Thursday, June 28, 2007

Monitor Bezel Installation

This is another pretty self-explanatory step. In order to frame the monitor, I decided to use some black matte board - you know, the stuff you use when framing a picture. The only real issue I ran into was finding it. I had to make sure the inside of the matte board was also black so when I cut it to size there wouldn't be a white center or something. I ended up spending about a week looking around for it because places like Michael's and A.C Moore did not carry "black with black core" matte board - they only had "black with white core" matte board. I finally found some at a local art supply store for $3.75 a sheet. It was perfect - and cheap!

Anyway, I ended up just tracing the monitor glass that I already had to size the matte board properly and then with the monitor in place I just measured in from the sides of the cab to the edge of the screen and cut everything out with a sharp razor and a straight edge. It's a good idea to cut it a little oversize and then trim it back to get a tight fit.

The hardest part was cutting out the interior corners because there is a tendency to over cut with the razor knife and you have to be extra careful if you want a crisp corner. I ended up cutting away from each corner on both sides.

The next picture shows how the bezel sits on top of the panel surrounding the monitor (it's not laying flat yet as you can tell). There is nothing holding it in place other than gravity - no glue is necessary. It sits in front of the 1/2" lip created by the top edge of the control panel. The glass will sit on top of the bezel leaving about a 1/8" lip. I wanted the matte board and glass to lay flush with the control panel but I didn't take into consideration the thickness of the velcro when planning everything. Oh well, at least there is no chance of it slipping out.

As you can see from the pictures below, with the grey tinted glass laying on top of the black matteboard you can't even tell that there is a monitor in there unless you really look for it. I can't wait to fire up a game because the screen should be the only thing you notice when it's on.

That's almost it as far as the construction goes. I still have to decide on how to wire up the power plug from the SmartStrip and do a little touch up painting and some other miscellaneous crap but this is pretty much what the finished product will look like.

Next up - installing all of the programs and getting it to actually work!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Control Panel Installation

There's nothing fancy to see here. The only real problems I had to deal with were making sure the control panel did not move at all during gameplay and making sure the control panel was removeable at any time for maintenance or something. My first solution worked perfectly so it turned out to be pretty easy.

I bought some industrial strength velcro from Home depot and put two strips on the lip of the monitor panel that I had previously routed and the matching strips on the top of the underside of the control panel. Once I put the control panel in place it was a very tight fit. The velcro held up nicely and nothing was moving even when I pulled quite hard on the joystick.

The only other issue was holding the bottom portion of the control panel in place. Since there were some strips of wood on either side from when I first assembled the cabinet, I just used some 3" clamps to hold the bottom of the control panel in place. Easy!

Here are the results - it's looking pretty sweet right now.
Next up - installing the bezel around the monitor.

Monday, June 25, 2007


This past weekend I installed the monitor bezel and the feet on the bottom of the cabinet. The construction part is just about complete.

I also started to really think about splicing the SmartStrip into a plug that gets flush-mounted on the back of the cabinet. I'm just not sure this is the best way to go - the plug will force the cabinet to sit about 1.5" off of the wall... but so will the plug that goes into the wall so I'm not sure it matters. The alternative is to just cut a hole in the back and use a grommet (like the kind found on computer desks to let wires pass through) to feed the plug of the SmartStrip through.

I have to think about this.

Anyway, I have plenty computer configuration to get through this week to keep me busy.

The REVISED "Punch List"

I guess I'm going to keep a running list of what I need to do in order to finish - I have to keep pushing forward because I have to have this thing completely finished by the end of June. There are still a bunch of minor things I have to do:
  1. Cut hole in back of the cabinet and install the exterior plug
  2. Splice new plug to SmartStrip
  3. Wire the computer power button to a button on the cabinet somewhere [back?]
  4. Apply the side art
  5. Make a bezel out of black posterboard/matteboard and install
  6. Wire the coin door
  7. Touch-up paint
  8. Install feet for the cabinet so it doesn't mar the floor
  9. Install and configure the computer
  10. Apply vinyl button decals (these are on order)

