Elan Dash Restoration

From: Gavin Taylor <gavint@ozonline.com.au>
Date: 09 Dec 98

QUESTION: "Robert Foster" <rgf@lineone.net> said: following on from listers comments concerning the dash of a Europa, that of my Elan+2 has suffered severe cracking of the "varnish" and requires restoration seems that the walnut underneath is OK ( just for a few small "dinks") and I was wondering now best to remove the "varnish" without harming the veneer - chemical, heat or elbow grease?

ANSWER: Yes, this is going to be your biggest issue. As you say, the difficulty is going to be getting the "varnish" off without harming the veneer. Specifically, the veneer is probably less than 1mm thick and any accidental over zealous sanding may go through it. Also, be aware that sanding through the varnish and getting to the veneer will need to be done evenly as any old varnish left may show up as a different colour - the veneer will have changed colour over the years as well. I don't know what the original finish is, but if I recall , it was pretty hard. My Europa dash was suffering from major cracking but it included cracking/lifting of the veneer also.

So, what to do. No sweat.

1. Sand it - roughly (say 120 grit) at first to get through the bulk of the varnish, then using finer grades till you get to the veneer. Sand the veneer lightly but evenly as regards colour (say 320 grit), as indicated above. You should be now down to bare wood (veneer).

If something goes horribly wrong with step 1. and you go through the veneer, too bad. Sand off the rest of the veneer and invest about 10 quid in some new stuff. Glue on the oversize piece with two-pack epoxy ( not the 5 minute stuff). Lay it face down on a sheet of MDF/chipboard which has first been covered with plastic food wrap (so any stray glue doesn't stick) and add weights to keep the whole thing flat. Allow to dry (cure). If some glue happens to come through some of the cracks in the veneer, don't worry, the glue is essentially clear or opaque. Cut out/sand/file the switch holes etc. and trim the outer edge similarly. Sand the dash face with say 320 grit.

2. Apply a good quality two-pack marine grade clear polyurethane - you'll probably do at least four coats, and this stuff is rather expensive, but good. I used Epivar - dunno if it is available in the UK.

3. When happy with the amount of polyurethane, it can be flatted off with 600 then 1200 wet/dry (used wet) to get rid of the "blemishes", bugs and cat foot prints. This will leave you with a matt but flat finish. If not happy, then re-coat till you are, and flat off with the 600/1200 again. Finally, this stuff is hard, so buff with the cutting compound intended for fibreglass boats, then a metal polish or even use a buffing wheel as used to buff/polish metal. Just don't get it too hot eh.

4. If you need to re-finish the black or brown colour around the switch holes, use polyester fibreglass pigment mixed with the polyurethane. TIP...... Do this after one of the last coats on the dash face so you can sand off any "overpainting" that has "happened". You won't be able to sand the black/brown off very successfully if you do the switch holes first.

The above method is what I did and the dash has stood the test of time - done about twenty years ago and still looks as good as new. This is all under the harsh Australian sun - directly under the hole in the ozone layer and all - guess you won't have that to contend with eh.

However, for the above, I take no responsibility etc. etc. - YMMV. a cabinet maker has told me that the lustre can be achieved with polyurethane (coat after coat after coat) but that the professionals prefer to spray polyester until it runs, allow to dry and then polish off.