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Building an arcade stick: And So Can You!

DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
When I was a kid, when I wanted to play some new fighting game, I went to the arcade down in the local mall. It was a "nickel arcade", which meant that they charged some nominal fee for admission (I think it was five dollars) and then you fed the machines with nickels instead of quarters. Since, as a kid, I could usually get my parents to cover the admission fee, this suited me well, as I could usually manage to pool a couple rolls of nickels together every couple weeks. This was around the time the Marvel/Capcom fighting games were just coming out, and man, I loved those things.

The arcade, much like every decent arcade in this country, closed down years ago, and I really haven't been in one since.

Now, I've never been as "into" fighting games as the some of the people you find on the internet. I am, however, pretty interested by amateur electronics stuff. So when I heard about people making their own arcade-style controllers from scratch using actual arcade replacement parts, I figured I'd give it a try. It had to be higher quality than some knock-off Pelican controller, and maybe it'd even be cheaper, too!

[strike]I'd been thinking about doing this for quite a while, actually, but this semester my course load is actually light enough that I'll have time to go through with it.

I figured I'd post here my experiences trying to do this project, and maybe even throw in some pictures if I manage to borrow someone's camera.

A note: this isn't an already finished project; this is something I'm currently in the middle of, so updates might not be as frequent as I'd like them to be.[/strike]

Over the past month or so, I've built myself a very solid arcade stick out of high-quality parts. I went into this project with virtually no skills whatsoever in carpentry or painting, and some limited experience (and supplies) with soldering and electrical work. In the end, I learned a lot, I had a lot of fun, I produced a nice piece of hardware, and I probably didn't spend that much more than you'd spend on a retail or custom stick, even after the tools I bought. The only real downside, if you could call it that, is that now I want to take what I've learned from my mistakes and build an even better stick sometime in the future, and if I go that route too far I know I'll bankrupt myself.

Anyway, if you're building a stick of your own, please post your experiences, advice, and mistakes in this thread. Especially the mistakes you made and how to work around them; I've found that they're often the most important part for others to learn from.

Daedalus on
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Posts

  • 1ddqd1ddqd Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Cool, I'm interested. I have been considering building a "MAME" cabinet for a while, so this could be of some use. Just a side note: pictures of details and attention to said details are a plus :P

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Phase One: Planning and Ordering Parts

    The main idea behind a custom arcade stick is that you take actual arcade parts (a joystick and some pushbuttons) and wire the microswitches on them up in such a way that you can interface them with a game console. Each button has one microswitch (naturally), and the joystick has four.

    Now, obviously you can't just run the wires from the switches to the controller port, because the last system to take direct inputs like that was the Neo-Geo. No, you need to convert the signals into a format the console can understand. There are two basic ways to do this:

    1) A sacrificial controller (a.k.a. Padhacking):
    Take a standard controller for your console. Disassemble it and remove the PCB (printed circuit board) inside. Solder wires from the microswitches on the arcade hardware to the places on the PCB where the buttons would normally make contact.

    This method requires some surface mount soldering, which can be tricky, but is pretty reliable, and as far as I can tell is the most common method used.

    2) A special-purpose circuit board:
    Take a special microcontroller-based circuit board designed for the purpose. Run the microswitch connections to the board. Run a cable from the controller port to the circuit board (tear apart some cheap-o third-party extension cord for the purpose). Clean and effective. There's a circuit board called Cthuhlu that works with the PC and PS3, and there's a more complicated one called UPCB that works with almost any game system.

    The downside: There is no such board that will work with the Xbox 360, nor will there ever be. Microsoft decided that they wanted to collect royalties on peripherals this round, so they have some sort of encryption and licensing scheme for their controllers, and it hasn't been cracked yet, nor are there any promising leads.

    Since I need my controller to work with my Xbox 360, I've gotta go with option 1.

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  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Phase One: Planning and Ordering Parts (continued)

    Then there's the arcade hardware. I generally do a lot of research before I buy things, and this is no exception.

    There are three major manufacturers of arcade parts.

    Happ manufactures pretty much all the arcade hardware used in American arcade machines. Their high-end hardware is their "Competition" line of pushbuttons and joysticks, and their (quite expensive!) "Perfect 360" photoelectric sensor-based joystick. Their hardware is very sturdy, their pushbuttons are very "clicky", and the springs in the joystick are very strong. Their joysticks come with a "bat-shaped" top and their buttons are usually concave, although the "Competition" buttons are slightly convex. Their hardware is usually designed to fit into American-style arcade cabinets, where the control panel is made of relatively thick wood. (They very recently merged with Suzo, a large European arcade parts manufacturer, so maybe I should start calling them by their new name, Suzo-Happ, but that just sounds weird to me. I guess I'll get used to it.)

