CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

Introducing the Fintendo: My Bartop Arcade Build

I have fulfilled the greatest dreams of my childhood and built an arcade machine that plays my favorite games from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and more.

There are many very good tutorials on the Web on how to build your own bartop arcade, so I won’t be going into a ton of detail. I mainly followed this tutorial from I Like to Make Stuff and this one from The Geek Pub.  The basic steps are to get a Raspberry Pi computer, load RetroPie onto it, buy some arcade buttons, and make it all fit into a box.

I already had a Raspberry Pi that I won at That Conference a couple of years ago, but I got my buttons from Amazon. The set came with enough buttons and joysticks for two players to each have eight buttons plus a coin and player button.

The LEDs inside are powered by the USB connection to the Raspberry Pi.

For all of the non-rectangular pieces, I cut them out using my X-Carve. This was especially helpful for all of the button holes, since they were not the same size as any of my drill bits.

After getting the holes cut in the control panel, I wired up the entire system and made sure that it worked. A couple quick rounds of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out confirmed that everything was copacetic.

For the monitor frame, I cut a window the exact size of the screen, then an inlay that would cover the bezel, and a deeper inlay for the area where the screen’s buttons are so that they wouldn’t get pressed by the frame.

Doing the frame this way hides the fact that the screen is a monitor, something that lots of other builds don’t do. I don’t want to be taken out of the moment by a distracting monitor logo and LED light. Ugh! An LED, can you imagine??  I did drill tiny holes in front of each button so they can still be pushed using a paperclip, but the holes became almost invisible after I painted the frame.

The monitor is attached to the frame by a board screwed into its mounting holes. I didn’t do this exactly right, so check one of the linked tutorials for a better example.

I followed The Geek Pub’s example, and attached guide strips where all of the sides needed to be attached. Then I glued and nailed the sides to the guides.

Lots of bartop arcade builders order custom vinyl graphics for their cabinets. I decided to go low-tech and painted a simple retro design on the cabinet and control panel in the same colors as the buttons.

Instead of going the usual route of a translucent graphic on plexiglass for the marquee, I carved a custom Nintendo logo bitmap into some quarter-inch plywood. I did this with a halftone-generator app I wrote for Easel, but it hasn’t been published for general use yet, so I can’t link to it here.

I covered the back of the marquee with red paper so that the logo will appear red when an LED light is mounted behind it.

I lined the marquee box with reflective tape to increase reflectivity. This was probably unnecessary.

The front panel holds the Coin and Player buttons for each player. Coin doubles as Select, and Player is the same as Start.

I also mounted a pair of USB ports on the front panel to allow for easy connection of a keyboard, thumb drive, or USB controllers.

All of the electronics plug into a power strip that feeds out the back of the cabinet.  I was originally going to use the speakers built into the monitor, but they didn’t have nearly enough power, so I stuck some external speakers in the cabinet too.

To allow for heat to vent out, I carved a number of holes into the back in no particular shape.

I also ran some t-molding around all of the exposed plywood edges. This really gave it an authentic arcade feel.

You can find instructions online for loading games onto the Pi, but it goes without saying that you should only use games that you already own a physical copy of.

The final step: invite the kids to play so you can inevitably step in and show them up. Done and done!

Life, Writing

An Aleutian Latrine

Can you help me determine the author of a humorous World War II poem about toilets?

While I was clearing out my late father-in-law’s attic, I came across three cases of Kodachrome slides taken by his late cousin David Tewes, who had been a soldier stationed in Alaska during World War II. Among the slides was a group of photos taken in Attu, Alaska during the War, and one of those photos, labeled “An Aleutian Latrine — Our XMas Card”, contained an unattributed poem and a shot of a soldier doing his “business” in the snow.

The poem is transcribed below.

