Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial - Chevelle Tech
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post #1 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 8th, 17, 3:18 AM Thread Starter
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Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Ok guys, this will be my attempt to outline my process for building custom door panels. Hopefully you'll find this informational and give you the confidence to build your own. Feel free to ask questions and or add commentary as I do not claim to be a professional by no means, if fact, these are the very first panels I have ever made.

As I stated in a previous post, there just isn't any custom door panels available for the 66/67 Chevelle out there. I think that this is primarily due to the fact that these cars have door panels that do not cover the entire door shell like other cars, and, they have vent windows. While not ideal the goal is still obtainable.

So step one should be pick a design for you door panel, it doesn't have to be written in stone but you need to have a good idea of what it will look like. I say should because I generally design as I go, which can be real problematic.

Key points when picking a panel:

1. Will you attempt to cover the panel with upholstery yourself or take it to a professional shop to have it covered. The reason I say this is that if your design entails 90 degree bends or compound curves it may be hard, if not impossible, to stretch your material over these areas, or, you create an excess amount of unwanted material once stretched. Such issues generally means that you have to cut your upholstery into panels and then sew them together in order to achieve a proper fit.

2. How will you finish the edges or attach complimentary hardware such as arm rests, trim. While it's relatively easy to build something that looks good when looking a the fact of the panel. you will want the edges to look equally as polished. There can be no void in the area that you plan to cover, the upholstery material s to be supported. Some of us are limited in what we work with due to our skill sets or availability to proper equipment. Me, I like working with wood, so, if I want to but a piece of accenting trim on my panel how will I attach it? And will that attachment process allow me to remove it if need be.

3. How will your panel transition into existing interior components that you are not replacing, such as door locks, handles, or windlace. For example, on my back door panels you have to deal with a hard plastic piece at the front, top of the door panel and a body panel seam right below it that will have to be covered by the original windlace or by other means. Depending on the materials that you have chosen to use this can be a real challenge.

4,.How will you attach your door panel to the door shell. A bunch of screws in the face of your door panel is not very pleasing to the eye, but sometimes that may be the only solution. I will show you how I was able to hide all of the attachment points on my panels and yet it is securely attached to the door shell and easy to put on or take off as need be.

5. Your front and back door panels should compliment each other and if you create a design similar to mine, will you be able to continue that design element to the back panels effectively. For instance, my front panel have a large cove design to it, which was easy if you only have front door panels but my cove is open at end and has to continue and finish on the back door panel, which has limited space.

Due to my lack of ability to write effectively you may need to come back and read these later as you follow along to have it actually make sense to you. So don't get to worked up over these thing right now because I will address them all in greater detail throuh out the build. I will also explain to you why I made some of the design choices that I did and point out areas that I had to change during the build and why.

This will give you all something to think about while I prepare my next post which will address materials I used and why. How I created pattern that would allow my door panels to fit properly, how to turn them into a digital file for those of us that have a CNC machine. Also, I will go over where I started and how I would recommend that you think about a possible design of your own that you can refer to during this thread. This way, when I point out the issues I ran in to and how I addressed them, you can refer to your design and evaluate whether or not your design elements will pose any issues as we go through the process.

So, until next
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post #2 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 9th, 17, 10:36 AM
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

I saw your doors in another thread and can't wait to see all the details as I'd like to build my own.
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post #3 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 12th, 17, 7:14 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

for those of you that are following along, GOOD NEWS, I have finalized everything with my prototype door panel, AKA the passenger side, and I'm ready to take you all thru step by step from start to finish.

I'll be doing it in a few installments because for me, it's as much about theory, and why, as it is about construction. So, I hope you all will bear with me and continue to follow as i plan to have the whole thing done for you in just a few installments over the course of 3 or 4 days...
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post #4 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 13th, 17, 2:19 AM Thread Starter
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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.

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post #5 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 13th, 17, 11:01 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

ok, for the CNC crowd... I'm going to assume that some may have, or have access to, a CNC but the majority is probably doesn't. What I have is a home built CNC called a Shapeoko 2. It started as a Kickstarter program that grew very rapidly. It's goal was to get reasonable price CNC machines to the hobbyist. I have about $700 in mine and while they say you can cut 6061 Aluminum with it, I don't. The cool thing about it is that it is entirely open source, meaning you can use any software with it you want and the parts to build the machine are readily available almost anywhere you are. Originally my machine had a 12"x12" cutting area, but, since it's open source I was able to buy some new rails and expanded mine to be able to cut almost 40"x40". You can still find machines for sale on the web but they do not sell new kits any longer.

