A Jedi Builds His Own Weapon

December 6th, 2016 by Benj Edwards


I’ve been playing around with making my own custom joysticks recently. Just yesterday, I built this Atari VCS-compatible unit you see above using a Sanwa arcade joystick assembly and two Sanwa arcade buttons, both of which are available on Amazon.

I also used an old Bud project box from my late father’s things for the housing, some screw-in rubber feet on the base, a cord from a non-working Atari CX40 joystick, and some scrap steel inside to give the stick more weight and heft.

I built it mostly so I could have a 4-way only joystick for maze games on the Atari 800. (The Sanwa joystick is switchable between 4-way and 8-way upon installation.) The result is absolutely incredible either handheld or set on a table, and my high score in Nibbler has gone through the roof.

On this joystick, both buttons do the same thing, although my next Atari model will probably have three buttons — one for fire, one for up, and one for down so I can play Asteroids on the 800 like a pro.

6 Responses to “A Jedi Builds His Own Weapon”

  1. tortimer Says:

    Oh that’s neat. I used to have a pre-fab arcade stick. Nothing beats that authentic feel of good arcade quality materials. The thing I most wish I had now would be something like two separate cords that connect up with two small but weighty boxes with side buttons. So maybe if you’re holding them together it’s roughly the form factor of a brick, but you can separate them on the desktop surface to give that wide grip feeling of a pinball machine. Because they’re small they could easily be put away.

  2. SirFatty Says:

    Back in the 80’s I did the same using arcade joystick hardware and buttons, it was for my C64, but the Atari and C64 were the same in that regard.

  3. Geoff V. Says:

    Looks great! Nothing like using your own tools in a hobby you love. Those button-head screw may cause thumb irritation, might consider pan head if you aren’t able to countersink in those locations.

    I’ve recently got the tinker bug myself, started building model airplane as an excuse to stop watching election coverage.

  4. XCALIBR8 Says:

    Looks awesome! I bet 4-way controls are perfect. You really can’t go wrong with Sanwa. Great sticks/buttons.

  5. Benj Edwards Says:

    Thanks, guys. Glad you like it. I love the 4-way controls — makes playing Pac-Man a breeze.

    Geoff, with the way I hold the controller (or use it on a desk), the screw heads have not gotten in the way so far. The plastic material isn’t really thick enough to securely countersink pan head screws, but I plan to experiment with various types of hardware as I built new sticks. This is only my first one.

    I’m thinking about doing a 2-way controller next for games like Galaxian and Asteroids — with the buttons doing the job of up (thrust) and down (shields or hyperdrive).

  6. Zoyous Says:

    Nice work, Benj! I haven’t built a controller from scratch, but I modified an iCade with improved buttons and joystick, and also added a USB connection (rather than the Bluetooth it ships with) so I can use it with a Surface Pro tablet and MAME.

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