Some people dive into deep cleaning every spring, but for me, spring fever hits as an irrepressible urge to organize! Since the weather began to turn here in the Ozarks, I’ve de-cluttered 2 closets, most of my kitchen cabinets, my bedroom dresser, and half of my especially disheveled garage.
Adding dividers to my drawers was at the top of my list for this spring, but I had to get creative about my method. Searches for DIY drawer dividers on Pinterest and Google brought up lots of cardboard and foam craft-board solutions, but in a dresser that was bought by my grandfather during the great depression, in a house that’s stood for almost 90 years, I knew a flimsy fix using craft-grade supplies would quickly look shabby- and didn’t seem appropriate.
As a second corner in planning these DIY dividers, I’ve learned to just acknowledge upfront that I WILL force organizers and dividers to hold max capacity (and beyond). I know now it’s best to invest in appropriately sturdy materials.
Off on my search I went and quickly found a much sturdier, easy to craft with material: Commerical Polystyrene Insulated Sheet – aka “Foam Core Board” – but not the sort of foam core board you find at craft stores. This building-construction grade material is MUCH stronger, thicker, and more rigid than craft store foam boards, for about the same price per square foot. I like this product because it’s rigid, lightweight, easy to cut, and priced well for DIY drawer dividers. The advantage of this material over foam is that it will never “crumble” as it ages like styrofoam is prone to do.
Pre-Building: Planning my DIY Dresser Drawer Dividers
Before cutting up my foam, I took measurements of my drawers and plotted how large I wanted each compartment. I picked 5in x 5in for my sock and underwear drawer, and 7×7 for my bra/shapewear drawer. Remember, when plotting your drawer dividers to factor in the thickness of the boards.
- Extruded Polystyrene Insulated Sheet (aka construction grade foam core board)
- Box knife that extends at least 1″ (use appropriate safety precautions)
- Measuring Tape
- Straight Edge (yardstick, board, etc)
- Spray Paint (you’ll need to prime with Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer/Sealer or a paint formulated for plastic.
- Duct tape – any print or solid color.
STEP 1: CUT “BOARDS” FROM YOUR FOAM SHEET:
My drawers are 8 inches deep, so I planned for 6″ high dividers. I used a ruler and a straight edge to cut my large 4ft x 8ft board into 6″ wide strips, then cut the strips to the lengths required to accommodate the dimensions of my drawer.
Use a ruler to mark where to make your cut:
Place a straight edge (like a ruler or board) along your measurement marks and use the knife to deeply score a straight cut in the foam board:
It’s easy to make clean, straight cuts on this material, just use a box cutter to carefully create a deep score across the top of the board, then, with even pressure, bend away from the cut side and the board will break cleanly where the score was made.
The waterproofed version of these boards sold for insulation will have a plastic film on the outside. Because the material is coated with a polyurethane, you’ll have to use your blade to cut through the film holding the broken pieces together:
Continue cutting until your boards are the length needed for your drawers.
Step 2. Cut Notches for Building Grid
While gluing pieces together is an option, creating notches and fitting the boards together is fairly quick and creates a much stronger joint.
To build a grid, use a scrap piece of foam to mark the placement and width of your notches before cutting:
You’ll need to use your knife to cut through the full thickness of the material this time- so be sure and work on a surface that is durable and not sensitive to scratches!
Step 3: Painting your Dividers
Once you have your pieces cut, assemble the drawer dividers and make sure the pieces fit together as you planned. Then, make sure the assembled divider fits in your drawer. If you desire a finished look, you’ll now want to paint or cover the foam. I chose to paint my first set- and watched with horror as the first paint I tried caused the surface of the board to bubble and deform!
Thankfully, switching to a really high quality surface primer resolved this issue. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer/Sealer, came to the rescue with a great finish with no bubbling underneath. I added a topcoat of grey to match my drawers.
The painted grey pieces, ready to have edges finished:
Step 4: Finishing Edges of your Drawer Dividers
If your notches turned out perfect and the exposed edge of the foam boards don’t bother you, you can stop here. I chose to go just a bit farther and cover each of my edges and seams with duct tape. This hid the exposed edges and any gaps in how my drawer dividers fit together- and added quite a bit of sturdiness. For my underwear drawer, I chose zebra tape on grey, and for my shapewear drawer, I finished the boards with white paint and used white duct tape for a very plain look.
I’m not sure how well the duct tape will wear over the years, but if it begins to look worn I may try spray-adhesive to apply a non-fraying fabric like fleece or knit cotton to my foam dividers for a softer look and feel.
Zebra tape on grey boards:
To finish, first apply duct tape to each and every joint, covering any gaps and smoothing the joints. Trim excess at the bottom:
Next, apply tape to the top edges, cutting the tape as shown to accommodate joints and allow the tape to lay flat:
Continue until all the edges and joints that will be exposed when installed are covered.
You can leave the outside edges uncovered, since they’ll butt up against the drawer’s sides:
And that’s it!
I’m thrilled with how this project turned out and, may I admit, installing dividers was the first time in my life that I began actually folding my underwear? they just seem so cheerful folded and tucked into cubbies sorted by favorite to least favorite.
It’s been a few years since I wrote this post, but these dividers have held up really well to daily use. In the time since I made them, I’ve had the opportunity to experiment with more materials on various projects, and through that, I think I have a solution for an issue I had with these dividers:
Using tape to cover the edges is playful, but doesn’t create a smooth, professional look, which I’d prefer. I’d considered spray painting over the tape, but knew from experience paint won’t stay adhered to duct tape.
When working on horse head shaped wreaths over the last fear years, I started using Plasti-Dip Spray – which sprays on to creates a smooth texture and adheres really well to everything I’ve tried. Unfortunately, I’ve sold this dresser so I can’t give it a go, but if I was to recreate this project I would add a final step of coating the entire thing in white spray-on plasti-dip coating instead of duct tape, for a polished, seam-joined, finish.
If you liked my tutorial on soft foam DIY-built dresser drawer dividers, check out my tutorial on creating cheap wood dividers for kitchen drawers, jewelry drawers or, like this top drawer of my dresser, handkerchief/scarf drawers!
If you liked this, you might like my tutorial on lining drawers with felt for a non-slip, luxury interior:
Lindsayanne is a professional artist, writer, and serial-DIY-er with a knack for solving problems creatively at home, in the studio, out in the garden, and even online. Learn more about Lindsay, her training, and her background here.