    Sanwa is the largest arcade hardware manufacturer in Japan. They're famous for their JLF line of joysticks and their OBSF/OBSN pushbuttons. The springs in their sticks are not as strong, and the joystick doesn't need to move as far to connect to the switches (the "engage") or to reach the edge of its movement range (the "throw"). Their buttons are quieter than (and don't push as far down as) Happ hardware. The joysticks usually have a "ball-shaped" top (although "bat-shaped" sticks are avaliable) and their buttons are convex. Their hardware is usually designed to fit into Japanese-style arcade cabinets, where the control panel is made of a relatively thin sheet of metal.

    Seimitsu is the second-largest arcade hardware manufacturer in Japan. Their joysticks typically have an even shorter "engage" and "throw", and their buttons are apparently quite fragile. Their hardware is difficult to obtain in America.


    In the end, I decided to go with Happ Competition pushbuttons and a Happ Competition joystick, because I'm American, fuck yeah.
    Spoiler:

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  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Phase One: Planning and Ordering Parts (continued continued)

    I also needed some parts other than the joystick and pushbuttons, of course.

    Here's the part where I plan out the joystick design. I have some experience with electrical work but almost no experience (or supplies!) to do woodworking.

    There's some company called Norris Arcade Sticks that will sell you a pre-made wooden box, with the holes drilled and everything, designed for mounting arcade hardware. Their boxes are beautifully designed, durable, very well-made, fairly reasonably priced for what you get, and always out of stock. Seriously, they restock once per month and sell out that day.

    So fuck it, I'll build one myself.

    I'm going to use MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) because it's cheap and easy to work with. The box itself is going to be pretty simple; I'm not going to have any Lexar-laminated artwork on it or anything. I won't be 100% sure of the measurements until the parts get to me.

    Also, there's the electronics crap. The scheme I've got in mind involves putting some generic connector on the stick itself and running a cable from that to a small box (a "project box") containing my sacrificial controller. That way, I can modify the stick to work with some other console without needing to open it up and solder things; I'll just build another adapter box. (In fact, I'll probably make two project boxes right off the bat: one for X360 and one for PS2. Maybe one for my Dreamcast, too.) I'll connect everything together with some DA-15 connectors and cable. (These are those old MIDI/Gameport connectors that nobody uses anymore, although obviously my connector won't actually be Gameport compatable, because Gameport only supports four buttons).

    I'm also going to need a barrier block, to make wiring the arcade stick easier, and a whole lot of wire.

    Now for step 2: waiting for the damn parts to arrive.

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  • shadydentistshadydentist Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Interesting. I assume we'll be seeing a formal write-up with pics and everything?

    Steam & GT
    Spoiler:
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    The Sacrificial Controller

    This was the part that arrived first. It's a wired, third-party Xbox 360 controller, made my Mad Catz and branded by Gamestop. They didn't have one used, so I had to pay twenty-five dollars for this unforgivable piece of shit:

    20090127133937ps8.th.jpg

    And oh, boy is it a piece of shit. I used it for ten or fifteen minutes to make sure the pad worked before tearing it apart. The buttons are terrible, the d-pad is inaccurate, the analog sticks are wobbly, the casing is uncomfortable, and don't get me started on the triggers. The triggers are like some kind of crime against humanity.

    So out come the screwdrivers!

    20090127134652pq4.th.jpg

    Wow, the shittiness doesn't stop on the outside. Look at those pads where the face buttons and d-pad are. Bare copper. On a real Microsoft controller (or a first-party or decent third-party Sony or Nintendo controller, for that matter) there's a special coating there so that hand sweat doesn't instantly corrode the copper contacts. On the other hand, the bare copper makes this very easy to solder. Likewise, you might notice that the D-pad is on some kind of daughterboard, so that should be easy too. [edit: this is more for my notetaking benefit than yours, perhaps, but for those five wires connecting the d-pad board to the main PCB: from top to bottom, they're UP, LEFT, GROUND, RIGHT, and DOWN. You can tell which one is ground because it connects to all four directions.]

    Also, I didn't manage to get a picture of this but the trigger assemblies are so fucking flimsy that they broke off without me needing to use a cutting tool. I just bent them and [SNAP].

    So, if you're going to immediately tear the controller apart, the Gamestop X360 pad is perfect. If you're planning on using it as a controller as intended, it's unforgivably terrible. Just something to keep in mind.


    edit: excuse the terrible picture quality; the only camera I have is my laptop's webcam.

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  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Interesting. I assume we'll be seeing a formal write-up with pics and everything?

    edit: I'll try and put up a diagram of the woodworking crap before I buy the MDF this weekend, hopefully.

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  • L*2*G*XL*2*G*X Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Really cool shit, keep us posted!

