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Build an Arcade for Your Garage

Updated on December 1, 2019
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George likes to do his own maintenance on his vans and trucks. Occasionally, he makes stuff out of wood.

Garage or Morton Building All Weather Arcade

Arcades are growing in popularity, let's make one

If you have space, adding an arcade machine is a lot of fun. At first, it seems silly to play some retro games when you can play many high end games on a phone or tv screen at a reasonable cost, but a few minutes becomes a few hours when playing on an arcade.

Most people have older consoles sitting in storage or collecting dust. In this tutorial, we'll go over how to convert a device that you may have on hand to a rather inexpensive arcade machine.

Entertainment areas

What you'll need for your Arcade

1. A couple 2x4's (or 2x2's/2x3's depending on price)

2. Material to make it out of (used 2 sheets of all season plywood, MDF is not recommended for outdoor arcades)

3. An old monitor or television

4. An old gaming machine (used a ps3 with a broken disc drive, games are downloaded)

5. Screws, small hinges, surge protector

6. Arcade controls (easy to find on Amazon, light up buttons are the most fun)

7. Cables and ties to get everything plugged in

8. Spray Paint

9. Color changing Christmas lights

10. Hooks

11. Shower Screen/Clear Plastic

12. Car cup holders

13. Vinyl (flooring)

Framing the Arcade

This arcade uses 2x3's, which we're on sale at the time I acquired the parts. The important part is the wood forms the skeleton of the arcade and allows several shelves, while holding the frame together.

The design I went with was a 6 foot tall arcade with a thinner space for internals and the monitor (since we're no longer using CRT monitors in arcades these days). This particular model will use a tv, which doubles in screen and in sound. If using a monitor, then sound speakers will need to be acquired separately.

Make the Arcade as wide as the screen

Using the size of the monitor/tv that will be used should give the width dimensions. Basically, you'll be designing the Arcade off of the screen and minimize the size around it.

Fill in different sections

Old 80's Arcades will generally have you sit on the inside and has boards enclosing the control panels. This is a design flaw and is not very comfortable when multiple people are playing. Instead, make it an open control design so individuals will have plenty of room and can move their way around the machine, standing on the side or the left or right.

In order to do this, build the sections of the button area outward, as shown. Leave some space underneath, as once buttons and joysticks are added there will need to be about a 2 inch clearance below on all sides. Joysticks take a significant amount of space underneath.

Shelving options

For this Arcade, it's important to have breathing space for high end machines such as anything pushing high definition graphics. Many people will enclose these modern consoles and they will burn out. For this reason, we'll be building a shelf that is open on the back. This is where we're going with the design and can later be switched out with other outdated consoles as newer ones are acquired within the home.

Overhang should have room for lights

Eventually, we will need to re-access the top overhang to add Christmas lights and add our wooden light panel. This really helps bring the Arcade feel together and should be properly constructed in the design.

It's especially important to either use 2x2 pieces or shift the 2x4 (2x3) sideways so that the light panel has only an inch to an inch and half of space between.

Tracing and filling in sections

Once the outer frame starts to get filled in, trace and cut the smaller pieces to line up with the skeletal structure. By this time, the Arcade should look like it's coming together.

I had a hard time screwing the holes into these panels, since the board is placed together in 3 pieces. Consider adding smaller pieces of 2x4 (2x3) and/or drill holes before attaching these pieces.

Notches and drilled holes

While difficult to display, there are holes drilled on the inside in order to run cables. I also added a decent size groove for the television stand and for my arm to reach underneath when running the cables. Plan early and cut the pieces in such a way that assembly is not difficult.

This machine will likely have parts added and removed 3 to 4 times before finishing up, due to painting and cleaning up. Keep that in mind and plan early.

Finished frame, now for buttons

Once all the panels are filled in, expect to spend a significant amount of time (if not most) configuring the button board. The advantage I had is other Arcades sitting around that I can reference, but it does take some trial and error to get the buttons lined up.

Drawing a picture and outlining how those buttons go (from separate testing on the ps3) is a good way to get everything in order beforehand.

