Refinishing Woodgrained Dashboards

1. I wouldnt advise doing this if you are looking for a show quality finish, but if you have an artistic bent, you can do a pretty good job of reproducing the woodgrain finish on old dashboards. The good news is, as long as your laquer base coat has been applied properly, you wont destroy your dashboard by trying to wood grain it. Even if you fail, the graining can be washed off with paint thinner.

2. Materials arent expensive. You can get various woodgraing tools at paint stores and hobby shops, but I did this one just using 3-1" paint brushes and two colors of oil stain. Black, and red mahogany.

3. Practice on some scrap metal pieces first until you get the hang of it. Hardest part is getting a feel for when the stain is dry enough to make "woodgrain" brush strokes, but still soft enough to let some color bleed. The dark lines should gently fade out at the edges into the lighter colors.

4. Oil stain and laquers are not compatable! This is why woodgrain dashboards dont hold up as well as painted dashboards. It is important to make the oil based woodgrain as thin as possible, and make sure it is bone dry before applying the finish coat.

5. Dont even try to do this with laquer spray cans!. Those spray cans available at car parts stores and lumber yards are thinned out and dont have the hardeners that proper auto finishing paints have. They will not last. If you dont have spray equipment, send the dash to an auto body shop to apply the base and finish coats.

Step 1: First we sandblasted the old dashboard, It had some bad pits in it, so we primed it to give a smooth surface for the base coat.
Step 2: The base color on my dash was the same color as the back side of the the dashboard. (I suspect most dashes are like this). It will look way to light, but once you start woodgraining, it will darken up to the correct color. I went to an autobody paint store and had them match the color as close as possible. Next I sprayed two coats of the base color, and let it dry for two days.
Step 3: Once the base coat is dry, you can take the black oil stain and make stripes across the dashboard wherever you want the darkest grains to be. Keep them thin, you dont want thick blobs of stain. make sure the glove compartment door and any other inserts have stripes that line up with the ones you brush on the dash. Let the stripes dry for 15-30 minutes.
Step 4: Thin the red mahogany stain with paint thinner by at least 50%. (You want this color to be transparent) Once the black lines get tacky, (about 15-30 minutes), start gently brushing over them with small amounts of the red mahogany stain. (Too much will wash the black off.) just use a small amount on the tip of the brush. If the black lines are dry enough, the red mahogany will feather them out and you should have a black line that flow into red. Leave a lot of the base color showing like the picture on the right.
Step 5: Let the whole thing get tacky again (about 15-30 minutes) so its at the point that when you lightly brush it with a dry brush, it leaves tiny red and black streaks that start to look like woodgain. If it gets too dry, dip the point of your brush in paint thinner to soften it up again. As you lightly brush, the whole surface will become darker as you fill it in with light brush strokes that look like wood grain.
Step 6: Look closely at the close up on the right. You will see the fine black and red brush strokes you want to have between the black lines. The black lines themselves should "blend" into the colors between them. If some parts dont look right, wash the stain off with paint thinner and start over
Step 7: When you have the dashboard looking the way you want, let it sit until the stain is bone dry before applying the finish coats. (I let mine dry for two days). make sure you are happy with the results before applying the finish coats. The finish coat wont make it look any better, and the process isnt reversable once the finish coats have been applied.