An Aleutian Latrine

An Aleutian Latrine

Out on the wind swept tundra,
A place where howling winds will play
Stands a new three hole cabin
Overlooking a cold, cold bay.
It’s a very rugged country,
For here nature lovely calls.
You have a choice of constipation
Or a dose of frozen whatsis.
When the mercury says zero
And the weather’s very mean,
Then a man must be a hero,
When he visits our latrine.
For the seat is white with snowdrift
And the breeze blows thru the hole,
So your whosis gets frost bit
And your whatsis blue from cold.
It’s a struggle thru high snow drifts,
While the howling winds cut cappers
With a sigh, you sink on frozen boards
And reach out for the toilet paper.
Then gloom surrounds you, no paper is there
While you are in a bad position.
You can not act, nor seek relief,
Till channels clear that requisition.
I’ve seen brave men stoop to sugar bowls
Even paper bags and cans
And some even lost the fight
And did it in their pants.
It takes guts to serve your country,
As a sailor or marine…
But a man must be a hero
When he visits our latrine.
It takes guts to be a soldier,
And to heed your country’s call.
It matters not the whosis be cold
And although you loose your whatsis.
For when the work is over,
and the bloody war is won,
If you’ve used our ole three holer
Then — you are a man, my son.

* “whatsis” and “whosis” are placeholder words used to avoid giving offense. Use the rhyme scheme to decode their secret meaning!

I have not been able to find another copy of this poem; Google definitely doesn’t know about it.  I would love to track down the author if the author is known.

It’s possible that David wrote this poem, although he did not sign his name to it. Based on his photos and his hobbies shown in his other photographs, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did write it.

Chris Steller pointed out on Twitter that the author Dashiell Hammett was stationed in the Aleutian Islands at the same time that David was there. It would stand to reason, however, that if Hammett had written the poem, David would have wanted to note that, since Hammett was well-known for his book and movie The Maltese Falcon.

The rest of David’s photos from Attu are posted on the website I built to showcase his photography, in case you can find any clues therein.  Any and all tips, ideas, or wild speculations are welcome in the comments below!


Automattic, Christmas, CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

An Automattic Bowl

For part of the gift I sent through the Secret Santa exchange at work this year, I decided to make a bowl with the Automattic company logo inlaid in the bottom.  I’ve never made a bowl or done an inlay before, so this was definitely a wise decision that would not backfire.

I started by using my X-Carve to carve out a deep recess in some walnut to receive the inlay.  The plan at this point was to have the inlay visible on both the outside and inside bottoms of the bowl, so I carved it about an inch and a half deep to give me plenty of room for error. (<– Foreshadowing.)

I cut the inlaid pieces out of some maple, since it would have a natural contrast with the dark walnut.

I glued the maple in, flattened the surface, and cut the walnut to a roughly circular blank on the bandsaw.

I mounted the blank on the lathe and carved the outside profile of the bowl. Because I made the blank by gluing two pieces of walnut together (top to bottom), I added three decorative grooves: one on the seam to hide it, and one on either side for good measure. The grain lined up well enough that it’s hard to tell that it’s not one solid piece.

The lathe chuck I was originally going to use would have tightened around the tenon.(In the photo above, the tenon is the protruding portion on the right side that contains the inlay.)  Unfortunately, it broke, and the chuck I ended up using (shown below) needed a recess to expand into, so I cut all of the tenon off (and then some). Because of this change, there wasn’t enough of the inlay left to have it visible on both the inside and outside of the bowl.

I hollowed out the inside of the bowl, being careful not to go too deep.

After finishing the bowl with Watco Danish oil, I let it cure, and then I mailed it off to my unsuspecting coworker along with some treats to fill it.  If he doesn’t like corporate wooden dishware, I hope he at least likes American candy.

Epoxy, Life, Maker

How to Make Your Very Own Kidney Stone Paperweight

On today’s episode of Finkstructables, I’m going to be walking you through the steps to make your very own kidney stone paperweight.

Step 1: Create a kidney stone.

I made this stone with my right kidney, but you could use your left one if you like. Now, you want the stone to be large enough that it’s easy to see but small enough that it doesn’t cause you crippling pain on its way out. I nailed the former but overshot it on the latter. Oops!

