Canadian Woodworking

Tambour Spice Cabinet

Author: Lee Brubaker
Illustration: James Provost
Published: April May 2008

Tambour doors were first employed in France during the 1600s and their use became widespread during the 1800s with the advent of roll top desks. Today you can often find them in kitchens, mounted on built-in or movable cabinets, between the countertop and the upper cabinets. Generally they are used for storing breads or small appliances.


I built this oak spice cabinet because I didn’t want to use an open rack or stand. This design incorporates a tambour door over a simple cabinet that holds 27 spice bottles and a small drawer for storage of bulk spices. The cabinet leaves 15 inches of clear counter space at the front.

You can easily accommodate the number of spice bottles by increasing or decreasing the width of the cabinet. The bottles I used were 1 ¾” diameter by 4″ high. If your bottles are higher than 4″ you will have to increase the height of the cabinet.

You might find it convenient to mill all the project pieces first. Mill them a tad longer than finished dimensions and cut them to length just before assembly.

Trimming the tambour

Optional slat profiles

Side template 

Rout Tambour Track

The tambour door rides in a track routed on the inside of the two side pieces. Make a template to rout the track (see Tambour Track sidebar). Before you rout the tambour track, cut the side pieces (A) to finished dimensions. Then use a pencil to mark the location of the canister shelf mortises, the bottom shelf dado, and the drawer track on the side pieces. You will cut the mortises and dados after routing the track.

Construct the tambour track jig, and rout the track on both side pieces. If you are new to freehand routing you’ll find it easier to rout the track taking two, or even three, shallow passes. Use a light, mid-power router, in the 1 ¾ to 2 ¼ HP range equipped with a sharp router bit.

Build the Cabinet

Once the track is routed you chop out the 5⁄16″ deep mortises for the canister shelves. As there are only four of these to do I chop them out with a chisel and mallet. Pre-drill the mortises to make it a bit easier to chisel out the waste. Next, rout the ½” wide dado for the bottom shelf, the ⅛” dado for the drawer track, and the ¼” rabbet for the back. Be careful when routing the dado for the drawer track where it exits the front edge of the side piece.

Mark out 2 ½” radius curves on the top of both side pieces, cut the curves off at the band saw, and smooth the curve. I used a ½” round over bit to profile the inside and outside edges of the sides. You could also use a sander. However, do not round over the bottom edges of the side pieces.

Cut the back (B), bottom shelf (E) and canister shelves (F) to length and dry fit the cabinet, ensuring that all is square. At this stage you can apply a finish to these pieces, being careful not to get finish into the mortises, dado and rabbet, or on the front edge of the bottom shelf. The easiest thing to do is apply masking tape over the areas you don’t want finish on. Don’t forget to apply a thin, even coat of finish in the tambour track. Once the finish is dry you can glue up the cabinet, ensuring that everything remains square.

Build the Tambour Door

To best maintain a continuity of colour and grain pattern, mill the tambour slats (I) from a single board. A 12″ x 36″ board should give 22 slats. Joint one side of the slat board, rip off a slat, joint the board again, and rip another slat. Continue until you have 11 slats, and then cut the long slats into half. You might want to make a couple of extras. It is not unusual when ripping narrow pieces that internal stress in the wood is released resulting in warpage which may only take place several hours after the slats are milled. Round over the edges of the slats on a router table and sand them smooth. I used a rounded over profile, but you can choose an alternate profile.

Before you use the canvas, wash it, even if the product is ‘pre-shrunk’. If you can’t purchase pre-dyed canvas, you can dye canvas using common vegetable dye. You will need to construct a simple jig to glue up the tambour door (see Tambour Gluing Jig sidebar).

Cut the canvas one inch narrower than the finished length of the slats. Lay the canvas on the jig and cut off any excess canvas that projects beyond the bottom end of the jig.

Remove the canvas from the jig and lay wax paper on the bottom with at least ½” extending up over the side and the top braces. Cut the slats so they fit snugly in between the side braces. The wax paper will provide sufficient clearance for the slats to move smoothly in the tambour track that you milled into the side pieces.

Lay all the slats in the jig, and place a center reference mark on the last slat. This is your last chance to check that the slats are laid out for optimal colour and grain pattern. Remove the slats in a sequential order, place the canvas in the jig, on top of the waxed paper, and then place the slats on the canvas. Draw a line on the canvas along the bottom edge of the last slat; don’t apply glue beyond this reference line.

