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Old 12th September 2015, 12:00 AM   #1
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Default Cutting neat holes in anodized aluminum

I'm building a couple of valve pre-amps in extruded aluminum enclosures like these:
Click the image to open in full size.
I'm trying to make them look really nice as well as sound really nice. A few of my previous efforts are a bit too industrial looking for my better half.

So one thing I dont want to do with these is have the valve sockets mounted directly into the aluminum. Instead I want to slide a card of Tufnol into the enclosure on the runners below and mount the valve holders and turrets into that and have the top of the valves poking through neat holes in the aluminum. Like the Pro-ject tubebox but without the up-stands and rings around the valve.
Click the image to open in full size.
What do the experienced builders her think is the neatest way of cutting/drilling a hole in the aluminum without making a mess?
I was thinking step cutter perhaps? but they can be nasty and make a mess if they bite into the wall of the cut.
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Old 12th September 2015, 12:10 AM   #2
bwaslo is offline bwaslo  United States
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Greenlee (Q-max in UK) knockout punches. Check ebay, not horribly expensive.
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Old 12th September 2015, 12:19 AM   #3
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Do they cut cleanly in thin aluminum or do they warp the panel in the process?

Up to now i've used those xmas tree stepped bits in a pillar drill as i found them vastly better than regular drill bits, but they still aren't perfect.
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Old 12th September 2015, 12:42 AM   #4
nezbleu is offline nezbleu  Canada
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I have used the stepped drill bits as well, but always have to deburr and dress the hole with files to make it look decent. Punched holes are better but I'm sure you need to support the work properly to avoid warping. I don't know how thick of a panel you can punch with typical home tools.
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Old 12th September 2015, 12:43 AM   #5
nezbleu is offline nezbleu  Canada
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One could always fit some sort of a grommet to cover the raw metal edge.
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Old 12th September 2015, 01:14 AM   #6
bwaslo is offline bwaslo  United States
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The Greenlee or Qmax punches punch the metal between the bit and a thick rigid cylindrical steel cup -- no warping. They've been the gold standard for thin aluminum radio chassis for about the past 80 years...
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Old 12th September 2015, 02:45 AM   #7
JMFahey is offline JMFahey  Argentina
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The greenlee punches mentioned above do cut cleanly through aluminum, doubly so because you are not cutting soft, thin, rolled sheet aluminum where they *might* but thicker extruded aluminum, which has a different alloy composition, is more rigid and which is cleaner cutting, has sharper defined edges.
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Old 12th September 2015, 03:02 AM   #8
Sprags is offline Sprags  United States
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I would just program my DMG MORI Lasertec 65 to laser cut the holes. The problem with laser depending on how thick the material is reflash or the melted material that reattaches to the base material before its cooled and hardened. The edge gets better when you cut in an sealed chamber flooded with inert gas. OK...not really my machine but I could use it if I really wanted to at my place of business.

If it were just me I'd cut very carefully using a grinding bit and a Dremel. I have steady hand so I could get it the hole so round you'd think it was machine cut.
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Old 12th September 2015, 09:13 AM   #9
JMFahey is offline JMFahey  Argentina
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Well, if you accept sending it somewhere else, XYZ CNC milling machines, even small hobby type ones can do an excellent job.

A friend of mine makes excellent custom microphone preamps for Recording Studios (such as clones of old Neve/Switchcraft/etc.) , he bought one such machine which has a tiny worktable, say 2 printer sheets side by side, and he does *everything* on them, from XLR connector holes, rectangular ones for switches, slots for slider pots, screw and LED holes, windows for digital displays or needle VU meters, the works.
It's slow ... who cares? ... it can be left working while he does something else.
He cuts all holes, has the panel anodized, then cuts lettering and graphics so they stand engraved silver on a black or coloured background or he fills them with coloured wax crayons.

Very tasty.

Not telling you to buy such a machine (although they are not expensive) but find somebody close who owns one.
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Old 12th September 2015, 09:49 AM   #10
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Default Hole saw

Hi

What about just using a hole saw. The ones we use for wood or electricians use for walls. They come in many different diameters and I think they can cut aluminium. You might have to smoothen the edges after. But you will have a round hole for starters.

best regards
uwe
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