Monday, 30 October 2017

Games room - Done.

In May 2016 my girlfriend and I moved into our first owned property - a modest mid-terraced 2 bed in the suburbs of Eastbourne on England's sunny south coast.

We knew when we were looking at potential houses that a two bed would require a third room option; a large shed, garage, basement, or attic space that could be used for either her office or my games room. 
It was important, then, that when we visited the house that we ended up buying I asked to look in the loft - and this is what I saw...

I was happy that we could work with this.

Initially I looked at ways we could work around the chimney, but none were really a good solution, so after a few conversations with builders and engineers we decided to remove it.
We also briefly considered a full conversion that would include permanent stairs and various other work to meet building regulations for an 'official' room, but decided instead to go for more of a high-spec hobby room - more than just boarding out the loft but stopping short of something we could call a third bedroom.

The original plan was to start the work immediately after moving in but - as anyone who's ever moved house will know - these things rarely go exactly to plan and, despite the May move-in date, work didn't start on removing the chimney until October 2016.

As my first experience working with building contractors this went really well. The guys were retirees who we were put in contact with via our ex-landlord. It was a solid two days of near unbearable noise and dust but, thanks to conservative skip use, they came in £400 under budget. 

Very soon after I got a different guy in to do the structural work and fit a small Velux window. The two horizontal ties had to removed and replaced with 12 much smaller ties at the apex of the roof. further work was required to reinforce the horizontal timbers. Soon after work began the contractor informed us that some of the work he quoted for would not be necessary and so he, too, came in under budget.

At this point everything that I was going to pay others to do was complete and it was up to me to keep the project moving.

The first job was to remove the insulation and work on reinforcing the floor. Even in a full boiler suit, gloves, and protective mask it was horrible, itchy, wheezy work that no amount of showering seemed to alleviate. 
Eventually though, the insulation was gone and I began hanging the 225mm joists to support the floor.

These joists were hung between the structural joists running the length of the space at the sides and a third which runs across just off-centre along the top of the house's single structural wall.

The off-centre middle wall was a couple of inches lower to start with so had to raised up with a additional joist screwed to it's top and then once this 'floating' network was nailed into the hangers, 21mm structural flooring was laid on top.

The floor was mostly very simple to lay. The only complication came at the end when, due to the tounge-and-groove design, specifically shapped notches had to be cut into the edges so that the final boards not only fit around the vertical timbers, but could be shoved along laterally afterwards.

By this point it was late November and work ground to a halt while funds were diverted to enjoying my birthday, Christmas, my girlfriends birthday, and the short holiday I got for as a gift.

Work started again in early march with getting the house insulated.
I picked up a bargain load of foam board from a factory-seconds seller on ebay who at just the right time, had just the right board, in just the right quantity.

Temporary lighting was put in to allow me to work into the evenings and after a couple of life-interrupted weeks and several cans of expanding foam another job was ticked of the list.

Following this I fitted 20mm galv trunking and metal clad double switched sockets that can be seen on the back wall. An electrician colleague of my father-in-law tested and signed everything off for £30.

With the insulation done it was time get on with the first piece of work that could be considered aesthetic. My plan was to have end up with a room of an industrial style. While it could be argued that leaving the brick end walls bare and using the metal sockets were part of  this style the addition of the laminate floor was the first time I started to feel this coming together. I'd already decided on the well priced Shimla design from Wickes and had purchased the lot when it was included in a half price sale early in the new year.

As soon as the floor was down I installed a concertina style ladder and some aluminium tread plate around the hatch edges.

With the floor down and running up to the existing structural timber I put the stud wall in place.

Working to the size of the loft hatch meant the plasterboard was going to have to be pretty small, 900x1220mm, luckily the stud wall was about 1100mm so by building the wall to accommodate fitting the board vertically I knew I would save myself some work in the future.

Like pretty much everything to this point, I'd never tried plasterboarding before. It would have been a straightforward task but for a choice I'd made on my lighting.
Watching Grand Designs one evening I'd seen LED tape lighting laid into recessed track and fallen in love. In order to fit this a 10mm gap needed to be left in the plasterboard and this complicated things more than I anticipated. I first hung the plasterboard with the track in place as a guide...