As far as workflow to be able to cut something with a CNC, you have create what most would call geometry, basically a picture of what you want to make. You can use simple software, such as Inkscape, or full blown cad software like AutoCad to create your geometry. Most of it depends on the complexity of the item you want to make. While my machine is capable of full on 3D milling I do more of what they call 2.5D, where I not only cutting the outline of the shape but I am also milling items at various depths within the shape. Regardless, you have to create the item to mill and then tell the CNC how to cut it and where to cut it on the substrate, and then convert that into code to run your CNC. It sounds complicated but it's really not bad. Below you will see in the first picture is a drawing of my door panel I did in Inkscape. Then, I open that document up in a program called Estlcam which I create code that tells the CNC what size bit I'm using and the path to follow when cutting. The different colors represent a different process or depth of cutting. For instance, bottom right corner you will see a blue ring with a red path inside of it. What I told the software to do was to mill the blue section 1/8" deep in that area and cut the red path all the way thru.

Once I'm done with selecting tool paths and depth of cut, I save it in what is called G Code, which converts the pretty pictures into language that my CNC can understand and cuts as directed. I secure my substrate on the deck of my CNC and send the code to the CNC and what it cut. The last picture is of my CNC and I had just finished cutting some proto type brackets for my rear disc brakes out of plastic.
[IMG][/IMG]
[IMG][/IMG]
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post #6 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 13th, 17, 11:07 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Now to get a digital image of your door panel to be able to cut with a CNC you will have to draw it on your computer. Not as complicated as it sounds, really. What I did was took on of the pieces of substrate, 1/4" ply, and I will draw a grid, 1"x1" boxes, down the edge and across the top and bottom of the substrate within the area that the door panel will lay to be traced.

I will also go into Inkscape and create a new drawing the same size as my substrate and I will draw a 1"x1" grid drawing on top of it. Then, I transfer the points of intersection in each box of the grid from the substrate to the Inkscape drawing. Once I have all of the points located I use a draw command in Inkscape and basically connect all of the dots. This will give you a scale version of your door panel blank. Now you can design on it to see what your panel will look like before cutting anything.

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post #7 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 14th, 17, 11:26 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Now that you have a base from which to build your door panel you can start cutting your door panel top. But before you do, you need to think about any profiles that you may have in your design and how you are going to create them. Also, at this time you need to keep in mind how you are going to finish your parts. EVery part or section that you are going to cover with material you have to compensate for the thickness of the material. Additonally, if two panels are going to come together you have to allow for twice the thickness of your material otherwise you fit will be too tight and the panel won't go together.

On my door panel I have the large recessed cove that I have to create. For me, the most efficient way to do so is to do so with fiberglass. Now as I stated before, I'm no bodyman and I hate sanding so I cheat. I have a tendency to use conventional items in non conventional ways, so, when we get to that point you'll see why I do so.

In all honesty, you don't have to create a top panel, you could create the whole thing with fiberglass as long as you have profiles for you edge and high spots, such as my cove and speaker cutout. I find it easier, especially with the design of my panel, to create the top panel out of the same ply and then do the fiberglass to create the cove.

Since the last time I posted a picture of my door panels I have made a significant change to the design. My original panel was 1.5" thick from top to bottom and the plan was I was going to build out the top of my doors to met the panel. I have since changed my mind because I don't really want to alter my door shell as there may come a day when I want to put stock door panels back on it. I doubt it, but you never know.

To make it work out I was going to have to modify the top of my door panel and transistion the top portion of the panel to metal portion of the door shell. So, if you refer back to the first picture in post 5 you will see a portion of the door panel at the top outlined in red. I cut that portion of my top panel out/off and removed the blocking around the perimeter of that section. I then cut a new section to replace the part I just cut off, supported it at the cut line and then angled the top edge down to a point where when I add a trim piece between the top of the panel it will finish at the same height as the metal portion of the door shell. If I had been smart enough to have thought of this design in the first place I would have created that profile with fiberglass as well. When I create the new matching panel for the driver side I will make that portion out of fiberglass.