    *oh and watch that mdf formaldehyde seep.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    The Button Layout

    Given that this project was borne more out of nostalgia rather than putting together a super-competitive fighting game controller (there's not exactly a big competitive fighting game scene in my area anyway, and besides, I kinda suck), I originally intended to go with the old American Street Fighter II button layout:

    capcomscaledhd3.png

    Being the careful guy that I am (and also bored and impatient since the parts hadn't arrived yet), I plotted out the layout on a cardboard box using a ruler and pencil. It only took a couple of minutes to remind me that the blocky, unergonomic button layout was hilariously uncomfortable.

    Serious fighting game fans who build their own joysticks usually use the so-called "Blast City" layout, common in Japanese arcades.

    sega1lhj5.png


    The problem with this is that I'd need to use a template, because I can't handle doing all that with a ruler and pencil. And my printer has been acting funny lately, so printing a template is out.

    I eventually decided to go with the Street Fighter layout with the middle column of buttons raised a half inch. I set it up on the cardboard box I'd been using and played around with it and it was a great deal more comfortable. Then I plotted it out in QCad.

    layoutrs9.png

    I'll have the whole box plans (in QCad) up in a moment.

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  • acidlacedpenguinacidlacedpenguin Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    jeez daedalus, you're in luck with that shitty 3rd party pad. the first party controllers don't have common ground IIRC.

    I'm currently in the middle of my own custom stick construction and I'm going with the blast city template I guess. I'm no good with numbers and measurements so I eyeballed and fingertipped everything.

    GT: Acidboogie PSNid: AcidLacedPenguiN
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Before I begin, I should note that I have very little knowledge or experience with woodworking. As a kid I would occasionally help my dad out with some of his (rather extensive!) projects, but usually my job would be something relatively simple to keep me occupied and out of the way. Besides, his projects were more construction-type work and less furniture-type work. The main things I learned were 1) Measure twice, cut once, and 2) there's a whole basement full of expensive, high-quality woodworking tools that I can use if needed that will make this project a lot easier.

    Unfortunately, that basement is at my parents' house, a hundred and fifty miles away. Here at my apartment I've got nothing. We'll see how that goes this weekend, I guess. I'm going to need, at minimum, a drill, a saw, and a hole saw. Oh, and a sanding block, of course! A Dremel would probably be helpful but not mandatory. A router would be very nice, but I don't have that kind of money, so my construction options are limited.

    Anyway, woodworking. Aside from that stuff, I've got what I learned from TV, from researching this project, etc. etc.

    The first thing that's important to know is about wood joints. What I'm making is essentially a box. When you have a box, you have wood coming together at corners, or joints. There are two main kinds of joint. First, and easiest, is the butt joint:

    350px-Butt_joint.png

    It's very easy to do; just measure the wood, cut in a straight, perpendicular line, and screw, nail, glue, duct-tape, or whatever you're doing to hold it together. It's not that strong, though, and the name "butt joint" seems pretty fitting in more than one way: it looks like ass.

    Then you've got the miter joint:
    350px-Miter_joint.png

    The Red Green show informs me that the name for the miter joint comes from the French word "miter", meaning "not butt". This joint is sturdier and looks classier. However, to create one, you need a saw that can reliably cut at exactly 45 degrees, for instance, a miter saw. I'm not going to have anything like that. When I buy materials this weekend I'll be lucky if I can afford a handheld circular saw, and if I'm unlucky I'll have some non-powered saw as my only real cutting tool. So, as nice as a miter joint would be, it's not happening. So my box will be constructed with butt-joints.

    I don't want my box to be too tall, because it needs to comfortably fit on my lap. The thing about Happ buttons, though, is that they're pretty fucking tall, because some American arcade control panels are pretty damn thick. I did some measurements and checked the detailed button and joystick specifications on Happ's website and determined that if I use 1/2" thick MDF for the outside panels, I can get away with the box only being three inches tall.

    Now, MDF is a wonderful material. It's easy to work with, it doesn't have any knots, it sands easily, it's relatively cheap, etc. etc. There's just one thing that you need to remember, and that's the fact that you can't screw anything into the side of it. It looks like it doesn't have a grain, but it really does: the grain is just sideways, parallel to the plane of the panel. If you try and put screws into the side of it, it will likely split.

    Besides, this MDF is only a half inch thick anyway.

    So I decided to reinforce the inside of the box with a frame made out of 2x2s. Good ol' pine 2x2s, of the sort that your house is made of. This sounds like it would measure out perfectly, right? You've got your 2x2, which is 2 inches high, and then a half-inch MDF panel on each side.

    Except the thing about measured wood is that it's not actually the nominal size. A 2x2 is 1.5" by 1.5". I don't really know why; I'm sure there's an explanation that makes sense somewhere; I just haven't heard it.

    Motherfucker.

    So instead, I'll need to take a 2x4, rip-cut it so that it's actually two inches wide, and build my interior frame out of that. Wish me luck, I guess. Hopefully they'll let me do that at the hardware store or something.