Then, when the components for my transformer finally arrived I removed the plasterboard and track and then fitted the electrics and replaced the plasterboard. I didn't refit the track as this would have to happen after the plastering was complete and painted.

Plastering was the third and final part of the project that I would be paying someone else to do for me. I placed an add on Rated People and a young guy called callum was the only person to respond - the son of a career plasterer and fitter he was boosting his meagre apprentice wages by taking cash-in-had work for weekends.

He showed up at 7:30, left at 14:30 and charged me £250 for a superb job.

All that was left for me was painting and fitting the lights.

Now I was really down to the finishing touches. The main things being trimming the eaves access and making doors with incorporated shelving and building a couple of shelves using scaffold and 6x3 inch timber from a local wood reclamation yard. 
Then it was time for the furniture and features and, almost exactly a year after I started, my games room was finished.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Setting down my tools...

So I guess this is it.

After three years, four locations, and five (or was it six?) CRT monitors I've finally completed my quest.

I own a working bartop MAME cabinet that was built, in its entirety, for under £50.

And here she is:

First things first, a breakdown of the costs.

£00.00 - MDF: Donated by my boss
£00.00 - Screws and fixings: I do a lot of working with wood so my stocks are usually high
£00.00 - Glass: 'Re-purposed' from an old picture frame
£00.00 - Paint: Leftover from renovating an old chair
£00.00 - PC: Sourced from an old business acquaintance
£00.00 - Monitor: From Freegle
£00.00 - Speakers (Stereo): From Freegle, an added bonus with the monitor
£00.00 - Speaker (Single): A spare I had knocking around that some extra bass
£00.00 - Cooling fans: Recovered from an old laptop tray
£00.00 - LED Power button: Gift from +Dave Whiffin the guy I can blame this whole project on
£00.00 - GTX750 Graphics card: An unexpected, last minute, bonus addition - see below for more
£05.10 - Paint Primer: A necessary expense to get a decent finish when using MDF
£13.18 - Joystick and Buttons: From Ultracabs
£10.18 - USB controller for controls: From Ebay
£04.17 - Amplifier: From Ebay

£05.50 - Total Shipping

£38.13 - Total

I should have said under £40 - just to give it the James Bond finish.

You can see that, with the exception of the primer, all the costs can be attributed to items that are very specific to this kind of project. Everthing else is either more standard or re-purposed from bits and pieces I had lying around.

I should also mention that the listed cost for the amp is for a replacement. The original was £6.99 but I blew it up trying to figure out how to power it from the motherboard.
So although the above is the true value of parts that made it into the final build, you can add the extra seven quid to the cost of making it if you're feeling harsh.

The final push to finish was fairly straightforward. I had the whole thing assembled and finished for a day when a friend mentioned in passing that he'd found a stash of old graphics cards while moving and offered me the best of them - a GTX 750. So everything had to come apart again to fit that - but there was a fortunate bi-product of this.

Previously I had a couple of small conundrums with the fans I fitted to the rear of the cabinet.
Firstly, the usb power cable wasn't long enough. Fortunately a quick rummage in my cables box turned up a short extension lead; problem solved.

Secondly, it turned out the fans stayed on even after the machine was powered down.
After trying different sockets and playing with the power management settings in Windows to no avail I googled the issue.
Apparently this is a standard feature and most people, those that weren't saying something a bout a jumper, suggested a bios update and a tweak to the settings within.
My bios was up to date. I played with the settings I could find: No luck. The fans still purred away when the power was off.

I resolved that I'd just have to power off at the switch whenever possible. A less than ideal solution.

Fitting the graphics card was the first time I'd really looked at the motherboard since first attaching the power button years before. I had to fiddle with the clamp holding the cards in place and in doing so dropped the tiny screw that held it in place. It nestled on the mothered next to tiny jumper. I picked up the screw and the words 'USB 5v' were etched underneath.

So, having moved the jumper from the second and third pins to the first and second I now have cooling fans that power up and down when the rest of the machine does.

The final hurdle was cleared.

The machine was reassembled.

The project was finished!

So what's next?

Well. My father in law gave me a PC steering wheel and peddles a while ago. They're stored away somewhere, never used.

I'm thinking I might - with the budget restriction now lifted - build a pedestal for the unit and build them into it... we'll see.

