Introduction: Budget Racing Simulator Cockpit
This project is my entry for Instructables' 2023 Student Design Challenge. I'm currently attending Dublin Jerome High School and taking an intro course to Engineering and Industrial Design. In my spare time, I enjoy working on my Subaru BRZ and occasionally playing simulation racing video games. While most of my work today centers around automotive design and driving experience, I come from a graphic design background of more than 5 years.
Why Make This?
Sim racing can be an intimidating hobby to get into, especially considering the financial toll it can take. Because of this, newcomers will often compromise by setting up budget-friendly equipment with whatever they have around them. For those who seek to improve the realism, comfort, and reliability of their setups, investing in a cockpit is the obvious next step. However, prices for quality rigs are easily upwards of $300; the steep cost to upgrade can easily scare away budding enthusiasts. This project demonstrates how you can build a dependable and realistic sim racing cockpit, completely tailored to your preferences, for a fraction of that cost!
This Instructable is intended for makers with intermediate CAD skills and woodworking experience. If you're looking to take videogame racing to the next level, you've come to the right place.
- (5-6) 2 in. x 4 in. x 8 ft. Construction Lumber*
- 3/4 in. x 1 ft. x 4 ft. Plywood*
- 1 in. x 1 ft. x 2 ft. Board*
- Truck/Car seat (Can be found at a local junkyard)
- 35 in. x 59 in. Oil Spill Mat - Link
- (2) 12 oz. Semi-Gloss Black Spray Paint - Link
- 72 Count #9 x 3 in. Wood Screws - Link
- (2) M6-1.0 x 80 mm Machine Screw** - Link
- 2 Count M6-1.0 Flange Nuts** - Link
*Lumber count, board and plywood dimensions will vary. Base these on your CAD model measurements.
**The metric measurement of the screws and nuts will depend on your pedal base.
- 150-Grit Sandpaper
- Tack Cloth
- Wood Glue
- Masking Tape
- Measuring Tape
- Ruler/Meter Stick
- Phillip's Head Screwdriver
- Helical and Spade Drill Bits
- Miter Saw
- Autodesk Fusion 360
Step 1: Making Your Measurements
Dial in your seat, wheel, and pedals to their optimal positions. While you should ultimately decide on the most comfortable setup for yourself, these tips will help you minimize fatigue and find the best seating position:
- The pedals should be distanced where your knee maintains a slight bend when fully depressing any pedal.
- Your arms should form 90° angles when your hands are at 9 and 3 on the steering wheel.
- Avoid excessive seat recline, try to keep your seating position upright.
Make measurements of the lengths, heights, and widths pictured above with a measuring tape in inches. If your seat has a base, measure its dimensions. If it doesn't, measure the length of the bottom of your seat and the height you would like to sit. Note that all measurements depend on your height and seating preferences, these specific dimensions will not be the same as yours.
Step 2: Designing in Fusion 360
Using your measurements as a reference, sketch the dimensions of the frame and 4 floorboard supports on the x-axis plane. Make sure that your measurements for the length and width of your frame match up with the innermost rectangle in this sketch. The first two supports should be within the measurement boundaries of your seat base, in order to raise the seat above ground; this will make more sense in a second. Extrude the outer frame by 3.5 in. and the floorboard supports by 1.5 in. upwards. Oddly enough, these are the real-life measurements of 2x4 lumber!
Then, create a sketch on the topmost face of any floorboard support. This will be your actual flooring. Make cutouts for the dimensions of your seat base, as well as the front and rear table legs. For the base cutout, make a rectangle with the actual measurements of your seat base and distance it horizontally from the opposing end of your frame so as to match up with your measurements. Those first two floorboard supports should now align with the left and right edges of your base cutout, use the move tool to line them up if they don't. After that, center the rectangle vertically between the two sides of your frame. The cutouts for your front table legs should be 1.5 in. x 3.5 in. since they'll stand upright. Because the rear table legs are angled on this design, you'll need to widen the rear cutouts by around 1/2-1 in. I adjusted mine from 3.5 in. to 4 in. Finally, extrude this sketch by 0.7 in. upwards to represent the real thickness of your 3/4 in. plywood.
