This is a new take on mini arcade cabinets! Many people who are building arcade cabinets are looking for a more simplistic design that has fewer bells and whistles. This could be because they have limited tools, or skills… but it could also be due to space concerns. Bartop arcade cabinets generally fit nicely in many place in the home, but if space is a concern even these can be too big for some. This mini arcade cabinet build reduces the size of the standard bartop arcade while still maintaining an optimum monitor size, play-ability, and awesome retro arcade looks! This arcade build just might be the one you can finally find room for!
Watch the Mini Arcade Cabinet Video
Constructing the Mini Arcade Cabinet
Step 1: Panel Layout
We’ve mentioned this quite often, but there are really two choices for arcade cabinet construction. Plywood and MDF. We generally prefer MDF for three main reasons: 1) It’s easier to work with and doesn’t chip, 3) it doesn’t have wood grain that needs to be filled and sanded to get a clean look, and 2) it costs less. There are a few drawbacks to MDF though. It causes a lot of dust, and it is heavier. We think those are tradeoffs worth living with. Wear a good dust mask though.
Follow the dimensions on the plans and layout the mini arcade cabinet onto a half sheet of material (MDF/plywood). Take your time with this step. A mistake here will be hard to fix later.
Step 2: Cut All of the Components Out
A feedback item we hear fairly often is that “you have $5000 worth of tools” so “of course this is easy for you.” But the truth is, you only need two tools to build this mini arcade cabinet. You need a jigsaw and a screwdriver. Literally everything can be done with just those two things. The only exception would be if you decided to install t-molding. You’ll need a router for that.
We highly recommend cutting both side panels at the same time. Stack two sheets of MDF on top of each other and cut one time. This will produce the left and right panel in one go.
Step 3: Add the Scab Blocks
This step is purely optional, but we like this method a lot. It makes finally assembly much simpler. These blocks need to be exactly square and the same dimensions as the material you are building your cabinet with. If you go with 3/4″ MDF, then cut these into 3/4″ X 3/4″ squares. As for length, its really not that important as long a they are shorter than the length of your panels and leave plenty of room for working with assembly later. Error on shorter rather than longer.
Step 4: Optional T-Molding Slot
T-molding is totally optional, but damn does it ever give the mini arcade cabinet that awesome retro old school appeal! Be sure to route for t-molding before you assemble the cabinet! Once its assembled it is too late to go back, as the router won’t reach every part that needs a slot. One common question is “Which router bit do I use for t-molding?” That’s a tough answer because it is “It depends.” Check with the manufacturer of the t-molding you choose for the proper bit size and cut depth. It should be listed on their website.
Step 5: Assembly of the Mini Arcade Cabinet
We always recommend a brad nailer if you happen to have one. This will make assembly go so much more quickly. But if you don’t have one, just go slow and let everything sit for a couple of hours before moving on to the next step. The brad nails are simply there to speed the process so you don’t have to wait for the glue to dry. Think of them as mini clamps holding together your mini arcade cabinet! Brad nails alone are not enough to hold your cabinet together and will quickly back out over a short period of time with use. Many don’t know it, but wood glue is actually stronger than the wood itself.
Step 6: Drill the Buttons and Joysticks
Included in the plans for this cabinet are a set of drilling templates (one for single-player, one for two-player) for the control panel of the mini arcade cabinet. We recommend two things here. First, always use a backer board. When the drill bit punctures the material it will have a tendency to blow out the backside of the board. Just lay it on top of another section of MDF. Second, use 3M Super 77 spray adhesive to attach the template temporarily. It works much butter than masking tape and won’t shift on you. We also highly recommend that you use a punch to make a starter hole. This will keep your drill bit from wandering. This is especially important when working by hand.
Step 7: Prepare for Paint
Fill all of the holes left by screws, or brad nails. Also fill any areas where thee cabinet did not seem cleanly. If you cut your mini arcade cabinet using a jigsaw this is a great way to close those gaps up after the fact. They’ll just disappear. Use any standard wood filler or drywall compound. After letting it cure for several hours, use 220 grit sandpaper to smooth everything out. A random orbital sander will really make this a breeze.
Step 8: Prime the Arcade Cabinet
Priming the mini arcade cabinet is of the utmost importance. Many people think primer is optional, but it is most definitely not. Don’t skip this step. MDF is notorious for soaking up finishing material, so be sure to wait a few minutes between and add several coats of primer. Finish it of with a light sanding 24 hours later using 220 grit sandpaper.
Step 9: Paint the Bartop Arcade Cabinet
Go crazy here! Pick a cool vivid color(s) that suit your style. Every time we do an arcade build about 50% of the people are haters, and 50% love the color. Don’t let the color get in your way. When you build your mini arcade cabinet, use the color that makes you happy and let the haters be haters! We recommend using a tack cloth and wiping the cabinet down before spraying the cabinet with paint.
Step 10: Install the T-Molding
Installing the t-molding in the mini arcade cabinet is a simple task! All you need to do is follow our simple t-molding install guide video and you’ll be on your way to a super easy and professional t-molding install. If you decide not to use t-molding on your cabinet, we would recommend putting a round-over on the edges of the MDF to give it a more finished look.
Step 11: Install the Electrical
The simplest way to provide power is to just put a big box store power-strip inside the cabinet and call it a day. But let’s be honest for a minute. That’s really lame! Someone started a rumor in the forums not too long ago that you need to be a licensed electrician to wire up your cabinet using our method. Well that’s just flat out wrong. Homeowners are allowed to do electrical wiring for anything inside their own home (in the USA at least). This includes furniture and cabinet work (or in our case a mini arcade cabinet). Do you think only licensed electricians are shopping at Home Depot? Even outside your own home you’re allowed to do electrical work without a license in many cases as long as you’re not running a new run from the main panel (ex: replacing a light switch or fixture). So do yourself a favor and put in a dedicated and permanent electrical outlet setup in your mini arcade!
Step 12: Install the Joysticks and Buttons
Follow the manufacturers recommended wiring for whichever controls you order. If you purchase the ones we recommend they include a wiring diagram and schematic. We also have a an article on wiring arcade controls.
Step 13: Install Display and Raspberry Pi
Slide the monitor into place. If using the optional VESA mount (included in the plans) mount the monitor to the VESA support beam. Install and wire up the Raspberry Pi to the monitor and connect the USB from the joystick and keyboard. Plug the speakers into a USB charger, not the Raspberry Pi. The Pi doesn’t have enough watt capacity to run USB speaker’s amplifier.
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The Finished Mini Arcade Cabinet Build
The finished mini arcade cabinet build rocks your socks off! It’s got front facing USB ports, to plug in old school controllers! It’s got all the old school styling you’d expect from a mini arcade cabinet, and plays all your favorite games using the Retropie emulation software.