Hints & Tips

Plexiglass Control Panels

Professional looking Control panels can be easily made, using Plexiglass and some usual tools and ingredients.

Shown at right is one of several small Control panels (actual size : approx. 5 x 3.5 in) that I'm using on my layout, for local control. It was built using the technique described below. My main yard is also controlled from a large Control panel (24 x 8 in), built the same way.

Working with Plexiglass

The basic material for these panels is 1/10 in. thick Plexiglass which can be bought as large sheets or cut to size.

Be careful when handling and working with Plexiglass which is fragile and can be easily scratched. It is usually delivered with protective films on both sides and I recommend keeping these films in place as long as possible (at least on the "front" side, since everything will be done on the "back" side).

Plexiglass can be cut either using a hacksaw or by deeply scoring it with the back of a hobby knife blade and then breaking it. In both cases, you'll need to finish the edges by sanding with medium, then fine sandpaper.

Hint : Scratches on Plexiglass can be reduced (or removed) by polishing it with copper cleanser.

Designing the Control panel

Once the components to be placed on the panel, and the panel size are determined, it's time to do some design.

The schematic of the tracks is drawn and all electrical components (switches, indicators...) are located on the schematic. But the trick, here, is to make a "reverse" schematic (i.e. a mirror image of the finished panel, as shown on the figure at left), since we are going to work from the bottom side of the panel, looking at the schematic through it.

I used a CAD program to design my panels the right way up (which is less confusing !), made the mirror image at the end of the process and printed the schematic.

Making the panel

I cut the panel to size, finished its edges and removed the protective film from one side : this will be the "back" side of the panel.

At this point, I sanded the "back" side with 600 grit sandpaper to give it some "tooth" for subsequent painting (paint does not hold well on Plexiglass). Don't worry, this does not alter the panel finish and does not prevent seing through it.

I taped the panel to the schematic, "back" side up. Using a small drill bit, in a pin vise, I made dimples at locations where holes need to be drilled. Then I laid out the track diagram and panel frame, according to the schematic, with small width ornamental tape (several width available). Finally, I spray painted the whole "back" side with black paint.

When the paint was set, I removed all pieces of tape and put the panel aside to let the paint dry. After the paint has thoroughly dried, I brush painted the tracks and the panel frame with various colors.

When everything was dry, I drilled the holes guided by the dimples made earlier. Here, the key to success is to first pre-drill all holes with a small drill bit (1 to 2 mm diameter) and then drill the final hole using drill bits for wood which have a centering point and a reversed sharpening angle. I worked very slowly, to avoid cracking, breaking or melting Plexiglass, and made all holes in two passes, drilling halfway through the panel from each side.

Most of my Control panels are "self explanatory" and don't require lettering. For them, the process ends here. For the others, I applied dry transfer lettering on the "front" side and sealed them with clear, glossy finish. Another technique would be to apply "reversed" lettering on the "back" side, before painting and remove the lettering, once the paint is set, using adhesive tape. But, I could not find any "reversed" lettering yet... (I'm sure it can be found some place...)

The panel is now ready for installing electrical components and wiring.

Installing the Control panel

The small Control panels were directly attached to the fascia, using screws.

The large panel I use to control my main yard had to be reinforced because it is movable (hinged for access to wiring) and Plexiglass is quite flexible in such large sizes. Reinforcing the panel was done using plywood cut to the same size as the Plexiglass panel and opened to clear for switches, indicators... The Plexiglass panel was then attached to the plywood, using double sided foam tape located all around the panel and at intervals, in between.

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Page created by Jean-Louis Simonet
Last update : 10/30/1998
© 1998, Jean-Louis Simonet