In my last post, I discussed tambour doors’ history and theory, as well as describing how I routed the groove for some doors in a small hand plane till I made earlier this summer. Today, let’s talk about making slats by hand.
I had some poplar from a past project sitting around that I resawed and planed down to just over 1/4" thick. I cut shallow rabbets on either end, double-checking that the slat ends would fit in the groove with a little wiggle room – I’d guess maybe 1/16". Ripping the 24 slats themselves was quicker work than I thought it’d be, especially once I found a rhythm. “Ripping by hand” is a phrase that tends to make some woodworkers break into a cold sweat, but when your stock is 1/4" thick, it goes quick. I kept just outside my knife line as I sawed, bringing each slat to its final 3/8" width with a swipe or two from a fore plane on the bench after sawing. (I could’ve built a little holder-jig to make them perfectly uniform in thickness and to secure such thin stock while edge-planing, but a couple hand screws laid flat on the bench seemed to work just fine, too.)
I decided to use some wild ziricote veneer I’d had squirreled away to face the slats, gorgeous sheets from Belize with grain and color pattern reminiscent of Japanese ink wash painting. if you’ve ever been scared to hand-veneer something, don’t be: with hot hide glue and some decent pressure from sandbags or clamps pressing down on scrap, adhering it to the substrate is really pretty easy once you’ve got everything in position. Hammer veneering is also an approachable (and cheap!) technique if you want to dip your toes in old-school veneering. In this case, I set the veneer face-down on a flat assembly surface with a couple long pieces of scrap screwed into it as an impromptu frame to keep everything square. I brushed on some hot glue in narrow strips and carefully spaced the slats with a 1/16" gap between them, applying hand pressure. Once I had all the slats positioned, I weighted them down to let the glue work its magic. One benefit of hot hide glue is its comparative tackiness as it begins to gel – unlike the yellow stuff, pieces don’t tend to skate around when you start loading them down with pressure.
After letting the glue set for about half an hour, I removed the weights and carefully worked an X-Acto knife between the slats, freeing each freshly veneered strip. Because I wanted to keep the veneer’s bookmatched pattern in order, I made sure to number the strips in case I (inevitably) dropped them like a klutz on the floor while moving stuff around.
Gluing on the duck canvas backing was a similar process, although I nervously triple-checked everything to make sure the assembly was staying tight and square before I really applied pressure to the canvas. Following a piece of advice I frequently read about tambour assembly on Internet forums, I made sure to only let the glue set for 20 minutes before taking the weight off and letting the door dry sitting standing up, wrapped into a spiral. Otherwise, you run the risk of gluing the edges of slats to one another, which wouldn’t make for a, uh, very flexible door.
As I mentioned in the last post, my first test-fit didn’t go so hot. Initially, I thought I’d somehow cut the slats too long and they were binding in the track. A closer look, however, revealed something far simpler: the “entry groove” – the notch cut out at the back of the cabinet where you feed the assembled tambour door into the track – was cut at too sharp of an angle, causing the door to jam. After chiseling it out to make the “onramp” curve or the door much more gradual, the tambour door slid in with a satisfying zzzzhiiijjjjj.
The planes themselves stand upright in a partitioned tray thanks to some rare earth magnets I epoxied into the back. I carved some simple, butterfly wing-inspired pulls from scrap cottonwood with a slöjd knife and a gouge. Now it’s almost impossible for me to go into the shop without playing with the doors, gliding them back and forth like a kindergartener “trapped” in a revolving door making her fortieth rotation.