Steel Guitar Strings
Strings & instruction for lap steel, Hawaiian & pedal steel guitars
Ray Price Shuffles
Classic country shuffle styles for Band-in-a-Box, by BIAB guru Jim Baron.

This Forum is CLOSED.
Go to to read and post new messages.

  The Steel Guitar Forum
  Tolex Tutorial

Post New Topic  
your profile | join | preferences | help | search

next newest topic | next oldest topic
Author Topic:   Tolex Tutorial
Ken Fox

From: Ray City, GA USA

posted 29 March 2006 04:35 AM     profile     
I found this several years ago on the web, great info:

Tolex Application

This is simply how I Do Tolex projects. This is not intended to be the definitive method, but rather what has worked for me so far. There are probably a hundred different ways to do this, so take this at face value.

There are three photo albums that accompany this text if you print them and this text and use it as a guide when doing your work it may be helpful, especially to the first timer. For the photo albums it is a good idea to use the "Thumbnail" and the "Show All" toggles at the top of the pages for easier viewing and printing.


I use DAP Contact Cement. There is also a water-soluble product that I understand works well but costs much more. Either Product requires adequate Ventilation. I use two box fans in a "Push Pull" configuration. There are some spray products on the market but they are a pain to work with, and set very fast. The best solvent to use is Mineral Spirits, it cleans brushes and spills, as well as hands. I like to use cheap disposable Brushes, and a 3" trim roller for large surfaces. These are available in most home centers, like Home Depot, or any hardware store. Wax Paper is great to cover anything that you don’t want the cement to stick to. You will also need a good sharp Razor Knife, or box cutter, a metal straight edge, pencils or markers that can be seen on the Tolex. A chalk string is good for long straight lines, and sometimes I find Masking tape helpful.

Cabinet Preparation:

Before you can start to apply the Tolex, your cabinet must be prepared. Fill any voids caused by screws or other fasteners with some kind of wood filler or plastic wood. The same goes for any other irregularity in the surface or edges, such as small gaps in box joints, or damaged places.

It would be a good idea to avoid knots in your lumber if you are building your cabinet from scratch, but that is not always possible. If you have questionable knots in your cabinet you can secure them with "Super Glue" prior to final sanding.

I use 50/50 Bullseye Amber Shellac and denatured alcohol, or black spray paint to do the inside of the cabinet. This is mostly for cosmetic reasons and is not a necessary step, but I think the cabinet looks neater and is easier to keep clean with some kind of treatment on the bare wood.


I like to do most cabinets and amp heads with two pieces. One piece for the two sides and top, and a second piece for the bottom. First determine the length of the first piece. Let’s say you have a sample cabinet 18"h x 20"w x 10"d. This piece will need to be 62" long. That’s the two sides + the top + 3" on each end for overlap (to be trimmed later). Lay the Tolex piece out lengthwise and strike a line 3" from one edge then another line the width of the cabinet (10") and a third line 3" from that one (this is where I use the chalk string). You should have 3 lines running the length of your piece. Cut the piece to length and down the third line so you have a piece 62" long x 16" wide. Now two lines 20" apart in the center of the piece between the remaining two lines. This is where the top will go. Cut the bottom piece so that it is the length of the inside of cabinet bottom (20" minus the thickness of the two sides), and the same 16" width. Use a metal strait edge to guide your cuts. Check for fit.

Glue the Panels:

Lay the Tolex face down and apply the glue to the area in the center that is marked for the top panel with a brush or roller. Then apply glue to the cabinet top. You must apply glue to BOTH PIECES to be glued together. Cover the whole area, but not too heavy, let it dry to the touch before putting the two pieces together. Do not put the two pieces together when the glue is still wet. Use the lines to make sure the piece is aligned properly. Smooth the material with your hands, being careful not to stretch it too much. Now let it set up for 20 minutes or so. If it "puckers" or "blisters" you most likely still had wet glue, don’t panic, it will shrink back as it sets up. Just keep an eye on it and smooth it out occasionally with your hands and don’t do the next panel until it is set and the "puckering" has stopped. The Tolex material will shrink some, and tighten up as it sets.

Now glue the sides, one at a time, in the same way. Then glue the bottom in place. When everything has set up, fold the 3" flaps in on the bottom piece and glue them in the same manner. Now trim the side panels where they overlap the bottom piece so you have about a ½" overlap, and glue in place.


There are a couple of ways to do the side flaps and corners. Fold the flaps in and box fold the corners at a 45-degree angle, you can cut with a razor along this line through both pieces to make a butt joint with no gap, then glue in place. I like to leave the fold in place and glue it down as it is, on some pieces. It really depends on how I want it to look. If you are going to use metal corner protectors on some of the corners, the second method seems to work best for me. If this is your first attempt, or if you are not satisfied with how your past corners have looked, I highly recommend making a "practice corner" out of a couple of pieces of wood scraps attached at a 90-degree angle, and covered with scrap Tolex. Sometimes masking tape comes in handy for holding the corners and other short pieces until the glue is set. See the photo album " Tolexing Corners". There are several self explanatory Photos of corner construction.

