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The $500 Budget Full Size Pinball Cabinet


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****** This thread was originally posted to another, now defunct, forum. I've reproduced here as best I could. It wasn't very practical to include the comments, advice, and help I received from other members along the way. But suffice to say, I got a lot of help. I hope you enjoy. **************

 

Update: If you want to skip to the end and see the finished product, it's here. Here's a sneak peek:

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Ok, so I’m admittedly a noob to all this virtual pinball stuff. So feel free to pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, and watch this go down in flames. Or prepare to see me get incredibly lucky and build my very first virtual pinball cab for under $500 (USD).

 

I’ve been reading a lot of build threads. Few folks talk about how much they spend on their build, including builds that identify themselves as “budget builds.”

I’m thrifty frugal economical ok, I’m downright cheap. I see a lot of people throw a lot of money into their cabs and those are awesome, they look great. This is not one of those build threads. This thread is about seeing what can be done on a limited budget.

 

And here’s that budget in case anyone wants to see it. I’m giving myself $500 and that has to include the computer, screens, cabinet, etc.

I’ve seen some inexpensive tabletop or mini pin cabs built on the cheap, but I’m looking to build something that’s at least 3/4 scale. So here’s what this cab is going to have. This is how I’m defining the bare minimum of a “full size” virtual pinball cabinet:

 

  • 39″ playfield
  • Backglass monitor
  • Leaf switches for flippers
  • A few light up buttons
  • Accelerometer for nudging (pinscape)
  • Basic stereo sound
  • 1080p playfield resolution

 

You’ll notice a few things are missing that are typically included on a pinball cab. Mainly what’s missing is:

  • LED lights
  • DMD
  • Plunger
  • DOF (clackers or surround sound, etc.)
  • 4k resolution playfield
  • coin door

 

Most of that stuff, I feel like can be added over time. A real plunger and surround sound DOF will be at the top of my upgrade list. But I realize I’m not getting those in this budget.

 

I’m starting off with a few things I already have, but not really any of the bits that tend to be expensive on pinball cabs. The things I’ve got lying around, I bet you have tucked away in the back of a closet somewhere too.

 

Here’s what I’m starting with:

  • Four arcade buttons (flippers and magna save)
  • A 24″ computer monitor (backglass)

 

I’ve also got a 22″ computer monitor that I might turn into a DMD screen. We’ll see.

 

And I’ve already made a couple key purchases.

  • 39″ playfield TV
  • Computer

 

More on those in a second.

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The PC and monitor can be a significant driver of cost for a build. I mean, plywood is plywood. There aren’t many ways to cut costs on wood. Or buttons. And there’s not much else at play here. So key to meeting my budget was finding an affordable PC and monitor combo that will get the job done.

 

Playfield Monitor

I picked up an Insignia 39″ 1080p TV from Craigslist for $50. I’m planning on de-casing it to remove the bezel, mainly because the bezel is a little wider on the bottom than the top (because of the speakers). But I also want to keep the cabinet narrow to avoid throwing the proportions too out of whack.

 

The Computer

Ok, I had a lot of anxiety about this. I read a lot of “what are the minimum system requirements for virtual pinball?” sort of threads. The general recommendations were mostly something like “as much as you can afford, but aim for at least a mid-level gaming PC.”

 

Ok, but a lot of those threads were several years old. If a mid-level gaming PC from five years ago worked, then I thought, maybe I don’t need to sweat this too much. Especially if I’m not going for 4k.

I found a used Dell Inspiron 580 on Craigslist for $55. It came with:

  • 10GB of ram
  • 500GB hard drive
  • i3 dual core processor
  • integrated graphics
  • integrated 7.1 surround sound

I made two upgrades.

  • i5 quad core 2.8ghz processor (the max for this motherboard)
  • GTX 750ti graphics card

 

The GTX 750 is about the best I can do given that the Inspiron only has a 300 watt power supply. It’s got three outputs (HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort), perfect for a pinball cab.

 

Total cost for the PC came in at $104. I’ve got it set up in the middle of the dining room floor. It runs Visual Pinball and Pinball X with a backglass at 1080p no problem.

 

I haven’t tried a third monitor for the DMD, partly because I’m not sure I’m going to do a separate DMD at this stage and partly because I don’t have a DisplayPort to HDMI cable to hook up my spare monitor.

So that’s it for now. We’re off to the races with $154 spent on a 39″ playfield monitor and a PC.

 

I’ll keep my budget up to date for anyone who wants to follow along.

