Tips on Large Tambour Construction

Old-fashioned yellow glue and canvas have a proven track record. January 9, 2007

I am building a 60" roll top desk. Never built tambours longer than 47". Does anyone have thoughts on the optimum size of the slats (thickness and height) for a red oak tambour 60" wide by 34" high? I plan to contact cement the strips to artist canvas, unless someone has a better backer to suggest.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor F:
First of all, I would use yellow glue instead. When I make them, they look like the cross-section of a Kit-Kat bar. 3/4" at the bottom and 1/2" thick.

From contributor M:
Rockler has a cable system for assembling tambour rolls. I personally have not used it, but for a 60" tambour, I think it might work better.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your responses. I will check into the cable system, but since all is built but the tambour and groove into the stiles and top rail, I may not be able to retrofit the unit for a track system.

Iím thinking that I may have made the rails and stiles that receive the tambour groove a bit too narrow. I hadnít thought about how much I would have to beef up the thickness of the slats to facilitate that extra foot of length. Iím thinking that my best direction at this point is to lay out the widest groove possible with the largest radius possible at the bends and then to test what width of slats will work without binding. Binding is a bad thing with a tambour!

Pertaining to the yellow glue: will it stick to the artist canvas? I usually stain and clear coat the slats first to prevent any possible glue/stain issues, but might try a test tambour with yellow glue. Poly glue would work, but dealing with the foam between the slats can be a real problem. Spraying on contact cement is rather quick and easy, but I always worry about the slats letting go.

Someone told me a while back that he used duck cloth, I think, for his backer material. Has anyone tried this? I use artist canvas because it doesn't stretch much and lasts a long time. However, it is easier to find duck cloth by the yard than artist canvas.

From contributor F:
Please don't use contact cement. I said my slats were at least 1/2" thick, but the ends are cut down to about 3/8" to ride in the groove. I think the duck cloth will work fine. If you stain and finish the slats first, you won't have to worry about the glue. Just wipe up promptly. You don't need that much glue anyway. After you stain/finish the slats, just run a cabinet scraper across the back before you glue.

From contributor T:
You want to remember that this tambour curtain is going to be real heavy. If it slides well on the way up, it will come down really fast. Hafele sells a spring loaded cable gizmo that helps pick up weight on the way up and slows the travel speed on the way down. We've done these with the canvas backs and with laced shark leader (Real thin metal cable like the stuff that comes with Accuride cable style flipper doors).

You might also look at some old kitchen queens. They have a groove that is about 1/4 inch deep. This groove feeds into a round holding pond that is 1/2 inch deep. You roll the curtain up like a sleeping bag to load it, then pull it down into the groove.

From contributor B:
I built eleven 50" wide roll tops about 25 years ago. I didn't know what kind of canvas to use, so I took an antique tambour to a boat place and he knew just what it was. I don't remember what the canvas was called, but I do remember that it had the word "duck" in it. I did a lot of experiments with different glues, and to my surprise, the glue that worked best was... Elmer's yellow. 25 years later, I still have access to 5 of those desks and there are no problems.