I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as a dead arcade cabinet. Even ones that have been out in the shed for decades, suffered a bit of weather, or been totally thrashed can still be restored to a functional condition with a bit of work and TLC. Some can be fully restored to their former glory, others will need be repurposed. For me, I love the challenge of restoring cabinets that most others would put out for hard rubbish. Always think ‘potential’! If restoring a cabinet takes your fancy, this article may give you some basic tips and tricks for your first project.

Things you’ll need

When looking for a cabinet, it is important to consider what you want to use it for as not all cabinets suit all purposes. Also consider what you want the cabinet to look like and what sort of games you want to run in it (i.e. an original PCB, a multi-board, or MAME). Consider the number of buttons you will need, as well as the number of joysticks (amongst other things). There are many websites that sell bezels, side art and marquees to give your cabinet a beautiful look so the sky really can be the limit. Planning your restoration is crucial so know what lies ahead, and you can consider how you are going to make it happen. Take your time and do your research as it is best to get it right the first time.

When restoring an arcade cabinet there are few tools and supplies you may need:

  • Screwdrivers (flat head and Philips head)
  • Socket set (basic)
  • Allen keys
  • Adjustable spanner(s)
  • Jig saw
  • Drill
  • Drill bits (basic set)
  • Electric sander (orbital)
  • Measuring tape
  • Pen / pencil
  • Wire brush drill attachment
  • Set square
  • Ruler
  • High-quality interior crack filler
  • Paint – metal primer, metal spray paint, indoor primer, indoor/outdoor wash and wear paint
  • Paint brush (small and large)
  • Paint roller or spray gun
  • Sand paper (fine grit and medium course grit)
  • Sugar soap
  • Replacement joysticks, buttons, wiring harness (as required)
  • Self-tapping screws

Once you have your project cabinet, this is where the fun begins. The first step is to dismantle the cabinet very carefully. Make sure to keep all parts in one place so you don’t lose anything. If what you are about to take apart looks complicated, take plenty of photos! This could save you a lot of time if you can’t work out how to get it back together. Don’t throw anything away as you may need it later. Keep old parts that you may not use in the current project – nuts, bolts, screws, brackets, circuit boards, monitor, buttons / joysticks – as many of these can be reused. This can save you money and it keeps some of the originality from one cabinet to be repurposed in future projects. Even knackered panels (wooden or metal) can be used as templates for making new ones if they can’t be cleaned up or repaired. Metal parts can often be buffed up quite nicely and repainted even if there is some surface rust.

Cocktail restoration

My first restoration was an old cocktail cabinet that I wanted to repurpose rather than return to original condition. It needed pretty much everything either replaced or repaired; new legs, a new tabletop, new glass, new power supply and new control panels. Although this may sound like a lot, it wasn’t really too bad a task. The steel for the legs, wooden top and glass were all standard thicknesses / sizes which could be purchased cheaply from general hardware shops and glaziers. I bought the steal and wood and set to work; the glass was bought at the end only once I knew the exact measurements.

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Getting started

I started with the legs. The original legs were all rusted but still had good condition plastic caps on the end so these were salvaged. A friend with great metalwork skills replicated the legs; the metal was cut to size then welded. Holes for the mounting bolts were measured out and drilled. I then spray painted with two layers of primer. Once dry (24 hours later) I lightly sanded back with a very fine grit sandpaper then spray painted with a heavy duty black gloss paint. Both the primer and paint were available at the local hardware store. The original bolts were also reused; buffed with a standard wire brush drill attachment then sprayed with the same black paint. Luckily the plastic caps for the ends of the legs were still in good condition so were cleaned up and reused.

The cabinet base had certainly seen better days; the laminate was flaking off in many areas and there were scratches all over. There was some water damage so the particleboard had also flaked away in places. I scraped off the loose laminate and particleboard then sanded the entire exterior. The cabinet base exterior was washed with sugar soap, set to dry then the gouges and imperfections filled with high-quality interior crack filler. Once dry, these areas were sanded back with course sandpaper to get the excess off then the exterior was re-sanded with a fine grit sandpaper.

As I wanted to turn this into bright retro cocktail cabinet I chose a 60 in 1 board, which has many retro arcade games including Donkey Kong, Galaga and Pac-Man. I chose the brightest yellow interior paint I could find. As the cabinet was originally black, I painted the exterior with a white undercoat / primer first. Following a light sand after 2 coats, I applied three coats of the yellow paint. I chose to do this with a very fine roller to give the paint some texture. Some texture helps to hide small imperfections. Once dry, I started replacing parts I initially removed such as the coin mechanism and the new legs.


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The central wooden frame that supports the monitor and control panels was simply sanded back and repainted. The wooden edging that attaches to the central wooden frame on either side were in average condition but did not need replacing. I covered these with a high-quality vinyl contact paper. Once the frames were finished, they were reinstalled.

The electricals and panels

With the frame in place, the next step was to install a monitor, speakers and power supply. As I planned to use a 60 in 1 game board that could be powered by an ATX power supply, I did not need to use an arcade power supply. I also used the power supply to power PC case fans for ventilation at the end of the cabinet base. The cabinet did not come with a monitor so I installed a 15 inch LCD computer screen as the 60 in 1 board also had VGA output. I installed two PC speakers that connect directly to the 60 in 1 board however standard arcade speakers could also be used off the wiring harness (JAMMA). I chose PC speakers for better quality sound. These were mounted to the frame with home made brackets and small self-tapping screws.

The control panels were beyond restoration so I had a local sheet metal company manufacture two new ones based on one of the original panels as a template. This included drilling the holes for the buttons and joystick. Once I got the new panels, I drilled holes for the mounting bolts for the joysticks. The panels were then covered with the same high-quality vinyl contact paper used on the wooden frame then buttons and sticks were installed. As the holes were in the same location as the original panels, they fit perfectly. The panels were not installed until the wiring phase.

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Replacing the tabletop was the most challenging. I used the old tabletop as a template for shape, size, control panel recesses, monitor location, latch location and hinge mounting bolts. I cut the new tabletop to size with a jig saw, rounded the corners and cut out recesses above the control panels. I also cut out the monitor hole. This required a few attempts as to not cut the hole too large. Once the monitor hole was exact, I drilled the holes for the latch and hinge bolts. I reused the original latches, hinges, and hinge bolts; all cleaned up with the wire brush drill bit. Hinge and latch bolts were countersunk so they fit tightly. They were then covered with high-quality filler. The top was then sanded, primed and painted the same as the cabinet base.


Finishing touches

The final large step was connecting the JAMMA wiring harness to the buttons and joysticks. Wiring is a whole other topic but with the advise of two arcade machine mates and a JAMMA wiring diagram, this was achieved quite quickly. The machine was then powered up, buttons and joysticks tested then the control panels finally installed. The machine was working, game board settings were then set and the games playable!

Final touches to the cabinet included using the vinyl contact to detail the tabletop as well as placing Donkey Kong arcade stickers. I also used an old green cold cathode from a PC to illuminate the base of the cabinet. The cathode was secured to the underside of the cabinet base with home made brackets using metal bracket strips from the local hardware store. The toughened glass was ordered from a local glazier based on measurements of the top. The glass was secured in place with homemade brackets made of cut down square aluminum covered with vinyl contact.

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The cost of restoring this cabinet itself was reasonably inexpensive with the largest cost being the toughened glass top. Replacing electrical components, buttons and joysticks was highly affordable and the parts easily sourced. Restoring an old cabinet can be great fun whether it be back to it’s original condition or something new and different. The end result is something that is truly yours and something to be proud of.

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