Step 3: Steering Wheel Mount
Extrude the faces of your front legs from the floorboard support to the table height you measured. From there, create a sketch on the leftmost face and draw out the top of the table and the sides to connect the front with the rear legs. Extend these faces by 12 in. backward. Select the inner face of a front leg and make a sketch on that plane, this will be for the rear legs. In order to connect the sketch with the floorboard support, use the Intersection tool and select the right edge of the floorboard's topmost face. Draw a line connecting that edge with the bottom right edge of the tabletop. Make a parallel line 3.5 in. away, and create the hidden edges of an angled rectangle (refer to the image above). This is purely meant to help you measure and cut your wood.Be sure not to select those areas and extrude this sketch by 1.5 in. backward. Use the Move/Copy tool to duplicate the new body to the other side of your frame.
Step 4: For Seats With Bases
Create a sketch on the top face of the floorboard and dimension a 1.5 in. perimeter around the cutout for your seat base. Extrude this upward by 3.5 in. and you're done!
Step 5: For Base-less Seats
A majority of car seats don't have bases like the one I picked up, as they are primarily meant to house a spring for truck seats. To achieve the same level of comfort and durability, reference your measurements and create a secondary platform similar to the one pictured above. If you take this route, you'll need to buy more lumber and a second, thicker board. Additionally, you'll need to space out the first two floorboard supports in order to create a wider, sturdier area. I'll be honest: I prefer this look more...
Why Design This In CAD?
While it may seem irrelevant to design a digital version of the cockpit, the model you create in Fusion 360 will determine the measurements of lumber that you'll need to cut, and ultimately the amount of lumber you need to buy. This is crucial to guarantee proper fitment between your parts and to work out any issues before working with consumables- in the long run, it'll save you both time and money.
Step 6: Measuring and Cutting Your 2x4s
After finding the measurements for your parts in Fusion 360, make a checklist of all the different sizes, counts, and types of wood. For now, let's focus on cutting the 2x4s to length. Start at one end and, use a measuring tape and pencil, mark the wood, and draw vertical lines with a ruler in order to create sections corresponding to the lengths on your checklist. When deciding what order to measure out your parts, you may have to do some math to minimize the amount of scrap wood you have left on each 2x4. Repeat this process with all your lumber, until you have every 2x4 part on the checklist.
When you finish measuring, bring your lumber to a miter saw and make vertical cuts at the lines you drew; make sure to line up the 2x4s to the guard on the miter so your lines are straight. If you don't have access to a miter saw, a hand saw would work fine but it would require significantly more time and energy. Make sure to line up the 2x4s to the guard on the miter so your lines are straight. You should end up having all the parts to construct your cockpit beside the floorboard and tabletop!
Step 7: Measuring the Rear Leg Angle
Remember those hidden edges from earlier? Here's where you can thank yourself. You should have two pieces of 2x4 that are the length of the rectangle in the rear leg sketch. To remove the top and bottom areas where these pieces would run into the floorboard and tabletop, simply find the dimensions of the triangle intersections and trace them onto paper using a ruler. Both your top and bottom intersections will have the same measurements, so you only need one template. Trace your template onto the ends of your pieces and angle your miter saw along the lines. I would recommend making a test cut close to your line first to check if it's parallel or not.
Step 8: Prep and Paint
Sand everything except the floorboard and its supports with 150-grit sandpaper, this will help with paint adhesion and remove any splinters. There's no need to go overboard with sanding, just make sure to lightly rough up the faces of your wood and get rid of any staples or stickers that are commonly found on store-bought lumber. After you sand, use a tack cloth to pick up wood particles and prepare your parts for paint.
Lay the parts on a flat disposable material in a well-ventilated area. I used a cut-up leaf bag, but newspapers will work just as well. Spray light coats of paint with a few minutes between each, moving around to cover all sides of your parts. The pictures above illustrate roughly how thick each coat should be. After 3 coats, allow an hour for the paint to properly dry then flip your parts over and repeat with another 3 light coats of paint.
Step 9: Floorboard Cutouts
Now it's time to move onto the floorboard. Draw the cutouts measured in your CAD model with a measuring tape and meter stick. Take your time on this and try to make your measurements accurate. For the front and rear leg cutouts, it's as simple as using a jigsaw to cut along your lines. However, the seat base cutout requires some creative thinking. I used a spade drill bit at each of the 4 corners and used them to insert the jigsaw. There are probably easier ways to do this, but hey, it worked for me! Once I had all those sections cut out, I used sandpaper to straighten the edges and remove any splinters.
Remember, you can't turn a jigsaw 90°. Cut straight to the angle's vertex one way, go back and make a rounded cut, then make another cut to the vertex going the other way.