The most critically important step is making sure that joystick is aligned up/down/left/right. If it's not, then sometimes the buttons surrounding it might get in the way. Test that first and make sure the onscreen controls are working as expected.

Drill size of the buttons, joystick

I typically use a 1 and 1/8th inch drill bit to get the buttons in perfectly. Some buttons are smaller, depending on the manufacture.

In addition, I use only a 1 inch drill bit on the joystick. This is important, because if using the 1 and 1/8th inch, it will show gaps as Gamers are playing. You don't want this, make sure it's a smaller drilled hole for the joysticks, as shown.

Glue on a vinyl pad

When adding the vinyl pad, you might use super glue and a good strong adhesive that can cure in a 24 hour period. Generally leave something heavy on it overnight and return to the control board afterwards. By then, the vinyl should be secure.

Begin to carefully cut out the rooms for buttons. The vinyl is flexible enough to where it doesn't have to be cut out perfectly, the buttons should be able to be pushed in and secured, so don't cut them too wide and create gaps.

Paint this thing while waiting for the controller board to cure

Begin to add the buttons/joysticks

As buttons are added, the vinyl should tighten in and look really appealing. This vinyl will also be comfortable for long extended hours of play.

Begin lining up the controls and follow the schematics that was put together in testing. Make sure the joystick are perfectly in the center (which can be difficult) before using small short screws to attach them to the board. Make sure the screws are short enough to not pop out on the reverse side of the board.

Wiring and adding controls to the Arcade

Begin to wire and follow the schematics, from the earlier testing. Once all buttons and switches are in alignment, begin testing again to make sure (1) all the lights power on when the console is turned on and (2) that the button responses and joysticks are doing what they are supposed to do.

In many cases, this may take once or twice to move wires around to get the desired result. In some cases, the wiring provided might be cheap and have the wrong signals, which is why I have extra wire packs sitting around.

Please be warned that I had at least two times that I needed to return buttons and joysticks, due to them not working. If all your switches and joysticks are functioning properly the first time, consider yourself fortunate.

Completing the Arcade controls

Once all controls are in place, hinges have been installed, you'll need to continue testing. The ps3 was fairly simple, plug and play and done. Some systems require a lot of configuration such as a computer or raspberry pi.

Continue to paint and touch up spots, being extra careful not to ruin the nice looking buttons/joysticks or screen.

In this case, I painted the hinges and used cardboard to protect them, which was a bit risky. I recommend leaving the button clear plastic covers on until this step is complete as an extra precaution in case spray paint gets on them.

Finishing up the light panel

Cut out a panel between the lights at the top of the Arcade. This step will require a rotary tool or similar. Outline the top and bottom then proceed in drawing the words for the header of the machine.

Drill small holes for entry into the letters and carefully cut around the letter spaces. It's very easy to slip and have to start over, so take this step slowly.

Adding lights, panel cover

After painting the panel, use this time to add the hooks and hang the lights, running the cable into one of the power plug ins. Test it, make sure the lights are working as expected.

Once the panel is dry, add a screen that shows light through it. In this case, I stopped using plastic and used a shower screen instead. This was very cheap and about two layers were nailed to the backside. I've used plastic on some of the earlier ones and they come apart or crack easily.

Continue by drilling the panel in from backside. In this case, I used a ladder and pulled off the smaller panels from the back to drill in carefully and properly.

Finish by testing the lights and console

I turned off the lights in the area, then proceeded in watching the lights change color.

After doing this, clean the inside, making sure any debris is vacuumed out, that the unit is free of anything that could cause overheating.

Finally, add your cup holders

Drill in a single screw to hold the cup holders into place. This became an essential addition, as most people who approach this thing will usually want to set something down.

You'll also note that some games require the ps3 controller, so it can easily be placed in one of these cupholders when not in use.

One finished outdoor Arcade

Now that it's done, feel free to add decals, a stool, heater or anything that might enhance the experience.

Thanks for reading and best wishes on your project!


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