But for now this last picture is for +Jeremy Riley - the closest thing you'll get to a "big grinning selfie" from me. Cheers for the support along the way!

Monday, 5 June 2017

Setting up the controls... for realsies!

 As I said last time; the next part of the construction was to assemble the control deck proper.

I’d had the majority of the buttons attached to a random lump of timber I had kicking around from way back when they were first delivered – this had allowed me to test out some games and better understand what I wanted from the button layout.

Check out this old post for more on that:

Now, with the paint fully dry on new deck, it was time to remove them from the prototype and into position on the real deal.

I’m not going to lie: This felt like a big moment.

I don’t think I could possibly be happier with the way it looks. The red looks class against the dark grey mid-sheen finish and it just in general looks the real deal.

Some initial concerns about cramped connection were allayed by pointing the terminals of the back row though the gaps of those in the front.

I’m fairly sure I don’t have them connected up in the same order as before but that’s a simple fix in the MAME configuration when it comes to it. Need to screw that pcb to the case somewhere too but that's no problem either.

So only one thing left to do - put the pieces I have together...

Now that's proper progress right there!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Setting up a guide-jig...

With the three smaller sections of the front of cabinet all painted up and finished I gave the same treatment (Sand > Seal > Prime > Sand > Paint > Paint) to the main frame.
Considering it had been in a bulky, part-built state in the in-laws garage for 3 years it was remarkably free of damage.

The two layers of MDF I had glued together to use for sides were coming apart very slightly in a couple of places but nothing that didn’t disappear under three coats of paint.
This left just the main speaker and housing unfinished and, truth be told, generally in a bit of a mess.
Previously I had mounted the speaker into a piece of MDF and given it a coat of primer.
It looked pretty tatty but worse still it seemed as though the paint that had been in holes of the mesh had fallen through and dried solid – give it a shake and it sounded like it was half full of rice – not good.
I made the rather drastic decision to open up the speaker front and shake the bits out – I started with a drill hole but struggled to get much joy. So I resorted to the tin-snips.

Obviously this meant I had to do something about the new mess I’d made. The free sample of speaker cloth I got for the smaller speakers was quite a course weave, so to match it I cut a square from a hessian shopping bag and attacked it with the some leftover black paint I found in a tester pot tucked away in one the better half’s craft drawers.
Finally, I needed to create a new, neat front plate.
At some point in the preceding three years the remainder of my MDF stash has taken some water damage. Luckily I found a couple of pieces that were big enough but, at only 5mm thick, I was presented with a new problem when it came to routing a neat finish as the routing bit guide wheel is 3mm on its own.
I tried cutting a square out, clamping extra MDF as a guide underneath, and routing around both -  but there was too much movement and the result was a total disaster.

Plan B was to build a guide jig using two scraps of MDF and my workmate.

With the piece of MDF for the panel clamped firmly on top of this I drilled a hole big enough for the router bit through the centre and then ran the router out to the edge and followed the guide-jig around.
It was quick, easy, and worked perfectly.
After the usual prep and paint it was simple case of assembling the pieces and standing back and admiring the results.
The whole affair felt like a victory – just the sort of win I need to keep me moving forward.

Next up – getting that control deck together.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Setting up for the big finish

So I figured a quick "Previously on..." was in order, thanks to the big gap in posts.

The aim was to build a M.A.M.E. Bartop arcade cabinet for less than £50. The cabinet, the computer, the screen; the works.

I already had wood glue, the paint for the final finish, an array of tools, various screws and fixings, and a cool led power button donated by my mate Dave.

When it came to major components I then - through Freegle, fortune, and foraging - had managed to get the 14" CRT screen, a pile of MDF scraps, and an old PC at no further cost whatsoever.
With my £50 budget still not touched I still had to acquire a set of controls, some sort of audio system, undercoat for the paint, and anything else unexpected that might come up.

