Pati’s ’51 Chevy Pickup Custom Dash & Interior – Part III
When we left off in Part 2, my custom dash was ready for paint and clear, but before I did that I wanted to make some wood window trim and door panels to match.
The truck originally had metal frames around the inside of the windows. These are called garnish moldings (if they were on the outside, they’d be called ‘reveal moldings’). At first I thought I was getting pretty good at veneer, so why not just veneer the moldings? I tried a test piece and the contact cement held very well, but veneer does NOT like to bend and it doesn’t stretch at all. The result, even if I would’ve put more time into it, was tacky-looking at best. The edges didn’t wrap, and the joints were unpredictable and prone to splitting.
So I decided that since my dash pad had such a nice wraparound line to it, why not extend it through the doors? And guess what- the dash pad aligned perfectly with the bottom of the side windows. Lucky me!
I planned to make a wood piece that fits over the bottom edge of the garnish molding like an armrest for the window. I made lots of paper templates to figure out the shape, and then set to work making two blocks of wood to carve into shape.
Since the wood had to wrap over the garnish molding and be very thin, I knew I’d have to glue a few thin pieces of wood together to keep the wood from splitting apart when I carved it.
I just wanted to make straight pieces at first even though I knew I’d want to make a bend at the front end to meet up with the dash pad and complete the wraparound look. I wouldn’t know what shape it would have to be or how to carve it until the wood strip fit exactly over the garnish molding, so right or wrong, I left out the end curve for the moment. Then I laid my template on each end, traced it, and started carving with my chisels.
Here is a trim piece starting to fit pretty well. Behind it is a view of the inside of the second molding. I am working on both at the same time because I know if I complete one good one I will be too lazy to start over to make the second one. The downside is if I screw something up on one, I will have probably screwed it up on both and will have to start over on both of them, but I had to choose one method or the other. It is not easy to use a chisel when your fingers are crossed!
I got the moldings to fit over the garnishes and then smoothed and shaped the outside faces of the moldings. They looked good, but needed a curve to meet up with the dash pad. I didn’t know how to go about carving one out of a solid piece of wood to glue onto the molding, so I planned out my curve and glued a bunch of small wood pieces – made out of paint sticks, actually – to the end of each molding to build up some extra wood for carving. Woodworkers would look down on that method, calling it a bondo slinger’s technique (adding more material where it’s needed rather than a sculptural, subtractive method of starting with plenty and removing what is not needed). Whatever. It’s getting veneered anyway. As long as it holds together, I’d call it a success. So far so good, and now my moldings are ready for veneer.
Since wood veneer doesn’t bend or stretch, I had to be careful not to get too carried away with curves in my design. I found a liquid called veneer softener that will temporarily allow the thin wood veneer to soften so it can be shaped without splitting, but it can only do so much. The photo above shows the finished veneer after the first round of clearcoat. I also had to figure out how to mount the moldings. After considering gluing the wood moldings directly to the metal garnish moldings, I chose to include screw holes in the wood molding. It is the simplest, strongest method, even if looking at those screws piercing my pretty wood moldings will bug me.
Now for the door panels.
The truck’s original door panels were shaped just like this, but were cheap vinyl-covered flat paperboard with metal mounting trim. Ugly! I made mine out of ¼” wood and carved them a bit to match the pillowed look on the rest of the metal door. Sadly, the pillowing doesn’t show well in this photo. I prepped two too-narrow boards for each panel by cutting a step in the sides that needed to be glued together. Wood glue is strong, but not strong enough to glue the boards together just butted side by side. By giving each board a ¾” lip and overlapping them, I have a much stronger seam, just like when welding car frames with an insert vs. butted. I cut the holes for the window crank and door handle, then applied the veneer. The light-colored strip not covered is where the panel fits under the wood window molding.
Well, as long as I’m getting carried away with this interior, I might as well go all-out. Window cranks and escutcheons are next.
These sweet little tri-spoke escutcheons are out of a 1941 Buick. They came with an ivory plastic insert, like the ring on the left. Plastic was the new big thing in the late 30s and lots of luxury cars used it with pride. Since my plastic inserts are cracked, discolored and warped, I am going to replace them with wood to match my dash pad. I used a Dremel tool with a sanding bit to help shape the holes and curved faces of the rings, so the chisel in the picture is a bit misleading. I used it to rough-cut the outer edges of the rings.
Here is my set of handles and cranks with their new wood inserts. The window crank knobs also got a wood insert where plastic used to be. These handles were used on 1939-41 Buicks, and the ‘41s had a tri-spoke cover over the plastic on the knob. Wish I had a few of those to cover my wood caps, but I don’t. I am quite delighted with these handles even without them. Oh, but at what price beauty?
You would think that putting Buick interior handles in a Chevy would be no big deal, right? They are both vehicles made by General Motors. Both handles fit over posts with splines (teeth) that are the same diameter and have the same number of splines. Well, no such luck. The large silver and gold piece is the stock bracket and post for my truck’s door handle. This style of post has been used on all General Motors vehicles since 1949. The little post on the right is from a 1941 Buick. See how each post has a notch near the splines? That notch is where the locking clip goes to hold the handle on. Chevrolets clip below the splines. The Buick’s clip goes above the splines, and that’s not gonna happen on the later post because there is no notch above the splines to hold a clip. I’ll have to change the post in my bracket to be able to use the Buick handles. What a pain! Thank goodness this is not a 4-door truck!
The gauge pod was another setback. When I was painting it, I put it on a stand and taped it to the stand using no small amount of tape. Everything went well during spraying and the paint came out so glossy and perfect. I closed the booth door and went about the rest of my day with a smile. When I opened the door again, however, my beautiful gauge pod was on the floor in 3 pieces! Didn’t I say bondo wasn’t glue? My only guess is that the clear made the piece slippery, and it slid off the stand because the tape couldn’t hold the weight. I just hope the pot metal itself didn’t bend out of shape. It will have to be re-done.
At last, here are my door and dash parts coated with clear. Just as I’d hoped, the clear brings out so much depth and detail in the grain. This interior is coming along nicely! Now I have to carefully weld the black dash piece back into the truck, fix and repaint the gauge pod, and figure out how to modify or replace the Chevy three-on-the-tree gear shifter so it won’t interfere with the new dash. Simple, you say? We’ll see. A mechanical engineer I am not.
Next up: Chrysler dash-friendly shifter setup for my three-on-the-tree Chevy transmission, custom exterior door handles, and hooking up all the dash gauges and wiring. There’s always new fun to be had in the garage! What project are you working on?