Tuesday, 19 June 2012

How to Replace the Felt or Baize in a Toolbox Drawer, Engineer's Cabinet or Jewellery Box

I bought an old Moore & Wright engineer's cabinet the other day, in oak. It's rather lovely, but missing its door and handle, which is a shame, but neither is crucial in a private workshop. However, the old felt had been removed from the draws and so I set about replacing it with some new lining. Along the way I learnt a bit, so thought I would pass it on in the hope that it might be of use to others. Whilst the example here is a little draw from the cabinet, the same instructions would apply for a cutlery draw, jewellery box etc. - indeed anything where the sides were straight and there was no complicated structure.

The chances are that as you have found this post you already have something that needs a new lining, but you know almost any old box, chest or cabinet can be rescued with a bit of sandpaper, a bottle of wax and some new felt; it will almost certainly be nicer than a modern mass produced thing and will represent another bit of the past saved and used (which is the best way of saving something like this). Good for the object, twice as good for the environment and just as good for your soul. What more can you ask?

Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Re-felt a Drawer or Box

Step 1: Here is the draw that I want to re-felt. It is important that it is free from any old lining or glue blobs, this is particularly true of the corners. If need be scrape these out with a craft knife.

We start by felting the sides and so measure the depth of the drawer and the length of the sides and front/back.

Step 2: Felt or baize is far from cheap and so it pays to think ahead as to how you are going to use your material. I did my first drawer, then once I was comfortable I cut all the sides out for the 4 identical small drawers, trying to make sure I had as little waste as possible.

You need to add 1mm or a slim 1/16" to the depth and 5mm or 1/5" to the width of each piece, to allow you to fit it exactly to the side you are working on - this is particularly important with old boxes or cabinets, where sizes might not be consistent. Indeed on a very 'rustic' item or large box you might need to add more than this.

Step 3: Once you have cut out your strip, mark with a pen what you intend to get out of it, this is particularly important if your cutting a number of strips in one go. Do this on the same side as you marked out for cutting, so you only have pen marks on one side. Here I had a piece that had 2 sides and 1 front or back piece in it.

Step 4: We start by doing the sides, rather than the front or back pieces. So take the right sized piece of felt and mark the side and the piece of felt with a number so that you know both which piece goes where and which way up it goes.

Step 5: Set the piece of felt in the drawer, so that the bottom sits on the bottom of the drawer. You should now see the extra width protruding from the top of the drawer (and it will show up poor cutting as it has here!). It is now a process of gradually removing thin slivers from the edge, until it meets the top of the draw. Try to do this from the top, so as to remove any final pen marks from marking out. Don't throw the waste slivers away - you might need these later!

As I say it is important that we go through this, cutting and matching each piece to each side, to ensure we get a good fit. The photo actually shows me fitting the back, but the process is exactly the same.

Don't worry that it doesn't look 'right' at this stage when you lay them in, they won't until you glue them.

Step 6: We now do the ends, again the photo shows me doing the back, but the process is the same for the sides. Quite simply reduce the length of the piece until it fits; do this in small steps. Obviously, as per the photo, you need to have the sides sitting there when cutting the front and back to length.
Step 7: How you glue the pieces in is really a matter of preference. You certainly don't want to get glue on the face side of the felt and, not being the most careful of people, I decided to glue the 2 sides, front & back and then wash my hands, before putting them in.

However, the inside faces of these draws are not sealed and the wood is very dry, so it was drawing the moisture out of the glue really, really quickly. For the larger draws I had to glue and place the four sides one-by-one. You'll just have to play about and see what works for you and the project you're working on. Whichever way you choose, a wet tissue and towel on hand it a good idea.

The most important bit of the face is the top lip and this will get the most wear as the drawer is used, so make sure you have plenty of glue here - I kept a thin dibber to hand so that I could add further glue as I was placing it.

I would like to have used a natural glue, but they are still on my 'to get to grips with' list, so this is simply PVA.
Step 8: Ensure that you have the right piece, the right way up and then carefully place the end into the corner. You follow the top edge, almost - but not quite - ignoring the bottom edge, smoothing it down with your fingers. You might well find that when you get to the other end the felt has stretched a little and that you need to trim it again. Do this for all four side pieces.

Step 9: With the two sides, the front and the back now done we turn our attention to the base. Either measure the internal area (again adding 1mm or a thin 1/6") or draw around the drawer. The only problem with the later is that you could waste quite a bit if the sides are thick. Mark one of the corners with an X and do the same on the back of the felt, so that you know what goes where. Fit the marked corner tight on both sides. You should be able to just push it under the felt on the sides, to give a nice tight edge - although don't worry too much at this stage as we'll be taking it out again.

Step 10: Once you have got it laid in tight use a ball point pen to mark off the excess. You don't want to push the tip into the corner, but instead rest the pen on the base. Try to mark it so that you cut on the inside of the line, removing all of the pen mark. Remove the base, cut and then do another trial fitting, adjusting as needed.

When gluing the base I found that it was helpful to put a piece of paper up against the sides to protect them from any wayward glue (or sticky fingers!). Smooth in the base felt, starting from the corner marked with the X. Push it under the sides with a finger nail or alike, to ensure a nice sharp edge. 

Step 11: Do you remember the little slivers I said not to throw away? Well just sometimes you'll find that the bottom edge of the side doesn't quite meet up with the base felt. In that instance you can carefully glue in one of these to hide it away. It's not perfect, but for 90% of jobs it will be close enough...

Finally sit back and marvel at your new draw lining! New baize really makes a huge difference and can transform a tired cabinet or box.


  1. How lovely! Reminds me of being taught, at school, how to line a cake tin with greaseproof paper

  2. Great post...except you did not mention what type of glue you were using.