Virtual Pinball – Building the Cabinet

In this part of the Virtual Pinball guide, I will cover the build of the cabinet and control panel. This includes assembling the cabinet and backbox, painting the panels, mounting the legs. prepare holes for: the controls, speakers, DMD Screen, backglass monitor, Special effects… as well as the installation of the plunger, buttons, power switch, ethernet connector, Led strip profiles, fans…

!! This project is still in progress and these guides will get updated along the way. Feel free to ask questions so I can improve the guide

For my cabinet, I went with 18mm MDF (non-waterproof), I printed out the widebody plan I chose and took it to a local woodshop, a few days later they were done and I could get my parts. The total cost of the woodwork was 102€ (115$). If you happen to have a woodshop with a CNC you can have them cut out every hole as shown on the plan including the buttons, in my case, there was no CNC so I have to drill out the buttons and coin door manually. This is perfect as I didn’t know what buttons I wanted yet and gave me a bit more time to think.

Required Tools

It’s best to gather all the tools needed up front. This way you don’t lose time looking for the right tool and you can have your cabinet built within a few hours. I had most of the tools laying around. There may be better tools available these got the job done.

An Electric Jigsaw is used to cut out the screens in the back panel and the coin door, A Hand Drill will be used to screw the boards together and drill many holes, for fastening my cabinet parts were 55x3mm screws. The heads of these screws will be sunk by a countersink drill bit and the buttons holes were drilled by a 24mm and 28mm drill. To keep the cabinet in position before screwing it in place I used a set of large wood clamps. To fill up the screw heads once they are screwed in I found Wood Filler which will be sanded flat using rough sandpaper. To paint the cabinet you will need some black paint and a paint roller. A few more tools were required.

Prepare panel cutouts

Before assembling the cabinet you want to cut out some holes beforehand as it will be easier with flat panels (don’t make the same mistake as me). The sizes of most holes will be different for your build but I’m including mine. Most of the cutouts can also be found on the plan but I did them myself.

Backbox

(I built the backbox first but that made the speaker cutout very hard to do)

  • DMD Screen: The pinDMDv3 I’m using needs a cutout of 32,5CM by 8,5CM. The led panels are only 9mm thick and the wood is 18mm so if you want to make the matrix sit flush with the cabinet front you can trim the inside for a better fit. I did not make it sit flush but I don’t really see the difference especially with the darkened plastic cover that will prevent the DMD from reflecting on your TV screen. This will hide any imperfections you did here, I recommend to test this during your build and make sure you can see the top led row when looking at it from your playing position.
  • Speakers: I used the original speakers to draw a line around it, then I used the hand jigsaw to cut out the speaker holes, I got the 5,23-inch pinball fidelity speakers which require a hole of about 12cm.
  • Monitor: I’m using a 27″ widescreen illiama monitor, I managed to remove the plastic cover and surprisingly had a perfectly usable LCD panel with a very thin border around. the dimensions of my screen are 630x365mm, drilled a starting hole and then cut the outline with the electric handsaw.
  • Cable passthrough: on the bottom of this backbox, we need a hole to feed our cables to the bottom part of the cabinet, I went with a 100mm hole, this hole should be cut in the backbox under the panel and the cabinet top panel.
  • Top Cable Passthrough: I’m mounting some of my effects on top of my backboard so a few small holes are needed here to pass through power for these effects.
  • Cooling Fans: I’m adding an 80mm fan blowing directly on the DMD and LCD screen, these things may get hot and you don’t want them to break from overheating. However, I found out that the pinDMD3 does not get very hot at all.

Main Cabinet

  • Subwoofer: I’m using the pinball fidelity subwoofer mounted from the underside so the woofer actually sticks out a bit. I put the subwoofer upside down on my panel and drew a line around the woofer, then drilled a starting hole and cut out the rest using the jigsaw.
  • 3 Fans: I added 2x80mm fans above and below my subwoofer, these will blow air into the cabinet. In the back, I also added a 120mm fan that will blow out the hot air. I chose it this way so I would not have (cold) air blowing directly on my feet which can be discomforting when using slippers. Also, you want to keep a decent airflow in your main cabinet as all the components heat up the cabinet quite easily, especially the TV.
  • Backbox Cable passthrough: We also need a hole to feed through our cables from the backbox, this can easily be done by putting your backbox onto your cabinet where you want it to be. then using a pencil just draw inside of the backbox hole onto the cabinet. Then use the jigsaw to create the rough hole and manually smoothed it out with a file and some sandpaper afterward.
  • Audio Amp cable holes: I mounted the amplifier on the underside of my cabinet facing the back, this way I can easily adjust the volume without opening the cabinet again. If you want to mount your amplifier as I did you want to foresee some passthrough hole for your audio cables.

