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A.S.S. Tech Building a hammer formed gauge cluster

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  • The first step in producing your own custom gauge cluster is finding a proper mounting location on the vehicle. This is usually somewhere out of the way and can be easily seen by the driver.
  • This is a good time to create a template; the pattern will help you find the correct shape and location of the gauges on the cluster. Do not get discouraged, it may take several attempts to achieve the proper look you are going for but it’s well worth the extra time spent on this step. Template paper eliminates the time and wasted material by having to remake the piece several times.
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  • The contour of the mounting location on this project had quite a bit of curve to it. I opted to use a contour gauge and I transferred these measurements to my template paper. Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.58.00 AM
  • Next, a hammer form will be created out of wood. The wood chosen for this project was plywood, only because it was readily available at the time. I would not suggest plywood because it tends to be too soft and can create bumps in your finished part. MDF or medium-density fiberboard would be a better selection. The template can now be placed on the board and drawn out.  Another border will be added to account for the flange that will be hammered over. An extra quarter to a half-inch can be added with a compass scribe following the original template line created. This will be the portion that the router will be used on, so depending on the curvature of the flange and router bit size, this determines how much needs to be added to the form. The wood was cut on a band saw and then routed. The top flange that will be used for mounting will not have a radius; this was left with a hard edge to be hammered over.  Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.58.10 AM
  • A second board will be cut out to match the size of the template. This will be used to sandwich the aluminum panel between the boards.  Do not add an extra border on this board.
  • The aluminum chosen for this project was .063 3003 h14 or half hardened. The template will be used again to draw out the design on the aluminum. Don’t forget to add a border around the template and I would suggest using no more than 3/4 of an inch, as it can be difficult to get the metal to shrink around the corners if any larger.  You can use a small strip of paper on the radius of your form to get a measurement of the extra material needed for the border of your aluminum panel. Mark the paper at the template border line and the back edge of the board. Now measure your paper marks, this should give you the extra border you will need to add.
  • Once cut out, I chose to anneal the aluminum, which makes it much easier to shape. There are many articles on the Internet about this, I would suggest doing some research. I chose to use a small rose bud torch to anneal the piece. With a carburizing flame, the panel will be sooted completely black and then carefully burned off with a neutral flame. The temperature needs to be approximately 700 degrees in order to anneal the piece. This is a very delicate procedure, as it can get too hot and easily melt away.
  • The aluminum will now be sandwiched between the two pieces of wood and the template can be set on top of the smaller board so the gauge locations can be seen. Now, somewhere inside two of the gauge locations that have been chosen, will be drilled with an 1/8th inch drill bit and two small allen wrenches can be used as alignment pins in the holes to locate and keep the panel from shifting during the hammering process.  I chose to drill inside the gauge holes since these will be drilled out for the gauges later. Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.58.22 AM
  • Once the panel is aligned, the work piece will need to be clamped in a vice or with c-clamps. The more clamps the better; this allows the panel to be completely hammered over without taking on a different shape then what was preferred.  Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.58.33 AM
  • I would suggest creating a corking tool, which is basically a glorified piece of wood with a tapered end that can be used to hammer the edge down properly. This can be easily made with a 2×2 piece of hardwood and carved to a rounded end in a linear fashion.  Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.58.42 AM
  • Now, the fun begins.  Once the piece is clamped together, a ball peen hammer will be chosen in conjunction with the corking tool to hammer over the edges. The piece will start off very ugly as the hammering process begins. It will buckle around the edges and the buckles will be hammered down allowing the aluminum to shrink together. Once most of the flange has been hammered over and there are fewer and less severe buckles, you can switch over to a plastic mallet to finish off the flange.
  • Once the shaping is complete, the lower board can be left inside the aluminum cavity to help drill out the gauge holes with a hole saw. The piece can now be sanded to have a brushed look, it can be polished, or it can even be engine turned, this depends on your preference. I chose the brushed look for our 50 Merc.Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 10.58.54 AM

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