I am fairly certain that most of this can be completed in an afternoon - hopefully this weekend. The only part I anticipate having trouble with is the configuration of the computer. Sure, I'll have Pac-Man and a bunch of other games up and running but I have a lot more than just getting it to work to do. Here's the short list:

  1. Wipe current computer clean and do a fresh install of XP
  2. Compile MAME so it will save high scores properly and display the proper game information
  3. Install MAME
  4. Install MaLa (the front end menu which will launch the games)
  5. Customizing the art/graphics for the front end (I'm making it pink!)
  6. Create various .MAP files for the Ultimarc 360 joystick and get them to load upon the launching of a game
  7. Configure buttons

The computer stuff scares me but I'll muddle through.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Marquee Installation!

This past weekend I was also able to install the marquee. Is wasn't too difficult but I definitely hit a few snags along the way that I had to think through.

Here is what I started with:

The first thing I did was cut the marquee retainers that I ordered to the proper size. The plastic that the retainer is made out of is pretty thick but it is also brittle and cracked under the pressure from my radial saw so I ended up using a mitre box and hand saw. I cut them a bit oversized (1/32") and then sanded down the ends with some 100 grit sandpaper until I got a tight fit.

I toyed with the idea of using velcro to hold the retainer in place but the thickness of the velcro made the retainer sit about 1/16" off of the surface of the cabinet which wasn't going to work. The retainer also needs to be removable so I couldn't just glue it down. I decided to use 4 evenly spaced screws to secure it to the cabinet so the next thing I did was mark off where I wanted the screws to go. I decided on placing the two end screws 1" in from the end of the retainer and then I measured for the other 2 central screws so they would be spaced evenly. To place the holes, I measured up 1/4" from the plastic line that is part of the retainer (you can see it in the pictures).

Using an awl and my trusty rubber mallet, I marked off the holes where I would eventually drill. The reason to mark the holes with an awl is so the drill bit does not slip out of place.

After the holes were marked, I drilled them out using a 1/8" drill bit as shown below. Make sure the retainer is clamped in place as you drill so it doesn't slip.

You should get a nice clean hole for the screw as shown:

At this point I ran into my first problem. The screw caps I'm using to cover the screws lay very flat and a typical screw kind of slopes outward towards the screw head. The bottom line is that there was no way that the screw would lay flush with the retainer if I didn't modify the hole somehow. I decided to use a larger drill bit and a razor blade to dig out a cone shape for the screw head to sit in.

It was kind of a pain but it worked. I didn't have to be precise because the screw caps cover any imperfections around the hole.

The next step was to cut the marquee and the plexiglass to the proper size. This was pretty easy to do and just required a lot of trial and error. Mamemarquees printed the marquee a little oversized but all it took was a razor and straightedge to cut it to size.

I also had to cut the plexiglass which I did using my router, a straightedge and a flush trimming bit. I trimmed off about 1/32" at a time, tried to fit everything in place and then trimmed again until everything was nice and tight. I wish I remembered to take a picture of my arm after routing the plexiglass. The bit actually melted the plexiglass and all the little shavings stuck to my arm - it looked like icing from a Hostess Sno-Ball or something.

Now that the retainer, plexiglass and marquee were all cut to size, I clamped everything in place, drilled out the pilot holes and secured everything to the cabinet using 1/2" screws. Once that was finished I capped each screw head with a screp cap to give it a clean, finished look.

Here are the results:

I assure you it was easier to install the marquee than type up this post.
The control panel installation is up next!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Speaker Cover Installation

It's hard not to rush when you're this close... I am probably 95% done with the build except for the computer configuration which is going to be difficult. Anyway, over the course of this week I'll be detailing my progress for the various tasks that I did over the weekend. First up....

