Wireless MAME Part 2 – Mechanical Design and Construction

As alluded to in the last article, most of the thought involved in constructing my MAME controller went into the mechanical design.  As I’ve found constructing this, it really takes a lot of thought and patience to design your own cabinet.  As can be seen in  this link, there’s no shortage of people who do a marginal job with their cabinets.  Then again, the system I’m posting about could probably qualify if taken out of the context of an experiment/first try.  What you see here is hopefully the first step in something that will turn out to be great, but is only marginally successful at this point.

acrylic MAME sheet

Partially cut 3/8 inch acrylic sheet

The first step in the design process was to select the material to use and the general shape.  As I had used it in the past, clear acrylic sheet seemed like a good material.  It’s very strong, fairly scratch-resistant for this type of material, and easy to machine.  On the negative side, it’s more brittle than some materials.  3/8 inch thickness was chosen so it would be a very solid piece although 1/4 inch would probably work as well.

Looking at prices on the internet, I found this supplier that has pretty good pricing and 12″ x 24″ was a standard size that seemed like it would fit two joysticks and buttons pretty well.  This material worked out well, but one thing to note is that their sheets are toleranced at plus or minus 1/4 inch.  They mean this and mine was on the lower side.  Nothing against “freckelface.com” as they do say this, but I neglected to compensate for it.

On that note, those of you that are unfamiliar with woodworking should note that 3/4 inch plywood is actually about 23/32 inch.  The 3/4 inch is before processing so if you’re trying to do a nice design beforehand just be aware.  Also 1/2 inch comes out to be about 15/32 if you decide to use that material.k

Orignal design... Some changes had to be made

Once I had the material for the top and sides chosen, I decided to have it sit at a 10 degree angle off horizontal.  My next thought was that 10 3/8 inch x 24 inches would be enough room to have two people play at once.  Here’s a few drawings of what I came up with originally.

MAME top acrylic piece rev 1

The top acrylic piece - button holes were cut with a 1 1/8 inch paddle bit on a milling machine. This works well if you don't run it too fast. Spacing on the buttons is 1 1/2 inches between each center.

Rev 1 MAME assembly

Original assembly design. Note the 10 degree angle.

I began the construction by machining the base with a milling machine.  There are probably faster ways (a router or saw might work), but that’s what I had available.  All holes in the bottom were countersunk for # 8 flat head wood screws (or FHWS as shown on the top drawing) which made for a very clean design, but took a bit of work.  My 6 x 21 inch mill isn’t large enough to accommodate the top or bottom plate without multiple setups, so this was a pain attaching and fixturing everything.  The other issue was setting up some of the angles especially on the front and back pieces.

After looking at the difficulty in making these angles as well as the fact that the acrylic would have to be cut to 10 3/8 inch (a 24 inch cut which would be hard to do well with my equipment), I began to question whether or not I had the resources to complete this design.  I had some 2 7/8 inch strips that I was going to make the back and side pieces out of already cut from Home Depot.  Additionally, I already had the 9 x 23 3/4 inch bottom piece ready to go.  So after somewhat abandoning my careful design, the following is the parts list that I finally came up with.

Mechanical Bill of Materials, wireless MAME trial:

  • 3/4 inch plywood: 9 x 23 – 3/4 (1)
  • 3/4 inch plywood: 9 x 2 – 7/8 (2)
  • 3/4 inch plywood: 22 – 1/4 x 2 – 7/8 (1) (Wood sheet approx $20.00)
  • 3/8 inch acrylic sheet 24 x 12 (1) (approx $20.00 with s&h)
  • # 8 flat head wood screw (12)  (Approx $1.00)
  • Button/joystick assembly from XArcade ($47.90 with s&h)
  • Mechanical total: $88.90

Tools needed to construct MAME box:

  • 1 – 1/8 inch paddle drill bit
  • set of drill bits
  • saw or have Home Depot etc cut it for you
  • #2 Phillips head screwdriver
  • Dremel tool, milling machine, or router
  • hand drill or drill press

So as you’ll notice, the cost of this project is already almost $90 so if you’re looking simply to save money it probably isn’t worth it.  You can get one pre-built from XArcade for $129 + s&h or probably dozens of other places.  Add in the electrical components that we’ll talk about next time and you’re probably actually spending more money.  All that said, here are some pictures of the “final” product:


Wooden box front side

Wooden frame front. Holes were drilled in the bottom for the joysticks, but they weren't really needed.

side with screw

The side with screw

The design had the two side and back supports screwed to the bottom.  Horizontal screws on each side shown here were added for more support.

Partial assembly top lifted up

Partial assembly top acrylic lifted

Partial assembly with top on

Partial assembly with some buttons on

Full assembly

Full MAME assembly

If you’ve read this far and are considering a project like this, you should probably ask yourself if making a controller from “scratch” is the way to go (not that I machined the buttons).  You can probably buy something that will work well if not better for cheaper, so if you just want to play old-school games and don’t care about actually building it yourself and having something unique, you may want to consider that route.  Also, you will need a pretty well-equipped shop to machine/put all this stuff together.

However, if you want something that absolutely no one else has then a project like this is for you.  On that note, there’s really no such thing as a bad MAME project if you enjoyed building it – there’s probably no such thing as a done MAME project either.

About Jeremy S Cook

Jeremy is an engineer with 10 years experience at his full-time profession, and has a BSME from Clemson University. Outside of work he’s an avid maker and experimenter, building anything that comes into his mind!
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One Response to Wireless MAME Part 2 – Mechanical Design and Construction

  1. Pingback: MAME using an encoder |

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