View Full Version : Clean straight cuts in the instrument panel

07-14-2009, 09:12 AM
Looking for tips on a good way to make the cutouts in the IP.

07-14-2009, 09:30 AM
have you got the aluminum or the plastic panel?

if it's aluminum the best way is a plasma cutter,..make a wood template that is 1 inch bigger then the hole you want..providing you do not make any radius's smaller then .5" (unless you can find a shop with a CNC plasma table,..then you just give the location and dimension of each hole ..they bring it up on the computer..send it to the table and poof ..instant IP) ,.make the template at least 3/4 " thick ..find your local welding shop and have them cut it out ,..unless you have a plasma cutter,..you will get clean cuts with no distortion in the material,..you might have to file out the knob recess on alt guage,etc.

plastic,..make the template out of aluminum the same size that you want the hole, then a hot knife ,..let the knife do the work putting pressure on the knife can make it walk off your desired path ,..might have to trace it a few times ..but nice clean cuts,..then put tape on the front side of the hole and debur with light sanding

07-14-2009, 11:20 AM
hole punch, very cool. I used the heck out of mine for lightening holes, holes for the heat vents, mainly for the panel. Comes with 3 1/8 or 2 1/4. Now for the straight cuts, I use tape, make your line than tape it on the edge, than run a grinding wheel close to the edge but don't go over it. First hit the corners with a drill bit about 1/8 size than cut to the corners, done. Oh and watch the left overs, cover things, mainly the radios, can fall inside, mess everything up.

Robin G
07-14-2009, 07:08 PM
I agree, the hole punch is the neatest and cleanest that I have found. I was able to install a panel mount com radio without removing the panel or even removing other instruments. A very talented man at the airport (7S9) has a punch that popped out the perfect rectangular opening for my VAL Com 760.

07-16-2009, 12:47 PM
If the panel is in place and you are just adding a hole or two, then yes, the hole punch is a clean way to do it.

If it is a new panel, take it to a sheetmetal shop that has CNC laser cutter. I had mine done by a local shop and it cost me $35. I used Autocad to lay out all my instrument cuts, switch holes and avionics and radio cutouts. You can do this all yourself and make it look good but it is very time consuming particularly on the retangular cuts that a hole punch won't do. I started one panel by hand and actually cut all the holes with a jigsaw with a metal blade but had to hold off the finished line by a 1/16" or so then file it to the finished opening. I got real sick of filing after about the 3rd hole and called the metal shop...had a perfectly cut panel the next day.

07-16-2009, 02:36 PM

You can be like the guy who built my plane and use a saber saw and a dremel sanding drum to make your panel look like an angry beaver chewed the holes in it.


(Yes, re-doing the panel is on the list for this winter and I will probably have the local laser house cut the material...)

Dave S
07-16-2009, 02:50 PM
Good Afternoon,

I still haven't figured out if my tolerance for doing stuff like this the hard way is a virtue or vice; but, the attached photo is my instrument panel where strictly low tech/knuckle bleeding procedures were used; and, I'd like to think the edges came out clean and straight anyway. Cheap, certainly not as fast as the other ways, but still can be done well.

Crown of IP - Bandsaw and file
Toggle Switches and circuit breakers - step drill
Rocker switches - drill and file
Flight Instrument holes - drill and file
Big square holes - drill & file

Got lucky:) - no broken drills or files or blades, minimal/tolerable amount of blood loss....and can be washed off the lacquer easily....

Dave S
St Paul, MN

07-16-2009, 03:31 PM
Thanks for all the feedback, nice job Dave I admire your workmanship, I will probably take the rout of using the local machine shop for this.

07-17-2009, 05:03 AM
I used a Unibit step drill to make all the smaller holes ( up to 7/8" ). I have used them for years in my trade and it produces a perfectly round hole in metal and most plastics.

07-17-2009, 06:10 AM
The old fashioned way I did it on my RV was to use a "fly-cutter" in my drill press -- an adjustable hole cutter than you can pick up at Home Depot. It works fine and it's a heck of a lot cheaper that paying someone to cut it with a laser or plasma cutter. It helps to sharpen the cutter edge on your belt sander before each cut. And be sure to test the size on some scrap before you cut the real thing, and clamp it down good (and keep your fingers out of the way).

