theferrett: (Meazel)

I can’t just tell you how cool this is, so instead I’ll give it to you through the glory of video:

The weird thing is how much building a thing is like writing fiction.  All I can see are a list of about fifteen things that I could have done better, or things I need to patch before it’s finished.  (Anyone watching me live-blog the story I’m writing in The Clarion Echo will tell you how much I critique my fiction in-progress.)  I’m constantly frowning as crap, that paint job’s a little shoddy, or that gap needs to be shimmed, or that shelf should be leveled.

But then, as happened last night, I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye and see it as if it was the first time I’d seen it, and shit: that’s actually an arcade fucking cabinet.  Maybe it would win no contests as-is, but it’s still way better than I could have done had I never tried at all.

It’s like writing stories.  I’m in writer-mode and it’s all sentence-level stuff – a terrible word, a viewpoint shift, a missed emotional beat.  And yes, those things all need to be fixed, because a story is the emotional accumulation of a hundred details, and the more of them you can get perfectly right, the better the story will be.  And while you’re in that Felix Fix-It mode, the story appears to be a collection of missed opportunities, a heap of wrecked things.

And if you’re lucky, sometimes you read the story after forgetting about it for a while, and all of those beautiful things you mastered shimmered into view and you think, “That’s not bad.”

My cabinet.  It’s flawed.  But it’s not bad.  And like all my drafts in progress, it’ll get better.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I tried to write some snappy essays for you last night, came up dry.  I have a lot of good ideas, but my essay-writin’ segment of the brain is conking out to the point where I don’t feel like making good arguments in a sloppy way.

So here!  Have some more woodworking!

My wife surprised me for my birthday, proving she is the best wife in the world by buying me the thing I wanted most: reproduction Ms. Pac-Man cabinet art.  Ms. Pac-Man is the game of my childhood, and a bonding experience with my father: every time we get together, we find some way to go head-to-head, devouring dots.  So I’d been thinking about how to make my cabinet look like a Ms. Pac-Man machine, and lo!  She had done the research to find me the art!

There’s just one problem, though:


The art doesn’t fit.

*sad trombone*

Some have asked, “Why don’t you just cut the art to fit?” And my answer is, “Why don’t you chop up the Mona Lisa to fit in a smaller frame?” This is classic art, man, and I’m not going to resize it. That would bug me. No, instead I’ll just have to make a new, reproduction Ms. Pac-Man arcade cabinet at some point down the line.

In the meantime, Erin and I did the final touches before the coat of paint:



It looks like an actual piece of furniture now, which still amazes us. We wander outside to look at it in a happy daze, unable to believe that we did this. Which is bizarre, this idea that we formed something from tools and raw materials, but here’s the proof. It’s done. We can put things in it. So strange!

The painting is what I’m excited about. I’m told that once you paint it, it becomes an arcade cabinet, and that I can see: right now, it’s all patched wood and beams, but when it gets a coat of glossy black, it becomes a single object, and that will be exciting as fuck. I’ll probably do that on Sunday, as I have some delightful Angie-company visiting this weekend.

The great thing is that after this, I know what project I’m doing next. Gini and I have always wanted a Secret Passage in the basement. So we shall make one, hiding a door with swinging bookcases. This is going to involve me being good enough to make normal bookcases – which, let’s be honest, we can never get enough of – and then eventually making a heavily customized one. That’s a project that’ll take probably a year of time to get good at, since it’ll involve making at least seven bookcases before we’re done.

But hey. I’ve got time and wood on my hands.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So this Sunday, as Erin’s Father’s Day present to me, my daughter and I started making an arcade cabinet.  Which is intimidating; we had set up all the tools, but now we actually had to use them.

Our first issue was tracing the diagram on the board, which involved about an hour of careful measuring, and then cutting it out using our freshly-purchased jigsaw:




We made several errors, but the biggest one was that frankly, never trust the blade that comes with the jigsaw. It was a tiny thing that left a very lopsided cut as we cut through the board on the lowest, slowest setting – which we thought was my poor skill. Once we got a better blade at Lowes, one that was recommended by another book, we discovered that hey, Erin’s a natural at this! Wait! Now I’m a natural! It worked!


