Author Topic: Make a Europa Dash  (Read 218 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline 2483R

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Joined: Feb 2015
  • Location: Chesterfield, Virginia USA
  • Posts: 31
Make a Europa Dash
« on: Sunday,December 24, 2017, 05:54:31 AM »

Like many, my original Europa wood dash was in bad shape. The varnish was cracking, and the veneer was peeling. The previous owner had enlarged the radio opening with a  saw, and I wanted to restore the opening to its original dimensions. Thus a completely new dash was in order. This article details making a new dash.

The Europa dash is a stressed member, it holds the steering column in place. My understanding is the original dash was made from marine plywood because this is the strongest wood available. I have seen examples of those who have made dashes from wood not as strong as marine plywood, such as solid walnut. The wood will eventually fracture in the area between the steering column bolt holes and the instrument binnacle. Given the amount of time it takes to remove, fabricate, and replace the dash, you do not want to repeat this effort. So copy what the factory did; use the strongest wood you can find topped with a veneer.

My original dash was 3/8" plywood. The rocker switches were shimmed with wood behind the dash. Using 1/2" plywood eliminates the need for shims, and results in a stronger dash. I bought a 2'x4' piece of 1/2" thick marine plywood, 9 ply, Baltic birch, from (Capital City Lumber) for about $45.

To cut the dash you will need a router and 3 router bits. The first bit is called a pattern bit. It has a bearing at one end and cutting teeth next to the bearing. The bearing slides along the edge of a pattern and the cutting teeth will cut the exact shape of the pattern. So clamp your original dash to the new marine plywood and use a pattern bit to cut it.

I used a hand router which slides on a surface. But the original dash surface is very narrow in certain areas, such as around the instrument binnacle and glove compartment. Thus it is possible for the hand router to become cocked off vertical resulting in an angled cut when sliding on such a narrow surface. To prevent this you will need to build a jig, or additional surface area next to the original dash for the router to slide on.

Building these jigs greatly increases the amount of time required to cut the dash. In a table router the bit will always be vertical and the wood slides on a horizontal surface. Thus, using a table router will eliminate the need for building jigs and reduce the time needed to cut the dash. So if you have access to a table router, use it.

The second bit is called a rabbit bit. Like a pattern bit, it has a bearing at one end and cutting teeth next to the bearing. But the cutting teeth are larger than the bearing so the bit will cut an indentation. This bit will cut the indentation on the back of the dash around the air vents.

The last bit is a straight cut bit. Use this to cut the indentation at the back of the dash for the hazard switch.

Use a rectangular file to square the corners for the rocker switches. Use a drill for all holes 1/2" diameter or less. The result is shown in photo 1.


My goal was to match the original dash. So I decided to use a veneer with a similar grain pattern and stain to match. I bought some mahogany veneer from the local Woodcraft store for about $25 (Item #131443, thanks to Steve Veris for this tip). Even though the factory did it, it is not necessary to veneer the area behind the console as it cannot be seen. The mahogany veneer sheets measured 6.5"x4', more than enough to cover the dash visible area (photo 2).

I used Titebond original wood glue to bond the veneer to the plywood. Use a small foam roller to spread the glue evenly on the plywood and the veneer. Before applying glue to the veneer, lay it on a sheet of cardboard and tape the veneer edges to the cardboard. This will prevent glue from seeping to the other side of the veneer.

I called Titebond and spoke to one of their tech reps, and the following instructions are from that conversation. Wait at least 1-2 hours for the glue to dry, up to a max of 5-6 hours. After drying, position the veneer on the plywood. Now using a household iron, press and heat the veneer to 250-300 degrees. The heat from the iron will reactivate the glue and the veneer will bond to the plywood.

I used a non-contact infrared thermometer to check the temperature of the veneer. Use a thin cotton cloth between the veneer and the iron and put the iron on steam setting. This will help prevent scorching of the veneer. Iron from the center and work to the outside.

The iron-on method is preferred over contact cement. The chances of air bubbles in the veneer or the veneer being placed incorrectly on the plywood are greatly reduced.

The Titebond rep also told me that Titebond original and Titebond extend have better heat resistance than Titebond II or III. Thus, they are better suited for a car dash because of the heat in the summer. Titebond also has a youtube video about iron-on veneering.

