Old-style Joysticks: Building a new, factory-quality joystick

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Joined: Feb 11 2004
Posts: 46

Remember your Apple II joystick? I'm not talking about the huge toy luggers sold today, the ones that require you to use your whole arm to control them.

Rather, I'm talking about the old ones that offered high precision because the stick was small enough to control with the thumb and forefinger. The one you used playing Archon II, BoulderDash, and Stellar 7. The ones that haven't been sold for about a decade. Those joysticks.

So, where are they today? Wanting to get a brand new backup to my aging Mach I (a 10-year old PC joystick converted to work on the Apple II), as well as a similar style joystick for the PC, I had to search long and hard. It turns out, all the parts for these old-school joysticks are still made, and in fairly large quantities. Nowadays, they're just used for high-end medical applications and to fly jet fighters. Imagine that! While kids are enjoying Combat Flight Simulator their toy "fighter sticks", many real jet fighters are using the same type of joystick many of us grew up with. (Personally, I prefer a yoke to a stick for PC flight sims, but that's another topic).

Here's the poop: you can build your own Mach II or Mach III replica for the Apple II for about $140. The casing and assembly is still made, and available from CH Products. Together, they will cost you $127. Here's the recipe for a brand new Mach II:

Ingredients:

* 1 OEM component, part # C100B0J-CJ from CH Products.
* 1 old serial cable with male (pins, not holes) connector.
* Cord sheath OR hot glue gun.
* Soldering iron w/ solder.
* Volt Meter/Continuity tester.
* Wire stripper, or sharp knife

1. Order a C100B0J-CJ from CH Products. You can visit their OEM website, and click the "Traditional" link at the left. You should see some familiar-looking sticks. This model will give you the assembly and housing for a Mach II.

2. Get yourself an old serial cable with a male connector (meaning with pins, not holes). You may want to try to get a base sheath to protect the rubber at the point it enters the joystick casing. Hot glue will work, but it can be messy. Apply the sheathing to the cord, leaving enough slack in the wiring to get to the various connector points.

3. This is the most effort-intensive step. You will need to strip and solder the appropriate wires to the correct terminals. At this point, it helps to have a reference Apple II joystick, as you can simply open it up and test continuity between the terminal pins that plug into the CPU and the various connection points on the joystick potentiometers and buttons. Wiring diagrams are also available on the web.

4. Put the housing back together. This should consist of tightening four screws.

Voila! One brand new Apple II joystick, for years of enjoyment.

As a variation, you should be able to build a Mach III replica exactly as above, with one extra button to connect. You'd need to decide whether it is to be Button 0 or 1.

If enough people were interested in this, we could order the CH Products parts in bulk and reduce costs considerably...

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Greg Hedger
"He who distinguishes well, thinks well." - Augustine

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Joined: Dec 19 2003
Posts: 832
. . . expensive, rare, old joysticks

. . . gee that makes my collection of CH joysticks even more interesting. If anyone wants to buy a fully functional one for $100 (that's a $40 discount !) plus shipping, just private message me. I have both Mach II and Mach III (button on the end of the joystick) versions.

Mutant_Pie

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Joined: Feb 11 2004
Posts: 46
:-) Hang on to them, they

Smile

Hang on to them, they might be worth yet more someday.

Seriously, if that's what you grew up with, it's pretty hard to accept the klunky excuses for joysticks on the market nowadays, I don't care how many hats, sliders, bells, whistles, horns, and tubas they throw in. Not a single company offers that type of joystick anymore, so you have to go to the industrial OEM market to find it.

If you bought in quantities, there's a substantial discount. The number quoted above is actually $127. I made it $140 to account for the cord, solder, etc.

If you buy 100, the price is $43 per unit - a substantial savings. Heck, I'm even thinking about manufacturing the things if there's ever enough of a demand.

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Greg Hedger
"He who distinguishes well, thinks well." - Augustine

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Joined: Dec 19 2003
Posts: 832
Klunky modern joysticks

Actually I found one that I really liked the ergonomics on, the iStick. Unfortunately, although it is USB, it didn't seem to work with OS X. Also, two or three of the inner components were badly designed, would break after about 30 hours of use.

I did a couple of hacks to those busting innards. Fixes that I did lasted longer than the OEM, but still broke. Replacing the breaking plastic parts with metal components proved problematic, and realizing that there wasn't a viable software driver, I've given up. Oh, well. . .

Mutant_Pie

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Joined: Feb 11 2004
Posts: 46
Yep, there's a lot of shoddy

Yep, there's a lot of shoddy stuff on the market today, and you can't really know from the store display. Joysticks are probably the most workmanship-critical peripherial because of the type of use they get, which is stress-based.

(BTW my Mach I is 10 years old, used extensively, and I've never had a problem. Made in the USA.)

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Greg Hedger
"He who distinguishes well, thinks well." - Augustine