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cutting holes in an aluminium instrument panel


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What have you guys done? I see there is a really cool thing called a panel punch, but that's over 300 bucks just to cut five or six holes! Unless someone has one to lend :beg:

 

So what methods have been employed on this site?

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I used an adjustable circle cutter similar to this. General Tools 55 Heavy Duty Circle Cutter. Adjustable 1-3/4 Inch to 7-7/8 Inch: Amazon.com.au: Home Improvement

Not too expensive and did a good job, but use a solid bench drill, clamp the panel securely and keep your fingers and anything else you value well out of the way.

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I found what I call a" poor mans laser" to do an exceptional job - otherwise known as a scroll saw. Purchased a pre loved one from Gumtree and a stack of replacement blades from Bunnings.

 

Gum tree has a selection from $50-300. My tip try to get one with a nice deep throat (long reach) & sizeable table that can be tilted if need be AND were safety glasses. Make sure the blade is secure and well tensioned befor starting. Have a good shadow free working light. Almost impossible to cut yourself but I guess where there is a willy there will be a way.

 

I covered my aluminium sheet with side by side strips of masking tape.

 

Very carefully draw the panel lay out using ultra fine tipped felt pen - draftsman compass to draw very accurate circles.

 

Do a few practise runs befor attempting your panel. With a little practice you will become quite the crafts person

 

Simply drill an access hole - insert blade - tension the blade (it should "ping" like a musical instrument) - start the saw - be sure to hold sheet very firmly flat against table. . Its not fast, but strangely satisfying once you get the hang of it. Any rough edges can be removed with abrasive paper and or a selection of different profile fine cut files.

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I used holesaws. A nice new Sutton or similar will go through aluminium beautifully. The worst part for me was cutting out those additional squarish bits for the corner of the altimeter & ASI (or was it VSI?) to go through. Don't know why they don't just make them a circle and have another circular hole for the adjustment knob...

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Sit a can of coke down then score around with an Olfa knife, or just use snips and a half round file, all these round tools are over rated and give no satisfaction....

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I used an adjustable circle cutter similar to this. General Tools 55 Heavy Duty Circle Cutter. Adjustable 1-3/4 Inch to 7-7/8 Inch: Amazon.com.au: Home Improvement

Not too expensive and did a good job, but use a solid bench drill, clamp the panel securely and keep your fingers and anything else you value well out of the way.

 

Work the circle cutter by hand. Round and round a few times, from both sides of the panel. Done it many times, safer than a powered drill.....

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I used an adjustable circle cutter similar to this. General Tools 55 Heavy Duty Circle Cutter. Adjustable 1-3/4 Inch to 7-7/8 Inch: Amazon.com.au: Home Improvement

Not too expensive and did a good job, but use a solid bench drill, clamp the panel securely and keep your fingers and anything else you value well out of the way.

 

Sounds good. Looks like there aren't any in Australia. But it's going to be a while before I cut the panel. So I'll get it on Amazon. Free tip guys- if you are getting something from overseas, if it's on Amazon go there. Aust Post priorotise Amazon parcels :) You need all the help you can get with the limited number of international flights at the moment. Although there is some vague talk that Amazon may be buying up some of the superfluous A380's that no one wants anymore. Won't help me right now of course :D

 

I've been mocking everything up on a 3mm MDF instrument panel so everything is in its place. I can sit in the cockpit and really make sure things look right and are in reach and it helps with seeing whats going on behind the panel too. I think I've had a change of plan for the radio for instance and the hole I cut out for that is damn close to the battery so I know to move that hole over a little on the final product.

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Trade Tools sell a good range of inexpensive hole saws. I believe they have a store at Geebung on the northside.

I've had a set for near 10 years now and have used it on aluminium, steel, timber and other things. The only thing that made one blunt was cement sheet. They can also be purchased individually rather cheaply.

If you are using this type of hole saw especially in thin aluminium, I have found it useful to drill your pilot then use a solid arbor instead of the drill bit so you hole doesn't wander.

https://www.tradetools.com/search?ProductSearch=hole%20

 

The circle cutters should be available somewhere....I have bought two of them over the years, but not online.

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Problem with hole saws & circle cutters, is that you still have to cut/shape your aluminium sheet to fit your panel - my scroll saw does holes, panel shape, odd little cut outs - whatever you want all at the best price- What more could you want ?IMG_0823.thumb.JPG.102f855433515f9e1d86cfdd3e65fad0.JPG1414248546_IMG_08241.thumb.jpg.af568b7de0a6e6f6637d831a0e3d8dba.jpg

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My panel is already the right shape. Just needs holes :)

 

Well there you go - you still want/need to make nice round air spaces in an aluminium sheet.

 

Spend the dough and use the services of a laser/water jet service provider or go the econo way with hole saws (messy) or circle cutters (fiddly & slow) OR invest in the poor mans laser (scroll saw).

 

Oh! and by the way my panel above is aluminium, with aircraft grade 1.5 (I think) plywood glued on for a "sporty ambience" - all holes , except mounting points (drilled) cut with scroll saw.

.

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A basic hole saw is all you need. Use one a bit smaller that the hole you want and then hone the hole with a half round file untill the instrument will almost fit. Then sand it with good quality emery till it is perfect. Takes a while but the result will be very professional. The cutouts for the ALt & VSI adjusters can be done by hand drilling initially & the same half round file emery treatment. Here's mine ready. Not aluminium but the process is no different.IMG464.thumb.jpg.6df5140ab2e0d42c91111bb1f8610263.jpg

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One thing I'm lucky with is that my ALT qnh knob is in place of the fourth screw. So I only need a perfectly round hole :)

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Forgive me Kgwilson - very nice and neat to be sure BUT that does not look like an aluminium panel ??

 

The type of material to be cut has a big impact on the selection of cutting tools/technique.

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No it's not aluminium as I said in the post. It's fibreglass so was quicker to sand and finish. As I said the process is the same for aluminium as I had to cut holes in the aircraft skin for the fuel caps and also in the colorbond steel firewall for cables, fuel pipes, wires etc and the process for all 3 materials was the same, just don't use a blunt hole cutter and don't force the hole cutter.S5001689.thumb.JPG.bcefdef0ad664ca7dd3ab8c63f18db1e.JPG It will cut a neat hole if held steady and you allow the saw to do the work.

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Again I beg forgiveness for disagreeing - cutting aluminium , especially thin sheet (aircraft grade), is not like cutting compost, which in my opinion responds/feels like similar to wood.

 

I am not saying a hole cutter/saw can not be used but in my experience it has more risk of unforeseen damage (the more so the thinner the sheet) and the result tends to be messier (needs more cleaning up). I would only a hole saw, in this context, where little alternative existed.

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Your choice but it worked for me on .020 thou 6061 T6 sheet. I've never tried to cut compost

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