I knew after Jeremiah that I would need to have a lot more space for buttons, and a lot more buttons. Through several donations, including 11 pre-owned buttons from a friend out of Michigan and several incredibly generous donations to my PayPal, I was able to afford the first 100 buttons. I decided to leave Jeremiah in one piece (for now) just in case I needed a 16 button controller.
100 buttons seemed like the smartest way to go after the first 16. For starters, 100 buttons is a nice 10th of what I am looking for for my final goal, which is 1000 buttons. Additionally, 100 buttons has a nice descriptive voice to it. It’s easy to describe. It sounds like a lot (because it is) but actually isn’t a lot (it really is).
With this in mind, I first checked Amazon for a table of a decent size and table thickness. Ideally I wanted a panel that would sit up a bit like a drafters table. Amazon and IKEA gave me some great options all of which are expensive so I went to Goodwill instead. At Goodwill I found a really interesting short IKEA table with two wooden, red topped stools. It’s actually a discontinued children’s table called Sansad and has adjustable little legs to allow it to change height.
I kind of wanted an IKEA table, because I’m kind of fond of most of the products I’ve purchased through IKEA for their general durability and also because I like the fact that the tables and other products are actually pretty easy to break down and flat pack. Case in point, breaking down this table took the removal of about 10 long screws that connect the base to the tabletop. That’s it. and the base remained in one piece, so I could rest it off to the side while I fussed around with the table.
Gingy also named this one, going with Marissa. So this board is Prototype Marissa.
Many of the buttons from this version were purchased using donations from the PayPal link. They are all standard classic American arcade buttons. Originally I was going to do this version with a 100 pack of buttons purchased from AliExpress, all in pink, but some complications arose that I will cover later.
First step (after removing the legs from the tabletop) was to lay out the pattern of buttons on the bottom of the table. Using the table legs as a guide to avoid punching holes through where support would someday be, I sketched out a grid.
This process is lengthy but mostly involves trying to line everything up as well as can be expected without getting the buttons too close together. There are 100 buttons, so it takes some time. Anything that is tedious gets way more so when you do it 100 times.
Next step is drilling holes.
Days. This process takes days. At one point I switched to a tougher bit, but even keeping that in mind, a drill that shuts off every 30 minutes and needs to be recharged for 2 hours.
What I’m saying is that it’s tedious. Also in this process some of the holes got roughed up on the white surface. My original intention was to pair up the clean white IKEA tabletop with the bright pink buttons. But after playing around with the drill it became obvious that the white was going to be too scuffed up by the drilling process to work on its own.
The grid was laid out in 7 x 14 with an additional 2 buttons to the side to allow players to select 2 players versus 1. Space would not permit a 10 x 10 grid unfortunately.
At this point I still wanted to use the pink buttons, thinking that I would refinish the table with a sharp white. Here’s a video of what that would’ve looked like:
However, while playing with the blank board and some sharpies I found that I really liked this kind of weird doodle art. Pulling some references from Sharpie art cars and other forms of art, like the game Hidden Folks, I played around with drawing all over the board. I went ahead and purchased a bunch more sharpies so that I could make it happen.
What you end up with at the end of the drawing is something that looks a bit like a hodgepodge of a few different art styles.
Since this started off as kind of a lark, I didn’t really prepare the board. This doesn’t end up being a very long term strategy for covering a board since it basically wipes off with a touch.
I hit the board a few times with clear, matte spraypaint. After those layers of spray paint, the surface still felt easy to dust off and I accidentally scratched it against another surface, taking off all those layers of clear coat.
After that I tried two coats of paint on polyurethane. This was easily brushed on and seemed to hold the surface a bit better, but still seemed like not a strong enough coat. After getting into Rules and Play I realized that I was going to need a bit more to be comfortable. Rules and Play is held at the Living Arts and Science Center, which is a childrens museum and has regular access to younger folks.
After talking with a friend, I went out and purchased some bar top epoxy. I had to wait a week and a half to get access to a space where I could apply thick epoxy without risking asphyxiation. These are the hazards are working out of apartment with no woodworking space.
Since I had already carved the table up with the button holes I needed a solution for not filling out the holes with epoxy. Another friend suggested filling the holes with candles, which I could then easily melt out after the epoxy had dried. This seemed like a good plan so I spent a long weekend carving candles down to fit relatively tight into the holes.
After this, I moved the board into a friends garage and applied masking tape to the edges of the board to help make sure that the edges didn’t run off the side.
The room where I applied the epoxy was very very warm. Probably in the mid to high 90’s, which I found out afterwards is probably not a great thing for epoxy. After applying one coat, the bar top reacted to the polyeruthane and turned a dark yellow. It was very difficult to get completely even, so I applied a second coat of epoxy to try and fill out the spots.
After a week of applying an epoxy coat, I went ahead and started work on removing the candles. As much fun as it seemed to be to melt out the candles, it turns out that epoxy also burns so I did not want to do that.
I did, however, want to light 100 candles on fire because it sounded like it would look pretty cool.
Spoiler alert: It looked very very cool
After this, I spent a few days carving out the rest of the wax from the button holes mostly with a Phillips head screwdriver and an old pair of scissors. Lesson learned, do not use wax. Probably should’ve just used masking tape, but you live and learn.
Some of the button holes were a touch too narrow for most of the buttons, with the epoxy falling into the button holes and creating a base (on the underside of the table where it leaked out) and narrowing some of the holes. This mostly meant using my stash of LED buttons which had narrower stalks than the regular variety.
This is also the step where I realized that with the addition of the epoxy, the pink was now too short to use in the project. The yellow also gave it a really garish overall look in combination with the pink, so I decided to use the stash of colored buttons that I had acquired throughout the project.
Here is what the button board looks like with 100 multi-colored buttons laid out at random.
This started the final and most difficult part of the process, wiring the entire board. This turned into an ordeal because there are 100 buttons.
Each button has to have 2 lines drawn from it, one for ground and one to the Arduino. In this case, the board used was actually an Elgoo Mega 2560 (2 of them) and about halfway through the initial wiring I realized that I needed to daisy chain the wires from the ground because otherwise there would be a mess of wires. Final wiring ended up looking a bit messy due to prototyping and having to pull wires when they didn’t match up.
Final results are that it looked a bit like this:
Lessons learned: probably don’t drill 100 holes by hand. If you apply epoxy do it before the holes are drilled. Things like that. You can follow the adventures of this board, and by proxy, the whole 1000 button project on Twitter.