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D.I.Y. Arcade Cocktail Cabinet

Make your childhood dreams of owning an arcade table come true.

Watch today at 3 p.m. and Monday 6/30 at 9 a.m. Eastern.
By Roger Chang
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videogame tableAs a child of the 80's I learned two things.

  1. Whether you're oogling Cherly Ladd on "Charile's Angels" or finding out that that "Charles In Charge" is the boss with Chachi...err Scott Baio, TV was and still is more addictive than crack and twice as sweet.

  2. If Ricky Schroder can have an arcade game table in his "Silver Spoons" home, I too should possess such a fantastic device.

So at the tender age of seven, I vowed that I would not rest until I owned my very own arcade machine. It's been 20 years and I've finally decided if I can't afford one, I'd build the darn thing. What follows here and on "Call for Help" is a brief overview of my quest to assemble a personal arcade game unit.

Sky's the limit

I thought long and hard about what I wanted. Do I want a fully upright unit? The same classic shape and form as the arcade machines from my youth? Or do I want the sit down cocktail table version from my local Shakey's Pizza Shack? While the classic shape is irresistible and would make for an excellent conversation piece, I went with the cocktail table. Not only can I eat and drink while I videogame but the thing can double as a cool appetizer or fondue table.

Next, I had to decide if I a single game unit or a MAME-like machine with many games on it? Seeing as how I bore easily, I figured a multi game setup would work best. When I tire of Pac-Man I can switch to Ms. Pac-Man!

In the beginning

All right, I'll admit it; I'm not a carpenter and definitely no structural engineer so I can't do it from scratch. Besides I have an aversion to power saws and hate getting splinters. So I started my search on the Internet. I though I could maybe buy a complete unit and skip the building.

I was elated as I came across several manufactures for completed units. Great! Except for one tiny thing: They were expensive; too expensive for someone on my budget. But if you're interested and have lots of cash to spend, throw Game Cabinets Inc some business. It has cool MAME-based cocktail cabinet machine starting at the low, low price of $3,499.

Next item I came across was Mr. Chung's Macintosh Mame Cocktail Cabinet page. Turns out Mr. Chung created the exact type of cabinet I was looking for (I just want it sans the Macintosh). He even gave me the idea for using the X Arcade joysticks for controllers instead of wiring my own: a big time saver.

So I followed his links and ended up at Arcade Depot, a store dedicated to building and selling cocktail styled arcade cabinets. You can purchase several different models including a kit version. After talking to the owner, Scott (who is very open to customizing his product for consumer tastes), I ordered the cabinet kit. According to Scott this is probably the best value of all the products he sells. Plus, the flat shipping costs for the kit are much cheaper than shipping a fully-built model.

The kit comes in several versions. The basic kit sells for $195. Scott also offers a range of additional products including glass clips, table top glass (a must), wood staining and sealant, and control panels (if you plan on assembling your own controllers). I got everything and customized the control mounts to accept the X-Arcade Solo.

No computer, no monitor, no gaming

Since things take time to ship, I started working on assembling the various computer components that need to sit inside video arcade machines. I had a couple things to consider before I started.

  • The Monitor

    The monitor is crucial to the home arcade experience. Too small and it's out of place. Too big and it won't fit. Since most of these units had a 19" monitor and the cabinet was designed around one, I figured an old 19" monitor was the way to go.

    CRT or LCD? CRT definitely. After a short discussion with Scott I found out a lot of the older MAME games run at extremely quirky resolutions that most LCDs aren't able to handle. So I settled on an old 19" CRT monitor. Plus I coincidentally had an old 19" Gateway monitor. If you don't have a spare 19-inch, plan on buying a short-neck model. Believe me, you'll save yourself some aggravation.

    Another thing to consider is how easy it is to remove the monitor's bezel and case. You'll need to do this in order for the monitor to fit properly. Unlike older computer monitors from the early 90's and eighties, most of today's larger PC monitors have an internal metal cage that surrounds the delicate CRT tube and magnets.
    Warning: The metal cage keeps you from touching a capacitor and potentially injuring yourself. Removing it can be dangerous and will void your monitor's warranty. Be careful!

  • The Computer

    I suggested short neck 19" monitors because traditional monitors have large backsides. Still, the computer has to be very slim or you need to take the PC components out of the case and mount them inside the cabinet. Lucky for me we have dozens of Dell OptiPlex GX60 floating around the office and I drafted one for arcade duty. It's slim enough to sit at the bottom of the cabinet without and real modifications (besides taking it off its stand) and it's powerful enough to run most MAME games without any problems.

    Arcade emulator

    Next I installed the latest version of MAME32 (The MAME version for Windows) at Mame32QA. This is must for anyone planning to use the X-Arcade sticks. Earlier versions did not have the key configuration for the X-Arcade, which means you have to manually map it out. I then proceeded to load every MAME ROM that Darci, from "The Screen Savers: left me. Since the acquisition of MAME ROMs is a highly contentious and potentially legally problematic issue I won't tell you how to get them. But I figure you're resourceful enough, or else you wouldn't be reading this.

    'The Cabinet' arrives

    As soon as I received the various pieces of my kit I immediately set out to build the thing. But before I get ahead of myself, here's a brief overview of the tools you need to assemble it.

    • Power drill with drill and screw bits. You won't need the latest Makita or DeWalt, just something that will let you drill pilot holes and turn screws. The bought mine on sale for $10 when Montgomery Wards tanked.
    • Rubber Mallet. You're working with wood and sometimes pieces need some "persuasion" to fit. Do not use a hammer unless you like marring the wood finish.
    • C-Clamps or similar grips to hold pieces together while you screw them together.
    • Some extra pieces of 2x2 and 2x3 pieces of wood.
    • A saw (hand or powered) to cut the aforementioned wood to size.
    • Decent pair of pliers to pull out dowels you put in the wrong place.
    • Screws to assemble a monitor mount from the extra wood.

    Assembling the cabinet is pretty easy. Just follow the instructions. Since the whole cabinet is assembled with wood dowels and glue, it shouldn't take you more than a weekend. Try assembling it without any glue to begin with so you head off any problems before you glue the pieces to together. When you want to undue the practice run, use the mallet and a small block of wood to pop out the pieces. When you're done, screw in the various metal braces to add rigidity and strength to the entire cabinet.

    The tricky part

    The hardest part of making this table is assembling a monitor mount. Here's how I did it.

    1. Make mounting posts. Place two equal-height 2x2 and 2x3 pieces of wood, on end, one at each corner of the cabinet and screw them into place.

    2. Mount a 2x3 across the newly formed wood posts width wise and screwed it down on each end. Do the same for the opposite side. This now creates two abutments that the two sides of the monitor will sit on.

    3. Place the PC at the bottom, attach power, keyboard, mouse, joystick and one speaker to the PC.

    4. Attach everything to a power strip that will sit inside of the cabinet.

    5. Set the PC's BIOS to turn on whenever you plug it in so you can turn the unit on from an outside switch, like a power strip, without having to constantly open the cabinet.

    6. Plug power and video from the PC into the naked monitor and mounted it on top of the wood braces.

    7. Close everything up and test it.

    As soon as you're satisfied, add a glass top and retention braces. Also, consider getting a gaming bezel to plug the gaps between the monitor and the tabletop.

    That's it. Buy the kit and knock yourself out.


    1. D.I.Y. Arcade Cocktail Cabinet
    2. Arcade Gaming Table Photo Gallery

    Posted June 27, 2003
    Modified June 26, 2003

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