How I made a retro bar-top arcade

Building a retro arcade has been high up on my “want to-do” list for the better part of a year now. During my vacation from work, I finally decided to give it a go.

To get some inspiration and to gather together some useful tutorials, I cultivated a pinterest board which you can check out here: My Gaming Board. This is something I would definitely recommend if you are intending on building your own arcade but are absolutely stumped for design ideas.


Planning is key with this, I definitely found this out the hard way. I would also recommend having a little knowledge of woodwork and basic electronics and programming to make life a lot easier. Luckily my boyfriend was able to supply the knowledge of woodwork, while I on the other hand, was able to supply the programming that was necessary to build the arcade.


Here I’ve painstakingly put together the list of things we needed to make this arcade. Obviously it’s not necessary to get everything exactly the same if your looking to build your own. I would use these as a guide depending on what you want to do.

For the Arcade:

  • Monitor – Dell E152fpb 15″ – Charity Shop
  • Kettle lead for monitor – Charity Shop
  • Old Speakers – Lying around the house – Free
  • Old Speakers (for the speaker grills) – Charity Shop
  • 12mm 8×4 MDF – DPL
  • Brass hinges – Morris’s
  • Brass toggle catch – Morris’s
  • 4 way extension lead – Ikea
  • VGA cable – Lying around the house – free
  • VGA to HDMI adaptor – Ebay
  • LED strips – Homestore & More
  • Filler – Mr Price
  • Putty Knives – Mr Price
  • 28mm Drill bit – Morris’s
  • Spray White Primer – Mr Price – x2-3 cans
  • Wood glue – in the house – free
  • Black spray paint – Autobody Shop – x2-3 cans
  • Spray Lacquer – Autobody Shop – x2-3 cans
  • 12mm screws – Homebase
  • Powered USB Hub – CPC
  • IEC power adaptor – CPC
  • USB passthrough adaptor – CPC
  • Joysticks button and USB interface – Ebay

For the Workings:

  • Raspberry PI 3 Model B – CPC
  • PI Heatsinks – Ebay
  • SD Card – 32GB Class 10 – Memory C
  • RetroPie Image
  • USB Keyboard – for initial setup – had this in the house

Build – Building the box

  1. Step one is gather your supplies. We decided to approach this in phases rather than all at once so our phase 1 was to build the box.
  2. Next is to begin measuring and cutting out the panels for the box. I found this tutorial especially helpful for working from a guide with this. The author has attached a super useful pdf that you print out and use to cut out the panels.
  3. If you have enough MDF, it may be useful to create some backup pieces such as the control panel. This will allow you to have a backup in case you don’t like the button configuration on your first attempt.
  4. Next step is to cut out any and all holes that are needed. I would strongly advise this step now rather than later. The control panel buttons, a slot for a USB adapter, speaker holes, monitor hole, power adapter slot, anything that is relevant should be cut out.
  5. Now it’s time to glue and nail the box together. This was quite fiddly so I would advise getting a few extra hands to help out.
  6. Something useful here: we wanted a way to easily get at the control panel from underneath. With this in mind we put this panel on a hinge for an easy open close mechanism. We applied some locks on the inside to secure this when the arcade is in use.

Build – Fill, sand and spray

  1. After the glue has set, fill any holes or dents using the filler and a putty knife.
  2. Begin sanding like the wind, starting with a rough grade of sandpaper and working down to a very fine grade of sandpaper. This step may seem utterly tedius but this is really worth it when the box has a very smooth finish.
  3. Once you’ve finished sanding, give the box a wipe down to remove any dust.
  4. Start spraying. Begin with a few coats of white primer. The primer we used was touch dry in 10 minutes so we were able to apply 3 – 4 coats in no time. Be sure you are in a well ventilated area and use a mask for this!
  5. Once you are happy with the primer, start spraying layers of black spray paint (or your preferred color). Again this should not take too long in a well ventilated area.
  6. Almost there, now time for the spray lacquer. Apply a few layers of this and let it set.

Assemble – Assemble the bits

  1. In order to securely mount the monitor but allow for easy removal, we screwed in some small wooden blocks to hold it in place. These blocks can be pivoted to release the monitor.
  2. Mount the speakers into the arcade. For the speaker grills we took them apart from some old speakers and spray painted them gold.
  3. Attach the back door with some hinges and a clasp to hold the door closed.
  4. Pop in the buttons to ensure they fit.
  5. Wiring up the buttons can be a tricky task for even the most patient person. The arcade set I purchased, well worth the money, came with a wiring diagram which helped with the process. Don’t worry this can be fiddly as hell.
  6. Now it’s time to hook up all the pieces to the PI and get going!


  1. Download and install a retropie image onto the SD card – I used win32 disk imager for this task.
  2. Pop in the SD card into the PI and boot it up.
  3. For the initial setup it is probably necessary to use a USB keyboard to navigate around and complete the setup.
  4. Upon initial setup there were a number of tweaks that needed to be made to finish up – See the helpful tips section down below.
  5. Roms can be added via memory stick, via ftp or via sftp. For more info on this process consult RetroPie.

What’s left

As I write this, I am still in the process of figuring out what to do for the marquee. I have a few design ideas that may come to fruition but I’m taking my time making any decisions!
Any suggestions welcome!
We also need to apply some chrome contact sheeting to the sides of the arcade to help with scratches.
Rubber feet have also been purchased and are yet to be applied.

Helpful Tips

Getting the joysticks to work
This was great fun trying to figure out as a first timer. Eventually, using THIS tutorial we got this up and running.

Fixing the screen size
This took a bit of research and tweaking to get right. Initially the arcade would only boot up on a hdmi screen so that needed to be fixed to work over the vga-hdmi adaptor. This involved editing the config.txt file. This page greatly helped me to understand what parameters needed to be changed.

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