Building Materials for Custom Sticks - Info Thread

Building Materials for Custom Sticks:

This thread is an attempt to compile and spread information relating to custom joystick building materials. It is not a description of how to build a joystick or for any techniques. This is simply a repository of information, definitions, descriptions and testimonials. I fully expect this thread to get lost in the ether but hopefully it may get linked to a Building Essentials sticky and one day help someone out.

If you are not a stick builder and are curious about what goes into a stick, this might help you make some informed decisions.

I am currently a stick maker and I am by no means the best. At this point I have built so many different joystick cases out of so many different types of material, I have honestly lost count. I will admit though, that with EVERY single case I create I learn something new. I will try to be as impartial as I can and keep my opinions to a minimum. Feel free to add to this if you feel I have left something out.

First a picture to get you oriented and to point out some simple terminology:**

Woods and Plastics


**Composite Materials (manufactured woods)

**Particle Board ? This material is made up of wood chips that have been pressed and glued together. It is inexpensive and unstable. Not suitable for joystick cases. Particle board is basically the hamburger of lumber.

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) ? This material is made up of tiny wood fibers that have been pressed and glued together. It is inexpensive and very easy to work with. Often times the glue used to bind the fibers together will contain chemicals that are harmful if inhaled.

HDF (High Density Fiberboard) ? Pretty much the same as MDF but more dense and hard.

**Soft Woods **-
Wood produced by coniferous trees and shrubs such as Pine or Douglas Fir. These are fast growing trees that are usually less expensive. Not an ideal choice for a joystick case as they are easily damaged. Next time you are in your local hardware store, go up to a 2x4 and press your fingernail into a piece. You will see why they call it soft.

Hardwoods ?
Wood obtained from deciduous trees such as oak, cherry or tropical trees such as teak, mahogany, and ebony. A deciduous tree usually sheds all its leaves during one season of the year, typically grows more slowly, the wood is often more dense and less susceptible to decay.

Since Hardwoods are so varied I will include some of my experiences with particular varieties.

Poplar ? While technically a hardwood this is by no means the hardest. It is about the same density as MDF and only marginally more expensive. Poplar is fast growing and soft. The grain is often boring and dull, the color is light. This wood takes stain well.

**Oak **? a fairly hard wood with familiar grain, chances are that your grandma?s cabinets are made from oak. Oak is common, inexpensive and VERY nice to work with. It does not take stain very well; you may have to flood it with repeated coats of stain to get your desired color.

**Curly Maple **- A nice light colored wood with beautiful curly cross grain patterns

**Hard Maple **- Very dense and sturdy wood

Cherry ? Close grain with nice pattern and color. Color will darken with age

**Black Walnut **? A dark brown wood with larger open pores. Nicer grain pattern than regular walnut. Native to eastern North America

**Mahogany **? Red or yellow-brown wood with straight grain and medium density. Native to West Indies, Central and South America

**Teak **? A very dense wood that is resistant to decay. Beautiful grain but prohibitively expensive. Native to Southeast Asia.

Rosewood ? Typically South American, dense wood that is great to work with. Dark stripes.

**Zebrawood **? Nice light colored wood with dark stripes. Light weight wood, open pores and cavities. Expensive. Native to West Africa.

Purple Heart? A dense, naturally vibrant purple wood. This wood reacts to UV light and will change color if fresh cut wood is over exposed to direct sunlight.

**Padauk **? A dense, naturaly vibrant crimson red wood. This wood reacts to UV light and will change color if fresh cut wood is over exposed to direct sunlight. Once the desired shade of red is achieved, a coat of armorall under the polyurethane is supposed to help maintain the color if the wood is to be left outdoors.

**Plastic: **
Many people use plastic material to cover their custom artwork on their cases. You can use adhesive backed vinyl but often times the adhesive will fail and the CPO (control panel overlay) will peel back where it gets the most wear. If you want to forgo the plastic you could try the adhesive backed CPO offered by That is some sturdy stuff.

Polycarbonate (Lexan?) ? This is the same material used to make bullet proof glass. It is flexible and you can cut it with everyday power tools. It is noticeably more expensive than acrylic. Unfortunately Lexan scratches very easily. Many people experience ?fogging? on the areas where they rest their hands on the case. This is caused by lots of little scratches. Polycarbonate is very impact resistant so if you?re going to need to deflect rocks with your joystick case, this is the material for you.

Acrylic (Plexi-Glass?) ? This is the inexpensive material that has been around for ages. Acrylic is more difficult to work with and if machined improperly it may crack. Plexiglass is however much more resistant to scratching and as a result will maintain its clarity more so than Lexan.

**Epoxy Resin **- This is probably the sturdiest albeit most permanent artwork cover. The artwork is applied to the CPT and then coated with a clear epoxy resin.