    Here's the box plans that I did up in QCad.

    boxlx9.png

    They might be a little hard to decipher; I'm not that great at CAD. But the idea is that the top panel, the one with the holes in it, will be 16"x11"x1/2". It will sit on the side panels and the frame of ripcut 2x4s. The side panels will support it and the frame, and the bottom panel will be recessed within the side panels (15"x10"x1/2"). This way, the top panel of the arcade stick will all be one flush surface, without any seams. All the seams will be on the sides and bottom.

    I haven't marked exactly where the screws will go yet, though. I'll figure that out later.

    All in all, I'll need:
    A 16"x11"x0.5" MDF panel for the top.
    A 15"x10"x0.5" MDF panel for the bottom.
    Two 11"x2.5"x0.5" MDF panels for the left and right sides.
    Two 16"x2.5"x0.5" MDF panels for the front and back sides.
    Two 10"x2"x1.5" planks for the left and right sides of the frame.
    Two 12"x2"x1.5" planks for the front and back sides of the frame.

    Oh, and the arcade parts showed up while I was typing this. The minute I unboxed it and saw that the joystick was made of actual steel I knew I was on the right track here. None of this cheap plastic bullshit like the last store-bought arcade stick I owned.

    edit: oh, also, I just realized, I'll need a hole in the back side of the frame for the cable coming out of the joystick! I'm using a DA-15 connector from the arcade box to the project box, so this hole must be at least 1" in diameter. I'll figure out where to put this hole when I plan out the wiring.

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  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Ripping a 2x4 might be difficult/dangerous and I doubt they'll do a cut like that for you.
    The reason behind nominal numbers is because a piece of wood (lets say a 2x4) is originally cut at that. Then some wood is removed to clean it up and get a straight piece of wood.
    Maybe instead of 2x4s you use some 1xs for your framing. Hell, glue em together for a more sturdier piece.
    Don't forget to drill pilot holes to help prevent splitting.
    Use wood glue, for the love of God. Nails and screws will help secure the pieces, but wood glue will hold them together.
    When getting ready to work with wood, make a cut list detailing every piece of wood and its dimensions that you need to end up with.
    Its a long shot, but if you're in the central Florida area I can help.

    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Ripping a 2x4 might be difficult/dangerous and I doubt they'll do a cut like that for you.
    The reason behind nominal numbers is because a piece of wood (lets say a 2x4) is originally cut at that. Then some wood is removed to clean it up and get a straight piece of wood.
    Maybe instead of 2x4s you use some 1xs for your framing. Hell, glue em together for a more sturdier piece.
    Don't forget to drill pilot holes to help prevent splitting.
    Use wood glue, for the love of God. Nails and screws will help secure the pieces, but wood glue will hold them together.
    When getting ready to work with wood, make a cut list detailing every piece of wood and its dimensions that you need to end up with.
    Its a long shot, but if you're in the central Florida area I can help.

    I did plan to do the old screw and glue trick to stick everything together. And yeah, I read about pilot holes.

    If I can't get the 2x4 ripcut done, I'm planning on using 2x2s instead.

    And unfortunately, I'm in the upstate New York area. (Man, painting this thing is going to be a bitch and a half with this weather.)

    [edit]
    jeez daedalus, you're in luck with that shitty 3rd party pad. the first party controllers don't have common ground IIRC.

    It's crazy; I think the only way they could have come up with a better PCB to use for this is if they designed one for the purpose. But as a controller, it's the worst thing I've ever used.

    Hey, anyone know what PSX/PS2 controller is best for this, or should I just grab the cheapest thing available off of EBay?

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  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    I went over your latest huge post and think I can help some more.
    Buy used tools from craigslist. Be sure to test them there, even bring some good wood to cut through.
    You can buy a mitre box and cut the wood with a hand saw. It will take longer but you'll get accurate 45 degree cuts every time.
    Drill bits for large holes can be a bit on the expensive. Paddle bits as you will find out are cheaper. I think the last time I priced them individually they are about $10 a piece.
    You've asked all of your friends if they own tools already, right?


    Edit: I wouldn't use MDF to skin it. I would use some as the base to give it a good bottom weight and stability, but for everything else I would lay a laminate across the frame. Not only will it reduce weight, it will look a helluvalot better.
    Double edit: Nevermind, you will probably be generating quick a bit of torque on that stick and need something solid to mount it to. Still, get some laminate.
    Triple edit: If you cover it with a laminate, you can use the easier butt joint and no one will ever know.

    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    I'm going to toss on a couple coats of black paint and some clearcoat. I'm a bit space-limited; the joystick is mounted below the top panel, and pokes through a hole, so the thicker the top panel becomes, the less joystick I have.

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  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    MDF soaks up so much. Even a primer is gonna get absorbed, so really take your time with your paint and prep. Since you'll need a paddle bit for the hole for the wire, might as well use that bit to make a shallow hole (not all the way through) for your joystick to give you a bit more clearance. How long is the joystick?

