How to Build a Sliding Door Tambour Cabinet
Here's how to make a simple, elegant cabinet with an easy sliding door.
I was always fascinated by the rolltop desk at my grandparents’ house. The way the slats of wood, or tambours, curled out of sight seemed magical.
We designed a stylish cabinet that features two sliding tambour doors. I milled the tambours with a special set of router bits. To assemble the tambours, I used the traditional method of backing them with canvas. I'll show you how. It’s what makes the magic happen!
- 3/8-in. flush trim bit
- Bar clamps
- dado blade set
- Dowel jig
- Miter gauges
- Miter saw
- Pocket hole jig
- Rockler tambour router bit set
- Router table
- Table saw
- Tall fence for table saw
- Tapering jig
- 1 quart polyurethane
- 1-1/2" pocket hole screws
- 1/2-in. melamine
- 1/4-in. dowels
- 3/4-in. hardwood
- 8/4-in. hardwood
- Wood glue
Figure A: Tambour Cabinet
Overall dimensions: 27-5/8-in. H x 21-1/2-in. W x 19-1/2-in. D.
Figure B: Rabbet Close-Up
Figure C: Lower Leg
Figure D: Tambour Track Templates
|A||2||Top/Shelf||3/4″ x 19-1/2″ x 21-1/2″|
|B||38||Tambours||5/8″ x 1″ x 12-3/4″|
|C||2||End tambours||5/8″ x 1-1/4″ x 12-3/4″|
|D||4||Lower leg||1-3/4″ x 1-3/4″ x 14″|
|E||4||Upper leg||1-3/4″ x 1-3/4″ x 12″|
|F||1||Back||3/4″ x 13-3/4″ x 12″|
|G||2||Access filler||3/8″ x 3/8″ x 10″|
Project step-by-step (22)
Make the Top and Shelf
Edge-glue boards together to make the top and the shelf. Leave them slightly longer than final dimensions for now. If necessary, use cauls covered with packing tape to keep these glued-up panels as flat as possible. When the glue dries, cut them to final dimensions and sand them flat.
Bevel the Edges
Make a simple tall sliding fence. The carriage should fit over the fence of your saw, sliding freely but not loose.
After cutting the top and shelf to final dimensions, tilt your saw blade 10 degrees and clamp a panel into the jig. Set the fence and slide the panel through. Rotate the panel 90 degrees after each pass and run it through, repeating until all the edges are beveled. Do the same with the other panel.
Make the Track Templates
Cut out a melamine template blank that’s 12- by 14-inches. Give the corners a 3-in. radius, then sand to the lines to smooth the curves. You’ll use this to rout the track. Next, cut a triangular template with a 22-degree angle; this is for cutting the access slot.
Rout the Tambour Track
Center the track template on the top side of the shelf and tack it with 1-in. brad nails. Rout the track 7/16-in. deep with a 3/8-in. router bit with a guide bushing. Add the access-slot template and rout the “on ramp.” Remove the templates and repeat on the underside of the top, making sure you orient the top track to mirror the shelf track.
Rout the First Side of Each Tambour
After cutting all the tambour blanks, set up the first router bit to cut the convex side of each tambour. For safety and consistency, install featherboards and/or stock guides on the table and fence. Run all the blanks through to shape the first sides.
Rout the Second Side
Set up the second bit to cut the concave side of each tambour. Again, with featherboards, run all blanks through to cut the second sides. I routed only one side of the last tambours on each panel, which includes the wider end tambours with the finger pulls.
Because the panels are mirror images, the outer tambours will be routed with opposite bits, leaving the other edges flat.
Rabbet the Tambour Ends
Attach a long fence across two miter gauges. Install a 1/2-in. dado blade in your saw and make a cut through the fence, dialing in the 5/16-in. depth. Add a stop to the fence positioned to cut the 3/8-in. dimension of the rabbets. The stop allows you to quickly and accurately cut rabbets on the ends of each tambour. See Figure B for rabbet dimensions.
Rout the Pulls
To cut a 4-in. finger groove centered on each end tambour, set up a fluting bit in your router table and attach stops on the fence that limit the tambour’s travel. Starting at one stop, carefully lower the part onto the bit, then slide it to the other stop.
Finish the Tambours
Apply the finish of your choice to the tambours. Leave the backs unfinished so the wood glue can adhere the tambours to the canvas. Allow the tambours to dry while you work on the cabinet.
Taper the Legs
The lower legs are tapered on two sides. Using a shop-made tapering jig, cut the first taper on each leg (see Figure C). Set the jig for the second taper and cut that taper on all the legs. Next, cut the square upper legs.
Dowel the Legs
Drill two dowel holes in both ends of each upper leg with a doweling jig. Drill dowel holes in the tops of the lower legs in the opposite direction from the upper legs so they don’t interfere during assembly.
Drill the Top and Shelf Dowel Holes
Using dowel centers in the leg dowel holes, carefully position each leg in its marked location. Press down firmly so the dowel centers mark the hole locations in the shelf and top. Drill each hole with a depth stop on your drill bit. I don’t use a tape flag on the bit in this situation because tape won’t stop a drill bit!
Attach the Lower Legs
With the shelf upside down, insert glued dowels into the holes. Put glue on the ends of the legs and in the leg dowel holes, and press the legs into place. Drill a clearance hole for a screw through the shelf, centered on each leg, and a pilot hole into each leg. Drive one 3-in. wood screw into each leg for stability.
Add the Upper Legs
Install the upper legs in place on the top of the shelf as you did the lower legs, with glue and dowels.
Add the Top
Glue the dowels into the tops of the upper legs. Position the top on the dowels and press it into place with a clamp at each corner. When the glue dries, sand and finish the whole cabinet.
Frame the Tambours
Build a frame on a piece of melamine to hold your tambours snug and perfectly square. Place the tambours face down in the frame. Apply painter’s tape around the edges, masking off about 3/4-in. all the way around.
Apply the Canvas
Cut a piece of canvas slightly larger than the tambour area. Spread a coat of wood glue on the canvas and backs of the tambours. A foam roller works well for this. You don’t want the glue to run down the edges of the tambours, so don’t apply a heavy coat. Weight down the canvas evenly while the glue dries.
Trim the Canvas
When the glue dries, trim the excess canvas at the tape line with a straightedge and a utility knife. Repeat these steps to make the second door.
Wax the Track
Apply paraffin canning wax to the ends of the tambours. The wax ensures the tambours slide freely in the track.
Install the Doors
Slip the tambour assemblies into their tracks via the access slot at the back of the cabinet.
Add the Access Stops
Insert the access stops in the tracks and fasten with 5/8-in. wood screws. Don’t glue the stops in place.
Install the Back
Fasten the back into place between the two back legs using only pocket screws, not glue. That way if the sliding doors ever need repair or rewaxing, you can easily remove the access stops and back to take off the doors.