How to Make Dashboards

by Russell Wood

Custom cars need custom touches, and the interior has lots of opportunities for little details. One of the biggest interior mods you can do is a custom dashboard. It's not easy to do, but it's an opportunity to make your interior as custom as you'd like.

Remove the stock dashboard. Take note of wire length and placement of the stock items so you can decide where to place the new ones.

Make a template of your new dashboard with the cardboard and tape. The more thoroughly you make your template, the easier the next step in the process will be. Remember to make areas for the gauges, stereo, air conditioning/heating system, or any other accessories that you need. Also consider what you'll be doing for a final finish on the dashboard. If you're wrapping it in materials, consider the shape you'll be building the dash. If you would like to paint it, the finish will need to be flawless.

Use the template to build a perimeter for the dash out of MDF. Start with the mounting system for the dash, making sure it's easy to remove if need be. Plan ahead, you never know where you'll need to get access to later.

Flesh out the areas you want to place the gauges and accessories using the MDF. Make strips and glue them in place to form the shapes. Ultimately, the dashboard shape will be formed by the fiberglass, so these shapes will form the basis for laying the fleece. If there are any hard edges that you'd like to soften, use a router with a round-over bit to make the transition easier.

Staple the fleece sheet to your skeletal framework, making sure to keep it tight. You can also glue the fleece in place, but staples help to keep it tight during the curing process.

Mix the fiberglass resin using the instructions on the packaging. Apply the resin to the fleece using the paintbrush. Soak the resin into the fleece. Once it's done, wait for it to dry, usually a few hours.

Apply fiberglass mat to the underside of the dashboard. Cut up the mat into smaller pieces under the dashboard to reinforce the skeletal structure and apply the resin on top. Apply at least four layers of fiberglass mat; the more you use, the stronger it will be.

Apply the fiberglass reinforced body filler to the dashboard; once it's dry, sand it down smooth with the 40-grit sandpaper, then the 80-grit. You're roughing in the shape with this layer of filler and also giving it extra strength. This is not a finish coat, so don't worry if it's low in some spots or not perfect.

Finish the bodywork with the plastic body filler. Once the bodywork is done, either take it to a body shop for paint or to an interior shop for upholstery.

Warning

  • close Fiberglass resin is potent stuff; use it in a well-ventilated area. Be wary when using power tools, they can cause bodily injury.

Items you will need

About the Author

Russell Wood is a writer and photographer who attended Arizona State University. He has been building custom cars and trucks since 1994, including several cover vehicles. In 2000 Wood started a career as a writer, and since then he has dedicated his business to writing and photographing cars and trucks, as well as helping people learn more about how vehicles work.