MAME Improvement: Choosing a Design

By Mike Bachmann on


This is part two in a series about building a custom arcade cabinet. Read part one here.

I am not an expert carpenter. I’m not even an amateur. I’m not an engineer or an artist and I don’t know how to use AutoCAD. When it comes to building a custom arcade cabinet, designing one myself isn’t really an option. Besides, since this is my first machine, I probably want to copy someone else’s machine exactly to simplify the process anyway. Thank god for the internet. I begin by doing a Google image search for “custom arcade cabinet.”


I already know that I want a simple design that doesn’t stand out far from the wall. That narrows down a lot of the fatter machines. Also in the interest of size, I probably don’t want more than a two player machine with standard six button controls. Anything more than that starts to get cluttered and increases the size of the control panel. I also know that I want a 32″ display. I decide to replicate this machine from Reddit user Mystery_Smelly_Feet.

Right away I’m attracted to this machine’s two distinct brands of retro: classic Nintendo and classic arcades. From a practical standpoint, the hard edges and corners means the wood wont require any weird cuts or bevels. The painting will be simple and it’s already designed for a 32″ screen, which means I can use his existing measurements. You may or may not notice that he’s missing a lot of important information from his diagram. Don’t worry. We’ll get to that in a future post.


Now it’s a matter of figuring out what to build it from. My woodworking father (also the name of a sitcom I’m developing) suggested MDF, to which I replied, “MDF?? What’s that?” He tells me it stands for medium density fiberboard. I ask him about low and high density fiberboard. He looks at me like I’m an idiot.

As it turns out, he was spot on. (About the wood, smart ass.) Nearly all of the projects I looked into use MDF. Most use 3/4″ inch thickness but some use 1/2″. I’ll use 3/4″ inch because I’m paranoid that it will be too flimsy. In addition, I’ll also need plexiglass to cover the screen as well as for the marquee up top. (We’ll get into the marquee later but it will require a thin piece of paper sandwiched between two pieces of plexiglass and backlit somehow. Probably by an LED strip.)

So that’s a start! Before I obtain any of these materials, I am going to order the display first. That way I can make any adjustments necessary as I build the cabinet. Also, for some reason I’m going to order the arcade controls at the same time and get the wood once I free up a little bit more cash. I’m doing it in this order mostly because I don’t want to build the frame of the cabinet and have it sit there empty, taunting me while I wait for more parts.

Next up: choosing your display!

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