There has been some comment on this topic lately and I do like to add my two 
cents when I have actual experience to share. This is one of areas of building 
that a lot of us think about from the very first day. And while that is a good 
idea you should do your best to try and make it one of the last items completed 
during construction. Most builds will not be as long as mine but when I laid 
out the first version of my panel I had all the very latest stuff in it. The 
latest vacuum artificial horizon and turn & bank, a 9" venturi to power them 
and a top of the line loran receiver. My point here is that things do change 
and I can just about guarantee you that the first version of the panel you come 
up with will NOT be the one you install in the airplane. All of this was done 
using the paper cutout method discussed previously and this works very well. 
Just be sure to print them out FULL scale.

My main point of all of this is the choice of material used on the instrument 
panel. If I had started with aluminum I would have at least ten pounds of 
"scrap" laying around and this stuff is not cheap to buy or ship as you will be 
looking for at least a three foot piece. Somehow I chose to us ΒΌ" plywood that 
I laid two layers of KR cloth on the front, followed by a silk weave, and a 
single layer on the back. I then did some minor finishing work and ended up 
with a very strong and stable panel that doesn't look like wood. But here is by 
far the best part. It is still the original panel that I started with. Did I 
switch from an automotive conversion to a Lycoming? From a separate radio, 
transponder, intercom stack to a built in Dynon? Multiple general 
rearrangements including a future autopilot? Yes to all and it was quite easy. 
Remove the item and scarf the edges of its cutout. Make a scarf plug. Glue and 
glass in place and the panel is ready for the next change. Even if you end up 
cutting through the scarf joint the panel is just as solid as it always was. 
Sure if it was aluminum I could cut a plug and weld it in place but I couldn't 
do that installed in the airplane with the instruments attached. You can if it 
is made out of wood.

Ok, rambled enough. Aluminum is a very viable option for an instrument panel I 
just don't think it is as forgiving as wood.

Stephen Teate
Paradise, Texas

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