Once the veneer is glued cut it to fit the dash openings using an X-acto knife and a small file (I used a chain saw file). Cut/file from the back of the dash.


Paint along the edges of the instrument binnacle, glove compartment, and rocker switches. I also painted the back of the dash and console area to keep out moisture and preserve the dash for the long term.

I selected a 2 part polyurethane varnish for my dash (thanks to Gavin Taylor for this tip),  Interlux Perfection Plus Varnish. This is a marine spar varnish, thus very resistive to sunlight and heat. It also is expensive at $100/quart.

I put on 6 coats. Apply using a set of cheap foam brushes, throw them away after using as they are too difficult to clean. Sand wet between each coat using wet or dry sandpaper. Use around 800 grit. This will remove any dust from the surface and help adhesion of the next coat.

After the final coat, sand wet 500, then 800, 1000, 1200 grit. Sand until smooth, then buff/polish. I used a small buffing wheel attached to hand drill. The 2 part polyurethane varnish is quite hard, so you will have to use rubbing compound intended for use on fiberglass boats. I used 3M marine rubbing compound, part #09004. I followed this with Meguiar's Ultimate Compound, then Meguiar's Ultimate Polish.

A coat of wax will bring out that last bit of luster. I bought a lettering kit from RD Enterprises (peel off/stick on template letters). The lettering will not stick to the wax, so the lettering has to go on first. Be careful not to tear the lettering when the wax is applied.

The finial product is shown in photo 3.

Ron Dawson

Online surfguitar58

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Joined: Nov 2017
  • Location: Massachusetts, USA
  • Posts: 44
Re: Make a Europa Dash
« Reply #1 on: Sunday,December 24, 2017, 07:41:54 AM »
Great piece on making the dash, and beautiful end result. I’d like to offer a couple of additional observations. As it says on the left I am a newbie when it comes to Loti, but I’ve been working around bright finished marine plywood my whole life, and I really question if the original dashes were true marine plywood to begin with. Some of the pictures I’ve seen are not just peeling veneer, but wholesale delamination of the entire structure. My Philippine mahogany marine ply boat interior was built in 1964 and with very few exceptions (like areas exposed to prolonged soaking and freezing moisture) looks like new.

If you want to skip the veneering step you can buy mahogany faced 3/8” (or 10mm) marine plywood from Boulter Plywood ( I think they ship worldwide and have lots of different species lumber, plywood and veneer. I used ribbon stripe sapele for a project in my boat as it is a good match for the no longer available Philippine ply.

If you do decide to go the veneer route, I would question the use of heat activated adhesives. It gets pretty hot on a car dash. If it was a boat project I’d go with a thickened epoxy. Vacuum bagging if you have the wherewithal, otherwise sandbags over a polyethylene sheet, BEFORE doing the cutouts and final outline.

Regarding finishing, most of my interior projects are simple 5 to 8 coats of marine spar varnish applied with a foam brush. Sand 220 after the first coat, red Scotchbright pad between coats 2-7, progressive 220 to 500 dry block sanding before the final coat in the most dust free environment available.

There is a school of thought in the marine industry about using clear epoxy as an underlayment to varnish. In my experience this is a recipe for disaster. It looks great for a few years, but when it fails, it fails big, yellowing and peeling off in sheets.

I have used a product on exterior bright finished teak boat trim called Honey Teak that is marketed as an “Acrylic urethane enamel” and as far as I can tell is rebranded 2 part automotive clear coat with a ton of UV inhibitors. They also sell a clear without the UV inhibitors, which tend to make the finish look a sickly orange. I have used the clear by itself with some success.

Given that (I think) the 2-part clear is just automotive clear coat, and it works great on wood, I would be tempted to try a light stain on bare true marine plywood (because the clear coat won’t tint like varnish), spray on a couple of coats of automotive clear, apply the decals, spray a few more coats, wet sand, polish and wax like another piece of bodywork.

Sorry, didn’t mean for this to turn into a book. Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone.