When that was all done, we completed the day with triumph:


But I was bored and restless, since Gini wasn’t back and I didn’t feel like going out for a run – so instead, I sat down for another two hours in the workshop and made the base and monitor shelf.


The next night, Gini helped me screw in the bases and shelves:



Here was where I made the other major error: in trying to rush the shelf placement so as not to hurt Gini’s back (she was holding the monitor shelf at an awkward, disc-snapping angle), I rushed it and now the shelf’s a little tilted. We’ll fix that in-cabinet, but it just proves that really, you should take your time.

And last night, I had an absolute panic attack. I went shopping for food, and while getting some Omega-3 healthy eggs, I looked at the chocolate chip cookie dough. And I realized: I couldn’t have that. Ever. No more would I just have a bad evening where I could tank up on cookie dough, or Entenmann’s chocolate cake, or just Ben and Jerry’s… whole worlds of food closed off to me. And then I thought of my job’s schedule-tightening where I’m no longer free to switch my hours around, and this just all seemed so overwhelming, all the things I couldn’t do any more, and…

…wham. Panic attack.

I didn’t know what to do, aside from crying and holding Gini, so… I went out into the garage to work some more on the cabinet. And you know what? It worked. I can’t think of anything else when I’m in the workshop; I have to concentrate on something external and concrete, and if I fail to pay attention, it all collapses. So I lost myself in a good ninety minutes of drilling, cutting, and sawing, and in the end I had about half of the cabinet complete:


That’s about twelve hours worth of work right there, for a distinctly amateur woodworker. And there’s tons of tiny flaws, but I won’t tell you about them, because you probably won’t notice them when all is said and done. Like any good craftsman, I’m learning and fixing as I go, and when it’s done it’ll look impressive to you, even as I see the hundreds of errors I could have done better.

But as a hobby, it’s a good one. It’s not like writing, where I have to go inside my head, and if I’m in a jangled or depressive mood, everything gets worse. This is physical labor, the kind that forces you to not really have emotions or side thoughts or anything, a sort of focused meditation that helps. I may develop a need for this, and I can easily see that happening; a kind of therapy.

And it’s a kind of love. When you start a woodshop, there’s tons of bills as you go and get more wood, this new drill bit, these new clamps. Gini is quietly overlooking the bills piling up at Lowes, because she knows how awesome this is.

And in the end… I’ll have a cabinet. Maybe a little off-kilter in some ways, but way better than no cabinet at all. And that’s good.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Can I build an arcade cabinet?  Honestly?  I don’t know.  But it begins, my friends.  Check out this particular birthday present to myself:

That is the X-Arcade Tankstick, hooked up to a MAME emulator on my laptop running Ms. Pac-Man.  It was a really magical moment, when I finally doped out how to get the software to work with the controller, and pressed a button to start.  It was like I’d somehow literally captured a part of my childhood, in a half-assembled laboratory spread out across the guest bed.

(Incidentally, if you ever do want to build an arcade cabinet, X-Arcade has its shit down.  The MAME Plus! software is configured by default to have all the controls work with the joystick, and their very affordable coin door is set to work with a splitter to tie right into your computer.  It’s extremely, satisfyingly, user-friendly.)

What I intend to build is, eventually, this:


As designed by the fine builders at, and with a few tweaks suggested by my friend Todd.  But right now, all I have is this:

…which is to say two very large and heavy boards of 3/4″ cabinet-grade birch plywood.  I’ll need to find some way of mapping the small JPG I have onto that larger surface, and then use my power jigsaw for the first time.

(Fun fact: Since we have a Lowes right across the street in the mall, and the boards were too cumbersome to fit in the car easily, I simply borrowed a wood cart and pushed it the three blocks home.  Which was a good, cheap plan, except that a) it was a windy day and I was pushing two large, flat sails across the asphalt, and b) the rattle-and-bang as it hit every crack ont he sidewalk alerted Gini I was coming from half a block away.  Here I was, a wild-haired balding guy grudgingly pushing a stolen cart down the street, announced by huge hollow-tubed booms, distinctly not making eye contract with anyone.  And I’ll have to do that again.  Lord knows what the neighbors think. [And yes, I returned the cart.])

So that’s this Sunday’s work.  I hope Erin helps.  I could use some help.  Because standing at the base of those two huge sheets of wood, knowing that somehow I have to shape these into that, is intimidating as fuck.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


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