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How to Design Your Own Instrument Panel

by Cassandra Tribe

Placing the gauges and switches in an instrument involves more than just aesthetics. The prominence of each instrument's placement is dictated by its priority in the operator's need to read or reach the instrument while piloting or driving the vehicle. A part of knowing how to design your own instrument panel is being aware of the type of travel done in the vehicle and which instruments are most commonly consulted during the course of the trip.

Creating the Design

Fit a piece of drawing or tracing paper over the area where the instrument panel will be installed in the dash. Outline the edge of the instrument panel with a pen to make a pattern for the panel. Cut the pattern out of the sheet of paper with a pair of scissors. Check the fit of the pattern in the dash and redo the pattern, if necessary, until the pattern is an exact fit.

Mark where the screws or bolts will have to pass through the instrument panel and into the dash on the paper pattern with a pen. Remove the pattern from the dash.

Make a sketch of the planned placement of the gauges and switches to be included on the instrument panel on the piece of paper. Trace the actual gauges and/or switches to make sure the placement reflects the actual size of the instruments.

Fit the pattern into position on the dash. Sit in the driver's or control seat and check the placement of the gauges. Make sure that the gauges are not blocked by the steering apparatus and that the gauges and switches most commonly used are easily seen when the operator is sitting in the control seat. Check behind the pattern to make sure the placement of the gauges is not blocked by any part of the vehicle's frame. Make adjustments to the pattern as needed.

Making the Instrument Panel

Lay the pattern on a sheet of thin-ply hardwood and trace the outline of the pattern onto the wood with a pen. Make sure to lay the pattern, drawing side up, on the finished or smooth side of the hardwood (if applicable) before tracing or the pattern will be transferred backwards to the hardwood and not fit the dash.

Find the center of each gauge or switch drawn on the pattern using a ruler and drawing compass. Punch a hole through the center of each gauge or switch drawn on the paper pattern using the sharp metal point of a drawing compass. Mark the center of each bolt or screw hole needed to attach the finished panel to the ash. Remove the paper pattern from the hardwood board.

Remove the trim pieces from each gauge or switch. Center the instrument of switch on the hardwood pattern and trace the edges. This will give the actual size of the instrument and allow the trim piece to rest against the hardwood, supporting the instrument when it is in place.

Cut out the pattern using a jigsaw and following the lines traced from the edges of the paper pattern. Drill a hole at the marked center of each gauge or drill with a bit large enough to leave an opening that will fit the blade of the jigsaw. Cut out the holes for each gauge or switch using the jigsaw. Drill a hole, sized for the bolt or screw to be used to attach the panel, each place a bolt or screw is marked as needed.

Sand the edges smooth using 80 to 120-grit sand paper.

Lay the finish material (vinyl, sheet metal, wood veneer or other) face down on the work surface. Place the hardboard pattern face down on top of it. Trace the shape of the hardboard and all the openings in it. Remove the hardboard pattern and cut out the traced shapes in the finish material.

Use adhesive to attach the finish material to the surface of the hardwood. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for application and drying times as the adhesive used will vary on the finish material applied (sheet metal, vinyl, wood veneer or other). Mount the gauges and switches in the panel. Place the panel in the dash and screw or bolt it in place. Wire the gauges and switches and the instrument panel is complete.

Tip

  • Pre-cut holes for additional gauges and switches and cover them with a piece of hardboard (finished and cut slightly larger then the hole) using adhesive to hold them in place. This way, should the instrument panel need to be added to later, the process will not require the removal of the entire panel.

Warning

  • Do not use metal for an instrument panel as its ability to hold heat or to become cold, as well as amplify electronic signals, could interfere with the accuracy of the gauges.

Items you will need

About the Author

Cassandra Tribe has worked in the construction field for over 17 years and has experience in a variety of mechanical, scientific, automotive and mathematical forms. She has been writing and editing for over 10 years. Her areas of interest include culture and society, automotive, computers, business, the Internet, science and structural engineering and implementation.

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