"A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Offline BDA

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Joined: Jul 2012
  • Location: North Carolina
  • Posts: 3,233
Re: Make a Europa Dash
« Reply #2 on: Sunday,December 24, 2017, 08:18:25 AM »
Great comments, guys! I don't know anything about plywood, veneers, or varnish - or much about working with wood in general, for that matter, but I would suggest that all surfaces of the dash be varnished - including all the edges (gauge and switch holes, dash edge, etc.) to ensure moisture doesn't enter the plywood. I got this idea talking with the guy I got my dash from.

The second thing I would suggest is if working with wood isn't your thing or you don't trust yourself with such a conspicuous part of your interior and you want a beautiful dash made for your car with your choice of veneers (or even custom touches such as a glove box door, different layout, etc.), you should call Prestige Autowood ( He did such a great job for me I have to plug him every chance I get.

Offline GavinT

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Joined: Oct 2016
  • Location: Brisbane, Australia
  • Posts: 39
Re: Make a Europa Dash
« Reply #3 on: Sunday,December 24, 2017, 03:12:08 PM »
Hey, thanks for the mention, Ron.
I recall that write up made its way to the the Golden Gate site or some such.
Your dash looks great, by the way.

Here’s another tip for painting the sides of the switch apertures.
They were originally a dark brown on my Type 54, so I presume that was standard.

Marine fibreglass outlets commonly stock little jars of colourant intended to be mixed with clear gel-coat resin for the purpose of small repairs on boat surfaces where the gel-coat is the finished colour.
It comes as a sort of goop and mixes readily with the two pack polyurethane. I actually used black because that’s what I had.

The method is to paint the apertures AFTER the first couple of coats of polyurethane.
By doing it this way, any small accidental brush ‘excursions’ across the face of the dash can be easily sanded off to a crisp edge before continuing with the final coats of clear polyurethane.

For what it’s worth, I glued my veneer with epoxy because I was concerned what the heat might do here in Oz.

Offline cwtech

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Joined: Aug 2016
  • Location: New Jersey
  • Posts: 22
Re: Make a Europa Dash
« Reply #4 on: Monday,December 25, 2017, 04:23:45 AM »
Excellent info from all posters!    ...Thanks, guys !!!   

Ron:   Excellent work!  ...You mentioned stain, but didn't say what you used.  ...Care to share?

Offline 2483R

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Joined: Feb 2015
  • Location: Chesterfield, Virginia USA
  • Posts: 31
Re: Make a Europa Dash
« Reply #5 on: Wednesday,December 27, 2017, 05:08:13 PM »
I have told by many the original Lotus veneer was walnut. (one would assume this would be English walnut and not North American walnut which is common in the USA). I also believe that original dash was stained and the varnish used was lacquer.

All the original dashes I have seen are very close in color. If they were natural wood there would be variation in the color, but there seldom is. The only way to get a consistent color over many dashes is to stain.

Like many, the varnish on my dash was heavily cracked, and cracks are typical of old lacquer finishes. Using a razor blade in the cracks, I popped loose bits of the finish exposing the veneer underneath. But most of the color came away with the varnish bits. If the veneer was stained the color would still be there. Thus I suspect the stain was in the varnish, something that (I have been told) can be done with lacquer.

I say all of this because it was not easy to match the original dash. The color is in the varnish which was thick, cracked, and distorted.

I used 2 Old Masters wiping stains, (bought at the local paint store), American Walnut and Dark Walnut. I made a test strip of veneer and experimented with different combinations of stain and lengths of time to leave the stain on.  I selected a 50/50 mix of the 2 colors which soaked into the veneer for a minute before I wiped it off.

The result is not a perfect match, but it is close. Given the circumstances I think it is the best I could have hoped for.

Offline cwtech

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Joined: Aug 2016
  • Location: New Jersey
  • Posts: 22
Re: Make a Europa Dash
« Reply #6 on: Thursday,December 28, 2017, 04:52:57 AM »
Thanks for the additional info, Ron.

Yes, lacquer can be tinted to add color.

I once talked with a furniture manufacturer and was surprised to learn that all the woods they used (walnut, cherry, oak) were bleached to remove the color difference between sapwood and heartwood and random boards.

Color was then applied to the wood using stains, glazes, or tinted finishes, or any combo of those.