Putting on the Style
Many home-built electronic music projects aren't done justice by their external appearance. Paul White provides some hints on how to make your latest kit look more stylish.
Many projects are let down, or worse still not built at all, due to the constructor's inability to produce professional-looking front panels. Paul White proffers a few useful tips.
Buying ready-made 19" rack panels can be prohibitively expensive, so the best approach is to visit your local industrial estate and track down a sheet metal firm (Yellow pages is an invaluable guide at this point). Ideally your panels should be one eighth of an inch thick or so, but if the project is small, a thinner gauge will suffice. If you are not too fussy about gauge, the firm will probably find a suitable offcut for little or no cost and will invariably guillotine it to size in seconds for about the price of a pint!
Well, that's the first part done already and so far you haven't even picked up a tool; the other approach is to buy a ready-built case from your local component shop...
Drilling metal frightens a lot of people off but it really is quite straightforward.
First, lay strips of masking tape over the surface to be drilled and mark out the centres of the holes. Next, using a centre punch (only 70p from Woolies, so no excuses), punch the centre of each hole so that the drill won't slide all over your nice panel and spoil it. Having done this, support the panel on a block of wood and drill a small hole (about one-eighth-of-an inch diameter) through each punch mark.
If an electric drill is used, set it to the slowest speed and make sure the panel is secure, otherwise you may find it spinning on the end of the drill in a most unamusing fashion. Finally, drill the holes the required size, again resting the panel firmly on a piece of wood. Remove any burrs with a sharp knife and the panel is ready for the next step.
Thoroughly clean and polish the panel with a Brillo pad or similar and then wash it in hot water and washing-up liquid to remove all traces of grease. Warm up the panel with a fan heater or hairdryer and then, placing it on a piece of newspaper, spray on a fine coat of car primer.
When this is dry, spray on several thin coats of the desired (car) colour and don't worry if the surface looks powdery or uneven; just concentrate on not getting any runs.
Letraset (or similar) is the best medium for producing panel lettering, and special sheets containing lines, radii and dial markings are obtainable from most large stationery or art suppliers.
The main problem is getting the lettering level. I use a strip of paper taped against the panel in the appropriate position so that there is a straight edge to work to. Work out which letter is going to be at the centre of each word and position this first so that the word will be symmetrical about the required position. When planning this, make sure that the knobs will not obscure the lettering and, when all is well, place the backing sheet over the finished lettering and rub the lettering down with a soft pencil.
Mistakes or unwanted lettering can easily be rectified or removed by dabbing the offending area with a piece of masking tape which effectively sticks to the letters and removes them.
Also available from the art shop is a matt, quick-drying varnish spray which will protect the lettering and leave an even, stylish matt finish to the whole panel. A couple of light coats are all that are needed - don't overdo it or it'll run!
Well, that really is all there is to it; last month's LFO project - and this month's Rack Pack - were made in this way and the finished results look pretty good. (Modesty, modesty... Music Ed). Next month sees the third of our rackmounted projects (we hope to develop a whole series of them for construction by readers) and I hope this article has provided some insight into how you can make home-built modules look as well-finished as professional units.
Feature by Paul White
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