Stan Lee’s Hero Command – Custom Arcade Cabinet

A step-by-step tutorial about building a custom arcade cabinet.  Using an iPad 3 and the Bluetooth Controls of an iCade, F84 CEO & Creative Director, Jeff Hardy builds from scratch a vintage style custom arcade cabinet for the upcoming studio release, Stan Lee’s Hero Command.


Watch the build unfold over 9 days from plywood to showtime in this timelapse video!

How To Build a Custom Arcade Cabinet

By Jeff Hardy | CEO, Creative Director

As the CEO and Creative Director of the studio I am required to run the day to day.  Its the unique occasions that my roots as an artist get to be exercised for special projects.  I finally had the occasion, after about 20 years, to finally knock and item off my “Creative Bucket List”.  That was to build a custom arcade cabinet.

Upright arcade cabinets were a part of my childhood.  You would head to the local arcade to experience all the video gaming glory through the glowing screens, lights and sound.  There was a thrill each time the quarter dropped into the machine.  Even way back then we subscribed to the “Energy System” that we find in F2P titles today.

So while in creative prep mode for the Comikaze 2014 convention, I wanted to come up with something custom we could display at the show that would have BIG visual impact.  I was looking at the Custom Autographed iCade here in the studio from a promotion we ran for the launch of Survival Run with Bear Grylls.  It made me think that it would be pretty cool to deliver a classic upright arcade cabinet experience to demo Stan Lee’s Hero Command at the show and the iCade was a perfect set of controls to work from.

Getting Started:

First do a little research.  Unless you have done this before you will want to check out the way some other people have built them.  Think about your needs and how they need to translate to your cabinet.  For example I knew I was going to use an old flat screen TV we had in the shop… the width of the screen was 30″… so with that I knew I needed to build our cabinet to accommodate 30″.

What You Need:

I recommend a recruit.  You are going to need someone to help!  Plus, its always a good idea to have someone around when working with power tools.  In my case our Art Director, Neal, was ready for the challenge.  There are a number of tools and materials that are necessary and some that are optional.

Tools (Required):

  • Masking Tape
  • Pencils
  • Skill Saw and Blades
  • Router & 1/16″ Slot Bits
  • Drill with bits
    • Phillips
    • 1/4″ Wood
    • Counter Sink
    • 1 1/8″ Hole (For Button holes)
  • Dead Blow Hammer or Mallet
  • Saw Horses
  • Tape Measure

Tools Optional (But Highly Recommended)

  • Ear Muffs
  • Protective Goggles
  • Face Mask
  • Level
  • Clamps (Make life easier)

Materials (Required):

  • 3/4″  x 4′ x 8′ Sheets of Melamine (x3)
  • 2″ x 3″ x 8′ Lumber (x2)
  • 2″ x 2″ x 8′ Lumber (x2)
  • 3/4″ Plastic T-Moulding
  • Metal Angle(s) (Aluminum worked best for me, easier to form)
  • TV Set or Monitor
  • iCade or Bluetooth Arcade Controllers
  • 1/8″ Plexiglas for screen cover and header
  • iPad and all necessary connectors
    • iPad 3 (4×3 Aspect Ratio was perfect for the TV)
    • HDMI cable
    • iOS/HDMI Adaptor

Materials Optional:

  • Fluorescent Light (To illuminate the title)
  • Coin Op Hardware and Faceplate (Totally for the look)
  • Authentic Arcade buttons and controllers (These can be wired into your Bluetooth components)
  • Cabinet Graphics
  • Power Strip
  • Foil Tape
  • Flat Black Paint and 1″ Foam Brushes
  • Audio Equipment (Car Audio Equipment proved to be the best solution)
    • Speakers (6″ Rounds with Hi, Mid, and Low’s on each)
    • Amp (800 watts)
    • AC Power Converter
    • Wire and Connectors

STEP 1: Cutting your cabinet shape

Lay your melamine out on your saw horses and measure out your shape.  Use the masking tape to block out the basic path and then use your straight edge or right angle to plot out your final shape.  I chose to round the corners for our cabinet and to do that I used my coffee cup.

Once the shape is drawn, use your Skill saw to cut them out.  In order to get the radial cuts you will want to use the 1/4″ wood bit to drill holes so you can insert your saw blade into to make the turns.  If you don’t make these holes you will have a hard time getting the saw to turn and make the cuts smooth.  PAY ATTENTION TO NOT DRILL ON THE WRONG SIDE OF YOUR LINE OR YOU WILL PUT HOLES IN YOUR CABINET!

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Here you can see the completed side panels cut from the melamine.  The white edge is the masking tape that was applied in the basic shape.  Without the masking tape you are not going to be able to see your lines for cutting.

STEP 2: Adding side braces

Use your 2″x3″ and 2″x2″ for this step.  You are going to need to cut short blocks and attach them at the same point on each side.  I used the clamps to hold them to the board so I could get the screws to properly grip the wood blocks to the melamine boards.  These blocks will serve as the anchor points to connect both side panels with the other pieces you cut (front, top, back, etc.).

