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Re-varnishing woodwork on a classic Jaguar Mk2
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Joined: 06 Dec 2007
Posts: 19
Location: Warwick

PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:12 pm    Post subject: Re-varnishing woodwork on a classic Jaguar Mk2 Reply with quote

Having 9 to 10 cars on our classic car hire fleet we have reached the stage where we will probably re-furbish at least one of them a year. This year it was time for our 1961 Jaguar Mk2 It went to the bodyshop in January to have a few rust bubbles at the bottoms of the doors fixed, a few small bits of welding and a respray. The problem with this is that the interior can then look tatty in comparison. So we ordered a new set of interior panels and decided to re-furbish the woodwork.

Jaguar Mk2s have almost as much woodwork as a small dining room, with veneered door cappings on all four doors, the dashboard gauges set in wooden panels and the dashboard top is a very heavy piece of hard wood, veneered to match the door cappings. I have re-furbished wood trim in classic cars before so decided to this by hand, myself.

Our woodwork had a slightly odd feature which made it uncertain just how much work would be needed. Underneath the varnish it was clear that the wood cappings on the two front doors and the dashboard top had some of the wood grain painted on it. Slightly worried that I might find great chunks of veneer missing and having been replaced by loads of painted filler, I very gingerly removed all the varnish with Nitromors paint stripper.

I have used this before when I re-furbished the woodwork in our MG RV8 a few years so knew that it is effective in removing the varnish without attacking the veneer. After several applications of Nitromors, with careful scraping, finished off with a final application being rubbed off with wire wool, I was left with bare wood. All the painted grain had disappeared but all the veneer was in good condition, with no sections missing. I came to the conclusion that the New Zealand (where the Mk2 had spent most of its life) sun had bleached the varnish and rather than strip it all off, a previous owner had painted wood grain onto the varnish and then varnished over the top.

Relieved that I didn’t have to go to the expense of having it all re-veneered I then proceeded to varnish it. When I re-furbished the MG RV8 woodwork back in 2003 I used a spray polyurethane varnish which gave a good finish. I used the same approach and indeed the same tin of varnish which was still in my garage. The first couple of coats sprayed on OK, although I had a few small runs appear. I sanded these down and applied another coat. No problem. The tin of varnish depleted I bought another couple of tins of the same product and added another coat.


The new coat of varnish attacked the varnish I had already applied and it all wrinkled a bit like the ‘crackle’ finish paint on our MGB I guess that either the manufacturer has changed the recipe for their solvent, or the solvent in my old tin had gone off, and the two solvents attacked each other.

Back to the Nitromors and it all came off again back to bare wood. I thought it worth trying a different tack and decided to use brush on varnish instead so I bought a tin of Ronseal quick drying interior varnish. I have used Ronseal products before for domestic applications and always achieved good results. Part of my logic was also that if any runs did appear then I could brush them out before the varnish hardened and thus remove the risk of runs and the need to sand the woodwork down yet again.

I was doing all this during February and the garage is too cold for varnish as it has to applied at temperatures of over 10°C, so I painted all four door cappings at room temperature in the kitchen. This Ronseal varnish is water based, is a milky white in the tin, but should dry clear to the required finish. I gave all four door cappings a single coat of Ronseal and although it didn’t run, it showed a few brush marks. Normally as varnish dries the surface tension resolves this as it pulls out all the marks. I quickly brushed over the freshly varnished door cappings to smooth out the brush strokes.


The quick drying varnish was virtually dry after only 10 minutes and as I brushed the varnish it went all lumpy and grainy. It also never went clear, drying to a slightly milky colour.

Back to the Nitromors to strip it all off again. This time the stripper and water based varnish turned to mush and was extremely difficult to remove. Eventually all removed and cleaned back to bare wood I returned to Plan A – spray varnish.

This time using just the new tins of varnish and spraying it on in extremely thin coats, about 10 in all and leaving the varnish to harden at room temperature, I achieved a suitable finish. The surface is very smooth, the wood grain clear and vibrant and it is now possible to see that the front door cappings are mirror images of each other, as are the rear pair and the dashboard veneer is a mirror image left and right.

So lots of work, but well worth it. The interior of our Jaguar Mk2 now looks as good as the freshly painted exterior.

Lessons learnt.

* Spray varnish is better for such applications that brush on varnish.
* Don’t use old tins of varnish, even if they don’t have a use before date on the tin.
* Spray it on as thinly as possible, leave to drive at room temperature.
* Then do it again, and again and again.

In short – preparation and patience.
Tony Merrygold
The Open Road - Classic Car Hire
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