For square holes, drill the corners, connect the holes with a saber saw, and then file to the finished size. Wrap the base of the saber saw with duct tape to keep from making marks. The way to avoid it looking like a chipmunk's work is to cut well inside of the line and file to the line. Flip it over often to see how you're doing without the line to trick your eye into thinking it's straight when it's not. Use a round file near the corners so you don't get stair steps. It's just a matter of craftsmenship.

07-17-2009, 06:32 AM
Dorsal has an advantage in his location ..it's loaded with metal fabrication and machine shops .. I owned 2 shops north of his location back in the late 80's early 90's,..and some things that I couldn't do in a timely manner I sent to central and eastern Mass, or Vermont.
Wise choice Dorsal ^5,..for the minimal cost it's well worth it,..especially if you let the shop do the job as a fill in ( as a job that isn't on the red list,..and a fill in when they are waiting on other components etc to finish a another job)
I have done it by hand and got the scars to prove it too,..I opt for the easy way now :)


07-17-2009, 07:50 AM
One thing I haven't heard anyone mention is water-jet cutting. From what I have seen, CNC water-jets make the cleanest cuts in metal that I know of. I made a panel in a composite class out of carbon fiber and I'm just cutting it myself with a dremmel and a mini diamond saw disc. It works great

07-17-2009, 09:15 AM
Flycutter with drill press, and a step drill. It's very simple.


07-17-2009, 11:34 AM
Almost all of my cuts will be rectangular save for one back-up airspeed indicator. for all the smaller holes I will use a step drill as suggested. I will post a picture of the panel when I get everything mounted in it.
Thanks for all the input

07-17-2009, 04:31 PM
I agree with Dan...water jets make awesome cuts but they are a little harder to find than the laser. I also agree with Jon that a flywheel cutter works great to but I have to disagree with it being cheaper than the laser cutter. I bought a flywheel cutter for $12.95 (make sure it is for metal not wood) and then cut a bunch of holes in my first panel. The $12.95 is definitely cheaper than the $35 I paid for the laser cutting but when you consider the fact that it will take you at least 2-3 hours to cut and debur your instrument holes, drill the switch holes, and cut the rectangular holes for your stack the laser becomes much cheaper, unless you assume your time is worth nothing which I think is a terrible assumption. I would definitely talk with your local machine shops before you start cutting...you may find that the convenience and precision is well worth the money...I know I did.

08-02-2009, 05:57 PM
Said I would post a picture so here it is, not as fancy as the one above but I think it will do. (still to be painted)

08-02-2009, 08:13 PM
Dorsal, very nice layout. Such beautiful panels you guys are turning out. Makes me want to start over again with an all new layout for my Model 4.
Since 2003 when I finished mine the available options have multiplied exponentially and what a great problem to have. Jeff and Dave, your panel is the more conventional layout and very attractively done and has an appeal to an "older" pilot like myself yet I can't help also be drawn to the minimalist looking and information rich glass panels like Dorsals and others as of late. Maybe interchangeable panels depending on the mood is the answer.;)
Either way it would be a joy to spend as much time behind either as possible. Argues for pulling the throttle back a little and extending the time between stops. Maybe a new feature is born. Instrument panel of the month. Keep up the great work guys and thanks for sharing the nice photos. It really is inspirational to those approaching their panel projects or still just in the dreaming stages.

08-02-2009, 08:36 PM
I could interject my envy,..and kick dirt because I haven't got my plane yet ..but rather then sit here with drool trails running down my chin and pouting ..I'll just say one word ..



08-04-2009, 06:16 AM
VERY NICE panel.

08-13-2009, 07:49 AM
Yes, very nice. You are going to love the 696. I have that in the RV. Once you figure out the buttons, you can do things very fast with it. I go out on occation and find private fields. This unit shows them all. If you get the weather, you will love that as well.