soldering on the coin door and when hooking up the cabinet power. I chose to use a MAL connector (like on the back of a PC) so I could easily disconnect the cabinet power wire if needed. It's a much cleaner look. I butchered a heavy-duty extension cord that I soldered from the MAL connector to a piece of extension cord wire. Then, once the MAL connector was attached to the cabinet, I soldered the extension cord wire to the extension cord receptacle. I had to do this to get the wire through the small hole needed to mount the MAL connector.
The lighting for the coin door will come from the PC Power Supply. I will go into wiring detail on the Coin Door page.
Be VERY careful when wiring electrical equipment. Make sure no power is running when you connect or disconnect wires. Also, some arcade monitors and TVs carry a charge even after they've been unplugged, even for years. Do a lot more research on how to discharge them properly as doing it the wrong way can literally kill you. I opted to use a consumer TV to avoid this very issue.
Research and Links
First, learn about MAME at http://www.mame.net. Get used to the program, find your ROMS and play with it before taking on this project. If you don't like the software or games, or can't get it to work, then everything else is out the window for you. I go into more details on the Software page.
Next: Research, research, research. Learn about woodworking, electronics, PC configuration and arcade gameplay. See my Links page for more, but here is a taste below:
Happ Controls seem to be the controls of choice for most builders and players. Here you can find the Ultimate Pushbuttons in various colors, the Universal Joysticks, Marquee retainers, lighting, coin door, trackball, etc.
The Smartstrip is a GREAT way of powering on the cabinet from your computer switch.
The IPAC and OptiPAC solutions from Ultimarc are the choice for most for keyboard encoding without ghosting (when two keys pressed at the same time create delays). The IPAC is for keyboard mapping and I chose to use the USB interface. The OptiPAC is for a trackball and spinner (only one can be used at a time and it is automatically detected when used).
Oscar Controlsí Vortex spinner seems to be a top choice. The SlikStik solution is also good, but I opted to save the money rather than have a spinner that will go for 3 minutes at the flick of your wrist.