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Project BlueShift

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I started this project at the beginning of 2016 and completed it earlier this year, with a few years of inactivity in between. These forums were a frequent source of information and inspiration over that time, so I wanted to document my journey here, in case it might be useful to others.  :)

First Steps

My goal was to build a MAME cabinet with simple / classic styling. I wanted it to be fairly compact and I made the decision early on to use an LCD screen instead of a CRT. With that in mind, I went looking for plans and settled on as a starting point. From these plans, I took the basic proportions and structural elements, and translated them into SketchUp. At this point, I felt confident enough to start making adjustments to get things looking closer to how I wanted.

I decided on 636mm for the width (an internal width of 600mm, plus 2x 18mm for the sides), and reduced the depth to 700mm, with an inset of 12mm all round for the panels and screen. I also wanted to use a single length of T-molding for each side, starting and ending at the control panel, so I added a radius of 30mm to all exterior and interior corners (except for the control panel shelf).

Now that I had a plan, the next step was to find some wood. After researching several options, I settled on 18mm cabinet grade birch plywood and ordered 3 2440x1220mm sheets, as well as some folding saw horses. This should be enough for the entire cabinet, with some left over to cover mistakes.

Cutting the First Side

The sides of the cabinet are the largest individual components, so it made sense to make these first. The first step was to purchase some tools. I decided it was worth spending a bit extra to get quality tools capable of delivering accurate results. These are the tools I used to make the first side:

* Track saw
* Shop vac
* Jig saw
* Steel square
* Stainless steel rulersTrack Saw and Shop Vac

I initially purchased a circular saw, but returned it in favour of the track saw because it had some flex in the base and, not being an experienced wood worker, I wasn't confident I'd be able to use it effectively. Set up correctly, the track saw guarantees it will cut where you want it to. It can also cut accurately at angles other than 90 degrees which will be useful later on. It has a safety mechanism that stops it from jumping of the track if you get kickback, as well as a connector for a shop vac, which works very well to redirect sawdust.

Because I'm working indoors, and not in a dedicated workshop, it was important to keep things as tidy as possible. I chose a small cordless shop vac because it was relatively inexpensive and easy to move around. It works well, the battery life is reasonably good, but beyond the bag it doesn't have any filtration, which might be worth considering.

Jig Saw, Square and Rulers

The jig saw will be used to cut the rounded corners, as well as the internal 90 degree corner for the control panel shelf. This model came with a good blade for clean straight cuts, but I also needed to buy a narrower blade for the tighter concave curves.

The high quality steel square was possibly one of the most important investments. Along with the stainless steel rulers, it made it possible to accurately transfer measurements from the plan to the surface of the plywood. Additionally, it can be used to check that a panel is square, or check that the track saw track is square. This may seem excessive for a project of this type, but small errors can compound. I wanted to be as precise as possible at all stages, and particularly early on, so I could be confident that I was building on a solid foundation.

Initial Cuts

Before making a first cut, I carefully transferred the measurements for the side onto the plywood using the square, rulers, a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, and a compass for the curves, double checking everything. Measure twice, cut once. :)

The next step was to position and clamp the track saw track with equal care, and make the straight, exterior cuts. It's a good idea to think about the order of the cuts at this point, and the size and shape of the offcuts, so as little as possible is wasted.

When using the track saw, it's important to choose a speed that's fast enough to cut cleanly, but not so fast it will burn the edge of the plywood, which can happen quite easily. Make sure the saw is up to full speed before lowering the blade to avoid kickback, and keep the saw at full speed until it's clear of the wood when finishing a cut for the same reason. While considering safety, it's a good time to note the importance of eye and ear protection, and a dust mask is also advisable. Most of the cuts can start at an edge and either end at an opposite edge, or stop before hitting an interior corner. The edge parallel to the screen is different - it starts and ends at interior corners. Fortunately, the track saw can be used to begin a cut in the middle - it's sometimes called a plunge cut saw for this reason.

Completing the First Side

For the interior angles, the track saw can be used to cut most of the length of a side approaching the corner, but the jig saw needs to be used to complete the cut. The interior curves are the most difficult and it's a good idea to practice on some scrap before attempting it on the real thing. I found it was best to go slowly (but not too slowly or the blade will bind) and try to keep the cut slightly on the offcut side of the guide line. The same applies to the exterior corners - sandpaper can be used to remove the excess. Wrap the sandpaper around a small block of wood for the exterior corners and around a cylindrical object with the correct radius for the interior corners.

This is an outstanding cabinet. Clean lines and an elegant theme.  :applaud:


--- Quote from: javeryh on June 08, 2023, 09:58:12 am ---This is an outstanding cabinet. Clean lines and an elegant theme.  :applaud:

--- End quote ---
Thanks javeryh - love your work!

Cutting the Second Side

The second side is considerably easier to cut than the first. With the first side complete, it can be used a template for the second. This technique is recommended elsewhere on these forums and it works very well.

Tracing the First Side

I started by laying the first side on top of the second, sheet of plywood, positioned so the bottom and trailing edges align with the edges of the new sheet. Now, with the sheets clamped to avoid movement, I traced a line around the outside of the first side - much faster than transferring measurements.

Rough Cutting

Once this is done, the first side can be moved out of the way for now, but it will be useful again later. The next step is to cut the side. The order of cuts should be the same as for the first side, but this time, accuracy is less important. The important thing is to cut slightly outside the line, so the second side is slightly bigger all round than the first side. It is also not necessary to tidy up the jig saw cuts as this will be taken care of in the next step.


This next step is the most fun, and by far the most messy. It also requires a new tool - a router. I chose a smaller router also known as a laminate trimmer that came with a variety of bases, including a plunge base. Being less powerful than larger routers, I thought it might stuggle with some aspects of the build, but it proved itself to be very capable and the smaller size and weight were often beneficial. In addition to the router, a flush trim bit is required. This bit has a guide wheel the same size as the blade, meaning the blade can't cut anything outside the radius of the wheel.

Lay the first side on the saw horses, then position the second side on top such that there's a small amount of overhang all round. Clamp the two sides securely - it's important that there's no movement until the second side is complete. Using the depth setting on the plunge base, position the router bit so that when the router is sitting flat on the second side, the blade covers the entire edge of the second side and the guide wheel is aligned with the first side.

Next, select a cutting speed - check the router manual for recommended speeds for different bit sizes. On most routers, the bit will spin clockwise when looking from the top, which means you should move in an anti-clockwise direction around the outside of whatever you're cutting. Begin cutting anywhere, and cut until you reach a clamp.

Depending on how much extra material you left when rough cutting the second side, you may need to do more than one pass before the guide wheel contacts the first side and you get a flush cut. It's better to do multiple passes and keep the bit moving fast than try to cut too much at once. It's also very important that the base of the router stays flat against the second side. Prioritize this above monitoring the position of the blade - the guide wheel ensures no mistake can be made there, but if the base tilts, the top part of the blade will cut deeper into the side.

When it's time to reclamp to make room for the router, move one clamp at a time to ensure the two sides stay aligned. Once you've cut all the way around, you'll have two identical sides and a lot of sawdust on the floor. The router I used does come with a dust extractor attachment, but it's not very effective for this type of cut.

The flush cut should be fairly clean, but some additional sanding will ensure the finish is the same as on the first side. One last thing to note is due to the radius of the flush trim bit, it can't cut the 90 degree interior angle of the control panel shelf - it leaves a small curve instead. The jig saw can be used here to complete the cut.


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