Arcade cabinet metal paneled joysticks

fabrication Nov 10, 2006

Most people opt for wood as their control panel material of choice. However on my PacMan cabinet, as well as many other original arcade machines, the control panel is constructed of a single piece of steel. To many, this is a big deterrent to that style of cabinet. However using a steel control panel has a plethora of advantages over a wooden one.

Number one is weight. A steel panel will actually weigh less than a comparably size wooden one using 3/8" MDF. Second is the variety of shapes and bends you can produce with metal that wood just cannot do cleanly. Third is the working space under the panel. With wood panels in small to medium sized cabinets, space under the panel is a premium. Working with metal allows for much more space to work with underneath. It also is no more expensive working with metal and is often a faster process.

Tools for the project
  1. Metal Brake
  2. Angle Grinder with cutoff wheel
  3. 1/16" Steel plate
  4. Hole saw kit
  5. Drill or Drill press
  6. Small drill bits

You can purchase the metal brake from Harbor
Freight for $30.00-40.00
with regular coupons

30" Metal Brake

This is exact brake I have, and it worked just fine with 1/16" plate.

You can get the angle grinder and cutoff wheel from Harbor Freight as well, I recommend this 7" electric model for about $30 after coupons. It should come with a cutoff wheel, but if not,
get a pack of them for $7.99 also at Harbor Freight.

I purchased the plate from Lowes, a 24×24 piece cost me about 25 bucks. I’m sure you can find this considerably cheaper at metal work shops, but I know they sell it at Lowes.

The hole saw kit also comes from Harbor Freight for $25 bucks after coupons. Be sure to get the bi-metal kit, rather than the cheaper carbon steel set intended for plastic and wood.

Everything else (drill and bits) are pretty common tools everyone should have around.


I started by taking the existing panel and drawing it out on a large sheet of paper by rolling it from one end to the other. This way I could mark the diameters of each bend, the placement of the bends and figure out where the holes should be placed. I HIGHLY advise drilling the holes after bending, as they will weaken the metal tremendously otherwise.

After tracing everything out on the metal plate with sharpie marker, a buddy and I bent the panel as needed. It took us about 20 minutes, mainly because we didn’t secure the metal brake to a bench. What came out was a near perfect blank of the original panel. This was the first time I ever used a metal brake, so it really is as easy as it sounds. Basically you move the breaker bar away from the brake pivot to determine the radius of the bend. Use clamps to secure everything and then make your bend. My panel required three bends to mimic the original.

Next you take your drill or press and use your hole saw kit to cut the openings for the buttons and joystick. Be sure to accurately measure the needed opening size for whatever buttons you choose to use, most need a 1" opening and have
a 1 and a 1/4" lip. We used a 1" hole saw for the buttons and a 1.25" for the joystick opening. Next drill out the holes for the joystick screws and mount screws for the panel to cabinet mounting hardware. We used regular wood
bits for this, but keep in mind they are going to be pretty much destroyed after drilling the 12 or so holes you need.

Once all that is done, put in all your buttons and joysticks to make sure everything lines up properly (it better, because you cant readily undo metal cutting).

Raw panel

Next up, disassemble and get out some 120 grit sandpaper. Sand everything smooth and get rid of the grease from the brake. Once its nice and smooth, switch to 320 grit to get out the big gouges.

After that you can use any regular spray paint or auto primer. I chose Krylon white for my base coat and ended up liking it so much I kept that as the final color for quite a while. Put on thin even coats. It took me about 8 coats to get it nice and smooth. Do a coat and let it sit and dry for 10-15 minutes.

Painted and ready to install

When going to install the panel into the cabinet, there was a metal tab used to center and hold the panel in place. I used the cutoff wheel to cut a slot to allow it to fit snugly into the cabinet.

Slotted and installed