 

(I built the cabinet before cutting out the cutout, no real issues here but I still recommend making the cutouts first)

  • (extra)Handle holes: These are not really needed but the cabinet can get quite heavy once everything is installed. For easier transportation, I made 2 handles using the 28mm drill. First, drill 2 holes at the same height, about 15 to 20cm apart, then connect both holes using the jigsaw and use sandpaper to smoothen the edges.

  • Glass Rail: A pinball table has rails on the top of our cabinet for sliding in the playfield glass. These slots have to be cut with a slot cutting drill for your cutter. This is quite hard if you are doing this for the first time and I highly recommend trying on some spare wood first. I found out that you should only cut the slid once and don’t go back for a “better cut” as this in my case widened the gap a bit too wide. I was able to solve this by filling up the gap with hot glue when mounting the rails. I added a video (not mine) on how to cut these slots.

Assembling the cabinet and backbox

Assembling the bottom cabinet is easy but you need to take a few precautions to not damage or split your panels. I’m using 55x3mm screws and decided to pre-drill all my holes. This may be a little overcautious but since we’re screwing in edges of the wooden plate, you don’t want the screw to push the wood apart leaving you with a bulb in your wood which cannot be fixed. To make sure the artwork will be stuck to an even underground, none of the screw heads should stick out and that’s why I pre-sounded the screw heads using a very large drill. It’s no problem if they are deeper as we’re going to use wood filler to fill the holes but they cannot stick out. Also, try to have at least 3/4mm extra space for the wood filler to stick to.

Bottom Cabinet

I recommend using the bottom panel as your starting point, but there is no real order in building the cabinet. It eventually only took a good hour to get the bottom cabinet built:

  1. Backplate onto bottom: This can best be done by placing the bottom plate and backplate straight on a straight floor, someone to help you line up the panels can be handy, then when the boards are in place, pre-drill, sink and then screw the board in place. I first fastened the most left and right screw, then went along the line adding about 6-8 more screws.
  2. Left side: To mount one of the sides, since the back panel is cut at 45°, it should just slide together, then line up the top and drill the screws in, make sure it is aligned along the bottom panel, then screw in the outer screws, and add about 10 more screws along the line.
  3. Right side: Do the same for the other side, you want to use your front panel and test it will fit before fastening it in place. Then again, first the outer screws and add more along the line.
  4. Front panel: This should now line up perfectly with the two sides and bottom panel, I fastened the bottom first so it was easier to pre-drill the sides. You don’t want the wood to move when pre-drilling so the wood clamps may come in handy here.
  5. backbox Top: This last piece should now have a tight fit between the sides and can be mounted pretty easily. It’s best to line up this panel with the small cutout in the side panels on the front. This left a small opening at the back but this will not be seen when the backbox gets placed on top.

The Backbox

The backbox is a bit harder to build but at least it’s easier to handle the smaller parts. To assemble, just pre-drill, sink and screw like you did for the bottom cabinet. You want to make sure the back is removable for when you need to access the screen, DMD or speakers. I found some small hooks in my workshop which I will show later to keep the back in place. You can use anything you like. There is no real order but I assembled the backbox in the following:

  1. Bottom to Front: I started with the bottom, this is fairly easy but you have to decide how deep your front panel will be, for me, this is 10mm as you can see in the picture below. I lined up the bottom panel, slid it back 10mm and secured the outer screws followed by 4 more.
  2. Left and Right Side: Now you can use the bottom panel to align your sides, carefully align them to the bottom and screw them in place, you can use a pencil to draw the outlining of the front panel onto the sides, then remove the sides, pre-drill and sound between these lines, and then place it back against the front panel to screw it in place.
  3. Top: Put your top onto your backbox and it should fit tightly in between the sides, if not, use a file to make it fit. Then draw the outlining of the front panel onto the top, pre-drill and sound holes between these lines, then secure your top by screwing it to the front board.
  4. Monitor Mount: This will be different for everyone depending on the monitor you choose, I made an inlay for my monitor with a gap for the electronics to be exposed in the back. This way I put my monitor in from the front which will later be covered and held in place by a transparent plastic panel.

If you made it this far, your cabinet should look something like this, I forgot to cut out my speakers and DMD which I regret later but yours should have a few more cutouts.