 

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Plywood

My original parts list included a sheet of 4×8 3/4″ plywood and a 4×4 piece of 1/2″ ply. I thought I’d use the 1/2″ for bottom and back. But when I started laying out all the cuts, I don’t think I need the 1/2″ piece. Dimensions in the attached are approximate. Actual cuts will need to be adjusted. I just wanted to see what would fit.

 

I forgot to include scrap wood in my list of stuff I already have on hand. I’ve got a piece of 1/4″ MDF that’s big enough for the front of the top box.

 

I’m considering leaving the back of the cab and top box open. It’ll be braced, but since it’s against the wall, I’m not sure it needs to be enclosed. I’ll have enough wood to enclose either the top box or the cabinet (probably not both unless I have a suitable scrap). But leaving it open also means I can get to stuff without having to build doors, buy hinges, etc. We’ll see how it goes when I’m building it.

 

That means I can fit everything in one 4×8 sheet of plywood. I plan to use what the big box stores call “blondewood” or “white wood” plywood. Not sure what it’s made of, but it’s pretty dense, stable and straight.

Attached is my rough cut sheet and a pretty standard (if boring) backglass template. I’ve drawn the DMD on there even though I’m not committed to it at this stage. I just want to be sure I’ll be able to add it down the road.'

 

 

plywood-cut-sheet.png

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No build progress but I have a small budget update to share.

 

I went ahead and padded the “misc” line so the overall budget adds up to $500. That puts $98 in the miscellaneous category.

 

I also made a couple purchases that came in slightly under budget. I saved a couple bucks on buttons by not purchasing a special coin button. Instead I’ll use a round button with a paper insert (I mean, this is a budget build after all).

 

I also found a great deal on a KL25Z board for Pinscape. I’ve seen them for $15-18 which with shipping added up to $25, but there’s a seller on Ebay offering them at $15.53 with free shipping right now. So that saved me another $10.

That puts my overall padding (including the misc category) at about $116. I hope I won’t need to spend that much on hardware, cables, etc. and hope that instead I can use some of that to include one of the upgrades, like real pinball legs, an LED Wiz, or a real plunger.

 

Lastly, I called a local building supply company and was able to get a 4×8 piece of 3/4″ birch plywood for the same price as the local big box store’s “blondewood” ply.

 

Here’s the budget again if you’re following along.

 

My state (Virginia) is on a mandatory stay-at-home order due to Coronavirus through June 10. I needed some other building supplies for other house projects, so I opted to pay an extra $40 to have the whole order including my wood for the pin cab delivered. I’m not counting that $40 in my budget. Partly that’s because I ordered a bunch of non-pin stuff and I’m not sure how to distribute the cost, but also because I hope that whoever is following this in the future won’t have to deal with that restriction and can just pop down to the local hardware store to pickup supplies. It’s technically a bit of a budget cheat, but I think it’s justified.

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Got my wood yesterday, 3/4″ birch ply plus a couple 1x4s that I’m hoping will be my playfield monitor mounting system.

 

And these arrived today. You might consider leaf switches a bit of a luxury on a budget build, but I think these are well worth the $9. I did not order a second set for the magna save buttons. Those will just be standard arcade micro switches.

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Removed my playfield monitor from the case and cut some side rails to mount it.

 

Down one side, there are 4-5 mounting points. This was the bottom where the speakers were. It’s pretty solidly mounted. There aren’t similar mounting holes down the other side, just in the corners. I think i may use some mounting tape to really secure that side, though once it’s in the cabinet I don’t think it will matter.

 

Note: Don't attempt this with newer model TVs. They don't have a metal frame like this and will fall apart if you remove the outer shell.

 

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Build progress has hit a snag. Even though it’s (probably) not going to fit within the $500 budget, I know I’m going to want a real plunger very soon.

 

So I’m struggling with the typical dilemma of tv and plunger needing to occupy the same space. I know where I want the plunger to go and it clears the monitor, but I *think* that’ll mean I have to move my playfield supports.

 

I also didn’t give myself very much room to mount my flipper buttons. I left about 3 inches between the playfield monitor and the front panel of the cab. Things are really tight and I wish I’d given myself about an inch more breathing room. I’m not 100% happy with where the flipper buttons are ending up.

 

So I’m spending time experimenting with minor tweaks to monitor placement, flipper buttons, and my imaginary plunger, to see if I have any other options.

 

None of that makes for very good pictures, but I want to work it all out before I drill any holes in the cab.

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Ok, I think I have my playfield mounting system worked out. I attached wood rails to the TV, attached a cross brace to keep things stable and am supporting the whole thing from underneath with a couple blocks of wood.

