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Wood restoration - '66 Fleetwood

Started by Ralph Messina CLC 4937, August 28, 2022, 07:37:08 PM

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Ralph Messina CLC 4937

I'm posting this in response to discussions in another posting. I posted it years ago but I can't seem to find it.....Maybe I thought I did, but didn't.  It's intended to illustrate the methods and materials I've successfully used to refurbish the real wood appointments in our cars.

This focuses on repair and refinishing the wood panels in '66 Fleetwood Series car, but the techniques are the same in any real wood application. Remove the panels from the doors. There are two screws securing the panels to the doors located under the pull strap and one at the rear of the panel.. There are spring tabs holding it in place inside the door. Gently rotate the panel from the rear and lift up. On a blanketed table remove the spring clips holding the emblems  being careful not to break the pins. New push clips can be found in hardware stores. Remove the bezel around the door lock pull. If needed, replacements can be found in NORS suppliers for other GM brands. Remove the fuzzy window wipe strip. It's  held on by serious staples. Gently pry them open from  underneath then cut them on the upper side with a wire cutter. These strips are available through Restoration Specialties in PA

Next steps requires safety glasses and heavier weight gloves, a box long enough to hold the longest panel while laying flat and a sheet of plastic to line the box. To remove the panel's finish use a paint remover containing MEK and a plastic, not metal scraper. Don't use "air craft stripper" because it can discolor the wood. Don't get the stripper on your skin as it burns. The panels were resin impregnated so follow the directions applying and removing the stripper at least twice. You want to get as much of the old finish off as possible so it doesn't make the new finish blotchy.  Rinse the panel thoroughly to remove all residue.  The next step  gets the wood back to its natural color. Place the panel face down in the plastic lined box. Fill the box with standard clothes washing bleach so the level covers the panel. This removes any color pigment that leeched into the wood. The bleach should turn color in about 5-10 minutes. Do this on all the panels vertical and horizontal surfaces.  Remove, rinse and set aside to dry.

Repairs: Once dry, it's ready for repairs to cracks, splits and gouges. If there's a split in the panel, repair it  from the back side with epoxy, being careful not to get it on the front surface as your new finish will not take. Have a helper gently spread the split open and place a small amount of epoxy along the inside edge of the split.  Apply pressure to close the split. If any epoxy squeezed out on the front surface immediately clean off with lacquer thinner. Let repair cure then reinforce the joint with more epoxy on the back side
Any gouges on the front surfaces should be filled with grain filler. It's a lighter smoother material than plastic wood. The dried surface is much less porous. For that reason it must be colored before application with a stain at least as dark as the finish you choose. Minwax use to sell a filler in local paint stores, but big box stores don't carry it. It is definitely available on line.  Its applied sparingly like a finish coat of spackle..

After stripping, washing and drying the wood grain will have a fine fuzzy surface. Remove this with 800 grit or higher sand paper and a sanding block going with the grain. Do not use steel wool on unfinished wood as it leaves tiny imbedded metal bits that will show in the subsequent finish. Gently run the corner edge of a steel scraper down the grooves of the panel to remove any build up. The factory color was walnut but I do not now the specific color- that is American, black, or English. All of them are in the brown family and the depth of color is a function of how long you leave it on the wood. I prefer oil base stains, but that's just me. Use a piece of scrap  birch to test the stain to get a feel for how quickly it penetrates. Ideally you should test on walnut. But if you have walnut hanging around, you're obviously a wood worker and do not need to read this. Just prior to staining, wipe the panel down with a tack cloth. Apply the stain and wipe it off sooner than you think with a soft rag. You can easily apply another coat if it's not dark or strong enough. If it really sinks in and you don't like the color, its back to stripper and bleach to remove it.

