If you like to build various electronic projects an easy way to get a great looking panel for holding knobs and switches is to use a piece of brushed aluminum.
The first thing that you want to do is pick up an 1/8th inch thick piece of aluminum, there are some common sizes of flat bar that you can pick up at most home improvement stores or you can order exactly what you need online.
Example: Flat Aluminum Stock
Next you can mark and drill the holes that you need for your specific project but once you are all done with that the panel looks pretty rough.
To get that brushed aluminum look all you need to do is sand the aluminum in a straight line. Depending on how your panel attaches to the final project you will need to sand first before installing it, or if the entire front face is the panel then you can glue it down first, and sanded afterwards.
Either way we want to setup a fence to guide our sanding block to help us keep straight lines. For one panel I clamped two boards in my vise, one flat and the other upright to act as a guide while sanding, and I used some loops of blue painters tape to stick the panel down to the flat piece of scrap wood. Double sided tape would work better for this but I had the blue tape on hand.
The process is mostly the same for the box, however I clamped the box and the fence boards in the vise, used a second board to space the fence board away from the box, that way I can sand all the way to the edge of the panel.
Next we want to sand with 220 grit sand paper in a sanding block. Since this panel was bigger than my sanding block I used a scrap of wood and some old cardboard for padding to make a bigger sanding block.
In order to get a nice brushed aluminum look we want to follow the fence and sand in perfectly straight lines. Since I have some deep scratches from drilling this hole and punching in letters I sanded quickly back and forth to cut down on the amount of time it would take to get those out. Then once the panel started to look pretty good, I switched to only sanding in one direction all the way through the entire panel.
Now that all the scratches and paint were removed from the panel I switched to 320 grit sand paper and continued the same process. You really can use whatever grit you want and it will give you either a finer or more pronounced brushed look. I wanted it to be a little finer on this then just the 220 so I went up to 320.
Once I had nice straight lines with the 320 grit sand paper, I used a green scouring pad to further clean up the front of the panel and even out the finish.
Since this panel won’t see a ton of use I am not too worried about protecting it, but I did apply paste wax over the panel at the same time that I was finishing the wood box. If you were looking to add an extra layer of protection to your panel, then I would recommend using a clear coat paint that is made for aluminum wheels, and that should give you more protection than you would ever need.
And that is really all there is to it, all you need is some sandpaper and patience and you can get some really nice, professional looking panels for your DIY projects.