CHEAP AND EASY DASH REFINISHING
CHEAP AND EASY DASH REFINISHING
If you get a chance to travel to the Continent, take a look at the condition of the dash facias that you see there, if they are wood or veneered, chances are, if the car has been reasonably maintained, the dash is in good condition The reason is very simple: There is little variation over a wide range of temperature and humidity, as is the case here in the United States This is the man cause of the cracking that seems to strike most of us owners of these Lotus cars here; in summer, it gets scorchingly hot in the day and relatively cool during the night. This continuous cycle fatigues the finish of the dash, causing the surface to crack and peel away from the plywood base it is attached to.
So, how do you preserve the dash panel that you do have without spending upwards of $150 for a new one (if you can find it)? The answer is simple, the work doesn't require any fancy skills (I am a radio engineer and managed to do it), and the best part is it costs only about $30 for the materials and a few hours of time, spread over a couple of days. I am talking about reveneering the dash panel.
The dash, as supplied by Lotus, is a veneered, ½-inch plywood board with various cutouts for gauges, switches and other display/convenience implements. The veneer consists of a 1/32-inch walnut sheet, bonded to this plywood and coated by a polymer sealer. It is the thickness of the sealer that causes delamination.
The main thing to remember is that the dash, when it is removed from the car, should have the battery cable disconnected and the location of all wires attached to the backside of the dash marked A little time spent in doing this first will save much grief later, when the dash is replaced and you realize that there is a rat's nest of wires and the last copy of the wiring diagram has been eaten by your attack cat. The safest course to follow is to begin by reading and following the section m your workshop manual (What? You don't have one????) pertaining to the removal of the dash. All of the instruments must be removed, and the back marked as to their placement.
This should leave a plywood base (with a few remaining pieces of veneer) in relatively good condition. If you don't want to attack the dash in quite this manner, a good furniture finish stripper can be used to lift the old veneer and get the plywood to its "before" state Make sure, if you use this method, that the stripper is completely removed according to the directions on its container.
The next step is the preparation of the surface. Use 400-grit sandpaper to smooth out the rough spots in the dash and generally clean up the surface. Finish the job with 600-grit finishing paper and clean the surface, checking to make sure that it is smooth to the touch. This step is necessary to insure that there will be a good surface for the veneer to bond to. Time spent here in assuring a good surface will yield dividends later on.
When the surface is fully prepared, you are ready to move on to the man point of this exercise, which is the reapplication of the veneer coat and the sealing of the new finish. Follow each of the steps below carefully (perhaps checking them off as completed), and the results will be better than the original.
(1) Coat both the backside of the veneer sheet of the proper wood grain and the face of the dash with the veneer glue. Let dry for 30 minutes then apply a second coat, also allowing 30 minutes for drying (for maximum bonding strength). Inspect the glue when the second coat is drying, it should be uniform and cover the entire sheet of veneer for the size of the dash, and the dash face should also have the same amount and thickness of glue. The trick here is not to use too much; an even coat is what you are looking for.
(2) When the glue is dry, it is time to bond it to the dash panel. Very carefully (no second chances here, gang), with the veneer face down and the grain running the way you want it (in relation to the dash), place the dash face down on it, starting at the top. You should be on a fiat surface large enough to accommodate the dash, and careful is the word here. As the dash comes into contact with the veneer's back side, it will instantly (if not faster) adhere, and removal is impossible (believe me). If you do make a mistake at this stage, the only recourse is to leave the veneer m place, and veneer to the face of the newly applied veneer.
(3) After the bonding is completed, turn the dash cum veneer over, and use a rolling pin to smooth the veneer to the dash. Run your hand over the surface, checking for high spots, and if you find any, a timely application of the pin will force it down. When you are finished with this step, you are almost there.
(4) Leave the dash to the side for a couple of hours (overnight, if possible) to allow the glue to completely dry.
(5) The next step is to cut out the openings that are covered right now. Work from the front of the panel with an extremely sharp X-acto knife or equivalent. The suggested method is to puncture through the middle of each cutout, then trim to the edges around the opening, and sand the edge. Also, don't forget to trim around the screw holes and glovebox opening. (If any Elans should be veneered with the door in place, minus the hinges...)
(6) Now to finish the preparation for refinishing. Lightly sand the surface of the veneer with 600-grit and clean it off. Then apply the first coat of clear polyurethane sealer (following the directions on the can), but not too thickly. What you are striving for here is a succession of many thin coats, sanded between, rather than one thick coat (which brought on the trouble in the first place). Let the coat fully dry. Then, you can sand it (using 600-grit), letter it (using white Letraset #(683)54-12-CLN, which is Microgramma Bold Extended 12 pt.), and seal it with a sealer specifically designed for this type of rub-on lettering; or, you can skip this step (I did) by sanding and then directly proceeding to build up the finish, sanding between each coat with 800-grit paper. Four coats is a good number to shoot for; fewer than that will leave the dash with questionable protection, but too many more will lead to cracking in a few years.
(7) When the surface is sanded and sealed to your liking, clean it with a tack rag, apply one final, thin coat of sealer, and allow it to dry completely. Sand this final coat with 1200-grit paper to complete the job.
(8) Finally, after reversing the directions that the workshop manual listed for the removal of the dash, and reconnecting the wires in the locations you noted they came from (You didn't????) by their labels, you should be looking at a better-than-original dash panel, with the deep finish that helped to attract you to the car in the first place. With proper care (a dash cover is suggested here), this refinishing will last much longer than your ownership of the car. and will add to its resale value. should you ever want to let someone adopt it.
For more information on veneer and supplies for this project, contact either myself or the following supplier of veneer supplies (catalogue is 50¢)
Albert Constantine & Son, Inc
2050 Eastchester Road
Bronx. NY 10461
For the record, this procedure was first done on a 1970 S2 Europa (my own), and subsequently on two Elans, a JPS Europa and a Plus 2S So far, no cracking and there is peace in the valley.... I would be happy to answer any inquiries about this technique; contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Bryan Boyle