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How to Line Boxes & Drawers

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custard

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Properly lining boxes or drawers, ideally with suede but many fabrics are also suitable, totally transforms the item, adding a great deal of value and hugely lifting the perception of quality. Furthermore, for many applications, such as jewellery, musical instruments, valuable writing instruments, coins, etc, it's pretty much mandatory to provide the client with a neatly lined compartment.

However, even though I see lots of boxes on this forum it's rare that I'll see a properly lined box. The irony is that it's all quite straightforward and it doesn't require much in the way of specialist tools or techniques. Don't get me wrong, if you're slapdash or rush the job it'll look rubbish, but if you're patient and methodical (and if you're not then the hard truth is that you're never going to make much progress with woodworking) then you can genuinely expect to produce fully professional results.

So if you'd like to learn how to go from this,

Lining-01.jpg


to this,

Lining-16.jpg


or to this,

Jwllry-Box-2.jpg


then read on and I'll show you how I go about the task. You'll probably be surprised at how simple it is.

First let's look at the tools and materials that you'll need.

Personally I prefer to use good quality pig suede. It's widely available from any leather merchant, although if you want to buy on line you can easily find it on Ebay,

http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/PIG-SKIN-SUED ... rkt%3D1%26

You should look for suede that's about 0.5mm thick. Much thicker and the folds won't be clean, much thinner and it'll stretch and crease or wear through too quickly. I'd advise you to get an entire skin which usually comes in at about 8-10 sq foot. This will give you plenty for three or four boxes complete with a lift out tray, so in terms of material costs it'll cost you about £7-£10 to line a box with suede. You will find stuff cheaper than this, especially if you buy part skins, but I'd strongly advise you to give it a miss. If you run out of materials part way through then you really are stuffed, you're unlikely to get an accurate colour match from one piece to another and the skin and dye quality on the cheaper scraps can be very poor. This advice also holds true for materials like felt, stay well away from the really cheap stuff, it's just a frustrating false economy.

You'll also need some decent quality card that is about 175-200 gsm, look for something smooth and white. The ideal card will come in at about 0.3mm thick. Anything thicker is unnecessary as it will be fully supported by being glued to the substrate of the box, and if it's much thicker then it'll add to the problems of accurate cutting. You'll get smaller boxes out of A4 card stock, but for larger boxes you'll need A3.

The final materials you'll need are double sided tape (ideally in both 50mm or 75mm width and also in 12mm or 15mm width) and some Copydex adhesive. Don't try using PVA, the moisture content will cause too much wrinkling and ruin your work. I'd also recommend that if your Copydex is more than a year old then replace with fresh, old Copydex goes stringy and is a pain to use.

In terms of tools you really don't need much, you can see pretty much everything you'll need in this photo,

Lining-02.jpg


An A3 self healing cutting mat is really useful, not just because it protects your bench and is kind on your tools, but also because of the accurate grid pattern printed on the surface which will really help you cut square and avoid gaps. You'll need a decent straight edge (Axminster do a good value one), personally I use both a thick heavy 600mm cutting straight edge and also a heavy 300mm ruler. I find it really useful to use double stick tape to attach some 240 grit abrasive paper to the backs of your cutting straight edges, that helps hold them stable on suede, fabrics, and card, which can otherwise slip and ruin your work as well as endangering your fingers! The final thing you'll need is a scalpel together with plenty of replacement blades. I normally go through at least four or five blades when lining a box. As soon as the blade stops cutting really cleanly then change it immediately. if you don't you'll regret it, as it will drag and ruck up the suede causing ragged cuts. You can re-hone scalpel blades, but given how cheap they are if you buy in bulk I don't see the point. The only critical thing is never use a blunt blade. You may want to wear safety goggles when using or changing blades, remember they can and do break or spring off. They're your eyes so it's your choice.

Next post I'll go through the actual lining process.
 

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dynax

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Thanks Custard, very useful post, and timely for some projects i am considering,
 

MrTeroo

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Thanks for this walkthrough. Very useful.

I'm reading it in the voice of Lesley Judd, so if you could include a 'here's one I made earlier' somewhere in the text, it would be much appreciated :)
 

custard

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The fundamental principle in lining is that you never attach the lining material directly to the box or drawer, in other words you don't "wallpaper" the inside of your box. Suede or fabric is just too floppy to allow this to be done accurately, so you always attach the suede to card with double sided tape in order to stiffen it up and allow really precise cutting to size, and then you glue the card/suede composite in place with Copydex.

