SQUAREBIRD DOOR PANELREPRODUCTION
By: Jed Zimmerman
PICTURE #1 Front view of the original panel condition of my 1958 FordThunderbird HardTop showing extreme unsalvageable deteriorated condition.
PICTURE #2 Rear view of the original panel showing warped, broken, rottedand mildewed hardboard panel.
PICTURE #3 The original black rubber armrest pads had inserts or supportsmade of a molded and pressed cardboard. These support inserts were damagedand deteriorated and the rubber had become brittle and deformed from ageand heat.
Step #1 - The rubber pads were reformed with a combination of carvedpolystyrene and upholstery foam to take the shape as close to originalas possible. Then the rubber pads were glued onto a flat board in orderto maintain the support and original shape.
Step #2 - The rubber arm rests now could be used as a male mold to receivean evenly coated with a layer of Plaster of Paris, approximately ¾"thick. Once the plaster is cured, the rubber male mold is separated fromthe new plaster female mold. HINT: before plastering, cover the rubbermold form with saran wrap, which will enable easier separation of the plasterfemale mold from the rubber male mold.
Step#3 - De-slag the new female mold and remove all sharp edges, burrsand smooth all interior edge surfaces. Once trimmed and smoothed to thedesired degree, again line the female mold with saran wrap and lay in onelayer of fiberglass cloth of medium thickness ensuring the cloth overlapsall the mold form edges by 3 inches or so. In order to accommodate theinternal curvatures of the mold form in order to smooth the cloth flat,several partial cuts, tucks and folds may be required to shape the clothflat to the inside of the mold.
Step #4 - Either polyester resins or epoxy resins will work for thecoating of the cloth. I use epoxy resins of the Goudgen Bros. West Systemsbrand name because of its permanent durability, working and curing properties,plus the fact that I always have my epoxy supply box fully stocked withassociated epoxy tools, resin and hardener, microballoons, fillers, saranwrap, tape, etc. Epoxy also gives longer working time taking up to 4 hoursbefore it hardens which allows for controlling the cloth and resin in themold while curing. Polyester flashes off in about 15 minutes and once itgoes off, you're stuck with what you have. The flash of epoxy can be speededup and controlled by heat also. I'd recommend a halogen tripod lamp about8 inches >from the work to evenly distribute heat to the mold. Witha halogen lamp you can flash epoxy in 20 to 30 minutes. But before youput the heat on it, make sure you have your resin soaked cloth exactlyas you want it to cure in the mold.
In order to keep the cloth arranged to the mold smooth and in placeat the flanges and curves, use strips of 2 inch masking tape or duct tapeto secure it. Apply the tape directly to the resin soaked cloth. Afterthe initial flash cure or hardening of the epoxy (4 hours without a heatsource, or 30 minutes with a heat source), simply remove the tape. If youmiss the tape removal at this time and can't get it off till the next day,it's still fairly easy to remove, but some may stick. Don't worry becauseyour new armrest form will be upholstered anyway.
Step #5 - Once the mold has cured separate the fiberglass form fromthe plaster mold, trim the flanges to one inch all the way around. Thensand with 80 grit paper and do any rough shaping with a ½ roundfile. Any thin spots or holes you've made from sanding and filing shouldtake a 2nd coat of resin mixed with faring compound filler or small sectionsof cloth. Put a smooth finish final resin coat over the exterior of thenew arm rest form. After it cures final sand with 80 or 100 grit paper.
PICTURE #4 Step #1 - Using the old hardboard door panels as templatesas best you can trace and transfer the panel pattern outline with all holesand cutouts to an equal size piece of Kraft paper or multiple brown paperbags cut and masking taped together. First cut out the perimeter outlineof the pattern and fit it up to the door surface masking taping it to it'sproper location. Next double check all the traced hole locations and cutout locations as best you can against the actual door locations. Make anycorrections required in pencil. Cut out the paper pattern and all the holesand the cutout areas.
Step #2 - Using 1/8" or 3/16" non-tempered hardboard transferthe paper pattern to the hardboard. I used 3/16" hardboard, but woulduse 1/8" if I had to do it again. This is because with all of thefoam and upholstery, my doorhandles fit a bit too tight now. After you'vetransferred the pattern to the hardboard, cut out the panel using a scrollingjig say and an electric drill with the correct size bit. Check the bitsize against the holes in the door metal. A dremel tool is also hand forsome of the hole shaping requirements. Finish the holes and cutouts witha file and 80 grit paper.
PICTURES #5 AND #6 Step #1 - Check the fit of the fiberglass resin moldednew arm rest form to ensure that it fits freely, but not sloppy in thepanel cut out for its location. Fit it through from the back of the panelso that the flange is flush to the panel's back surface. So trimming ofthe flange, filing or sanding of the form, or filing of the panel openingmay be required. You want it to fit without binding and without being sloppyand loose. Take care to trim the flange as required to allow the stainlesstrim molding to fit through their locator and fastening hole. It may berequired to redrill the locator holes through the flange after the flangeis permanently fastened. Drill 1/8" holes evenly through the paneland armrest flange starting at the two end corners and continuing ever3 to 4 inches. After the first 2 corner holes are drilled, realign thearmrest form flange to the panel and use aluminum pop rivets to securethe armrest to the panel before drilling the rest of the holes. Once yourfirst two holes are drilled and riveted then continue drilling and periodicallyriveting until complete.
Step #2 - Again using the original door panel as a reference guide,determine the underlayment locations, size and shape for the foam you'llneed to pre-pad with. Visit your upholstery supply store to choose themost suitable material and thickness materials. You might want to firstuse Kraft paper to pattern your padding size and shape as well as duplicatingthe original panels padding locations and thickness. Now having measuredand traced your patterns on the foam stock, cut the thin foam pieces andtrim to size. Use an upholstery contact spray glue to adhere the foam tothe hardboard panel.
Step #3 - Now use a foam that has a somewhat stretchy fabric top layerthat will enable the foam to be stretched over the curved and rounded armrestform. Cut a large enough piece of this fabric covered foam to ensure completecoverage. The foam can be adhered with spray contact glue and the baseperimeter trimmed with scissors and knife after the glue is dry.
PICTURE #7 Step #1 - Fasten the panel to the door and secure it withall its fasteners except the panel wire clips. Set the panel in the bottomhanger tray, align the screw holes and fit on the door to window vinylclad metal trim piece also attaching it with its screws. You should havenow a finished product that merely requires the final upholstering eitherby yourself, or as in my case by my favorite shop down the street. Theshop charged me $80.00 including the vinyl upholstery material for thejob. I think he went easy on me because he was impressed at the job I'ddone manufacturing the panels.
Step #2 - OK, hold it you're not off to the upholstery shop quite yet.You still need to final check all of the holes for the stainless trim andactually fit the trim sections to the door. Also you need to double checkall of the wire panel clip holes that will need to precisely match theclips and holes in the door when you do the final install. At this time,if you haven't already done so, is the time to match the armrest metalgrip cups to the brackets mounted on the door and drill the holes thatwill accept the two # 10 Phillips dress screws.
PICTURE #8 The final product with many more of your hours and about$125 including your total supplies and the shop's cost is now ready formounting. But first you'll have to make a decision as to whether you'regoing to purchase the Kraft oil paper door to panel seals or make yourown out of the same material you can buy at a builder's supply store ina 50 foot roll for $4.00. You may in addition to the Kraft oil paper sealwant to consider using some duct tape to first seal off some of the largerholes in the door to keep dust, moisture and sound where it belongs. Theactual Kraft oil paper seals are relatively small and only cover the largebottom window access opening.
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