My theoretical costs broke down like this:
  • £15 for a Joystick and Button pack from Ultracabs.
  • £10 for a USB encoder for the Joystick and Button from eBay
  • £8 for amplified speakers
  • £10 for hard finishing filler
  • £7 F-factor

But in actuality the budget has ended up looking like this:
  • £11.99 Joystick/Buttons
  • £6.99 Amp
  • £1.19 single button
  • £10.18 for a USB encoder for the Joystick and Button from eBay
  • £4.17 amp from eBay
  • £5.50 total shipping

The hard finishing filler wasn't needed following the acquisition of the MDF and there are two amps because I blew the first one up. The rest of the sound system I put together from an old speaker I had kicking around and a pair of PC speakers that came as a bonus with one of the 4 CRT screens I sourced through Freegle.

And so we come to now, as the project wheezes back to life after a 3 year gap I still have just under a tenner to play with.

The first thing I need to add to that is primer. I'm not sure if I  mentioned it in previous posts or not but since a couple of the component parts already had a coat of this applied I must have bought it before 'the gap'. The open tin is also evidence of this.

I know I picked it up locally and checking online it's available in B&Q for £5.10 - so that's the number going into the budget.
That's £45.17 spent so far.

With the sunny spring evenings being one of the main drivers to restarting the project I began small.
I worked on the marquee section, the control deck, and the front panel.
I pulled the three sections of the marquee apart as I wasn't happy with the existing join. I re-glued an and left them clamped in my workbench overnight then sanded the join down the next day.

All the parts were first covered in glue-size to seal the MDF then I gave them a good coat of primer. When the primer was fully dry I sanded it back smooth with some 240g sandpaper.

It was nearly 10pm when I finished

Having researched what was required I was fully aware that an ultra-smooth mirror finish to my paint work was beyond both my budget and my skills - but I was very keen to have a quality finish.
I'd be using the remnants of a tin 'Slate' coloured paint that I had leftover from previous projects on some DVD racks and a posture chair. 
Experience has taught me that consistency is the key to making anything look well designed so I decided to roller the paint on - this would ensure the same finish all over and eliminate any opportunity for ugly brush marks.

After a couple of quotes I'm very pleased with the results, roller fluff was a bit of a problem but not a big one and the colour - once fully dry - is a pretty stylish dark grey.

The marquee, front panel, and control deck drying amongst the chaos of my shed

Next up, a little sub-section assembly.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Setting the scene...

This is the first entry I've made to this blog in just short of 3 full years.

It began as a way for me to document a project to build myself a 'bartop' style M.A.M.E. Arcade Cabinet with the self imposed constraint of a £50 budget.

That's the cabinet, the controls, the computer - the whole thing for under fifty quid.

There were a few bumps in the road, I had long delays waiting for MDF and then waiting for a PC - then I was forced to move house at short notice.

I filled a lot of these gaps in progress by writing about obscure - but excellent - games I found while curating a collection to go in the finished machine. It was this part of the blog that seemed most popular with readers.

The two parts of the blog ran on, supporting each other, until early August 2014.

And then, for reasons I honestly can't fathom, it all stopped.
A year ago I moved house again - but there's still a two year space prior to that where I did absolutely nothing to a cabinet that was well on it's way to completion.

Since moving the majority of my time and money has gone into the house and garden. As things have gradually become more organised around the place the in laws decided, a month or so ago, that it was high time we relieved them of the last few of our possessions they had cluttering up their garage.
This included my partially build cabinet.
It, among other things from the purge, was piled at the back of the spare room waiting for the loft-conversion to be completed.

Earlier this month I had a couple of friends to stay for the weekend, the spare room clutter was temporarily hidden in the main bedroom and the M.A.M.E cabinet found itself squeezed between my wardrobe and the bed.
The guests came and went but the cabinet stayed where it was - completely in the way - obstructing my morning routine by it's very existence.

I was at a loose end on a sunny evening recently and found myself looking at a small section from the top of cabinet and noticing that the speaker holes I'd made were not in line with each other.
I took it outside and soon enough I was digging a piece of MDF out of my wood store (an old outside toilet) and remaking the section.
Even as raw MDF it looked good, simple but effective.
I found somewhere online that provided a small free sample of speaker fabric and temporarily attached them inside.
It looked very good... I wonder what it would look like painted...
For the next few sunny evenings I found myself sitting in the garden, painting, sanding, re-painting various components of the cabinet just to be doing something outside.

Curiously, organically, the £50 M.A.M.E. cabinet project had come back to life!