DIY Acoustic Panels II: The Frame Up

Back In January, I posted a video that shows how to make some studio-quality DIY acoustic panels out of Owens Corning 703 insulation, and some slotted angle steel. A bend here, a bolt there, slap in some fibreglass and pretty soon you had yourself one of these:
IMG_0176 Let me first say that, aesthetically speaking, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using these panels as shown above. I have a few hung this way and the grey frames and yellow insulation is not a bad look, frankly. I have read that there is a health risk with leaving the insulation exposed (as microscopic fibres from the fibreglass have a greater opportunity to become airborne where they might cause respiratory problems). I can tell you that I have personally not experienced any breathing ailments with the fibreglass left exposed, but, as always, your milage may vary. Just for clarity, I am not saying you should hang these panels without covering them, only that you can. There, take THAT, lawyers.
Although I had no issue leaving them ‘nude’, I decided that the aesthetics and additional abrasion resistance was worth the additional expense in covering the panels.
The type of fabric is worth consideration. I have been told publicly by the manufacturer of a very fine commercial acoustic treatment system that any fabric that you can blow through is acoustically transparent enough to use for covering panels. I’m sure this is an accurate statement. There are lots of fabric types which fit this criteria - Cotton, Jute, Burlap - just visit any Fabricland and start blowing on the fabrics. (Yes, you will get strange looks doing this.) Initially, I considered Burlap bags or coffee bags as cover up, which would have worked well to contain any stray fibres and also provide some abrasion resistance. I rejected this idea when I started thinking about fire retardancy, which, when using recycled burlap, would be less than non-existent. So, I went with what the major studios use: Guilford Of Maine FR701. This stuff is loosely woven, but not so loose that you’d see the fiberglass underneath, highly abrasion resistant and also flame resistant to keep the insurance adjuster happy.
So - how to go about covering these babies?
I considered simply making a fabric bag with a draw-string on the backside to cinch them up, but I was concerned that I would not get the necessary tension leaving the finished product looking kind of lumpy and diaper-like. Not a good look.
Next I envisioned an elaborate series of eyelets and aircraft cable and turn-buckle tensioners. This, I’m convinced would have worked very well - although when I started doing the math on the necessary parts costs I was far less enamoured with the idea.
So, we end up with what you’re about to see: Small 1"X2" frames are constructed out of scrap fenceboard ripped to size; Pocket joints are drilled and screws are used to affix one 1"X2" to the next.
Then I’ll show you how to cover them with fabric. IMG_0153IMG_0154IMG_0155IMG_0156DIY Acoustic Panel Frame
So, here we go. We need to construct a frame so that we’ve got something to staple the fabric to. This doesn’t need to be substantial wood, really, as all the tension will be against the slotted angle steel and it is plenty robust. We only need some 1”X2” frames. I decided to rip a few fence boards that I had laying around to do the job, but you could just as easily use store-bought 1”X2” boards. This is what we need to end up with basically:


Assuming you’ve either got your 1”X2”’s or have them ripped like me, the next step is to measure up your steel frames. My measurements worked out thusly:


Your measurements may vary, but assuming you followed the video, they should be accurate. Do a test run though just to make sure I didn’t bugger up the numbers when I wrote them down. To cut these in quantity, I made a template cut:
And used it to line up the next board:


Then, I moved my “template board” away so as to not mangle it while cutting a copy:
Then make my cut:
I made all of my cuts first then set up my assembly process. I had never used pocket screws before for jointery, but the process was made painless with this Jig by Kreg Tools:

This jig wasn’t the cheapest but it was worth every penny - the screw holes turned out perfect. I’m not worried about the additional expense, I can see myself using this jig for much more complex duties than it is shown doing here. The idea with the jig is this: You need to adjust for depth (I found 1/2” is the depth you need to set the jig to):
Then set the bit depth stop to the same value using the handy guide inside the case:
Then set up the jig on the long pieces of board (you’re going to apply the screws through the long pieces into the short pieces of board, so the pockets need to be through this board) make sure it is flush with the end of the board:

Then clamp the jig and set the bit in your drill:
I’m sure you can figure out what happens next, but for the sake of completeness:

And you end up with these:
Fantastic! Now clamp the two boards together into the correct position using a carpenters square to make sure everything is just:
And apply the screws:
That’s it! This process happens three more times and then you end up with one of these:
And ultimately a pile like this:


Next time, I’ll show you how to wrap these so that you finally end up with this thing of beauty:
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