When the panel is dry, wait at least a day, you can start the top coat. First apply black or dark brown color to the edges of the panel to cover the different colors of the laminate. Use a large felt indelible marker carefully, ......remember it's a permanent marker.  As Paul shows in his original post, the panels had an  oiled finish  much like Danish modern furniture;;topicseen. This is the authentic finish as it left the factory. Any of the oil finishes will work; but I prefer a brew developed by Sam Maloof. If you're a wood worker you already know he's a world famous furniture maker. His brew is equal parts Linseed oil, Tung oil and gloss oil varnish. It produces the iridescence of short oils, the toughness of long oils and stain resistance of on impenetrable barrier.  In addition, it can be refurbished in the future by simply applying another coat. Two or three coats will provide a beautiful finish with the wood appearing on the immediate surface rather than encased in a clear coat. Wipe the surface with a tack cloth and apply the finish with a soft lint free cloth, let stand until most has penetrated than wipe of the rest. Wait till the surface is dry to the touch before going further. To attach the fuzzy strip, clamp it in place and drill a 1/8" hole through the strip and metal flange on the panel. Install a 1/8" aluminum rivet in each hole when drilled so the fuzzy doesn't move. Be very careful drilling that you don't slip and drill through the wood panel......Ask me how  I know

For my car, I decided I wanted high gloss, Rolls Royce style wood finish. Not authentic,  but my car - my choice.  It begins at the staining stage. I used walnut base stain. Then I filled all the grain with filler colored with American Chestnut stain that is slightly more red than the base stain. The reddish tone fits better with the light gray upholstery. Filling the grain is simply applying a tin coat to the entire surface, letting it set up then scraping it off using the sharp edge of playing cards from a new deck. How long is the setup? .....Trial and error. But it's better to scrape it off too soon rather than wait too long and have it harden. Search YouTube for a visual demonstration.  Each time you scrape off the surface, you must clean out the horizontal grooves. Once dry and hard, the surface is block sanded with 800 grit. Wet the surface with mineral spirits an look for a completely flat surface with no grain depressions. This should take no more than two applications. As a precaution I wiped the sanded surface down with a light coat of the Chestnut stain to insure color uniformity. Next step is one coat of the oil formula above which a allowed to dry to the touch completely.  I then sprayed three coats of Man O' War marine spar varnish for maximum protection of the wood. I thinned the varnish to spray light coats. Thin coats with longer time between coats prevents runs. It also must dry in a still atmosphere to avoid particulates and boogers on the surface.. After tree coats, the grooves in the panels were highlighted with a black Sharpie fine point pen. After three days drying I blocked the surface using soapy water and 2500 grit paper, washed and dried the surface. The last  step was a Meguiar's polish followed by an application of butcher's wax using 0000 steel wool. ( It's not raw wood at this point)  Wipe it off before it dries white.....If ya don't, you'll wish ya did. The finished product is best seen here:     I took detailed pics while disassembling the car, but very few of the finished product. Thus the ad pics

This is not as difficult as it may sound. It takes a bit of time; but short cuts cost. I did a set for an acquaintance's Eldorado......payment for a barter. He insisted on just catalyzed clear coat. I tried to explain that without the oil varnish foundation there no grain iridescence and luster. I did as requested and the finished product was like looking at a picture of walnut through a sheet of plexiglass.

1966 Fleetwood Brougham-with a new caretaker
1966 Eldorado-with a new caretaker
2018 GMC Yukon


Beautiful work as always Ralph!
1957 Eldorado Biarritz #906
1957 Eldorado Biarritz #1020
1957 Eldorado Seville  #1777
1995 Fleetwood Brougham
2010 SRX Performance

1946 Chevy 1/2 ton pickup
1957 Buick Caballero Estate Wagon (x2)
1960 Chevy Apache 10 Stepside
1991 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (x2)
1992 Pontiac Trans Sport GT


Thanks for taking the time to post this. I have made a copy and put it in my files so that I can refer to it when I start my restoration of some old Packard woodwork.


Nice work and tips. Can't over emphasise the use of a tack cloth as Ralph noted. This ensures that all dust and other particulate matter is banished from the finished product. Clay/Lexi