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Street Fighter IV Arcade Machine Project

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Written by DM on Thursday, March 12 2009

Well, folks, the arcade machine project we made in honor of the SF4 release, you know, the one I have been chatting up for so long? Well, it is finally done, and I am here to bring you the best record as is humanly possible of how we did it. To those of you who thought I was bluffing I say take that! Keep in mind, though, this is the first project that me and my partner (my brother) have ever done, when it comes to woodworking, that is. Even though there were some screw-ups, we were able to make them all go away with sanding and paint, and a bit of wood filler. I will relate all the little tricks and tidbits we learned while building this wonderful thing, so that hopefully, you can avoid them yourself if you decide to make something similar.

The first thing to decide is what type of wood you want to use. I have to suggest medium density fiberboard (MDF), hands down. The material is light, easy to shape and cut, and costs next to nothing. A sheet of the stuff is just about $25.00 at Home Depot, and we still have half left over. By the way, there will be a much more detailed breakdown of the project cost at the end, so don’t fret. If you use plywood or even real, solid, wood, you will be in a bit of a pickle if you have to end up shaving down a specific piece, or routing out a joystick/button area without a router. Stick with the MDF.

The first thing to do is find a plan online or make up your own plan for the base, joystick console, and TV/monitor holder. Thanks to a very generous and brilliant person named Donovan who I found online, I was able to obtain GoogleSketchup plans for the basic design of this sit-down arcade machine. Without his plans and help, this project would never have happened. He was the original designer of the sit-down arcade; our project just takes off on what he started.

Once you have detailed plans and measurements, use large pieces of oak tag or poster paper to make templates/stencils to put over the wood in order to help you cut out the different pieces. Mark my words, folks, if you do not do this and just use measurements, you will end up with a bunch of pieces that look great, but suddenly do not fit together correctly because you never visualized the unit beforehand. For cutting the wood we used two tools. The first is a circular saw, with a blade that is made for finishing cuts. You probably won’t be able to find a blade specifically for MDF, so just get one that leaves the cuts as smooth as possible. You can use a table saw; of course, the same blade type is preferable. The second thing we used is a jigsaw. You can pick up a brand new jigsaw for $29.99, and it even will let you cut at an angle. Older jigsaws tend to leave jagged and crooked cuts, spring for a new one. For the jigsaw blades, you want to get anything that says for finishing or smoothing cuts. That should leave you with a decent edge that does not need much sanding.

Once you have cut out all the pieces you are going to need for assembly, you can begin to fit the pieces together. Now, many builders use glue, but we did not. Why? Well, mainly because we wanted to make sure we could take pieces apart if necessary. You can use glue if you like, on top of the screws, but it is not necessary. What you do need, though, are clamps. Big, long, metal, clamps to hold the pieces together while you secure them. What you need to do first is find a drill bit that is small enough to be about half the diameter of the screws you are using. We used deck wood screws, which are a tan version of drywall screws, more or less. Now, here is something we learned the hard way. MDF has a tendency to do two things when screwed into. First, when you reach a certain point, if the screw pilot hole is too long or big, or if the screw itself is too long, the hole will basically strip, and you won’t be able to screw in the screw any more. Also, if you are close to the edge of the piece of MDF, it cracks. MDF cracks a lot, actually. You have to be super careful in order to prevent the MDF from splitting when you put screws into it. Just take it slow, make sure your pilot holes are right, and when you can, put the MDF you are screwing into against something solid, like a workbench or another piece of wood. It may still split when you use screws, well guess what. If the split is not on the outside, and it can be lived with, leave it for now. You can use wood filler later to fix it up right. Now, once you have everything together, the base, the back stand, and the joystick console, you can put them together for a dry fit test. You will get an idea of what your finished project will look like.

Now that you have your pieces done, you can focus on the joystick console. This is the part that will require the most work. First, you have to decide what kind of electronics you are going to have, and how much of it. What I mean by this is, you need to decide first what kind of arcade buttons you are going to use, and what kind of joystick. Happ is the good old standard arcade button and joystick maker here in the USA. They make concave buttons (now they make convex as well), and their joysticks have a bat top (reverse teardrop) shape. If you have played on a lot of American machines, you are likely used to this company’s hardware. There is also Sanwa and Seimeitsu, they are both Japanese. The buttons they make are usually convex, and frequently the joystick has a ball on the top, although you can get it with a bat (teardrop). Chances are, if you did not know the facts I just related, then you are better off using the Happ parts, since that is probably what you are used to. You can order them from several places here in the USA, I will put a list of suppliers for everything at the end.

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