    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    MDF soaks up so much. Even a primer is gonna get absorbed, so really take your time with your paint and prep. Since you'll need a paddle bit for the hole for the wire, might as well use that bit to make a shallow hole (not all the way through) for your joystick to give you a bit more clearance. How long is the joystick?

    5060701x_mounting.gif

    I'm mounting it from beneath, so I'm losing a half-inch (from the MDF top panel) right off the bat. This is acceptable to me. If I had a router, I could make a 3.15"x3.6" recession in the MDF to mount it closer to the surface, but I don't. (If I could do that, I'd probably go with thicker MDF; I kinda want this thing to be built like a tank, you know.)

    If you were talking about making a recession in the bottom panel, it's the buttons that are the longest part, not the joystick. Sanwa buttons are far shorter, but I think I've got the space in this case. If necessary, I can make the box a bit taller.

    5896xxmd.gif

    (Diagrams are from Happ's website, not from me, of course.

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  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    You don't need a router to make a recession. You can use the paddle drill bit
    89900d1213120990-sinth-s-siphoning-rdwc-img_2570.jpg
    and have the recessions overlap to remove enough wood, or you can use a small chisel to do it, or you can use a sanding drum off of a rotary tool and just dig into thee wood at an angle.

    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    Stuff GET!

    I went to Home Depot for building materials, and of course, as the available materials differed from what I expected to get, so too did my plans need to be revised.

    First, the tools. They had a hand saw and miter box combo on discount for like eight dollars. I mean, I'm sure it's a cheap piece of crap, but at least I'm not buying an electrically powered cheap piece of crap from Wal-Mart, so I'm less likely to seriously injure myself. (And hey, I can handle applying some elbow grease to pulling a saw by hand, right? Right?)

    The miter box was smaller than expected when I unboxed it. I can do mitered cuts to the frame, but I probably can't for the outer MDF panels.

    A friend had a cordless drill I could borrow, but I needed to buy a 1 1/8" paddle bit ($5.14). Also, I grabbed sandpaper and a sanding block, wood paste to cover the mistakes I'll surely make, and a carpenters' square. All in all, the amount of tools I needed to buy was relatively light, although I'm glad I could borrow that drill. Also, I've got some C-clamps that were left in the apartment when I moved in. (Seriously, that's about it on the tools that I had to work with for the woodworking part.)

    Then, there were the wood screws. In my naivety, I had this idea that I'd go in there, there would be an array of boxes labeled "Wood Screws" in varying lengths, and I'd pick up one or two that looked about right. Of course, there are like a dozen different kinds of wood screws and I can only hope I grabbed the right kind. I grabbed a box of 3" screws to get the frame together and a box of 15/18" screws to attach the frame to the box. These were both probably too long; we'll see.

    And, of course, a dust mask and safety goggles.

    Speaking of which: the frame. Plan A, to ripcut a 2x4, was discarded in favor of using a pair of 1x3s, glued together like composite lumber. This adds a half-inch to my box height, but that should be fine.

    My diagram has been updated:

    boxhm3.th.png

    It's a half-inch higher and there's a compound frame with mitered joints, but other than that everything's pretty much the same.

    This project has gotten pretty expensive, come to think of it, although to be fair some of the expense is in tools that I'll have other uses for over time. Here, let me tally all this up:

    1) A Happ Competition joystick, six Happ Competition pushbuttons, one Happ white "Player 1 Start" imprint button, one Happ black "Player 1 Start" imprint button and one Happ clear pushbutton from some second-string, non-Competition line. (Those last three are for Start, Select/Back, and Xbox Guide, respectively.) Also, a "Happ Button Wrench" (what the hell, I thought, it was only two bucks) and thirty "quick disconnects" (cable connectors for the microswitch terminals; I got extras just in case.) Total: $38.50 from Lizard Lick Amusements, including tax and shipping.

    2) A Gamestop-branded Mad Catz Xbox 360 controller. $28.98 including tax.

    3) A 14-pole barrier block, a pack of spade connectors, a male-male DA-15 cable, several DA-15 female connectors, and a whole bunch of 18-gauge wire: $24.37 from a local electronics store.

    4) A two foot by four foot sheet of 1/2" thick MDF, a ten foot long 1"x3" board, two different boxes of wood screws, a bottle of wood glue, a tube of wood putty, and sandpaper in two different grits. (I'm not counting here the tools I'll certainly re-use.) $38.01 from Home Depot, including tax.

    Holy shit, and I haven't even bought everything yet!

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  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    You should also get a decent pair of work gloves. They are indispensable when working with tools and wood. Also a box of latex gloves for when you paint or use glue.

    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited January 2009
    I actually already have a box of latex gloves lying around somewhere for some reason I've long since forgotten.

    I realized as I came home from the Home Depot that I forget to get nuts and bolts to fasten the joystick into place, but I shouldn't need those until after the thing is painted anyway. Also, I still need to get some plastic project boxes from somewhere.

    vvvvvv-dithw.png
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Woodworking 101

    It's been longer than I intended between updates, and soon you'll know why.

