One of the things that conveys the elegance and warmth in older cars is the richness, depth of colour and soft touch of the wood trim and dash. Unfortunately, a mistique has grown around how this is accomplished and the mistaken belief that the quality of wood is no longer available except at considerable expense. Thus many restorers accept inferior quality or resign themselves to unnecessary expense when in fact it should represent minimal work or cost in an overall restoration project.

At this point, I reflect my own bias – I use solid woods even though some original factory models used ply, laminates or chipboards with veneers. The plywoods available, even the roost expensive, do not have the graining required for dashes, can’t be matched with solids for trim and the outer surface is so thin that it chips and splinters, For the purest, he can laminate a dash out of 1/8 ” or 1/4 ” stock of quality wood. In terms of quality, the selection is available, but you won’t find it at your local lumber yard. Boat suppliers or wholesalers to the car- trade cabinate makers have it – even the grain matched materials. When purchasing the wood, specify #1 select stock, shake free. This means you select the board from his pile. You may have to go through 20 pieces before you find the piece you like, but its worth the exersize. For sills, edging pieces and quarter rounds, you need quarter sawn wood, ie it’s cut 90 to the grain (see Dia. #1). This gives straight lined grain.
Dia. #1 (the restorer may use the Face with or without a grain pattern)
For pieces to be used for the dash, you want (in most cases) preominant grain patterns. In order to get this, the wood must be cut diagonally across the grain (see Dia. #2).

Dia. #2

For the person who wants to spend a little time searching the woodpile, a piece with a knot car make an elegant dash. Depending upon your ability to haggle, this wood can he a little cheaper because the grain pattern car create difficulty for the furniture maker.(see Dia. #3).

Top View (Face)
(The knot is cut out for an instrument, radio, etc.)
Dia. #3.

Once you have selected the wood, have it faced or dressed (smooth planed) both sides (and edge) to the required thickness, This acconplishes two things; a) it gives you a relatively smooth suirface from which to begin and b) identifies shakes or splits in the wood (which is a reject).
Once you have your wood, spend some time identifing the grain. This can be done by wetting with water. Locate the best graining for the dash and from a template made from the original, out it out taking care not to splinter edges. Drill all mounting holes, instrument recesses, etc., fit all parts to make sure that screw holes align etc. and test fit the dash (or any part) in the car

Dia. #4
To finish the wood, you’ll require a sanding block (make it – see Dia.#4), #80, #100, #220, and #360 dry sandpaper, #400 & #600 wet sandpaper, turpentine, marine spar varnish (chilled), top quality brushes (2), tack rag, and 3 or 4 soup cans (empty). Unless the wood has a very fine grain, It should not require staining.
Once the wood is cut and all fitting is complete, fether the edges and clamp to a flat surface (use clamping blocks, never clamp direct onto the wood,to be finished), and liberaly wet the surface with water. Allow this to dry for 3-5 days. Using the sanding blocks (and in all subsequent steps) and #80 paper, sand the entire surface, Wipe down with turpentine. This will identify scratches and raise the grain for subsequent sandings, NOTE: Always sand with the grain. Cross grain sanding scratches that remain hidden until the varnish is on and then are almost impossible to get rid of.
After wiping with turpentine sand again with #80, wipe, then #100, wipe, then’#200, wipe,repeat #220, wipe #360, wipe and if necessary #360 again, In each case, allow the wood to dry before sanding.
Now you’re ready for varnishing. You’ll have to set your alarm for 4:30 am. No, I’m not crazy but this is the tine of day to do it. Dust is one of your biggest problems and at this unGodly hour, the minimum is floating around. When you move, do so slowly. If you can do the job in the kitchen or bathroom, turn on the taps so they run gently (the running water draws in the dust) and leave them running for 2-3 hours after you’ve finished varnishin
(Some people like to seal the wood before varnishing with a shellac (natural) sealer. If so, mix a 50/50 combination of-shellac and a alcohol, rub in across grain and then with the grain, let dry and sand with #360. Wipe with turpentine.).
Alright, it is now 4:45, you’ve had your coffee and hopefully your eyes are open. The most difficult job in varnishing is the preparat, ion of the varnish and this is where most people mess up the entire job.
    1. Never, but never, stir or shake varnish. Air bubbles suspend in the varnish and surface when it’s applied, thus creating a bumpy finish.
    1. Never dip the brush into the original container. Transfer (gently) the estimated amount required to one of the soup cans run it down the side of the can – don’t splash. (The fanatic will strain it through a pair of his wife’s panty hose or nylons Good Luck’. Reseal the original container – don’t let It air!
    1. Never scrape a brush across the lip of a can to remove excess varnish. Tap it on the lip (once is usually enough) to knock the excess off. This also brings up any bubbles in the liquid below.
    1. Never pour any remaining varnish back into the original container.
  1. Never wear clothes that shed or trap dust or lint. If you’re erotic, do it in the nude but do wear a shower cap.
The first coat is 50/50 mix of turpentine and varnish- gently stir to mix. Before applying, wipe down the wood with the tack rag. When brushing, go with the grain and stroke in one direction only with light overlaps starting at one end of the wood. Allow a day to dry. For the second coat, the first coat is sanded lightly to indentify bumps and valleys (#360 paper), cleaned with turpentine and tack rag. For this coat, the mixture is 25% turpentine and 75% varnish. Again, allow one day to dry. For the third coat and fourth, repeat sanding with #360, turping and cleaning. For the 5th coat, sand with #400 wet, but carefully. The paper cuts very quickly. The object here is to remove the shine, not the varnish. Once sanded, squeege, and clean with turpentine and tack rag. For the 6th coat and on, repeat the process but using #600 wet paper until the desired finish is attained.
For a good finish, 8 coats of varnish are a minimum, 12 are for the perfectionist, 15 for the fanatic and if you insist on more than 20, see your doctor, your hooked on varnish. After the final coat, don’t sand, just admire and reset your alarm. Once installed, the depth of the finish will allow you to adjust your fan belt from the driver’s seat.
P.S. – For the best of woods, the cost of mahogany for a Jaguar will run from $30-$45.00 / Rosewoods in the $100.00 range. After the wood has been cut and fit, the varnishing/sanding time is between 6-10 hours of actual working time spread across the number of days determined by the number of coats desired.
-by Gerhard Andary.