A finish is a coating or material used on the case to seal it and protect it but often to add character and color. Stain is NOT a finish, it is merely a color that is absorbed into the wood. Stained wood still needs to be sealed with a clear coat of some sort.

The Sheen refers to how much light is reflected from a surface or how glossy or shiny the surface is. Glossy is highly reflective, Satin is less reflective and Matte has almost no reflection whatsoever.

You can apply color to your case in a few different ways

**Paint ** Can be applied with a foam roller or sprayed. Typically paint is not transparent and will cover the building material entirely.

Stain is used to color the wood. Often times stain is used to make a less expensive species look like another more expensive wood. Stain colors the wood but is translucent to allow the woods’ grain to show through. Water based stains will raise the grain of most woods substantially. Oil based stains are also available are less likely to raise the grain of the wood.

**Clear Coat: **
A clear coat is used to protect the paint or the surface of the case.

**Polycrylic (Waterbased polyurethane) ** Use water based polycrylic to protect
white paint without yellowing

**Polyurethane/Varnish ** A common resin based clear coat. Poly is almost like plastic. It shows good resistance to impact, heat, chemicals and abrasions. Oil based poly adds a nice glow to the wood and it is available in various sheens.

**Shellac **- Lac is the name given to the resinous secretion of the tiny lac beetle which is found in trees in India. This insect secretion is cultivated and refined to create shellac. Shellac has very poor resistance to heat and chemicals. Shellac also takes a long time to cure fully, sometimes up to a month or more. Many woodworkers regard a finely rubbed shellac finish to be superior to any other clear coat. Shellac remains soluble which makes it very easy to touch up.

**Lacquer ** This is the finish most often used by furniture manufacturers. It produces a high quality finish but is not often cost effective for the home builder as the finish is best applied in a professional spray booth. Lacquer and its solvents are the most dangerous to your health. For this reason you will not likely find this product in your local hardware store.

(pictures coming soon…)
Drop Test:

Scratch Test:

Finish Samples:**

great post, will you be adding templates and measurements for a ‘sample’ box as shown below, kinda like a how to with step by steps , i’m pretty sure this would see a lot of people attempt to make their own custom, i think the problem for a lot of people are that they dont know where to start.

Lets hope this thread encourages people to attempt their own custom and post their results on here :slight_smile:

awesome info

will go in the essential thread

Good stuff, especially on the wood types.

TMO, this is awesome. I had to figure a lot of this out myself by posting queries and PM’ing questions and scrape-searching forums and looking at tons of pictures and scratching my noggin and drawing diagrams and wasting wood and other stuff; it’s amazing to have all of this information in one place! :rofl:

Very good info. You may wish to add that there are minor environmental concerns about some woods (such as mahogany and ebony). Nonetheless, there is a reason they’re used to make musical instruments and other fine things, main reason is because the finished product is awesome to the touch and awesome to look at.

Traditionally, keys for keyboard instruments were made of ebony and boxwood. Be aware that they are prone to thermal shock, though.

Very nice. When I have all the time to make my own stick, I will definitely check back on this.

This is a great thread. Wish I had it a few months ago!

Timoe, very nice information.

I’m stick to metal case is good than wood. I need skill art of spray paint on metal.

We save environment for a tree. :pleased:

I’ll never look at shellac the same. Why don’t they just call it “Beetle Juice”? Very informative.

Not trying to be a jerk or anything, but I saw a few grammatical errors.

Should be wear.

Should be translucent.

The picture of the wood help immensely, great update.

Great information, Timoe. I just want to suggest adding some information about making holes in the plastic covers. You know, what type of tools to use and any tips on how to use them. A couple of people helped me out in the Custom Stick thread (towards the bottom of this page). But I’m sure you know a lot of this yourself, maybe more.

(I “say” a few grammatical errors) :wgrin:

Steve, thank you for the heads up. Grammar corrected. Please edit your thread above as more grammatical errors present themselves throughout my periodic updates.

I?m not sure that I want to broaden the focus of this thread to include building instructions or tips and techniques. My original intention was only to provide information for people so that they may make informed decisions regarding materials for their cases.

That’s understandable. I’m not trying to push the issue, but how about at least listing compatible tools/drills with the materials? For example, if they have a set of spade bits and not twisty bits, they know where they stand. Hence, an informed decision. Again, I’m not forcing you, just presenting a simplification.

^^^ That kind of information is available in the builders thread in this forum.

how about laminate for the overlay?
it hasn’t been mentioned in the first few posts. laminate works fine, looks great, and is cheap, but if not mounted flush (about 1mm deep), sweat and dirt can get into the sides of the art, eventually causing it to “fluff up”. this usually happens on the areas where edges of the overlay intersect the arms.

Awesome info Timoe, makes life a bit easier on new stick builders such as myself.

I’m really digging that Zebra wood, maybe a few coats of stain and I’d call that a paintjob. :rofl: