Re-purposing a Box—Part 5, Paper Lining

We are now well along in our work on this century-old box, and we now face the biggest challenge thus far. You may remember that we were unable to salvage the original green velvet lining due to both wear and animal damage. We do, however, have an excellent option for replacement: hand-marbled paper. Marbled paper is a traditional 19th century material for lining boxes, and good-quality paper will stand up to wear equally as well as cloth.

We have written about our local source of marbled paper, Robert Wu, before. Robert’s paper is just the thing for this box. It is traditionally made in the European tradition, using the highest-quality materials, and we know that he has patterns available that will match this box—and it’s new purpose for pen storage—perfectly.

1. Overview

We need enough paper to cover complete inside of the box: sides, lid, and bottom. Additionally we need to cover the inner portion of the sides of the tray. This box is fairly small, so we can do it with one piece of paper (keeping in mind that Robert uses large artist’s paper as a base, not just letter-size.) This is important, because multiple pieces would have to come from the same batch, otherwise the colours would not match. This is where having a local artisan is much better than ordering it from a retailer, or from some shady-but-cheap online merchant; you know exactly what you are getting, and are guaranteed to get exactly what you need every time.

We have used Robert’s paper before, and it is everything you could hope for. There is nothing like slicing it, moistening it, and then pushing it around with glue-sticky fingers to truly test a paper product. Robert’s always passes with flying colours. He uses fine art papers and the best-quality ink. Even water-based inks, like are used in this pattern, don’t flake up or rub off when we work with them, which means that they will last well when this is in use in it’s relatively passive role as a pen storage box.

2. Technique

There a few important things to keep in mind when working with paper in this way:

  • not every glue is suitable. We need a glue that will not soak through the paper, but will remain on the surface. It should also have a high tack, so that the paper will stay where we stick it. Nothing meets our needs like hot hide glue.
  • Always keep the marbled pattern in mind.

  • the pattern is irregular, so we will have to be careful to keep congruent sections together, so that the interior pattern remains harmonious. Our goal is to have it look as if one sheet of paper has been simply laid down over the interior.
  • Pre-creasing folds is crucial if you hope for straight lines.

  • overlapping of pieces is essential, so that the underlying surfaces are not visible. We need to allow for generous margins and flaps. Another little touch that makes for a professional finish is in the edges. Rather than trim the paper flush with an edge, we fold it over, and then glue that in place. But all of this means that the pieces must be carefully measured, and folds must be pre-creased so that they are straight.

Duplicating the original pattern.

We carefully lay out the original fabric pieces as a pattern, penciling the shapes on the back of the paper. (We do, however, need to make an educated guess as to how much thickness differential there is between the two materials.) Doing this before we make any cuts ensures that we can keep the marbled pattern as intact as possible. We also try to keep the pattern sections as large as possible; folding is better than overlapping, but is more technically demanding and a little more risky, as the glue-dampened corners must be seated fully into the corners. If not done carefully, the paper can be damaged.

3. The Lid

Pre-creasing folds is crucial if you hope for straight lines.

Detail of the finished lid.

We have carefully chosen the paper for the interior of the lid. This piece is vital, as it is the first thing people will see when opening the box.

A large centre piece will run from the front edge, across a 90° angle to the underside of the lid, and across another 90° angle to the back edge. Two separate pieces, with congruent patterning, will cover the sides. Each will have narrow flaps, which will be overlapped by the larger piece, so that there are no unsightly gaps showing the wood substrate.

4. The Main Compartment

We use a similar strategy when it comes time for the bottom section. The bottom is covered with one piece of paper. The sides, however, are different from the lid.

Clamping is easy, with non-stick plastic cauls.

Each side section was originally finished with a piece of cardboard, covered with velvet. The tray supports were cloth-covered wood. We have had to replace, for reasons of smell, these substrates. However, in the interests of good conservation practices, we simply replace them with cardboard and wood. Each panel is covered with paper as a unit, then glued in place. It is always good to dry-fit sections before gluing in any project. It allows you to adjust the fit until it is just right.

You can never have too many clamps!

Our glue is tacky, but still needs clamping. We need to have even pressure across the entire surface, and we also need to protect the glue-dampened paper from the clamp face. And here is where we have one modern tool which cannot be surpassed: a piece of plastic. We always keep pieces of thick, transparent acrylic plastic around the shop, for use as clamping cauls. Water-based glues will not stick to them, and plastic this thick won’t flex. With a few spring clamps, our paper and paper-covered cardboard and wood will stay in place while the glue dries. And when it is time to remove the clamps, the plastic simply falls away, with no damage of any kind to the paper.

The finished interior.

We have successfully glued the paper lining in place: lid, tray, and main compartment. When you open the box, you see a beautiful and literally unique pattern of marbling, in a colour which complements the wood of the box. When you remove the tray, the interior is a continuation of the pattern from the lid, looking almost as if the interior itself was marbled, rather than just being lined with paper.

With the paper lining finished, we are almost done. Rather than let valuable pens rattle around in the box, we will make a fitted, padded, and lined storage compartment for the tray. Details of this will be in our next post.

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