    Plan A was to saw, by hand, some nice, strong mitered joints for the frame out of some glued-together 1x3s.

    Here's how that went.

    I only have two C-clamps, so I cut the the 1"x3"x10' into rough quarters and then glued each pair separately, because two clamps wouldn't have held together a full five feet of glued board.

    Then there were the more precise cuts.

    First, the tiny, cheap miter box I'd gotten was actually slightly too small to cut these vertically, as you can sort of make out in this shitty, dark photograph (sorry for the terrible camera, it's all I've got).
    20090201125621ez2.jpg

    One attempt at cutting it that way anyway produced a terrible joint. It was okay, I had enough spare wood to screw up once. Instead, I used the horizontal angle part of the miter box, which had somewhat better results.

    20090201125522rv1.jpg

    After two or three cuts, however, it became obvious that the plastic miter box was a good deal softer than the wood that I was trying to cut, and the saw was starting to really wear it away. I decided to press on anyway. I finished with each piece and fit them together. Every one of the angles (except for the first two) were varying amounts of too acute. I tried to sand them down to the proper angle with some very coarse sandpaper, but it was no use. I glued and screwed the first joint and it wasn't nearly square.

    It's hard to tell in this shitty picture, but the difference was a lot more noticable in person, and would only get worse as I tried to assemble the rest of the frame.

    20090204092105ws4.jpg

    So I chalked the 1x3 up as an educational expense and did what I should have done from the very fucking beginning: I went to Lowe's, I picked up a 2x3 (a lucky find; I expected to get stuck with a 2x4 and a slightly taller box), and I told them to cut out two 12 inch pieces and two 10 inch pieces. Then I screwed and glued the frame with butt joints. The miter joint frame took several days and ended up a failure; this one took an afternoon and worked. The cuts that Lowe's did weren't exact, but I decided they were close enough.

    20090205212057rb2.jpg

    Oh, that reminds me, the screws. Remember those screws I'd told you I bought? Well, I was talking to a friend of mine about this and he lectured me about the difference between wood screws and drywall screws. So it was back to the hardware store on those, too. Another educational expense, I suppose.

    I used #10 wood screws. I had 3" long ones to get the frame together and 1.5" long ones to fix the MDF shell to the frame. #10 screws were probably a lot thicker than I needed to use and I probably should have gone with #8 instead, but whatever; everything about this project so far has been excessive.

    I wanted to countersink the screws, but I didn't have a countersink bit for my drill, so I just used a 5/32" bit for the pilot hole and then made a shallow, wider hole with a 1/4" bit. It worked well enough for the pine boards, but I needed to do more for the screws in the MDF; more on that later.

    20090205212127qv7.jpg

    Then it was time to cut the MDF. I took one look at my two-foot by four-foot sheet of MDF, thought about the number of cuts I needed to make and how long I spent cutting those already-skinny 1x3s last week, and went out and bought a $40 circular saw, because I'd like to actually get this project done.

    It's the "Skil" brand, and it came with a blade. (It's a shitty steel 20-tooth blade and apparently if you want good clean cuts you should use a 40-tooth tungsten carbide blade but you know what, the blade came with it for free, so I just used the freebie). It did not come with a rip fence, and it took me exactly one (1) cut to make me realize that I needed one. So, it was back to the store for one of those too.

    20090208175314fp8.jpg

    I set it up on some old piece of furniture in the bedroom of my apartment. Here's a tip for you guys: don't try and cut MDF in your bedroom. There's a fine dust on everything in this room now and I'm going to be vaccuming this for fucking forever if I don't want my girlfrend to kill me.

    Oh, and wear a dust mask. Seriously. Yes, it makes you look stupid. Wear it anyway.

    Anyway, then I was ready to go:

    20090208180632pe2.jpg

    With the rip fence, I was able to cut nice, consistent 3" wide strips of MDF to use for the side panels. The base panel and top panel were a bit trickier because I couldn't use the rip fence and I needed to figure out how to cut a straight(-ish) line. (Ditto for cutting those 3" wide strips to the proper length). In the end, I had the side panels attached to the frame and was trying to get the base panel in. I'd cut it (slightly) too wide, so I grabbed that coarse sand paper again and sanded down the edges until it fit. Man, my arms are still killing me.

    To countersink the screws into the MDF, it wasn't enough to just drill a shallow hole with the 1/4" bit, because #10 screw heads are wider than 1/4". So I used a knife to widen out the hole after using the 1/4" bit and this worked well enough. Behold, the box:

    20090208175229rs3.jpg

    The screws countersunk reasonably well and I can fill in the holes with wood putty to hide them:

    20090208175347aq9.jpg

    The top panel is, of course, not attached yet because I still need to get the arcade parts on it.

