Lining Drawers with Fabric

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This article is from Issue 34 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Lining Drawers with Fabric

Finish interiors faster. Cut, stick, and fit.

Unless you’re an aspiring pirate, it’s unlikely that you’d take the time to build a finely crafted box and then dump in the contents. To display and protect treasures stored within, drawers and boxes deserve interiors that are finished as nicely as the exteriors. I’ve tried many drawer-lining methods, but I think fabric is the simplest and most practical solution. It’s fast to use, flexible, and especially well-suited for last-minute gifts. As soon as the glue dries, you can press the project into service. Another plus to liners is the flexibility afforded by the fabric. By picking a different material, you can easily customize an interior for anything from silverware to your best set of chisels.

Having lined hundreds of drawers over the past 35 years, I know that the process can be quick and easy or a messy disaster. To avoid the latter, I developed a simple three-step procedure that ensures smooth, snug-fitting liners. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can employ the same approach on all types of compartments.

Neatness Counts

There’s no magic in lining a drawer, but keeping the finished liners free of glue and smudges can present a challenge. Try these tricks:

• Cover your bench with craft paper. Recycling newspaper is fine in theory, but it can leave ink smudges on your finished liners.

• Use a fresh sheet of paper between every batch of liners.

• Clean your fingers (I use acetone) as soon as they feel sticky, before the excess glue finds its way onto the fabric.

• Go gloveless. If you can feel any excess glue, you’re less likely to wipe it off where it’s not wanted.

Lining Drawers with Fabric

Spray a thin coat of adhesive on the exposed liner and backer’s outer edges. Use craft paper to maintain a stick-free work surface.

Stocking up

While woodworkers shy away from craft and fabric stores, I consider these some of the best sources for liner materials, tools, and other items that make the job easier and the end result last longer. For example, I’ve found that a rotary cutter, the same tool used by quilters, is perfect for slicing liner fabrics. Instead of making backers from scrap cardboard, I use mat board (sold as Bainbridge board); it’s stiff, easy to wrap, and acid-free, which eliminates problems associated with cheaper materials, including discolored fabric and tarnished valuables. 

If you plan to do a lot of lining, buy a self-healing cutting mat. This will protect your workbench top from damage and extend the life of cutting edges.

Lining in three steps

Cut the parts to fit 

Cut the backer first. Measure the interior and then cut the mat board slightly undersized to allow for the thickness of the fabric. The actual allowance depends on the material you’re using. I measure the liner’s thickness with calipers and subtract twice that amount from the mat board’s length and width. (If you have extra material, you can also make a test liner.) Cut the mat board using a straightedge and X-Acto knife. 

Lining Drawers with Fabric

Next, size the liner material about 2" larger than the backer and cut it with a rotary cutter. To make the fabric easier to fold, trim the corners at a 45° angle with a pair of scissors, staying about 1/8" away from the corners of the mat board.

Spray, stick, and fold

You’re now ready to affix the liner to the backer. For larger-size projects, apply a thin coat of white glue to the fabric-side face of the mat board before laying it on the fabric. This prevents the fabric from creeping and drooping. For small- to medium-size compartments, like the drawers for the collector’s box, simply place the liner face down and center the mat board backer on top. Spray a light coat of adhesive on the edges of the mat board and the fabric, as shown in Photo A. Because working times vary from five minutes to two hours, read the can and follow the instructions for a permanent bond. 

Fold the edges over when the adhesive is tacky but not fully dry. Focus on clean folds and clean fingers.
Cut through and remove the excess liner so the finished panel lies flat.
Lining Drawers with Fabric

When the adhesive is ready, work your way around each panel, folding and pressing the fabric down as you go, as shown in Photo B. Trim any overlapping fabric at the corners with an X-Acto knife, as shown in Photo C.

Glue and clamp

To attach the lined panels to the compartment, apply glue to the perimeter of each panel and clamp it in place. After installing the bottom, attach the sides. I prefer to install them in opposing pairs rather than in contiguous order. That way, I can clamp each with a full-length caul for complete pressure, leaving no residual indentations in the fabric. I typically install the left and right sides first, letting the glue dry before installing the front and back (Photo D).

Liner Options

With liner materials, you get what you pay for. The good stuff looks better, lasts longer, and is easier to install. A yard of material can line a lot of drawers.

Felt ($8/yd., 72" wide roll) Cheap and readily available, but it fades quickly and doesn’t wear well. OK, in a pinch.

Baize ($45/yd., 65" wide roll) This woven-wool fabric is similar to what you’d find lining a pool table.

Silverware cloth ($23/yd., 58" wide roll) A heavy cotton flannel specially treated to protect silverware and jewelry from tarnishing.

Ultra suede ($45/yd., 45" wide roll) A synthetic fabric that’s soft as suede, but is stain-resistant and washable.

Velour ($25/yd., 58" wide roll) A nice way to finish small jewelry boxes. For best results, use a cotton non-stretch variety.

Spray Adhesive

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