The $17 Homebrew Racing Cockpit


Hello, this is my first topic on these boards so be kind. I wasn’t sure if it was Games or Hardware section but I opted for Hardware. It is the result of a recommendation by Union Carbide in this thread. The thread is about DiRT but the racing cockpit was designed for any 360 racing game (and any wheel/console with slight modifications). So this thread will be part how-to as well as general advice and lessons learned while constructing this.

The Spec

I started this project because I just couldn’t get comfortable racing in the Forza 2 demo. Also I just wanted to build something like this. I had a full day off and figured it was about time. You’ll see my original set-up with the Microsoft Xbox 360 Wireless Racing Wheel (from here on out, ‘the wheel’) below:

Old Setup

I’ve used this mainly for Project Gotham Racing 3 and it generally worked well. However it wasn’t full proof and solid. The wheel’s clamp is great, it holds to the desk flawlessly and I’ve never had much trouble with that. The pedals became the real troublemakers. Microsoft’s ‘heel bar’ seems like a pretty smart idea but it just was not comfortable. The height of the wheel meant my ankles had to be very bent to use it right, and even then it seemed as I put pressure on one pedal more than another it would slide the unit around. I tried rubber mats underneath as well as backing it into the wall under my desk. Both kept it in place pretty well but the only problem remaining was it lifting up a bit when very fast pedal manuevers were required. The natural “spring” meant if I lifted up too fast it would pop a little and the corner was then trashed. Basically it just was not solid enough.
Also, as I mentioned, the height of the wheel was the biggest culprit. It was kind of like driving a bus and my chair doesn’t go up high enough to really get the wheel at the right height. Even if it did the pedals would have to be right underneath it.

So! In building my new cockpit I had to keep in mind what I was really after. I checked out a lot of custom and professional cockpits online to see styles and what they offered. I didn’t feel like shelling out $400+ for anything and I knew trusty 2x4’s could do just as good of a job.
Before building I sketched up some ideas as well as the key points on what I wanted to address:

[li]Lower Wheel
[/li][li]Pedals locked into place
[/li][li]Fits under my desk to provide short distance to TV
[/li][li]Is high enough that I can work with my current PC chair
[/li][li]Also high enough to have a good angle on the TV
[/li][li]Doesn’t cost a lot

The following are some poor sketches for other ideas as well as the one I went with. I found through building that it is definitely per-user customization. I added a bit of “adjustability” in the way of backing out screws for the chair/pedal position but the height is what it is.

Sketches 1
Sketches 2
Final Design

All in all the prime characteristic I was after was strength. It didn’t have to be pretty or adjustable, just strong and solid. Therefore I chose to build the whole setup ontop of a solid plank rather than a frame of 2x4’s. If you want to rip a carseat out of a junkyard and use that for your seat I think the frame of 2x4’s is a better idea as you can mount the carseat on them easily.

Materials I used:

[li]1 2ft x 4ft piece of 3/4 inch Birch plywood ~ $10
[/li][li]2 96 inch 2x4’s, nice and straight ~ $2.50 each
[/li][li]1 2 foot 3/4x6 ~ $2
[/li][li]A handful of various wood screws, different lengths
[/li][li]Scrap wood

No prices on the screws and scrap wood since I just found them around my house. I figure most people have them at least if they have some experience with wood working. Even if not this whole rig would still be around $20.00 in materials.

Ah and note for the non-wood inclined. A 2x4 is not 2" thick and 4" wide. Its 1 1/2" thick, 3 1/2" wide. The lumber industry has a funny way of naming things.

Gear I used:

[li]Power screwdriver
[/li][li]Chop saw
[/li][li]Tape Measure

This project would be more difficult and significantly longer without power tools but definitely possible. However, the design I chose was also chosen for its simplicity of assembly and lack of any compound angles. Only the 2x4’s need to be cut and maybe your scrap wood if its too long or something.

The Assembly

First up I positioned my base board (the Birch plywood) underneath my desk in the way it would sit when in use. Lined it up flat against the wall then used my level against the desk edge to mark where the desk edge was. I could have just measured the desk and transfered the measurement to the plywood but its a mess and this was easier.I then add an inch to that mark (outwards, away from the desk) so the end of the wheel doesn’t rub up against it (and to make room for the chords).


Once I have that line I get my chair and pedals into a comfortable position on it. Then I hover the wheel over my lap at about the height that I want it, prop it up and measure the height. I push the number up to the highest inch (better to cut too much than not enough) and go chop off two 2x4’s of that height. I then use my 3/4" x 6" plank with the wheel clamped to it and balance it on the two boards in position. For my luck the first cut was perfect. The height for the unit ended up being 26". This puts my hands on the wheel at roughly 35" above the ground. Since the 26" includes the two 3/4" planks the 2x4 height was actually 24 1/2".