Where to paint

For painting, there is just 1 simple rule: Don’t paint where your decals will be. Paint can cause irregularities in the surface causing bubbles in your decals. You can still use sandpaper later to smooth out the surface one last time if any paint secretly made it onto the wrong side of the cabinet. Below is a list of all the parts that need to be painted and the ones that are optional. I used cheap black matte paint for this and made sure I painted the visible parts of the cabinet twice.

  • The rear of the cabinet: This part won’t be covered with a decal so go ahead, Paint it black.
  • Bottom(underside): Not seen that frequently but black it is.
  • Backbox: This one can be painted black completely except for the sides, this is where we will stick our decals.
  • The inside of the cabinet: To make it look clean inside and out, I painted the inside as well.

you can skip the invisible parts of the cabinet to save some paint but painting everywhere made the build look “high quality”.

By placing the rails and lock bar on top, you get a first good glance at what your pinball will look like

Building the Control Panel

Coin Door

I found its best to cut the coin door first, this way you can center the coin door and position the buttons around it afterward. Cutting out the door is very simple, place the coin door upside down on your cabinet (I had to remove the actual door to make it sit flush). Make sure to stay at least 10cm from the top for your lockbar mechanism. Then draw the outlining onto the wood, drill a small starting hole for the jigsaw and cut along your lines. The coin door has 4 screws to keep it in place. After the hole was cut, I placed the coin door in its place and drilled holes for the bolts and secured the door in place using the included bolts and nuts.

Front Controls

Once you have your coin door installed, you can position the buttons around it, I installed 9 buttons. By shuffling them around I finally found a good looking layout. Then I drew the outside of the button insert, used the 24mm drill to drill the holes, and inserted the buttons in place. You will notice your buttons require 2 small holes to keep them in their correct orientation, using a small drill I sort of guessed where they would be and it turned out perfectly, afterward I added a bit of hot glue to remove any wiggliness.

 

Flipper buttons

The flipper buttons are usually a bit smaller and use a butterfly mechanism to ensure a stable connection. The 4 flipper buttons that came with the VirtuaPin set have a diameter of 14mm. I had to order a special drill for this. It’s also very important to know where you want your buttons installed. You can look at the Williams widebody design for button placement. or I just drilled where they felt natural to my hands: I put he lockbar on the cabinet, then put it on the height I eventually want to use it and let my fingers hang over the edge. Drew my fingers on the side of the cabinet and eventually put one on the end of my pointing finger and middle finger.

These buttons also require a 28mm hole of about 5mm deep to make them sit flush with the side of the cabinet. You can use a rubber hammer and a towel to hit them as deep as possible in the cabinet. Then secure the contact mechanism with the included bolts.

If you made it this far, the front of your cabinet should look something like this

Mount Legs

Before mounting your legs you should know the height you want your table to be. The legs are 72cm (28.5″) and have adjustable feet which can give you an extra 6cm (2″) of adjustment if needed, there are a few discussions on the net about cabinet height (Here, Here, Here)but in my opinion, this should be comfortable for you to play on. The height is measured on the front of your cabinet from the ground to the top of the lockbar. After doing research on “general” cabinet heights I found values ranging from 89 to 95 cm from the ground. I personally went with 91cm which felt the most natural for me and I’m 177cm (70″).

Then there is the discussion about angling your cabinet or keeping it straight with the floor. This is also a personal preference but I found a small angle better looking. I put the back of the cabinet 50mm(2″) higher than the front, the angle is almost unnoticeable but it still just feels right. I found an image on VPForms with the sizes for an original star trek cabinet. I basically copied these onto mine.

The legs come with a mounting plate which should sit at 45* when placed in the inside corners of your cabinet. I also ordered extra metal cabinet protectors, these will protect my artwork from being destroyed by the legs due to moving and tilting the cabinet. Marking the holes is easy, just place the leg at the correct height against a corner of your cabinet (put adjustable feet a bit higher than the minimum this way you can adjust wobble later on), use a wood file to flatten the surface for easier drilling (outside) and make a small starting hole using a prime in the center. Now drill the hole at 45*, it’s pretty important it is at 45* but a little off can be corrected fairly easily. First, use a small drill, then get a larger drill that will make the bolts fit trough. I recommend drilling a bit larger than the actual bolts, this will allow you to correct if your 45* angle was a bit off. When all 8 holes are made, try to screw the bolts into the base. In some cases, the screws may not be angled correctly to fit both, just use the drill or a round wood file to enlarge the hole just a bit so the screws fit in the baseplate at the same angle. When the legs are screwed in place, you can put your cabinet upright and screw the baseplates in place (into the inside of your cabinet).