Here is a picture of the modified panel and what I'll be duplicating for the opposite side.
[IMG][/IMG]
[IMG][/IMG]

Back to building... So by now we have a top and bottom panel, next we need to create support blocking for the top panel. My door panel will be 1.5" thick at it's tallest point so I need to create support blocking for at least part of the perimeter. I'm going to do the entire perimeter for strength, however, you could block it at several points around the perimeter and use fiberglass to create the edges. Additionally, I'm only going to glue my perimeter blocking to the top panel at this time because after my first coat of jersey and resin I will take the bottom panel off to add the second and third coats of mat and resin to the back side of the top panel. Of course this is not the proper way that fiberglass is applied but I hate sanding and all I'm after is strength so that my profiles don't break, crack, or deform. By doing it this way the top panel will require no sanding what so ever if your going to cover it in material but will still be strong. You can watch several You Tube videos where they are making door panels or speaker pods and they pile the mat on top of the jersey and try to sand it to a level surface. Few rarely achieve that smooth level surface, and while it's better than I could do I elect to cheat and do it from the back side so my surface is in deed smooth and flat. We'll see this in the next installment though.

So, besides the perimeter block I need to create a speaker ring as well to support the hole I cut in the door panel. I need to create some small pieces of 1" blocking to use to support various points with in the body of the panel as well. This way when I stretch and secure the jersey on top and around the panel it will maintain the shape I want.

So if you're using hand tools to create your panel and you have a few irregularities around the edge of you panel you can fix this by using a router and a template bit. This will take care of the high spots anyway, so, if you going to err, err to the high side. Running the template bit around the outside of you panel will make as straight as the top or bottom panel, which ever you use for a guide. Now if both of the panels, the top and bottom, are a little whacky you can attach a straight edge to the top or bottom of your panel and let the bearing run against it and then you will have a perfect edge.

here is a pic of a few of the support pieces that I will be using to build the panel as well as the unfinished trim piece that will go along the top of the panel, similar to the original '66 panel...
[IMG][/IMG]

next installment I will assemble the panel and do the first coat of cloth and resin...

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post #8 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 15th, 17, 10:01 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Hey guys, talked to one of my friends from the board and asked him what I needed to do to make this thread better and he suggested more pictures. (thanks Robert!) And I agree, so... I'm going to back up a bit and document the process with more pictures. I tend to assume that people just know what I'm talking about, and needless to say, I type a lot, lol. So I'm going to try to connect more of the dots with visual aids...

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post #9 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 15th, 17, 10:07 PM
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Lots to digest and as you suggested, I'll read it over a few times. Thanks, again, for doing this.
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post #10 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 16th, 17, 1:38 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Rod, no problem, hopefully you'll be able to use something out of it. I'm the type of person that if I'm going to do something I want to know the 'why' as much as the 'how', so I tend to ramble at times, lol...

This first picture depics my original door panel, a router template bit, and a panel that I traced off the original and trimmed to approximate size. I trim it close just to have less for the router to go through. Now that I've traced and trimmed the panel I will affix it to the original with screws or double back tape. You don't have to use the original panel, you can use several items as long as it's continuous and has a surface for the template bit to ride along.
[IMG][/IMG]


this next image shows the door panel blank and the original panel with the template bit loaded in my router table. I use that term loosely because my router table use to be an end table that I converter. I told you I was cheap. Now you don't have to have a router table, you can use a regular router but you would have to router your blank with the original on the bottom. As you can see, I have the bearing just a little higher than the material I'll be cutting through. A quick zip around the panel and I will have an exact duplicate of the original.
[IMG][/IMG]


This last picture shows my new back panel after making a pass across the router table with the template bit. As long as you have a guide or an original you can make exact duplicates in minutes. From start to finish this process took me about 15 minutes.
[IMG][/IMG]

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post #11 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 17th, 17, 11:57 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Moving forward... I have my perimeter and inner supports glued into place for the top panel. I glued my speaker rings to the bottom of the top panel already, just to ensure that the speaker hole aligned properly. You will also see that I have some 1/4 panel glued to the bottom panel in the center. This will create my leading edge of the cove when I fiberglass the top panel to the bottom panel.

[IMG][/IMG]

I have the top panel glued to the supports and as soon as it dries I will start preparing the door panel for the fiberglass. You'll see that the top of panel is missing, this is because I will glue it on after the fiberglass step. If it wasn't for the way that I intend to fiberglass the cove I could build the top portion of the panel with fiberglass. I will have enough access to add the fiberglass mat to the cove area through access holes around the panel. Otherwise I would have to reinforce the jersey material from the top side with mat, which add thickness and requires a ton of sanding. By doing so from the back side I will be able to strengthen the first layer of jersey and resin but will maintain my flat top surface.