Lastly, cut pieces for the back panels, and glue up in the same basic manor as the main cabinet. (If this is a first attempt, it might be wise to do the back panels FIRST to practice with the glue)

Make sure as you make the panels to allow for the thickness of the multiple layers of the Tolex material, and in the case of the speaker baffle, the thickness of the grille cloth.

Let everything set up overnight before attaching the corners, handle or other hardware to the cabinet.


It is possible to form Tolex around inside and outside corners and curved surfaces, taking a reasonable amount of care. Tolex to some degree will stretch, but too much can cause a tear to occur in some instances. An inside curve that has too small of a radius is harder to do than a large radius. I find it easiest to use a heat source (hair dryer) to pre-form the Tolex to fit the curve. It will shrink back somewhat so you may need to heat it several times as you make the application. The contact cement also softens the Tolex and aids in stretching and forming the material. On areas of an inside curved surface I like to first breakdown the cloth backing a little bit with some 80 or so grit sandpaper. Just lightly rub the backside of the Tolex to tear some of the threads, but not through to the vinyl. After gluing, it sometimes helps to use masking tape to hold the work in place until the glue sets. An outside curve is much easier. Simply pull the Tolex snug and fold the excess back then glue it down. The excess should be folded into several neat "pleats" that are then trimmed with a razor blade, This will be on the back of the piece where it will not be seen. See the photo album "Tolexing Curves", there are some self-explanatory photos there.

Sometimes inside corners, like the control panels on Fender Tweed style cabinets, are easier to do by cutting the Tolex at the apex of the curve, apply a small patch underneath the opening, and glue and form the Tolex to the curved shape. There will be a small inverted "V" with the patch underneath in the corner.

This is another instance that it would be highly recommended to use some scrap pieces of Tolex on a practice piece of wood to sharpen technique before doing the actual final piece of work.


I’m sure that there are some things that I may have left out or might have explained in a better way. This is only intended to be a GUIDELINE to help those who have never attempted this before or for those who are not satisfied with past projects and are seeking some fresh ideas. As I said in the beginning, there are a lot of different ways to do this. This is only how I do it, from a "Trial & Error" learning process. Use this information at your own risk, practice pieces are highly recommended. Ventilate the work area, read and follow the instructions on the product package.

Comments or suggestions regarding this content are welcome. I need input to improve the quality of this procedure for everyone’s benefit. I would like to know if this has been helpful to you, and how your Tolex projects have come out. Feel free to contact me at any time.

David McClain

(AKA Casey4s)

TOLEX® is a registered trademark of General Tire

Amendments: As I receive input, or new ideas, I will try to post the information here until

I can rewrite the page.

1. Custom Pak Adhesives makes a new Water Based Contact Cement, product # WBCC. Contact Jeff Pitcher at Custom Pak, 1-800-454-4583. The price at the time of this revision was $23.03 per gallon plus shipping. See the Text File "A new Glue Review".

2. Dap Adhesives also makes a new water based product that comes in a
Green and Black can. I have never used this product, but I understand it still requires a lot of ventilation than the Custom Pak product.

Latest Revision: 09/27/02

[This message was edited by Ken Fox on 29 March 2006 at 04:39 AM.]

Ken Fox

From: Ray City, GA USA

posted 29 March 2006 04:40 AM     profile     
More info on glue:

New Glue Review

After the original document I put together concerning Tolex® application and associated products I found a new, much better glue. This product is neoprene-based water soluble, product that cleans up with soap and water, no nasty solvents required.

This new product comes from Custom Pak Adhesives. Their company URL is Http:// The Custom Pak person I spoke to is Jeff Pitcher and his phone number is 1-(800)-454-4583; his email address is This product comes in a one gallon jug like a milk jug and the price is under $24 per gallon (plus shipping). The product name is "WBCC".


I recently used this new glue to apply a snakeskin Tolex® covering to a newly constructed Gibson GA15 cabinet. (Photos are in my Yahoo briefcase) This is definitely the most pleasurable product I have ever used for Tolex®.

It is very thin as compared to contact cement, and is easily applied with a bristle paintbrush. Apply the product to both materials to be glued as you would with contact cement and wait until it is "tacky" before putting the two pieces together. Jeff told me in a recent email "The main thing to remember is to let the carrying agent (in this case water) flash off before mating the two pieces. Using a hair dryer can speed up this process. Depending on your conditions this can take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes."

I found that it got tacky fairly quickly (it was summer and the air was warm) and it lends itself to adjustment of the piece very well. If you "goof" when you put the pieces together it is a simple matter to remove it and place it again. I did the entire cabinet with a 1 ½" cheapie, Home Depot paintbrush. The product was so easy to apply that a roller was not needed. Coverage is excellent, I don’t think I used more than a pint to do the entire cabinet including back panels.

One of the biggest differences in working with this product is that the Tolex®, which is vinyl, does not stretch because of the interaction with the glue. That means that it does not have a tendency "pucker" or bubble up, which is a common problem when applying Tolex® with contact cement. Since it does not stretch it therefore does not shrink when the product finally cures and sets. This is especially important for doing nice corners, or seams. According to Jeff, "… the adhesive will have it’s full cure in 24 hours but is designed to be machined immediately after the two pieces come in contact". This statement applies more to using the glue for laminating counter tops etc.

