Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to make wall panels

Okay, here are some basic points.
Everybody wants to shoot fast, but they want to set up and tear down even faster. Funny how that works.
The keys are lightness, durability, and simplicity of use.
Not everyone comes down to the club to get a nice weightlifting session in, and lots of them couldn't haul around a sixty-pound unit if they wanted to.
The wall panel is the basic barricade in action pistol. Your Correspondent is saddened by the growing predominance of snow fencing being used to make wall panels.
Yes, it's extremely cheap. Yes, it's extremely light. Yes, it does make for an easier time of clearing a stage after reset.
That last is a safety issue, and I'll cut that one a lot of slack. When you're the range officer, it's really, really important to know everything with a pulse is uprange of you except the shooter.
The others, well, okay, fine.
But snow fence can be seen through during the run, too. This allows the shooter to visually get a fix on things like targets before he or she gets there. To me, this is akin to cheating. At least, it reduces the challenge of the course. A sight picture being acquired a second and a half prior to arriving at the actual start of trigger-mashing is too... easy. It reduces the demand for shooting skill.
To say that viewpoint has been warmly challenged would not be an overstatement. Too bad; it's still true.
The safety aspect is beatable in other ways, which we'll get to.
It so happens Your Correspondent has passed the last 3.8 decades making walls and similar objects during the course of business. This means that, like any old tradesman, speed and efficiency are of high importance. So is doing the work exactly once. You don't last a long time in the trades without a good record for not producing callbacks.
(Here's another tip about old tradesmen: the most important thing inside their heads is a clock. Everything is about time. Everything. Time describes and delineates everything. Tick-tock, it all counts, it all adds up. Good quality work is a given; it's a baseline, but time is where it all gets serious.)
Anyway, there are a few important things the eager wall-making novice should know.
Most action-match wall panels are best made with decent-quality 2x2 lumber in their frames. Straight, non-cracky stuff that won't disintegrate over time, or warp out so bad it pulls off of the panel material.
Most of the time, you will do a better job if you simply predrill your holes for those kick-ass deck screws you're using. Splitting the end of the stick is a waste of wood and time.
Here are the primary rules for power-driving screws: Use a brand-new driver tip. Always. Use new screws. Always. And push straight and hard when driving. Hard. Don't let the tip walk up and out or you'll just be starting over.
To repeat: new parts, push harder.
I like to miter the corners of my frames. In this age of everybody's-got-a-chopsaw, it's not really that hard, and it gives a stronger, more long-lasting joint that allows you to install fasteners in two different directions. That's how it's stronger.
Getting metal fasteners on angles is really good for strength, too. Even a few degrees of angle can double the resistance to pullout, plus it sends the fastener in across the wood's grain so it doesn't just follow a ring and crack the wood.
Bracing the corners is where I see the most pain for enthused amateurs. Making little triangles of thin plywood and screwing them on over the 2x2 corner would work if done on a large scale, but not in teeny little 8x8" sections.
Inside brace your corners with right-angles of 2x4 instead, as shown below in the folder wall picture.
It only takes a few minutes and some short scrap material to make them, and they allow many more fasteners at several angles- really good stuff.
Put some exterior glue (Titebond II) or construction adhesive (Liquid Nails) in the joints before you put them together and you'll add a year or two to their life right there.
Plus, with the inside bracing, the panels are flat in section and can accept panel material easily, and stack and handle much more nicely. You'll see.
After all the corners are braced, you're likely to find that intermediate sticks aren't really so necessary, particularly if you use good panel materials in the first place, and not that infernal snow fence.
Snow fence not only likes to part ways with its frame when you don't want it to, it has no structural value. It can't help hold your panel together, or square.
Thin plywood (lauan underlayment) and plastic corrugated sign material (Corboard) in 1/4" nominal thickness can. Use it. It's not that expensive, for heaven's sake, and the wall panel will last three times as long without worrying about frantic-to-leave teardown crews breaking frame joints tossing your artwork around.
Glue that board down to the frames and corner braces and then screw it in place with twice as many screws as you think a sane person would use.
Two years from now, you won't regret the extra effort.
Now, at our club we came up with these 4x4' folders and are totally in love with the things. Done right with lauan skins, they weigh about 20 pounds, well within the strength range of your overpaid range help. Make them 6'2" tall and leave the bottom open like that so you can clear the range by looking underneath. You needed to spend more time on your prayer bones anyway. With this 4' wide layout, it uses exactly one 4x8' sheet per folder assembly. Drill holes in the bottom and top rails before your assemble them for ground spikes. With the panels glued on, they're well-nigh indestructible and so fun to use the setup guys will be giggling with joy.
They set up in seconds without even picking the screw gun up. Two spikes in the bottom rail at the outside corners will hold it in place fine for 30mph gusts. Add two more and you can take another ten knots.
They can be spotted up instantly so you can see your course develop before your eyes without the distraction of screwing panels to brackets.
A couple of inexpensive hinges is all the hardware. You don't need ports, but you can cut them if you can't help yourself.
A handful of these can do wonders for your setup time. Another important thing is that you can set a couple up and then start attaching conventional 8x4' wall panels (in trades-speak, the width is always the first number, followed by the height) to the folders and save on wall brackets big-time.

Now, you're going to need some wall brackets for all of the rest of those panels. We'll get to that later. Get your pilot drill and glue and get going.

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