My small theater room is currently in the process of being rebuilt. Brick walls, a concrete ceiling, and wood floors translate to a room which rings like a bell. I've finally got some furniture in place and will be adding an area rug, but I also figured it might be useful to add a few acoustic panels to help absorb some of the wall reflections where possible. I looked at the options and found a number of how-to guides for building fabric covered panels, but that seemed a little boring. I then found a few sites
that would print up movie poster style panels which seemed perfect. What didn't seem perfect was the $500+ asking price for each panel! I figured there had to be a better way, where "better" == "cheaper".
In short, an acoustic panel consists of a frame supporting the absorbing material wrapped in absorbing or transparent fabric. I'll cover each of these items separately, followed by a build log detailing the construction process.Absorbing Material
The first order of business is some material to actually absorb the sound. There are plenty of guides
for DIY panels around the internet, and the general consensus seems to be that Owens-Corning 703
glass fiber panels work pretty well. Roxul mineral board
or mineral wool is another favorite. There are also plenty of lower-priced equivalent materials with similar specs from other companies. You can find this material online or check with a local insulation dealer. These materials are typically used for HVAC insulation, so you might find HVAC suppliers will carry what you're looking for as well. The standard size is 2' x 4'. In my case I had a local dealer which had JM 1000
panels in stock in the size I needed for $8 each out the door. As an aside - when I stopped by the local insulation shop looking for OC703 or equivalent, the guy I was talking to asked if I was making acoustic panels. Apparently I'm not the first person they've talked to about this kind of project! Anyway, don't be afraid to call up your local insulation guys - they do this stuff for a living and can be a great source of friendly experience.
Without going into too much detail, thicker material will absorb better across the spectrum and will also absorb lower. If you check the spec sheet linked above, you'll find the following table which illustrates this pretty clearly:
1 inch will be an absolute minimum and you can go up to 4" with most panels. In my case, the room is small already so hanging 4" panels on the wall is a non-starter. I went with 1½" material just for aesthetic purposes. 2" seems to be a common choice. If you're going with non-OC board for a lower price (and I suggest that you do), you're going to want something that's 3 lbs/cu foot or more.Frame
The frame material will surround and support the fiber board and provide a rigid surface for stretching the printed fabric. Again, there are plenty of guides for creating a frame online. Otherwise, check local art supply stores for canvas stretcher bars
. These are pre-cut materials used by artists for creating strong, square frames to mount ("stretch") canvas for hanging paintings and the like. They are dead simple to work with and can be assembled with few or no tools. The downside is that you don't often have a choice for how deep the frame will be to allow for 2" or greater material. Also, they can be expensive once everything is ordered. If you haven't figured this out by now, I'm cheap, so I made my own. I chose to rip a 2x4" to create 1¼" bars then tacked on ¼" quarter-round shoe molding to create a 1½" deep frame. Total wood cost for the four 1'x3' frames was $15.Art
Finally, you need the printed poster! For this you are going to need two things: some source artwork, and somebody to print it on fabric. You can find source art all over the internet. If you don't mind spending a couple dollars this
can be a good source. Otherwise, google image search can be helpful. You are going to be blowing this up to poster size so you are going to need high-resolution images to start with. Anything under 1000-2000 pixels high is probably not going to look too good. In my case, I selected a series of four posters
from the movie Goldfinger, blew them up a bit with third party software
, then touched up the final results to smooth out the resulting image (having a professional photographer wife helps with these steps).
Next, you need to get this printed. There are loads of shops that offer digital canvas printing - you don't want this! Canvas prints are great for art reproduction, but are very thick and won't transmit sound to the material inside at all. What you want is printed fabric. Your options may vary depending on where you are, but I found Spoonflower
in the US and they are great! They have a variety of fabrics, a super-easy to use website, and can print large-format fabrics for cheap. The site also allows you to share posters you've uploaded. You can find mine here
. You can order a fabric sample set from them to get an idea of what the options are. The fabric needs to be thin enough to transmit sound while still being thick enough to allow a decent print. You'll want to stay away from stretchable materials as they will be nearly impossible to mount. After reviewing the sample set then ordering a couple printed samples, I've found that the standard "quilting weight" fabric offers the best balance between print density and acoustic transparency. [update: mtbdudex is a stud and tested the Spoonflower "Quilting Weight" fabric for acoustic transparency here. Short version - it works great!
] My order for the 4 posters came to $36 shipped and arrived in about 2 weeks with standard shipping.