I was able to keep working the entire time and didn’t need to walk away and wait for the product to setup to continue on to the next piece. By the time I had covered the next piece of Tolex® and cabinet surface with glue, the last area I worked on was set well enough to continue. This alone is a valuable asset because there is very little time wasted.

Clean up

Clean up is much easier than with contact cement because it is water soluble there are no nasty solvents, and no toxic fumes. The glue has very little odor and it is not unpleasant. I kept a small pan of warm water nearby to rest the brush in when I wasn’t applying glue, this helps a lot but it is difficult to get all of the glue out of the brush, so I recommend disposable type brushes. The glue comes off of your hands with soap and water. The Tolex® itself can be cleaned up as you go along with warm water. For areas where you have seams, or are doing corners sometimes glue will ooze out and need to be wiped off. Jeff also said, in his email to me, "Regarding clean-up; this is a water based product and should clean up ok with water. Warm water works the best. Try putting pine-sol in it. Because it is neoprene based it’s going to be a little difficult regardless".


This is the product to use for Tolex® or for vintage tweed applications. It is easier to use and it is easier to clean up. It doesn’t have any of the toxic fumes or chemicals. It does not stretch or shrink the vinyl or cause puckering. I will never go back to contact cement after using this product. The only drawback is that it is only available in one gallon containers (as far as I know) and if you a only have a small project this may be a problem.

Link to the article:

Ray Minich

From: Limestone, New York, USA

posted 29 March 2006 09:37 AM     profile     
Thanks Ken. I gotta do this to an old Dekley case after I reinforce it with epoxy and carbon fiber.

From: Grayson, Ga.

posted 29 March 2006 03:16 PM     profile     
Good information Ken.
I have used your exact method on two tweed amps. I used the Minwax Honey golden polyurethane I believe with pretty good results on tweed. After you do one, you learn from your mistakes. My second one is pretty much flawlwss.
Old bed sheets make good material stock for templates for those needing that step.
Bill Creller

From: Saginaw, Michigan, USA

posted 29 March 2006 07:32 PM     profile     
Reinforcing a case is a good idea Ray. I usa West System epoxy with the carbon fiber cloth on the corners mostly.
I bought some glue for Tolex, but haven't tried it yet. The tweed weave type of covering is a lot easier to use than Tolex,probably because glue sticks to it better, but too much glue in any one spot will bleed through. I use 3M "77" spray glue for tweed, but the area has to be masked around it before spraying the stuff.
I'm re-doing a case for a Fender quad right now, with tweed, and carbon fiber and quite a bit of epoxy on the old dry wood.
Kevin Hatton

From: Amherst, N.Y.

posted 29 March 2006 11:10 PM     profile     
Ken, thats fabulous. I was using the Dap but was concerned about the toxic content. I'll give this new adgesive a try. Ken, do you know where I can get @Tolex wholesale? Thanks.
Derrick Mau

From: Honolulu, Hawaii, USA

posted 30 March 2006 02:11 AM     profile     
Bill Creller does a fabulous job making cases with tweed. Here's one he made for me for my long solid necked frypan.

The epoxy he used seems to work well, I haven't had any problems yet with the tweed lifting off in any area.

Did anyone ever write a book solely on the art of restoring amps? Looks like this would be an interesting occupation as many vintage amps are always seen in such bad shape.

Robert Parent

From: Savage, MN

posted 30 March 2006 04:45 AM     profile     
I would caution against using a non explosion-proof electric fan motors (or any similar motor or open flame)in areas with combustable fumes. Typical box fans are not explosion-proof and should never be used in such environments.

Be safe!

Ken Fox

From: Ray City, GA USA

posted 30 March 2006 05:22 AM     profile     
Thanks again for all the replies. First off, I did not write the artice! I found it years ago.

I far prefer DAP Non-Flammable Contact Cement(green and black can). It is water-borne and easy clean up. It allows lots of work time and re-work ability (pull it up and reposition if needed!

Tolex? I get mine wholesale from Mojotone. I am trying another source in LA right now for 4 yards of Peavey rough black, see how that goes! I found him on Ebay, he sells a ton of material there at a good price: me=STRK%3AMEWA%3AIT&rd=1

Fan? I do not use one, the DAP has no odor at all.

[This message was edited by Ken Fox on 30 March 2006 at 05:23 AM.]

Erv Niehaus

From: Litchfield, MN, USA

posted 30 March 2006 12:29 PM     profile     
I bought some Fender tweed from this same source. I sent it to a case builder for some new Stringmaster cases but am having a hard time to get him to come up with some cases.

All times are Pacific (US)

next newest topic | next oldest topic

Administrative Options: Close Topic | Archive/Move | Delete Topic
Post New Topic  
Hop to:

Contact Us | The Pedal Steel Pages

Note: Messages not explicitly copyrighted are in the Public Domain.

Powered by Infopop © 2000
Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.46

Our mailing address is:
The Steel Guitar Forum
148 South Cloverdale Blvd.
Cloverdale, CA 95425 USA

Support the Forum