Step 2: Encase the stone in resin.

I used this “crystal clear” epoxy resin, although I learned after the fact that it only stays clear if you pour it in increments of less than a quarter inch. I did the entire thing in two one-inch pours, and the heat generated by the curing process discolored the resin, turning it yellow. Oops!

You should use a mold that is made for casting resin so that you can easily remove the block once it’s done curing:

This mold was supposedly ok to use with resin, which I guess it was. It just wasn’t reusable with resin. Oops!

Now that you have easily removed your crystal clear block of resin from the mold, cut it into a projection of a 2-dimensional kidney shape. I used my bandsaw for this step:

Then, trim off the edges at about a 45º angle, bringing it closer to a 3-D representation of a kidney.

Be careful to prevent the warm resin shavings from sticking to your bandsaw bearings and hardening in place, or your saw might not want to start the next time you use it. Oops!

Begin sanding the resin, first removing any saw marks, and then removing all of the scratches from the previous grit level. I sanded mine with 80, 120, 200, 600, 1000, and 2000 grit paper.

Once you’ve exhausted your sandpaper options, switch to rubbing compound. I used these polishing wheels by chucking them into my drill press.

After polishing the entire paperweight with rubbing compound, it should look something like this:

Now you can move on to polishing compound. This will give your kidney a glossy shine, and if you neglected to get all the bubbles out when you poured, your stone will appear to be floating in a sea of resiny stars.

And that’s it! Now every time you use your paperweight, you’ll remember all of the fun times you and your stone shared together.

That paper’s not going anywhere. Thanks, kidney stone!

Christmas, Woodworking, X-Carve

Wooden’t You Like to See These Christmas Gifts I Made?

Here are a couple more Christmas gifts that came out of the workshop.  The first one is a wall-hanging for my die-hard Vikings fan mother-in-law. I cut it on the X-Carve and hand-painted it.

This one is for my parents to hang up pictures of the grandkids:

If you’re wondering whether making a sign like this makes up for moving 2,000 miles away with the grandkids, the answer is “mostly.”

Christmas, CNC, Woodworking, X-Carve

I Made Some Animal Stools

I made four little animal chairs for young family members this Christmas:

The process for each chair was basically the same: cut out sides on the X-Carve, cut the seat and seatback on the table saw, and screw them together. I hand-painted the elephant and unicorn, and I finished the whale and otter with Danish oil and spray enamel.

If you have an X-Carve and would like to make these, I’ve published projects at Inventables for the otter, elephant, and whale. (The image that the unicorn chair is based on is not freely licensed, so I am not publishing my project for that chair.)

Christmas, CNC, Maker, Woodworking, X-Carve

Making Name Puzzles with the X-Carve

For a couple of the younger kids on my Christmas gift list this year, I made name puzzles with my X-Carve.

The puzzles are made out of Baltic birch plywood; the letters are 1/4″ thick and the base is 1/2″ thick.

I cut out the letters of the name (and some additional puzzle pieces) with a very small bit (1/32″), so when the letters are placed in the puzzle, they have a total of 1/16″ of play.  This is probably the maximum allowable play before the pieces start to feel loose.

These letters were from a proof-of-concept puzzle that I didn’t end up finishing, but you get the idea.

I carved the puzzle piece insets 1/8″ deep and rounded the corners of the base.

On one of the puzzles, I also included the logos of the Minnesota Wild and the Minnesota Twins. I gave the Wild logo some depth by carving out one of the areas that was a single color. This made it easier to paint too.

After painting the pieces, I gave them and the bases a couple of coats of clear enamel.

Which piece goes where???

I hope that the kids like these for now, and when they get older, they can glue the pieces in place and use these as wall or door hangings.

If you have an X-Carve and want to make these puzzles (or variations thereof, if you don’t know a Minnesotan child named Justin), the Easel projects are here (Justin) and here (Alyssa).