In one or two sentences that's pretty much the entire secret to successful box lining!

Let's go through a typical job in more detail.

The starting point is to take your 0.3mm thick card and completely cover one side in double sided tape, which is why 50mm or 75mm wide tape is a big advantage, in fact if you get really serious about lining you'll probably want to get the product that picture framers use, dry transfer tape which comes in 300mm wide rolls. Leave the backing paper on, in fact some people go over the backing paper with a roller to press it down hard on the card and ensure a really good bond.

Then you accurately measure the base of your box and transfer those measurements to your card, trim it to size with your scalpel and offer it up to fit in the base of your box. Do all of this before removing the backing paper. You're looking for a really accurate fit and to that end it's useful to put a pencil cross on the card indicating where the back or hinge edge should be. This is in case the box is fractionally off from square. You certainly don't want the card bunching up if it's too large in any dimension, but you can get away with it being about 0.2mm or 0.3mm undersize as the side linings will cover any small gaps. Aim for perfection but tolerate the merest sliver of a gap all around.

Next you should lay out your suede pig skin. It will have a slightly rougher side which is the glue side, and a smoother side which is the show face. Check it carefully for blemishes and holes and avoid these. You also need to be aware that on any pig skin the areas around the neck, groin, and arm pits will likely be slightly thinner and much stretchier. These more stretchy, elastic areas are very useful if you need to cover 3D shapes like buffer pieces for musical instruments or even ring traps in a jewellery box, so you'll probably want to save these areas for those specific applications.

Then layout your pig skin on a clean flat surface such as your self healing cutting mat (suede holds dust so hoover your bench before starting) show face down/glue face up. Don't overly stretch it, just smooth it flat. Remove the backing paper from the double sided tape and lay the card glue side down on top of the suede, press it flat with a roller or burnisher. Now all you have to is cut through the suede with your scalpel at the exact edge of the card, personally I lay the straight edge on the card and bump it along until it's precisely in line with the card edge. You should be able to cut through 0.5mm suede with a single stroke without pressing too hard. If you're not familiar with a scalpel you should definitely practise with some suede off-cuts until you've got the feel of it. If you see bits of adhesive stuck to the scalpel blade then clean them off or change the blade, because otherwise these will drag the suede and cause a ragged cut.

Next you put a thin coat of Copydex on the card, working all around the edges and a few dabs in the middle. Try and stay about 3mm away from the edges and use thin coats of Copydex not thick blobs. This is critical as any squeeze out which gets onto the suede ruins the job, so be slow and methodical during application, you'll have a few minutes before the Copydex cures so there's no particular rush. Finally carefully lay the card into the box, pressing it down with clean (Copydex free!) hands, respecting the pencil cross orientation you previously marked to show the back or hinge edge.

The next job is to line one pair of opposite sides. And here the method changes slightly. On the base you just have a layer of suede on top of the card. On the sides you need to wrap the suede around the top edge of the card.

You start by measuring the width of the inside of the box precisely and cutting your card accordingly. However, the height of the card needs adjusting for the folded over suede. So check the suede thickness with a calliper and if it's 0.5mm thick suede then cut the card 0.5mm less than the measured height. Test fit your card in the box, and if looks good then remove the backing paper from the double sided tape and attach the card to a slightly oversize piece of suede, you'll need about 25mm of overhang at the top for the fold over. Put a strip of double sided tape on the reverse side of the card to take the fold over, this is where it's useful to have some 12 or 15mm wide tape as well as the 50 or 75mm wide roll you used previously. This is what the job should look like now,

Lining-08.jpg


Trim the edges of the suede so they're flush with the card, note that the lines on the cutting mat are a great help in ensuring you're square,

Lining-09.jpg


Then trim the corners off the top flap of suede as shown, this is because the suede will stretch as you fold it over and smooth it down and you don't want an overhang (although if you do get and overhang you can always trim it off).

Lining-10.jpg


Remove the backing paper from the double sided tape and you're ready to stick down the flooded over flap of suede on the reverse of the card.

Lining-11.jpg


Now for a really critical tip, either fold over the card and lay it flat (my preference), or if you choose to fold over the suede then you absolutely must start in the centre and work out towards each end. See the following photo, I promise you that if start at one end you'll be in a complete mess by the time you reach the other end!