Backbox Hinges and Lockbar

Backbox hinges

Mounting the Backbox hinges and can be done by placing the backbox on top of your cabinet where you want it, then just hold the hinges next to it, make sure to leave a bit of space between the hinge and your cabinet side to minimize the risk of scratching your artwork. You can now draw where to drill the holes, do the same on the other side and mount the backbox using the bolts and a wrench, this is a very easy process.

Lockbar

Mounting the lockbar is pretty easy but you will need to have your siderails temporary attached. Attach the lockbar assembly onto the lockbar, then drop the lockbar in place(over the siderails) where you want it, make sure to hit it a few times to the front and down. Then pull down the assembly as hard as you can while pressing it against (the inside) of your front panel. Then directly screw it in place with the screws pointing downwards, this way the lockbar gets pulled in place which will leave you with no wiggle in the end. In the video below I show the behavior you want to replicate.

TV Mount

To mount the TV, I placed Two wooden blocks left and right at the same height. Then I just placed a wooden board on top of it and then lay the TV on top. The TV was exactly the same width as the cabinet so it gets almost clammed between the sides, and I’m still able to slide the tv to the back if I need to access the front panel. The only thing you should keep in mind is that your TV will run hot and it is recommended to make some ventilation holes in the panel that will support your TV.

The angle of the TV is personal preference but I tested it by screwing in only the front of the mounting blocks, then manually adjusted the tv and tested at different angles. I ended up with the TV being just below the lockbar in the front and about 20 cm from the top at the back of the cabinet.

Prepare cabinet for applying artwork

To stick artwork to your cabinet, we need to hide every screw and bump on the outside of the cabinet. Use wood filler and a spatula to make the wood filler stick in the screwheads, make sure to apply quite a lot as you want the wood filler to bulge outwards.

After the wood filler has dried, use some hard sandpaper to remove the excess wood filler. You want the holes to be completely gone and when you feel over one of the filled holes, you should feel no difference compared to the regular wood, repeat at least once more for the best result because any small dent or bulge can be seen under the correct lighting conditions on this glossy artwork.

Sticking the artwork on your cabinet will be the last thing you do and is covered in a later guide. This way we minimize the risk of damaging the artwork while still working on the cabinet.

Installing basic features

Install Subwoofer

To install the subwoofer find some screws and mount it in place. If you happen to have a grill, mount it over the subwoofer. I bought one but it was too small.

Install FAN’s

I installed 2x 8″ fans in the front of my cabinet blowing inwards onto my TV and controls, this air is sucked out from the back with a single 12″ FAN, all fans were from old PC’s and operate on 12v. Use small screws to mount these in place. I covered every fan with an equal size fan-grill. This doesn’t only protect your fans, it also looks a lot better.

Install USB Extender

Installing the USB extender cable can be done by unscrewing all the nuts from the end of the cable, then feed the cable through from the bottom of the cabinet until eventually, the USB ports slide in the hole. Then slide the nuts over the cable and fasten the ports from the inside.

Power switch

For the power switch, in many cases, this can be done with the IEC chassis connector but I went with a special button I found laying around. This is generally an industrial motor switch that has an extra “motor start” function usually needed to power a smaller motor that helps the large one start. This button has 2 terminals, one for the main power switch and one for the starter motor which in my case will be wired to the power button of my computer. If you don’t want to use a switch like this, make sure you add another button to turn on your computer from the outside.

Power connector

The power will be connected with a normal IEC cable that’s used for most computers and other electronics. as described above you find these with built-in on/off switch but I had a separated switch laying around and attached the end of a power plug directly to the switch. I have a separated fuse on the inside but the downside of this is that I cannot remove my cable later. Keep this in consideration for your own build.

Network connector

The network connector is just a metal chassis part from Neutrik with two female RJ45 connectors connected throughout the part. This came with bolts and nuts but it was easier to use small screws to screw it in place.

LED Strip profiles

The led strip profiles are highly recommended and serve as protection and light dispensers. The ones I bought did not have holes in them for screwing and you can stick them using strong! double-sided tape (strips get extremely hot which may loosen the adhesive) I will not use double-sided tape so I first prepared my profiles with a small hole that I later sunk in using a larger drill. This way the screws will not stick out and disrupt your LED strip.

Then I used small screws to mount them on the bottom and back of the cabinet and backbox, I have 4 strips:

  • Bottom Left
  • Bottom Right
  • Backbox Left
  • Backbox Right

This is it for this part of the build. The ‘dirty’ work is done now and the next part will cover the electronics and will be available soon. If you have any questions/remarks or just want to show your own build. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Photo Album

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