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!

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.

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).

CNC, JavaScript, Programming, X-Carve

Turn Your X-Carve into a Plug Cutter

One of my favorite aspects of Inventables’s X-Carve CNC router is Easel, their free online carving software. My favorite part of Easel is that it is programmable — you can write apps for it. Apps automate tasks like turning an image into a puzzle, carving gears, or making inlays. Inventables has written nine apps and published another 14 from independent developers, and today, they’ve published my first app, Plug Cutter.

Plug Cutter turns your X-Carve into (wait for it) a plug cutter. What’s a plug cutter? It’s a woodworking tool that creates short dowels that you can use to cover screw holes. Here’s one that Rockler sells for cutting 1/4″ plugs ($16.99):

The Plug Cutter app turns your X-Carve into a plug cutter that can cut plugs in any size. The only constraint is your imagination (and the size of your X-Carve) (and the known diameter of the universe)!

Choose your plug quantity, diameter, and depth, and the app will organize them on your workpiece to minimize waste.

This is what the plug layout shown above looks like after it has been carved:

And this is what the plugs look like once they’ve been put into use:

The app itself is written in about 170 lines of JavaScript. It supports working in inches and millimeters, and it shows the exact cut that the X-Carve will make, depending on your current bit diameter.

You can see the Plug Cutter app’s sourcecode on GitHub, and if you have an Inventables account, you can try the app in Easel by clicking the Apps button and scrolling down until you see Plug Cutter:

If you try it out, post a shot of your plugs in the comments!

CNC, Home Improvement, Woodworking, X-Carve

Today’s CNC Carving: A towel rack that says Towels

What do you hang your towels on? A plain old towel bar? Ha. A hook on the back of the door? Sad. You drape them over the shoulders of a mannequin like a cape? Ok that’s pretty cool.

But what would be even cooler would be to hang your towels on a towel rack that says “Towels.”

There’s no mistaking what goes on these hooks. Thinking of hanging up a bathrobe? Get out of here, buster. This rack is for towels.

“But there are so many hooks and I only have two towels!” Not my problem. Buy more towels.

If you want to make this towel rack that says “Towels,” head on over to the towel rack project page at Inventables.

CNC, Woodworking, X-Carve

Garbage Can Cabinet Medallions

Ever since I built our garbage and recycling cabinet last year, visitors to my home have been mystified as to where to throw away their trash, so I made some identifying medallions for the front of the cabinet with my X-Carve.

They’re carved out of red oak (the same wood used for the top of the cabinet) that was planed down to about 3/8″ thick. I stained them with Varethane’s Kona stain (before carving) and finished them with some clear spray enamel (after carving).

The Inventables project is here for anyone interested in making something similar.