 

I notched out some “hinges” in the rails so i can lift the playfield. Initially I’d imagined the notches resting right on their supports so I could remove the glass and lift the playfield immediately. In reality, because of where the fulcrum point for the “hinge” is, I would have had to leave several inches of clearance in the back to keep the playfield from hitting the dmd lcd. So instead,  I just slide the playfield forward until it drops onto the hinges and then lift.

 

You can also see how little space I gave myself in front of the playfield monitor. That means I can’t put my flipper buttons exactly where I want them. But a little compromise is inevitable. I’m intentionally trying to make this compact to save floor space. Still, I wish I’d given myself one more inch of space.

 

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Quick budget update. I ordered my glass today and it came in $10 under budget ($30 for 1/4″ tempered glass, 22.25″ x 35.5″). Woot!

 

And I pretty much immediately threw that savings away on the aluminum for my side rails.

 

I’ve been looking for some offset aluminum angle with one leg 3/4″ and the other leg between 1-1.5″ Couldn’t find it anywhere for any amount of $$$. Finally found some on ebay (outwater-industries) today, 3/4×1.25. Score!

 

Unfortunately it was $12 over budget, but I think it’ll be worth it. I was going to use 3/4 x 3/4, but I think this will look more like actual rails and less like something I got at the hardware store. The listing includes 3 pieces and I’ll only use 2. If only I had a non-pinball use for that 3rd piece I could justify splitting the cost… hmm…. ?

 

But I’m doing really well on my budget overall anyway. So long as I don’t have any big unexpected miscellaneous costs, I’m going to be able to afford a few of my extra items.

 

Here’s the actual budget if anyone wants to see it. Also, random photo of buttons with homemade paper inserts and my speakers.

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Lots of progress to report. I cut the back glass surround from some scrap 1/4″ luan ply I had, made my playfield backstop, started shaping my “lock down bar,” tried out my speaker grills, and decided where I’m putting my flipper buttons.

 

I’m particularly pleased with these speaker grills. I couldn’t find anything affordable for these 3″ speakers that wouldn’t take months to get here on a slow boat from China. Then I found this perforated craft metal in my wife’s stash. It’s perfect. And not only because it’s free (to me anyway). I made a sort of sandwich with the front BG surround, the metal in the middle, and a square of more 1/4″ luan plywood on the back.

 

Right now it’s all held together with tape. I can’t finish the back glass surround until I get my play field glass, so I can cut the surround to fit.

 

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************** At this point in the build, I started playing around with ideas for cab art and asked for feedback. Here are a few options I presented. I ultimately went with the silver/black spaceship option. *********************

 

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Well, I sprang for my first upgrade. And of course it’s a real plunger.

 

I even got extravagant and bought the fancy 3D printed mounts.

 

I started with the STL file provided by Pinscape in their build guide and modified it slightly (using 3D Slash) to fit my fader. I don’t have access to a 3D printer, so I paid $13 (including shipping) to have it printed at makexyz.com. You can do the same with services like Print A Thing and Treatstock.

 

Grand total for the plunger was $45 (yikes that’s nearly 10% of my budget!) But well worth it and I knew if I didn’t include it in the $500 budget build, it would be the very first upgrade anyway.

 

I’m still doing well on the budget overall. I think I’m in the home stretch in terms of expenses and there’s still a comfortable margin to spare.

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Above you can see where my flipper buttons and plunger ended up. I said it before, but it’s worth repeating. I wish I’d given myself a little more space. I’d have had more options for the flipper button locations and could have mounted the plunger an inch or more higher if I’d just made the cabinet and inch or two longer.

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Time to reveal upgrade #2.

 

She’s got legs!

 

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Ok, my budget only included $40 for legs. And I’d found a couple styles of metal table legs that I thought would be OK, even though they didn’t exactly scream “pinball.”

 

Well, two things happened. First I’d started having doubts about anything other than real pinball legs making this look like a toy. And if that meant I’d be replacing the legs soon, I’d really just be throwing $40 away, which is the antithesis of a budget build. Second, the non-pinball legs I preferred sold out. So that clinched it.

 

I looked everywhere for a deal, even watching some old rusty legs in need of a lot of elbow grease sell for way too much on ebay. I found 4 legs with levelers, bolts, and brackets at Pinball Resource for $92 delivered and bought them.

I’ve since discovered that Pinball Life has a full set for just $77. I’m not sorry I bought from Pinball Resource, they were great. They don’t do online orders, so I had to order by email and snail mail a check. But it was surprisingly fast, easy, and well… human.

 

But spending $15 more than I had to on a build with such a tight budget still hurts.