Step 10: Adding Carpet
This is where things start to come together! On a flat surface, lay out your oil spill mat facing down. Then place your floorboard on top, tracing all the edges with an easily visible marker. For cutting out the seat base opening, pinch the mat and cut a slit in the center of your base markings to be able to cut from the inside. For the leg cutouts, cut a smaller rectangle about 2 mm away from each side and cut a slit from the corner of that rectangle to the corner of the actual floorboard cutout. This will allow the legs to slide in seamlessly from the top.
After cutting the mat to size, staple the perimeter of the seat base cutout to hold everything in place. The staples won't be visible since they'll be covered by the restraint. Lift up the edges of the mat, one side at a time, and spread wood glue along the sides with a piece of cardboard or scrap wood. Apply liberally around the edges of the floorboard's leg cutouts to prevent the mat from bending upwards when the legs are inserted. Avoid spreading the wood glue too thin as it might dry out before you're able to lay the mat down.
Step 11: Assembling the Restraint and Frame
Trace the end of a 2x4 onto a piece of paper or cardboard to measure the proper spacing for drilling, and poke holes with a pencil through your markings. Although this template is meant mostly for consistency, it will prevent you from drilling through a spot that doesn't connect with another part.
Use the template to screw together parts for the seat base restraint. When drilling, make sure that you're pressing both parts together against a hard vertical surface like a wall to create a flush fitment. After you've assembled the restraint, center it with the floorboard cutout and tape it down with masking tape. Flip the floorboard over to make markings along the perimeter of the cutout, then drill. Set that aside and gather the parts to make up the cockpit frame. After you've assembled them, measure out the distances for your first two floorboard supports by referencing your CAD model, then drill them into place. Here, I used masking tape to mark the measurements so I wouldn't need to measure both sides for the support and the template.
Step 12: Mounting the Pedals
Pedal position may be subjective, but the dimensions and hardware compatibility of your pedals are not. To find out how to mount your pedals, look up the make and model of your specific pedal set and add "dimensions" or "measurements". If this doesn't work, add "forums", as these details most likely can be found in a sim racing forum. If you're able to find a diagram directly from the manufacturer, make a note of the size of the mounting holes, as well as the distances from the holes to the back of the pedal base and to the centerline. The hole size will determine what kind of machine screw and flange nut you need.
On the underside of your floorboard, line the pedals up with the back edge and move them to your desired position. If your pedals are centered, you can skip to tracing an outline. If you prefer having the pedals toward your right, move the pedals to a mirrored location on the left side, then trace. Use a ruler to draw a line down the center of your outline and mark the distance from the back of the pedal base to the holes. After that, horizontally mark the distance from the centerline to each hole and place a final mark to drill. Place some scrap wood underneath the spot where you're drilling to keep the carpet from lifting and drill through using a helical drill bit that matches the size of your mounting holes. Then, attach the flange nuts onto the machine screws by hand and poke them through the floorboard from the back. Line them up with the threads on the pedal base, screw them in with a Philips's head, and tighten the flange nuts with a wrench.
Step 13: Assembling the Steering Wheel Mount
Begin by lining the table legs up with the connecting side piece and screwing them together, repeating this for the other side as well. Choose one side to first attach the floorboard supports on and place a scrap 2x4 underneath to make it level with the side piece. Once you screw the supports in, slide the floorboard in place and sandwich it on top of the other side's front and rear legs. Because of the angled design, there's no way to assemble the floorboard after both sides are connected, so this assembly might be tricky. Having a second pair of hands is extremely helpful here; screw the floorboard supports to the other side, using a scrap 2x4 again to prop it up again. Now, place the legs and floorboard into the frame. Use masking tape to line up your template with the legs, and put screws through the frame and each leg. Finally, place your tabletop onto the legs, and screw them together.
Step 14: The Final Stretch
At this point, all you need to do is carefully lower your seat into the base restraint and mount your steering wheel! For heavier seats, I'd recommend finding someone to help you put it into place; I was moving my truck seat around to test for fitment and got a week's worth of back pain. In the end, though, I'd say it was worth it.
I hope you enjoy the realism and comfort of your new racing simulator cockpit! It's time you hit the (virtual) streets with confidence. If you followed this Instructable I'd love to see some pictures, share them on this post, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Second Prize in the
Game Design: Student Design Challenge