Speaker Grills
A while back I purchased some speaker covers from Chokes Unlimited I finally installed them over the weekend. Nothing fancy here:

  1. Using a stop block up against the back panel, I positioned the speaker covers and taped them in place
  2. Using a 1/8" drill bit I drilled 4 pilot holes for each cover
  3. Then I screwed the speaker covers in place
  4. Finally, I used some black screw caps to hide the screw heads and give it a clean, finished look
I think the pictures are pretty self-explanatory.

More minor updates coming all this week!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Return of More Pictures!

I might as well dump what's on the camera... It's not like I'll be using these shots anywhere else so what the hell, right? I took a couple of close-ups of the top and bottom just for fun. I really love how reflective the paint job is - too bad my camera stinks because it looks a million times better in person... Also, the flash from the picture of the top interior really makes the black paint job look terrible - it is completely flat and muted in person with no noticable texture... oh well.

These pictures also helped me decide that I absolutely have to replace the coin door return buttons. They are the only part of the entire cabinet that doesn't fit in right because they are yellow and not pink. They are going to be very difficult to replace because as far as I know no one makes pink ones. Stay tuned for my solution on that...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Even More Pictures!

I know, I know - this is getting ridiculous... Here are a few more pictures of the cabinet with the t-molding and coin door installed. I had planned to install the marquee last night but I didn't have the proper screws to attach the marquee retainer or the velcro to hold the flourescent light in place. Looks like I have to go to Home Depot today!

Thanks for looking!!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MORE Progress Pictures

Nothing much to note here regarding the construction or anything. I was able to install the front panel which contains the coin door (and is hinged on the right for access to the computer) as well as the pink t-molding. At first I was put off by the pinkness of the t-molding but after I popped in the control panel and hung the marquee and sideart with some tape it looked really really good - the buttons and some of the coloring in the marquee and sideart match the t-molding just like I had planned.

One note about the t-molding installation... it definitely wasn't as easy as it should have been and that was my own fault. Throughout the finishing process the cabinet was very wet due to wetsanding the lacquer finish. A lot of this water spilled over the edges and I had to continually wipe the spills up with a rag. A lot of the water also came into contact with the unprotected edge of the cabinet where the t-molding slot was located and severely weakened the MDF. When I went to put on the t-molding, it didn't necessarily want to follow the slot I had routed when I was hammering it in with my rubber mallet and there were a few spots where it made it's own groove - off center.

It was an easy fix - all I had to do was remove the t-molding, straighten the slot out with a flathead screwdriver, carefully align the t-molding with the slot and hammer it in again. My previous experience was that t-molding was super easy to install and didn't require careful attention. I won't make that mistake again!

I definitely do not think this will be a long-term problem or anything - the t-molding really fit snugly into the slot (without glue) and went deeper than the water damage on the surface of the edge so it had something to cling to in there. I just wanted to point it out in case someone decided to try my finish.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Finish: It's... um, FINISHED!!

This past weekend I was *finally* able to finish the, um... finishing. Woo hoo!!!! What a pain! It took a very long time but I think the results are worth it - plus I learned a ton from the finishing process - the next one will come out even nicer (if there is a next one - I'm seriously considering lamination for the next finish - it's a million times easier and probably looks just as nice).

Anyway, here's a couple of pictures showing off the finish - it really looks stunning in person (flaws and all). In these shots I am 1/2 way finished with applying the rubbing compound - you can see the reflection of the rag I used in the bottom half. The top part is "only" sanded. The difference is pretty unbelievable.

Check it out:

I'll be posting more pictures later in the week and I'll try to do a write up on the last few steps but I think the finishing process has been talked about to death. I should note, however, that I only applied 2 coats of each of the rubbing compound and polish (as opposed to the 4-5 coats I originally planned). That stuff is harsh and cuts through the finish quite easily. There were a few sections where I sanded down too far to the pink paint and the rubbing compound was really eating into that and I didn't want to hit the white primer so I stopped.

Once the finish was completely applied I was going to go inside and start making dinner and get ready for the Sopranos finale but I was so excited so I installed the front panel, the pink t-molding and the coin door. I still have a bunch of things to do but I'm well on my way to wrapping up this project within the next 7-10 days!