    Also, it's a little crooked. I don't know if the MDF warped or if my frame is slightly crooked (almost certainly the latter) but I'll need to figure out what I'm doing about that.

    20090208180714hw4.jpg

    Lesson of the day: buy the fucking power tool first. You can thank me later. Also, cutting in straight lines is harder than it looks. Oh, and keep your design simple, as always.

    EDIT: Oh, and paddle bits make a huge fucking mess.

    20090208194313rr1.jpg

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  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    <img class=" title=":lol:" class="bbcode_smiley" /> carpentry is always a pain in the ass if you haven't been doing it for years with hand tools. Always get the powered tools or else you're either going to be:

    A) Really tired or
    B) Really tired and with a lot of useless pieces of wood

    Since you live in an apartment, you might be able to find storage places that let you set up your equipment.

    Good job so far though. Interested to see how this turns out when finished.

  • ImprovoloneImprovolone Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    All that work to build a small box.
    Hah
    It's frightening how much extra work a simple project can take. And holy shit can the right tool be valuable.

    Voice actor for hire. My time is free if your project is!
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Oh, hey, while sanding this to get it ready for painting, I just realized that gluing on the bottom panel was a really stupid idea.

    Shit.

    Okay, so here are the options now.

    1) have the top panel hooked up with hinges. Probably a terrible idea, given that I'll be pulling on that joystick and the hinges and latches will probably not be strong enough.

    2) wire everything up, screw and glue the top panel, and seal it up like King Tut's tomb, hoping that nothing goes wrong and I never need to open it up again, because if I do the only way will involve a saw. Also a terrible idea.

    edit: 3) Flip it over and the bottom panel becomes the top. Cut out a new bottom panel with the spare MDF. Attach it with hinges.

    I guess 3 is the least bad option, but still, shit.

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  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Screw it down, that way if anything goes wrong you can get in and fix it. Stuff goes wrong all the times that sometimes need a little bit more solder or whatever. Put the screws in through the bottom so you unscrew from the bottom and pull the whole thing up. Get flat headed screws so you can get them flush with the bottom.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Eh, I already went with option three.

    The thing was, I'd already screwed and glued the bottom of the box in, so there'd be no real way to get at the stuff if I screwed in the top panel as well. So I just drilled holes in the bottom panel and it's now the top panel (I had enough MDF left to create a new panel without holes.) This is a little hard to explain, I guess, but it'll work out fine; it's just that I'll have seams on the top, like I was trying to avoid.

    Anyway, it was really nice out today, so I decided to start painting.

    First, I had to get everything ready, which I mostly did last night. I filled in the cracks between panels (caused by not having everything measured and cut quite precisely) with wood putty. Also, all the screw holes (and the odd couple of holes that were accidentally drilled in the wrong place) are filled in with wood putty. Wood putty is some wonderful stuff. Also, I rounded off the corners using a chisel and some sandpaper. Chiseling corners on MDF is really easy, but be careful not to spit it. Don't chisel against the grain, ever. It didn't come out too exact, of course. I should have used a router, but the thing is, I don't have a router.

    20090211101541xa3.jpg

    Cutting in the hole for the connector was a real pain in the ass. There's a 1 1/8" hole in the pine frame behind the front MDF panel, but I needed to get a more careful opening in the MDF itself for the connector. What I eventually did was drilled three or four holes in a row, and then cut out the middle parts with a knife. Then that wasn't quite tall enough (I only had a 1/4" drill bit) so I chiseled it out a little wider.

    This would have been far easier if I had a Dremel or other rotary tool, but you gotta make do with what you have.

    20090211101616yq6.jpg

    It was a really nice day out, so I applied a couple of coats of primer. I didn't have time to wait for it to dry, sand it smooth, and put on the paint before I had to leave, though. I hope I get another nice day soon.

    20090211120233nt0.jpg

    It's looking pretty good so far!

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  • bowenbowen Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
  • ZackSchillingZackSchilling Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Tomorrow will be almost as nice, more sun, lower temperature. After that it's back to freezing temps. I'd plan on doing as much as possible today and tomorrow.

    I bet it'll look even nicer once you sand down the lumpier parts of the primer.

    ghost-robot.jpg
  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Some of those lumpy parts are because I, erm, mis-chiseled slightly.

    But yeah, it'll look better when I get to sand it.

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  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2009
    I am doing this with a very similar controller. Did you manage to get off the analog sticks?

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I'm considering taking off the analog sticks (with some desoldering braid) but if you do so you'll need to use resistors to even out the current to the potentiometer sensors or else the controller will think that the joysticks will constantly be in a corner (I believe this controller will see it as the upper left but I could be wrong).