After additional materials (some adhesives, fasteners, etc), this whole endeavor added up to just under $80 for 4 panels. That's more my price!
Full length view of 4 completed panels
Corner detailBuild Process
First - a disclaimer. This isn't intended to be a "how to", rather it's more of a build log of how I made my first panels. My woodworking skills would charitably be described as "novice". Feel free to adapt and improve upon what you see here, and don't assume that just because I'm doing it one way that you shouldn't do it another.
The first step is to build out the frame. I'll be making the remaining three panels which are 1'x3' each. I'm starting with a few lengths of 2x4 that I bought from HD because they were cheap. I then ripped them down to 1¼" square for the body of the frame. You can likely find pre-cut pieces to fit your project at the local lumber yard, or you might get them to cut the pieces for you.
I then tacked a ¼" shoe molding to the bars to create the stretcher bar. The idea is to create a narrow point of contact around the edge for the fabric so the wood frame underneath doesn't show through as much. For whatever reason this method doesn't appear in any of the DIY panel guides I've read, nor is it used for any of the (mostly overpriced) DIY "kits" for making your own panels. I don't know why this is - in the art world you simply don't stretch a canvas over a frame without doing something similar. Here is an end view of the pieces before cutting, and a shot of the molding being tacked to the frame. I've highlighted the outline in red to give you a better view of the profile. I'm using a brad nailer here, but you can use a regular hammer and nails if you want. Just make sure to use small nails (brads) to keep from splitting the wood.
Once the molding is attached, use a miter saw to cut the pieces to length. You can get a cheap miter box from your local hardware store for $10-$20 if you don't have one. I'd really recommend against just cutting this by hand without either a miter box or chop saw or similar - you're going to want these cuts to be 45° on the nose. Here's a look at the cutting process, along with the finished edge and finally the parts for 3 complete frames (six 3' pieces and six 1' pieces).
Next you need to assemble the frame. Some corner clamps help here, or just use a square edge and some normal clamps. Run some wood glue along the inside mating surfaces in the corner, then tack each corner with nails or counter-sunk screws. Once these are together, sand them down so the outside edges are smooth. If necessary, throw some wood filler in any gaps you might have. It doesn't have to be pretty, just relatively uniform in color without any gaps or uneven edges.
For these next few steps I'm going to be handling the bare fiberglass. This is nasty stuff, something a trip to the urgent care clinic taught me at a very young age. At a bare minimum, wear long sleeves, gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask. You really
don't want this crap in your lungs or eyes (trust me on this), and it's irritating on your skin too. Do not screw around here - the gear is cheap.
First you need to cut the panel. Here I've laid my frame on top of the piece of fiberglass and used a marker to mark the edges. You can then use a box cutter or similar to cut through the panel. Once it's cut it should fit relatively snug inside the frame.
Once the panel is fit into the frame you might want to take the additional step of using an adhesive to make sure it stays put. I've run a bead of Liquid Nails along the edge and then smoothed it down with a disposable brush. I'm using the "projects" type as it's easy to work with and happens to match the color fairly well so it won't be visible afterwards.
Finally it's time to get the print stapled to the frame. First, make sure the work is ready to mount by ironing out any wrinkles. If it's dirty for whatever reason, run it through the wash. Remember - this is fabric intended for use with clothing, so ironing and washing is OK! Once the art is ready, center the piece on the frame and tack it in the middle of each edge. You'll be working from the back (still with gloves!), so it might take a couple tries to get it lined up perfectly. Don't be afraid to pull staples and try again if needed.
Now work your way out from the center of each edge. Once you get to the corners, you will need to square off the corners like a bedsheet. I've kept the folds on the top and bottom of the frame as those will likely be less visible than the sides.
Once you've got the entire piece stapled, you are going to want to add some sort of backing material to keep the fiberglass from getting into the air in your room. I simply used an old white bed sheet, you can use whatever you might have lying about the house. The color and condition shouldn't really matter as nobody is going to see it anyway.
After everything is stapled, you'll probably still have a few minor wrinkles. I've found wrinkle releaser
from your local grocery will work wonders. Just spray the final panel down with this stuff and the wrinkles will pretty well disappear. Now add a sawtooth picture hanger, hanging wire, cleats, or whatever works best on your wall to get it mounted. I used a sawtooth hanger because I'm mounting to a rough brick wall which prevents me from any chance of actually firmly mounting these panels. You might find using a simple cleat will provide a stable solution to mount to more traditional walls.
Once it's mounted, you are then ready for the final and most important step - taking pictures and posting them here!