Let’s Build an Arcade Cabinet: Episode IV

Well, we’re now all covered in saw dust and paint, but the shell is up and ready for hardware!

The steps we’ve taken since Episode III are very straightforward, though we also ended up changing the front of the MCP Base just slightly. Other updates included the following (each of which will be covered in more detail below):

  • Attach the cup holder panel
  • Add casters for ease-of-movement
  • Add wood filler to cracks and joints
  • Lots of sanding and priming

Changes in Design

We made a single slight change in design in this phase. Once again, it was to accommodate the X-Arcade TankStick control panel. I didn’t care for the look of the front of the TankStick resting  on the MCP Base. So, we cut the points off of the arms of the Side Panels and added a small panel up front to box-in the TankStick. We had to secure this front panel to the Side Panel arms with screws directly into the cut edges of the MDF which is not ideal. We added liquid nail to the rear of the joint for stability, but there is still noticeable wiggling when pressure is applied (and you definitely don’t want to drag the shell by this panel, obviously). We made the decision to soften the bottom edge by rounding off the hard corner during the initial sanding of the machine. You can see the joint and the start of the rounding in the figure below.

Figure 1: Front Panel Modification

Figure 1: Front Panel Modification

Cup Holder Panel

This panel is the final bit of MDF we added to the shell. Anyone unfamiliar with SecureState may not know we have a full bar on site, and so anyone playing on the arcade is likely going to need a place to hold their beer. The Cup Holder Panel has also enabled us to kill two birds with a single stone (or, in this case, piece of wood):

  • Backboard for the control panel to restrict movement
  • Resting point for the bezel glass (to be installed in Episode V)

The construction of the Cup Holder Panel was very simple. It is a rectangle cut with two circles into which we plan to insert marine-style, metal cup holders. The measurements for the panel are shown in Figure 01 above. The panel itself rests on two slivers of 2X4 drilled into the Side Panels. Fortunately for us, everything came together square with minimal adjustment.

Figure 02: Diagram for Cup Holder Plate

Figure 02: Diagram for Cup Holder Plate

Figure 03: Cup Holder Panel Installed

Figure 03: Cup Holder Panel Installed


Figure 04: Adding Casters

Figure 04: Adding Casters

In order to make sure we could move the shell around as we started to make more of a mess, we decided to add casters to the bottom. Two straight and two swivel casters were mounted to the bottom of the machine. In hindsight, it may have been smarter to go with beefier options, but we didn’t want to raise it too much which would have made it more difficult for shorter folks to play. They’ve worked out well enough so far. We put the swivel casters on the front side of the shell to make it easier to maneuver the machine by gripping the arms under the Control Panel, but it shouldn’t make that much of a difference.


More Wood Filler

Once the final two panels were put into place, each and every joint and connection in the shell was slathered with wood filler. We wanted to limit the rough edges and hide our (many) imperfections as much as possible.

We used a big tub of Elmer’s brand filler and had no particular issues. The same techniques as described in Episode III for covering the screw heads and filling gaps were used. Heap on a bunch, press it into place with a caulk knife, and then scrape off the excess. Don’t be too concerned with an overabundance; the sanding process will even everything out. It may have been overkill, but we waited a full twenty-four hours for the filler to dry before moving onto sanding.

Figure 03: Woodfiller, Kick Plate to Control Panel

Figure 05: Wood filler, Kick Plate to MCP Underside

Figure 4: More Filler

Figure 06: More Filler

Figure 07: Filler Speaker Panel

Initial Sanding

If up to this point, you’ve been building inside, you’re going to want to move outside. Things are going to get very dusty, very quickly.

In order to prep the wood for priming and smooth out the crusty chunks of excess wood filler, we spent a full day sanding down every inch of the shell by hand.  I did not pick a particular grain for this step, but don’t go too rough or you may gouge the wood. A power sander was unnecessary, but it would have saved us time on the two outer panels. As the vinyl artwork will more easily adhere to a painted surface than to the raw MDF, we opted to sand (and then prime) as much of the shell as we could manage, inside and out.

Figure 06: First Sanding

Figure 08: First Sanding

Figure 07: Sanding Cup Holders

Figure 09: Sanding Cup Holders

Priming and More Sanding

Figure: Painting Cup Holders

Figure 10: Painting Cup Holders

After the initial sanding, we used Kilz Oil-Based Primer and a set of brushes and rollers to coat the MDF shell inside and out.

Note: It is of the utmost importance that, when using MDF board, you do not use water-based primer or paint. You will ruin the board.

Once you have a solid coat, allow it to dry sufficiently, sand the entire shell down again, and then add another coat. Repeat this process until the shell is entirely white and relatively free of noticeable brush marks. You will notice that the MDF will suck up a lot of paint. It took us four coats to get the shell to a satisfactory look.

Figure 11: Painting Speaker Panel

Figure 11: Painting Speaker Panel

Figure 12: Priming, Coat 1

Figure 12: Priming, Coat 1


Figure 13: Priming, Coat 1










Next Time – The Finishing Touches

In our final post of this series, we’ll have a finished product complete with custom artwork for the sides, marquee, and bezel. We’ll also cover the installation of all the remaining electronic components including specs for the PC, monitor, and speakers we’ve decided to use.




Former military intelligence. Physical security and network penetration testing.

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