Stay tuned!!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Finish: Sanding It Smooth!!

I didn't really like Test Panel #1 so I decided to create Test Panel #2 to test out a new finishing process. It came out pretty good (but didn't photograph well) so I decided to use this process on the pink panels (except the back one). I want to achieve an "automotive/piano" finish on the sides and front of the cabinet and Test Panel #1 just wasn't going to cut it. The polyeurathane top coat came out a little too streaky for my tastes (although it's probably due more to using improper supplies than anything else) and it just didn't have that extra special quality that I was striving for on this cabinet. This post will explain the process I went through in finishing the pink panels as best as I can. Two things right up front:

  1. This process is a huge pain and is taking a very long time to complete.
  2. Anyone who is interested on how I got the cabinet to turn out like it did should read here first. This link goes into pretty good detail about how to achieve a mirror finish on an MDF surface using automotive supplies. I followed this guide as close as possible.
  3. For 99% of the sanding I used a Makita Palm Sander. It is worth every penny - your arms will fall off if you try to sand this project entirely by hand.
  4. After sanding I always used a tack cloth to remove the sawdust left behind before applying another coat of paint. I highly recommend doing this.

The first thing I did was sand the surface of the MDF with 600 grit sandpaper. MDF is flat and smooth but not nearly as flat and smooth as it needs to be in order to start the finishing process. It's hard to believe but trust me on this one. After you go over it a few times with some 600 grit sandpaper you will not believe the difference.

The next step was to "seal" the MDF because the pink paint I applied is water-based and MDF will soak up water like a sponge and basically ruin it. I applied two coats of an oil-based primer to seal the MDF - other people suggested watering down some Elmer's glue (like 80% water to 20% glue) and slapping it on there to seal it once the glue dries but I was too much of a wuss to try it out. The oil-based primer worked great on my test panel so that's what I went with.

After the primer dried I sanded the entire cabinet smooth using 220 grit sandpaper before applying the pink paint. I applied 6 coats of pink paint and sanded in between with 220 grit sandpaper (except for the last coat). Then I applied 25 coats of spray lacquer as I described in an earlier post.

Now comes the "fun" part. Once the lacquer fully cured (over a two week period) I sanded it down to a super smooth surface. I spent 5(!) hours sanding one side of the cabinet. Five hours. One side. I used 1500 grit sandpaper, a palm sander, and a sponge. This is the sandpaper I used:

I divided the panel into thirds and spent about an hour and a half wetsanding each third. I'm still not finished with it entirely. I can still see a bunch of reflective sparkles all over the place when the light hits it just right - these are small divots that are still present even though I've sanded like crazy. I don't know what to do next - I'm debating whether or not to continue sanding this week trying to remove the tiny divots or if I should move on to the rubbing compound and polish. I'm not so sure the rubbing compound does anything to be honest - I applied a bit to a lint-free rag and started rubbing it in and I didn't notice a difference at all with the finish. The divots were still there.

Also, there are some sections that are starting to appear duller than others - I'm not sure if the dull sections indicate that I am getting the finish I want (and I just have to keep sanding) or if they indicate that I've completely sanded through the lacquer and I'm sanding the pink paint. The last thing I want to do is sand through the paint to the white primer or worse, the MDF. I am quite frustrated.

However, as it stands now (without rubbing compound and polish) it looks very nice from across the room (or even right next to the thing but if the light hits the cabinet just right you can definitely see imperfections which are making me nuts). I'm probably the only one that will notice them... or maybe I'm not - I don't know.

Check it out:

There are some places that look amazingly smooth and flat and others that have the divots no matter what I do. I've attached some pics of what I did (the sideart is just laying there). As you can tell from the pictures, the finish is quite flat - not a brush stroke to be found! I am going to go over it with 4-5 coats of rubbing compound and then top it off with 4-5 coats of polish/wax just to be safe. This is definitely hard to do and I have a whole new level of respect for people who finish cars (and pianos) for a living - you need some serious talent and experience!

Stay tuned for the polished/waxed panel!