 

And it *probably* means I’ll go a little over my $500 budget. But it just didn’t make sense to spend $40 on legs I’d replace anyway.

 

My leg drilling jig didn’t work as well as I’d imagined. This leg came out OK, but I need to do better on the other 3. More on that tomorrow.

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Ok, as promised here are some lessons learned about drilling the leg bolt holes, from a noob to any other noobs out there following along.

Here’s my first drilling jig cut out of a 2×4. It was not great.

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First off, cutting that 90 degree notch was surprisingly hard. Getting the two cuts to line up on the table saw wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Second, there’s too much room for error in the vertical spacing of the holes when the jig only drills one hole at a time. Even being off by a 1/16″ matters here.

 

Here’s jig #2 cut out of a scrap of 4×4.

 

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This was much easier to make (details below) and more accurate. I drilled pilot holes based on the leg bracket before using the full sized bit (3/8″ I think) to drill the guide holes.

This worked really well. I don’t have a ton of large clamps, so I just used double sided tape to hold the guide in place. Be careful here. The tape will lose its stickiness after about two legs.

 

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7 hours ago, TCDeez said:

This has been really awesome to follow, please keep sharing!

Thanks. It's kind of painstaking to reproduce an old thread. I'm glad to hear it's valuable.

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Here’s how I made my leg hole drilling jig.

 

Started with a 4×4.

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Then I made two straight cuts on the table saw to notch out one corner.

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Then I flipped that over and set the table saw for a 45 degree cut and cut off the opposite corner.

 

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That would have done the job, but it was a little bulky and hard to handle.

So I set the table saw blade back to vertical and cut off the remaining two corners.

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The end result was something like this.

 

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That wood block then went in the drill press.

 

I drilled pilot holes based on the leg bracket before using the full sized bit (3/8″ I think) to drill the guide holes.

 

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Well, it looks like a pinball machine (just need side rails).

 

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Time to start making it play like one.

 

Starting on the button wiring.

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At this stage I’m mostly just setting up my front-end, configuring tables, etc. I started with PinballX but quickly switched over to PinballY. I find Y runs faster and is easier to manage.

 

In terms of budget/build stuff, here’s my poor man’s power supply solution. My 12v cabinet fan plugs right into the computer’s power supply and my 5v led buttons are powered from an old usb cable. I cut the cable, soldered the red and black wires to my led leads, tidied everything up with some heat shrink and plugged it into a front usb port.

 

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No need for an additional power supply or power distribution blocks if we keep it simple.

 

I haven’t taped everything down yet, because it all has to come out for paint soon anyway.

 

There’s no back to the cab, so currently this is the only fan. I have another and if I decide to close the back of the top box, I’ll put it there.

 

The aluminum for my side rails finally started heading my way. The seller dropped them off at the post office 2 weeks ago, but I’ve had no tracking updates until yesterday.

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I tacked a simple back on and added a fan I had lying around to the top box.'

 

While I was back there, I took a couple photos of my speaker solution. My speakers are connected where the PC monitor speakers used to be. I’ll replace this when I add Surround Sound Feedback. But it’s good enough for our budget build.

 

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**** This was in response to a comment from another user about carpentry skills.  In it, I mention routing channels for LED lights. I never actually did this. I found aluminum V-channel with a light smoke cover was a much better option. *************

 

Kreg screws. It’s all about Kreg screws.

 

I’m not a very good carpenter either. A friend introduced me to Kreg pocket hole screws a few years back and suddenly I could pull off projects I never could have before. The only real “skill” needed is the ability to cut a straight line and there a lot of tips and tricks for that on Youtube.

 

I do have some basic tools including a small table saw, chop saw, small flush trim router, cheap Harbor Freight drill press, and a handheld circular saw.

 

The circular saw and router are all I’d consider essential for a project like this (and the Kreg screw kit).

 

The other thing I like about the pocket screw method is that I can completely disassemble this cabinet like an Ikea flat pack kit. That’ll be handy when I decide to add led strip lights, for example, and need to route channels for them.

 

I’d originally planned to go ahead and route those now, but realized I could wait thanks to the pocket screws.

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Finally! I got the aluminum for my side rails.

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Here you can see the awkward button placement I ended up with. If I'd given myself a little more room in the lockbar/apron area, I'd have been able to put them in a more conventional location. But this is surprisingly comfortable and I haven't had any trouble adjusting to the position.

 

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I think it’s almost time to take this apart and paint!

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Starting on paint. I hate paint.

 

At this point whether/how much I go over budget comes down to how many cans of black spray paint I need. :)

 

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