Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial
Moving forward you will probably using 1 of 3 methods to construct your door panel. Each method has it's own skill set and tools required to accomplish the task but as you move from method 1 to 2 and then to 3 you're able to increase your accuracy and ability to duplicate a panel sucessfully. The first would be simple hand tools; a skill saw, jig saw, band saw, or scroll saw, any maybe a router, all common tools that a lot of you may already have. The second requires the use of router, a few common router bits that you can find at almost any place that sells routers, and the ability to create some simple jigs. However, this method will help you make a really nice and slightly more complicated door panel. The last would be the use of a CNC machine. Having access to a CNC really opens the door up to almost anything you can imagine, design wise, and places you in a position where you can duplicate things when and as you wish.
As we move forward I plan to create 2 posts for each installment, for a combination of methods 1 and 2, and a separate one method 3. That way each installment will be easier to follow and understand, at least I hope so, lol. And to be quite honest, I used a combination of all 3. One of my other hobbies is I design and build wooden gear, gravity powered clocks, so, I have a wide variety of tools at my disposal. And depending on your design you may or may not need many tools to do this.
My main goal was to build something different that didn't look homemade. Hopefully I'll be able to achieve that, at least to a degree, but you guys will have to be the judge of that. Personally, in order to achieve this I wanted a door panel that a) had a high level of precision in it's execution, b) being able to mirror the design effectively with the same high level of precision, and c) having all of the attachment points hidden. Anyone can take a big screw and attach two things together, it take a little more ability to do so effectively without a trace of what's hoping it all together. It's not that complicated, or difficult, it just takes some advance thought and exposure to either methods, tools, or fasteners that makes it possible. And lastly, I'm pretty 'thrifty', that sounds so much better than cheap, and like to find ways to accomplish tasks with common things that are readily available and inexpensive. With that being said, you should be able to build yourself 4 new door panels, upholstered and all, for less than $100. So, let's get started...
Door panels for a '66/'67 Chevelle has a built in challenge right off the bat as the door panel doesn't cover the entire face of the door shell. It's this reason that I feel like there isn't something pre-made and available to for purchase. So when creating your design you will have to either transisition your panel to door portion of your door shell, or, modify the top of you door to meet your new panel. Also, it's much easier to build a door panel that allows you to hook it on to the window channel of your door shell. While more challenging it is still very achievable to create a one off door panel that you can be proud of.
I recommend that you create a pattern from which to work from. This will allow you to duplicate your work in the future in the event you screw something up in the process of completing a panel, or if your panel becomes damaged, like from water damage, and will enable you to make an exact mirror image of your panel for the opposite side. The up side to building a pattern is that it really makes duplicating a panel fast and easy. It's one time work that will save you hours, not to mention a better overall product, down the road. You will want to make your pattern out of something sturdy, such as 1/4" plywood, as you will using it to transfer you design by either tracing it or using a template bit with your router.
I'll mention this as we get going, keep your creative mind open. There are no rules from this point forward. For example, I'm building my panel that when done it will be one panel with an insert. You could have 1, 2, or even 3 separate panels if your design requires it to achieve the look you're after. You can use almost any material to build your panel out of and accent it with even more options, such as; different colors of vinyl, wood, plastic, chrome trim, painted materials, etc. Feel free to build your's the same way I did mind, or, any way you like because as I said, there are no rules or a right or wrong way to do this.
As with any project, we need to create a base from which to build upon. If you have an existing door panel that is in reasonably sound condition, this step is pretty easy, it's as simple as tracing the shape onto whatever substrate you choice to build on. If yours are missing or damaged it can be a little harder, but not too hard. I'd use either poster board or freezer/butcher paper to start a base panel from. While freezer/butcher paper is a little harder to trace around it is a lot easier to locate existing points such as screw holes and door handle locations. I buy rolls of this type of paper at Hobby Lobby in the art department, if you can't find any at your local shopping locations you could go to a body shop and ask to buy some masking paper from them.
So now that you have something to create a base from you will need to decide what type of base you will build upon. To most weight is real consideration, to me not so much. I'd rather have a sturdy door panel that will hold up over time and in my opinion easier to build, than a light weight one. A lot of people use fiberglass, which is fine, but if you're like me I'm not much of a body man and I hate, let me repeat that, hate sanding. You see a lot of custom door panels made with fiberglass and then painted, which is fine if that is what you want, however, it takes a ton of hours and even more sanding to create a panel that can be painted and look really nice. A lot of these types of panels that I have seen you can see some, if not a lot, of high and low places that really get amplified when painted and cleared over. I prefer an upholstered panel because that is how the factory does them and to me it looks more at home in a car than one that is painted.
As I have stated earlier, I'm most comfortable using wood. I chose to use a specific plywood to build with, it has several different names so I'm not sure what it may be called where you live but it is an under layment plywood that is put down before you install a vinyl floor in home construction. The benefit of using this type of plywood is that it is more stable and flatter than traditional plywood and has a smoother face. It may be slightly higher than traditional plywood but it is well worth it, the last thing you want is a twisted panel. I buy mine at Lowes for $19 for a 4'x8' sheet. A 4'x8' sheet will yield enough material to build 2 door panels, so, 2 sheets will be plenty to build both the front and back door panels.
So once you have decided on your substrate and have your pattern in hand, you can transfer that to the substrate. Now this is where building a great panel starts, cutting your base panel. If you are real good with a hand saw, such as those previously mentioned, you can simply cut out the base panel. If you struggle with being able to saw a straight line, as I do, with a hand saw you can use a router with a template bit and some form of a jig. A template bit is a straight cutting bit that has a bearing on top, or bottom, of it depending on whether you are using a hand held router or a router table. It's the same bit but just a different orientation.
To use a template bit you will need something for the bearing to ride against which will then use the exact shape of what the bearing is riding against. You can either screw your jig to the base or use a double sided tape, or template tape, to affix your jig to your substrate. This will require you to make a single jig to produce as many exact copies of it as you want in a manner of minutes. You spend the time to create the jig not the door panel as you move forward. Also, if at some point during the build process you do something that you wish you didn't, you can create a duplicate quickly and easily.
At this point I'm going to close this thread and create another one to address how you can sucessfully transfer your door panel shape into a digital format for those interested in the CNC process.
1966 Malibu, 540 BBC FAST XFI EFI, 4L80E Trans, 2800 Stall, Quick Performance 59" 9" Ford Rear End w/3.50 gear