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STEP 3: Additional Panels and Assembly

Begin to cut your other pieces.  In the image below you can see that I have the Bottom Front panel cut and the face-plate of the coin slots is in place.  You should plan all of these cuts out in advance so you are sure to have the material but I recommend a piece-by-piece measure and cut of each panel as you go.

Before you assemble the cabinet remember to route your slot for the T-Molding.  Running this router bit around the length of each side can be pretty intimidating.  I described this step and holding the router is sort of like grabbing hold of an angry anaconda.  It spits and kicks wood debris as well as a smoke screen to make things a little more insane.  TAKE YOUR TIME WITH THIS STEP AND HAVE YOUR HELPER HANDY!

Custom Arcade Cabinet

Counter sink each hole that you need for attaching the panels to the side panel braces.  If you don’t counter sink the holes then your screws will not be flush with the surface of the cabinet panel.  Be sure not to counter sink too deep or you will end up with a hole that is too big and your screw will not be flush.

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Ware your protective gear.  There are all sorts of nasty particles floating around in the air while building your cabinet.  You don’t need it in your eyes or lungs and I recommend preserving your hearing as well.

Attach all of your panels and paint your edges with the flat black paint.  painting the edge isn’t critical but just an attention to detail.  You will want to paint the edge so when you attach your T-Molding you will not see any wood edges.

In the images above you can see the panels being placed and I have began painting the edges.

In the images above you can see that I have now applied the T-Molding

STEP 4: Control Panel Planning

Now that the cabinet is mostly complete you can begin to prep for electrical.  To do so you are going to need to plot your button placement so you can drill the holes.  The following image is a snap shot of the iCade controls in the unit they come in.

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The image below is the same iCade dash on the full size cabinet.  Notice the drastic size difference that you are going to need to work with.  Plan your holes for the position that makes most sense for the type of game you are going to run in the cabinet.

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Since the melamine was 3/4″ I needed to replace the iCade Joystick with a full size part.  The dash of the iCade is a thin plastic so the joystick that comes with it will not give you the length you need to get the stick through the cabinet dash. PLAN THIS CAREFULLY.  YOU WILL WANT TO ONLY DRILL THESE HOLES ONCE.  IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE AT THIS POINT YOU WILL NEED TO CUT A NEW DASH PANEL!!!

STEP 5: Wiring the Cabinet

This was when it started to get fun.  Take all of your electrical components and prep them for assembly.  First I needed to take apart the iCade.  You will need all of its guts to make it work.  From the iCade I removed the following:

  • Controls: Joysitck and 8 Buttons
  • AA Battery Pack
  • Light Indicator
  • Bluetooth Module

The goal is to remove all of the original iCade housing and adapt these elements to your cabinet.  In the case of our machine I needed to extend all of the wiring for the buttons and joystick to the main Bluetooth unit because the iCade is much smaller than the full size cabinet.

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Re-assemble the iCade components to your dash.  After extending all of the wiring I was able to mount the battery pack to the inside of the cabinet.  the Light Indicator was positioned just below the TV Screen so that it is visible from the front of the machine so that the iCade may be synced with the iPad.

Insert your TV and connect it to the amp with whatever method you need to send the Audio from the TV out to the Audio System.

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Mount your speakers to the speaker deck and wire them as the manufacturers directions state.  In our case these simply ran to the 800Watt AMP.

In the images above you can see the AC Power converter that powers the audio system.  All the cabinet elements are connected to the Power strip for a simple 1 switch power-on.

Last bit of electrical is the header/title light.  We used a 22″ under cabinet mount fluorescent light.  This had holes for easy install and it was bright enough to illuminate the top.

STEP 5: Finishing Touches

After the electrical was complete all that was needed to be done was the finishing touches.  These consisted of metal angles, a little paint and the graphics.

First, cut all of your aluminum angles to the correct length.  Once they are all the correct size you may need to form them a bit to properly conform to all of the angles you have on the machine.  I chose to use Aluminum because its easy to work with.  To get the correct angles i simply hammered them with a mallet on an anvil a little at a time until they were right.

Custom Arcade Cabinet

Drill all of your holes to assembly prior to placing them for install.  Once they are bent and ready we painted them.  We also painted the screws we were using black to match.

Custom Arcade Cabinet

You will use your metal angles to hold your screen and Plexiglas screen cover as well as the title graphic Plexiglas into place.

Next was to prep the full color graphics we created for application.  We used a large format print shop in our neighborhood to print these graphics.  They can be a little pricey so shop around for the best quality to square foot price you can get.  Ours were full color and laminated to give it a real rich color as well as providing the graphics with a durable and cleanable surface.

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Install your graphics and trim them to shape.  Once this is complete you are ready to go!

STEP 6: Mission Accomplished!

Below is our first photo of the cabinet complete and ready for showtime!

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There are a tremendous amount of fine details in the process which I have not included in an effort to keep this “How To” fairly short and sweet.  The advice I can give to anyone who attempts to build one of these is to pay close attention and plan everything.  You should have a complete understanding of what it is you are going to build.

****BE SURE TO HAVE A HELPER AS THE LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY IS MODERATE AND A SECOND SET OF HANDS WILL BE INVALUABLE***

The following photos are a few action shots of the Arcade Cabinet in action from Stan Lee’s Comikaze 2014!

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