Lining-12.jpg
 

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custard

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Next job is to offer up this card/suede composite to the box and check the fit. You want it snug from side to side (but not bowing out because it's too wide) and you want it uniformly flush along the top edge. You can live with it being 0.2-0.3mm less wide as the next lining pieces will cover any gaps. But it is absolutely essential that these side pieces do not protrude above the sides of the box because if they do the lid won't close! So, aim for flush, but tolerate anything up to 0.2-0.3mm below the top. This is such an important step that you must do this test fit with each piece, and if it does protrude above the top trim the card by a whisker at the bottom.

Now that the suede/card is precisely sized there's one more job before gluing it in place. The card is now thicker at the top than at the bottom because of the folded over suede. It has to be folded over because otherwise you'd see the edge of the card which would look awful! Astonishingly the eye can discern this difference in thickness so you need to attach balancing strips of suede at the bottom, and if the box is taller than about three inches, in the middle as well. It's an easy task and you can use up any damaged or soiled off-cuts of suede. Use double sided tape. This is what the job should look like when the balancing piece is attached, incidentally, you can see the abrasive paper attached to the reverse of my cutting straight edge in this photo.

Lining-14.jpg


I'd give one more test fit and then apply the Copydex, again staying 3mm away from the edges and applying only thin coats to prevent squeeze out. This is what it should look like with Copydex applied.

Lining-15.jpg


Apply this piece and this is how things will appear,

Lining-03.jpg


You're in the home straight now!

Follow exactly the same procedure to line the opposite side. Then move on the the final two sides. These final sides will be your last chance to cover any tiny gaps, so I measure very carefully and even then will often cut slightly over wide and progressively cut back with a fresh scalpel blade until it's a really snug fit.

Lining-13.jpg


On the lid I'll have sometimes used a highly decorative veneer on both the interior and exterior (the base is normally ply or MDF covered with a fairly utilitarian veneer), so I'd then just line the lid edges. But if the lid interior veneer is nothing special then I'd line that with suede too, see the photos at the very beginning of this thread for examples of both.

The same technique is used for lining a lift out tray, because the tray sides are so narrow you can sometimes save time by making up the tray side linings double width and then slicing them down to size.

One thing worth mentioning though is that a lift out tray will need some support. There are many different methods of achieving this, but one of the simplest is to use double stick tape to attach a 6mm thick strip of MDF to the card running from the bottom to whatever height you want the base of the lift out tray to be. It's normal practise to size this so the lift out tray sits proud of the box base, in other words it's partly housed inside the lid. You have to be careful to align the MDF precisely with the bottom edge of the card, and you have to be even more careful to fold the suede carefully over the card and the MDF support without any creases, but it's perfectly possible and it works a treat. You would do this on the final part of linings that you attach in the box, so you'd probably do the long sides first then finish with the two short sides.

Good luck!
 

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MusicMan

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Many thanks, Custard for a wonderful tutorial!

Keith
 

ColeyS1

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That's a great guide ! Looking forward go having a go at it now. Thanks Custard

Coley

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Alexam

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A superb layout tha i easy to follow. I have kept a copy for reference later. Many thanks Custard.
This should be a STICKEY ?
 

galleywood

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Custard

Could you please clarify the last paragraph of your second post with some pictures.
Thanks
 

Chris152

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Thanks for posting this - my first real project is a jewellery box for my daughter and I'll be following your advice closely - perfect timing!
 

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SteveF

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Thankyou Custard
Really appreciate your spent time on this

one question though, Is it attached to bare wood?
will the copydex stick to a finish?

Steve
 

custard

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SVB":1ir10j3z said:
Great post.

This is just the method I was taught when I did my box making with Andrew Crawford
It's pretty much the same method I was taught when I first trained as an antique restorer and cabinet maker about forty years ago. The fundamental principle is that you almost never attach fabric or fine leather direct to timber, there are one or two small exceptions (such as the skiver to a writing table, although even there it's sometimes canvass backed). I've replaced silk drawer linings in Georgian furniture and found them wrapped around ancient book end plates and all manner of scavenged card!

It's also pretty much the method that's used today by the amazing craftsmen and women who fit out super yachts, which is one of the hot beds of high end British craftsmanship today. There's a developing design trend towards having fairly plain and unassuming furniture exteriors but with dazzlingly sumptuous interiors. I think we'll see a resurgence in elaborate linings and personally I'm very much looking forward to it.
 
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