How To Make A Groove For The Roll Top Desk

art supply stores. Some people like using a dark denim backing because it doesn't show between the slats. But whatever the material, it not only holds the pieces together, it also acts as the hinge. The canvas allows all the individual pieces to flex as the door slides through the groove.

But it takes more than a piece of canvas to allow a door to flex in more than one direction (like it has to for an s-shaped tambour). The real "secret" is the style (or profile) of the tambour lift rail and slats.

STYLE. The key to having a tambour flex is building in clearance between the slats. This can be easily accomplished by changing the slat profile. I wanted the door on the roll-top desk (featured on page 6) to move through some pretty tight curves. By rounding over the slats, they can flex or move back and forth as the door moves through the curved groove, see Figs. 3 and 3a. The greater the clearance between the slats, the tighter the curve the door can follow.

SLAT WIDTH. But there are a couple of other things that come into play to allow the door to slide smoothly through the groove. One is adjusting the width of the slat, see Fig. 4. A wider slat makes a sturdier door. But a wide slat can't slide through a tight curve. It's physically impossible. That's why you typically don't find slats wider than 1" on most tambour doors.

There is one exception to this: the lift rail located at the front of the door. Here you want a wide piece to take all the wear and tear of being pushed and pulled as the door is opened and closed. It's traditionally cut wider and thicker to make it stronger (like on the roll-top desk).

Getting a wide piece like this to work in a groove doesn't require any woodworking magic. Simply reduce the thickness on the ends of the rail by cutting a rabbet to create a tongue, see Fig. 2. For the desk, this tongue was only W'-thick so it could slide smoothly in the 3/8M-wide groove.

THICKNESS. When you reduce the thickness of a lift rail or slat, you can make it wider and still have it slide smoothly. This is because you've created more clearance around it. Of course you can go too far and make them too thin. Then on a wide door the slats could start to sag and even fall out of the grooves.

CLEARANCE. Finally, there's one other consideration for making tambour doors slide smoothly. You need to allow for clearance between the slat and the groove. You can't expect a 3/8,Lthick slat to slide very well in a 3/8,Lwide groove. The tambour door in the rolltop desk used 5/i6M-thick slats in a 3/s" groove, see Fig. 2. This provided just enough clearance so the tambour door would slide smoothly but without rattling around when it moves.

How Make Roll Top Desk

Optional rail support slat provides a grip to pull door closed

W-thick slat

Optional rail support slat provides a grip to pull door closed

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