A bit of a reference:

*note most of the photos are before the final piece to secure the footpedals is in

I layed the clamp on the wood and lined up where the ‘face’ of the 3/4" x 6" should be away from the desk line (9 1/2" for me). Once I made sure everything lined up I used three 4" screws to fasten each verticle 2x4 in place. Then I attached the 2’ 3/4"x6" to be flush with the part that faces me.
The next step was originally planned to have the support 2x4’s with a sort of corner cut rather than just a flat angle. I thought the little overhang on the mounting board would need more support but just having it set up with the basic verticle supports and a test run around the Forza 2 track it was more than solid so I decided to keep it simple. I merely held up the remaining pieces of 2x4 to the unit on a table and scored where to make each cut. Chopped’em up and they fit into place easily (no trig! although I kind of wanted to use some).

I screwed up from under the base board to attach them at the rear. And from the side for the higher part. I was going to countersink a second or even third screw on the top part but it didn’t need it. The wheel part is essentially done. Now for the pedals.

I made a simple incline. Turns out the 1 1/2" from a 2x4 is just perfect for me. I then just screwed a higher plank of scrap to the back of a 2x4 to keep the pedals from moving backwards. Found the measurement of where to place just by getting comfortable in the unit and marking the spots (then making sure it laid straight).

Pedal Placement

Later (although picture chronology is off) I added a front piece to secure the pedals from moving forward.

Pedals Secured

All of the pieces on the base are screwed straight down with 3 screws. If ever I wanted to adjust the distance I could back out the screws and move up or down accordingly.

That is essentially the basics. Now for some little flourishes. I got the chair in the right position and marked where it came up on the platform. The slight incline provided is actually complimentary. I was originally (in the drawings) going to cut out square holes for the wheels of the chair to lock into. However I thought of an easier and less rigid solution. With some scrap molding I made a strip the wheels can roll up over then lock backwards into place:


Then, one of my favorite “I meant to do that” about this design. The limited amount of room under the desk (I’m sure you’ve noticed the mess of chords) required my subwoofer to be mounted on the cockpit. It sits right up front behind the pedals (kind of where an engine would be hmmmm). The rumble and vibration in your feet from it is incredible. It definitely adds to the feeling of power for the vehicles, just revvin’ up that engine is great.


And that is pretty much it. I backed it under the desk and set everything up, cranked the volume and have been thrilled with the feel and performance of this thing. Eventually i’ll maybe paint it to match the racing wheel and cover up the screw holes but for now I kind of like the ‘homebrew’ look of it.

Here are some other shots of it finished. Some are pretty big as I didn’t resize all of’em.

Finished 1
Finished 2
Top down
From the Back

Thanks for posting this. I’d love to have a stable platform like that for my pedals. Right now, they’re still held in place by a plastic container full of rocks. (Really. This was a feature of the old ACT Labs pedal design.)

Looks good!

I’m impressed!

By the way, the reason they’re called 2x4s is that they are, in fact, 2" by 4"… before they are milled.

They are milled down from there, which means that 2x4s are not of uniform dimensions (yeah, I’ve had problems with that in the past, be careful!).

The higher you go in 2x4 quality, the more uniform the dimensions will be.

Awesome, thanks for getting that all together!

I’ve been looking at doing something similar, but basing it around an armchair from Ikea. My parents have one of those chairs, and I discovered with Forza 1 that it was the perfect recline angle.

If I was feeling really adventurous I’d build it around a Recaro racing shell, but that’s $600, and I might as well buy a premade cockpit at that point :)

Holliday can join Sparky and me in buiding stuff at jpinard’s house anytime! Good show.

You should stain that badboy!

Thanks. Some very nice solutions there.

Anyone figured out a good living-room-compatible mount for the steering wheel? Something like a serving tray… I can’t haul a wooden structure into the living room to play Forza, and I’m sure not going to get away with leaving one there. :)

Good job, functional and not completely crazy like these:

or this one… the guy owns a Ferrari and still has to build a wooden mock up:

I envy the guy in the 4th post in this one… he is crazy too, but his setup has an appealing neatness:

I’m lucky and my Ikea office desk has just the right height, my chair has brakes to lock the wheels, and my pedals sit against the wall because I have long legs, but If I had more space of lacked a wife I’d be looking for a cheap car seat right now.

I can’t believe you guys fell for this! He’s clearly a viral marketer for 86 Lumber or Home Depot. Sheesh. These guys just won’t quit!

It’s this kind of thing that’s going to get us Dugg.

It took twelves posts before the accusation. You guys are getting slow!

Welcome and nice job Holliday. I had a truncated verison of than (sans pedal bracing) for my computer. But with limited space it became a major pain getting it in and out all the time. Do you have a lot of room in there? When you’re not racing, does it get in the way?

I recently had to eliminate my hardware racing getup as I sawed my desk in half to make my office feel more “roomy”.

Admit it: You’re going for a Willy Wonka office theme.

I’ll take a picture and post it sometime - after I can actually see my desk again. It actually doesn’t look half as bad as it sounds…

But… did you drill holes in it?

Half, eh?

Heh - didn’t even mean to do that :-)

I ended up buying an $8.50 TV tray from Target.

Works great for the wheel, but the cross support for the legs blocks the pedals, so I’m forced to put the wheel a little farther forward than I’m used to for a game wheel. However, the distance isn’t much different from what you’d have in a real car…

Debating removing the cross-support, or moving it upwards, but I’m not sure how much that will affect the stability of the TV tray.