    I was going to wait until I discussed wiring to get into this, but since it'll be a while until I get to paint this damn thing, here goes (this is mostly hearsay as I haven't done this part firsthand yet):

    The potentiometers have three pins: a ground pin, a high pin (either 3.3v or 5v, IIRC) and a "wiper" or "sensor" pin. The sensor pin is usually in the middle. You need to run a resistor from the ground pin to the sensor and another resistor from the high pin to the sensor. This evens out the voltage between them so the controller thinks that the joystick is in the neutral position.

    You can do this with two resistors for each potentiometer (two pots per joystick, so eight resistors total) or you can run a wire from the sensor pin on one to the sensor on the other three.

    The triggers are wired slightly differently and I need to figure that out hands-on, but I haven't gotten to that part yet.

    vvvvvv-dithw.png
  • MoSiAcMoSiAc Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    I think this looks really good, especially the holes you did for the joystick and buttons. Does the box feel heavy with the way you've built it? Like heavier than you were planning thus far?

    Monster Hunter Tri US: MoSiAc - U46FJF - Katrice | RipTen - Gaming News | Los Comics
  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2009
    Daedalus wrote: »
    I'm considering taking off the analog sticks (with some desoldering braid) but if you do so you'll need to use resistors to even out the current to the potentiometer sensors or else the controller will think that the joysticks will constantly be in a corner (I believe this controller will see it as the upper left but I could be wrong).

    I was going to wait until I discussed wiring to get into this, but since it'll be a while until I get to paint this damn thing, here goes (this is mostly hearsay as I haven't done this part firsthand yet):

    The potentiometers have three pins: a ground pin, a high pin (either 3.3v or 5v, IIRC) and a "wiper" or "sensor" pin. The sensor pin is usually in the middle. You need to run a resistor from the ground pin to the sensor and another resistor from the high pin to the sensor. This evens out the voltage between them so the controller thinks that the joystick is in the neutral position.

    You can do this with two resistors for each potentiometer (two pots per joystick, so eight resistors total) or you can run a wire from the sensor pin on one to the sensor on the other three.

    The triggers are wired slightly differently and I need to figure that out hands-on, but I haven't gotten to that part yet.

    I mostly just was interested in getting rid of the plastic thumb pieces. For a pretty bad image of what to do with the triggers:
    http://www.slagcoin.com/joystick/pcb_wiring.html#PCB_COMPONENTS_MODIFICATION_AND_REMOVAL

    Edit: just got all the soldering done, error-free. Hot glue is your friend, slather the contact points with it when you have everything working. I also got two 12-point terminals so I can more easily wire everything.
    I also discovered something amazing about the gamestop/mad catz controller. I put a ton of hot glue over the rotating parts of the trigger assembly to keep them in place. Then connecting the outer and middle contacts of either side causes the trigger to activate. I'll wire it to a button before I put holes for the trigger buttons in my box, but it looks like it will work pretty well.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Eww, hot glue. I strongly disagree with that site's idea of using hot glue on top of solder points; a good solder point will be stronger than the glue will be, and if you didn't do a good solder point, you can't go back and touch it up if there's glue in the way.

    But that's just my opinion.

    edit: But if you want to get the plastic thumbsticks off, just pull upward and they'll come right off.

    vvvvvv-dithw.png
  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2009
    Well you want to make sure that everything is really solid before you glue over it. I got two controllers in case I screwed one up, but it went perfectly. i might use the spare to make a second one. :D

    In any case, one idea that I have is to use two layers of MDF for the top surface: 1/2" MDF and 1/4" MDF or maybe even some really thick masonite or other higher-density hardboard. Then instead of having to use a router and a jig/template, you can just use a jigsaw to cut out the square where the joystick will go in the 1/2" MDF, but not in the top layer.

    Would the buttons be able to get through 3/4" of wood and 1/8" of lexan? I guess I could make similar recesses for the buttons, but now this is seeming like a lot of work.

  • DaedalusDaedalus Registered User regular
    edited February 2009
    Happ buttons can get through a really ridiculous depth of wood. Sanwa buttons can't; they're designed to go into metal control panels but the screw-in ones can be used with some thin MDF.

    vvvvvv-dithw.png
  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2009
    I'm just going to use 1/2" high-strength plywood for the surface, with a 1/8" sheet of acrylic or other plastic on top of that. It should be strong enough (I'll add 1"x1" posts on the edge half way across the length of the box to be certain) and I'll avoid having to do multiple layers of wood. Plus I'm not entirely sure that 1/4" is enough to mount the joystick.

  • DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited February 2009
    Just got back from the hardware store with a sheet of 1/2" MDF, a 1x2 board for reinforcing/frame and a 1-1/8 hole cutter, which I plan on using for both the joystick and the buttons. Plus I got a sexy sheet of plexiglass. It was only $7 and I have enough for two controllers. I'm planning on attaching it by countersinking in some flat-head screws so it's all flush. I'm going to go find some adhesive vinyl tomorrow. It seems like that would be less messy than paint and pretty nice to look at.

    Tomorrow: assembly of the frame.

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