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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Building an Arcade Cabinet, Part 5: Panels Galore!

In my last post I talked about finishing the all-important side panels. These are important because they are the defining shape of the cabinet! We had to match the iconic Occidental Designs style of the big curve on top.
Wait, did I say I was finished with cutting them? Yeah, right! I was only getting started. 

Because I hand cut them with a jig-saw and measured with a circular saw (as opposed to a CNC machine doing it with computer accuracy), my two side panels, which need to be identical were a bit off. 

So I spent several days in December cutting them and refining them some more.

Here the two panels are compared to each other. You can see the back one is higher than the near one.
I need the edge to match as closely as possible.

I clamped them together to carefully compare them.
Straw bales were actually really helpful to hold things upright!

Here is the tricky inside curve. You can see slight discrepancies between the two panels. I used a power sander to smooth them down to match each other.

Cross Panels

While the side panels are usually an interesting shape, the cross panels are pretty boring. They are probably all rectangles all the same width, but of different heights. They are the horizontal pieces and include obvious things like the control panel (where the buttons and joystick is), the front kick plate, the back panel for access, and the top. 

The middle is the side view, the left and right are all the rectangles that form together to make the horizontal parts of the cabinet.

The cross panels are easy to cut once you get everything clamped down nicely. It still takes me about 15 minutes to make a cut each time, because I keep checking it, lining it up, clamping it. You really want to take your time on all these cuts. It makes a big difference. 

I actually got to take one large piece of melamine and cut it long ways down the middle, into half. My cabinet is 24" wide. The board is a touch over 48". This made it easy. But I had to be very careful ripping the board all the way down the middle to get the cut perfectly straight. 

If some of my cross panels were 24", but some were 23.5" across, then it would make the cabinet wonky. 

Some of the bigger panels, all labeled.

Here are some of the not as tall panels (all still 24" wide).

Getting ready for a cut. Everything is clamped down. The table that splits apart was very handy to have a steady working area.

Checking the size.

Handing Over the Batons

I needed lots of little wooden "batons" to connect all the cross panels to the side panels. I bought some pine trim board that was 1"x2", by 12 feet long. I then measured and chopped these up to the proper lengths. After it was all said and done I should have bought 3 boards of 12 foot long (not just two boards like I started with).

The screws I used were 1.25" and 1.5" depending on how much it could connect to. It is very important to pre-drill all the holes so no material bulges out or breaks as you drill the screws in.

The lighter colored rectangles are the trim board chopped up. This is me comparing the size and seeing how much space will be on the edges when it is all put together.

Don't get excited yet--this is just dry-fitting all the pieces! I lay them all out, no screws, no glue, to make sure it all makes sense.

I then spent lots of time actually adding the panels for the base, kick plate, and back side parts, to one of the side panels. It took a while to line up and to clamp as I drilled and screwed. Also I used the pocket hole jig a lot, to drill in from the inside, to the outer panels so no drill heads will show. 


Here is a specialty "locking vice c-clamp". It reaches way out and inside, to grip things in situations just like this. It's easy to open and unlock then re-lock quickly to exactly the spacing you just had it at.

The inside baton that will hold the TV platform was hard to do! I had to tape it, and ensuring both batons matched each other took a lot of measuring and checking.

I bought a "pocket hole jig". Totally worth the extra bit of cost to get sunken, long holes to connect screws at an angle.

The oval cut on top on the right is where you put the screw into it. You can see the screw protruding. I'll screw it into a panel and get a very nice fit!

Slowly coming together.
If you can get another person to help you on this day, it's great!

Pocket Jig magic!

Perfect December day in the Midwest :D
Gloomy and cold!

Closer still.

How do we get the one piece with all the panels connected to the other side? At first I thought it would be good to lay it on its side, but this was dumb. 

Instead, with my son, we tipped both panels up. Some of the cross panels drooped a little bit, but as we held it together by hand, and slowly screwed everything together but it was a bit tricky.

Screwed and glued. Mega clamps for the win.

That’s when I remembered that, long ago, I had seen some giant clamps on the farm. My dad has done lots of carpentry work over the years, including building our house back in the 1980's! He has lots of tools laying about the farm. It took some time to locate the clamps. But they were excellent and it would be tough for me to think the project would go so well without them.

Once I clamped those onto the sides, seeing the gaps draw in close was a wonderful feeling. And then getting the screws into the panels and see it all draw up tight, it was so exciting. 

All panels are connected!

 That's it for this installment. 

Lots of drama and laughs are coming soon to the next post! Stay tuned.

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