[IMG][/IMG]

In this step I'm attaching the jersey material to the door panel and will then apply the fiberglass resin. Using jersey allows you to create almost any shape you want. When covering your panel with the jersey material, be sure to stretch it tight and keep it tight when you attach it to the panel. I use a air stapler to attach the jersey to my panel. I stretched my jersey across the entire panel and stapled it down on the back, then, I reinserted the center panel to pull the jersey down and create my cove. This ensures that my jersey is nice and tight as well. I cover the edges of the center panel with tin foil to keep the resin from sticking to it during this process. I also clamped the end of the panel and weighted the center and front areas with lead shot to hold the panel down and in place. Keep in mind future steps when stapling the jersey to your panel, you don't want staples in an area where you will be running a router bit over later. Hitting a metal staple with your router bit can damage the bit.

[IMG][/IMG]

I use a 'chip brush' to apply the resin, these things are cheap and can be bought at any home improvement store. Be sure to saturate the jersey material completely to ensure that it is adhered properly to the wood surfaces and that it maintains it's shape as it dries. I'll let the resin set over night and then do the fiberglass reinforcing...

[IMG][/IMG]

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post #12 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 19th, 17, 1:00 AM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

First I trimmed my panel of the excess jersey material which will allow me to continue with adding fiberglass mat to the back side of the cove to support and strengthen it. I'll be able to access the back side of the cove through the 'grill' opening and the top of the panel where I have yet to attach the top portion.

[IMG][/IMG]

I started by flipping the panel over and clamped it at angle that would allow me to see and work on the back side of the cove. I cut fiberglass mat to the width of the cove and inserted inside the panel on the back side of the cove.

[IMG][/IMG]

Made 2 trips around the cove with mat and resin. Now, just waiting for it to set up. I mix my resin pretty 'hot' so that it set quickly, usually within 20 minutes it is set to the point that I can continue working without fear of creating issues.

[IMG][/IMG]

Now that it has sat long enough for me to be able to handle it I will glue and clamp the top portion of the top panel in place. I also used my air nailer to add a few nails in the supports to ensure that it stays where I want it. Also, I threw in the speaker grill, my kick grill, and center panel just to make sure that I still have plenty of clearance moving forward.

[IMG][/IMG]

So far I have made the entire panel out of 4'x4' of material. When cutting out the cove area I was able to save the 'waste' from the cove area to create the center panel. At this point I have less than $15 in the entire panel. The grill at the bottom of the panel was incorporated to take place of the more common carpet that you usually see at the bottom of door panels to protect the panel from people kicking it when getting in and out of the car.

In installments to come you will see that I have some red plexi that I will be adding behind the grill and when the door is opened, or the courtesy lights are turned on, it will illuminate the grill area. The actual grill was created on my CNC, it comprises 204 hexagons and a place to add a Chevelle emblem in the center. While possible to cut this by hand I can't image that it would be very much fun. However, You can buy metal grill from various places on the internet, places that sell materials for speakers or other audio supplies are places I have found it.

1966 Malibu, 540 BBC FAST XFI EFI, 4L80E Trans, 2800 Stall, Quick Performance 59" 9" Ford Rear End w/3.50 gear
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post #13 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 19th, 17, 5:00 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

MOVED TO POST #16

COULDN'T EDIT AND ADD PHOTOS TO THIS POST



1966 Malibu, 540 BBC FAST XFI EFI, 4L80E Trans, 2800 Stall, Quick Performance 59" 9" Ford Rear End w/3.50 gear

Last edited by 66 Bu; Apr 20th, 17 at 3:46 AM. Reason: pictures
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post #14 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 19th, 17, 5:09 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

hopefully you all can see the images in the previous post... I was having a ton of issue with photobucket so I went to google and the first time I used their link they didn't show up. I edited it again and used a different link so hopefully they show...

UPDATE: MOVED PREVIOUS POST TO POST 16, YOU CAN DISREGARD THIS POST

1966 Malibu, 540 BBC FAST XFI EFI, 4L80E Trans, 2800 Stall, Quick Performance 59" 9" Ford Rear End w/3.50 gear

Last edited by 66 Bu; Apr 20th, 17 at 3:48 AM. Reason: PICTURE ISSUE IN ABOVE POST
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post #15 of 29 (permalink) Old Apr 20th, 17, 1:54 AM
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Re: Building Custom Door Panels For My '66, A Tutorial

Having some trouble seeing pics in post #13. Will try to view it again tomorrow.
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