Now you are ready to glue up the tambour door. I used white carpenter’s glue and a small foam paint roller to spread an even coat of glue on the canvas. Realign the canvas to the reference marks on the top brace, and position the slats in their sequential order. Place the end brace in between the side braces and up against the last slat. Use two bar clamps set about four inches in from the slat ends, applying just enough pressure to squeeze the slats together along their lengths. Place another piece of waxed paper on top of the slats and place the pressure plate on top. Put a weight on the pressure plate to force the slats down onto the canvas. I used a concrete building block. While the glue is curing, mill the handle (J), and round over the front corner.

Tambour Track

Cut a piece of ¾” MDF 5 5⁄16″ wide and 12 ¼” long, and draw 2″ radius curves on three of the corners. Use a bandsaw or jigsaw to cut off the corners, keeping about 1⁄16″ outside the cut lines. Then smooth over the curves.

Using double sided tape, attach the template to one side piece (A), positioning the template ⅞” above the bottom, and ⅞” from the front edge, of the side piece.

Install a 11⁄32″ inside diameter (i.d.) template guide and 5⁄16″ straight bit in your router, and use double sided tape to attach a ¾” thick support block on one edge of the router base. Now rout the 5⁄16″ deep track; do so in two shallow passes, moving in a clockwise fashion, rather than taking one full cut. Once the track is routed remove the template and position it over the bottom edge of the side piece, and then rout the bottom junction. Flip the template 90º, attach it to the other side piece, and rout the track.

Face Board and Trim Complete the Cabinet

Mill pieces for the face board (C) and face board trim (D) and use a ¼” round over bit to profile the top edge of the face board and ½” round over for the face board trim. Cut a ⅛” x ¼” rabbet on each end of the face board so that it will fit into the tambour tracks, and rout a ½” radius cove on both ends of the face board trim. Glue the face board trim onto the face board, ensuring that the two pieces are aligned on their centers.

Remove the tambour from the jig and trim off the excess canvas at the bottom. Place the tambour canvas side down on a table and break the glue between the slats by gently folding the tambour down over the edge of the table.

You now need to trim the ends of the slats so that they will be even and fit into the tambour track. Turn the tambour slat-side up, and set your router table fence so that a ½” straight bit is high enough to just even the backside of the tambour slats, making a ⅜” wide cut. Next turn the tambour slatside down, and re-adjust the height of the router bit so that your next pass leaves the end of the slats ¼” thick.

Lay the cabinet on its back and feed the tambour into the tracks at the bottom front entry. The tambour should slide with minimal side play. If it feels a little tight and jerky lubricate the ends of the tambour slats and tracks with wax.

Remove the door and spread glue on the edge of the bottom slat and glue the handle in place, centered on the bottom slat. Make certain that the backs of the handle and the bottom slat are flush. After the glue has set, test the door again to make certain that the handle is not binding on the sides of the cabinet. A bit of sanding may be required.

Test the fit of the face board assembly by sliding it into the track entry. Position it so that the base of the assembly is flush with the base of the bottom shelf (E). Place a pencil mark about ¼” above the junction between the assembly and shelf (E). Remove the assembly from the cabinet and iron on two layers of shelf-edge tape or a single strip of 1⁄16″ veneer, with the bottom edge aligned to the pencil mark. This functions as a spacer to hold the lower row of bottles back from the tambour track so that the handle does not catch or rub the bottle caps.

A Simple Drawer Completes the Cabinet

For this project I used the Veritas Micro Drawer Slide/Side ( for the drawer sides (N). They work well on small drawers, particularly when they are not overly deep. They also make drawer assembly very quick, as the slide is incorporated into the side. If you don’t like the look of aluminum drawer sides, then substitute wood sides.

The Veritas drawer side/slides require that you rout a cove on the edges of the drawer front. The side/slides are then recessed into the back of the coves. The instructions that come with the side/slides are very easy to follow. Mill the pieces for the drawer (K, L, M) and then apply the finish before assembly.

Final Assembly

The face board assembly is not glued into the tracks; two small support blocks (G) hold it in place. Drill and countersink holes for #5 ½” screws before installing the blocks. This allows you to adjust the spacing between the face board assembly and the top of the drawer. The blocks and screws must not protrude beyond the depth of the tracks or they will interfere with the drawer operation.

The tambour is quite heavy and when sliding in the tracks it can put a pretty solid hit to the intersecting entry track. I installed a couple of foam insulation blocks at these junctions following final assembly to cushion the tambour when it comes to a stop.

Tambour Gluing Jig

Cut a 20″ x 24″ base. Screw a 1″ x 1 ½” brace along one side and another at the top base of the base, at 90º to each other. Using a slat (I) as a guide, screw a brace on the other side of the base, this will ensure that the tambour will fi t exactly between the two side braces. Place two reference marks on the top brace, ½” in from each side. When inserted in the jig, the slats will align with these marks. Cut a fourth brace the exact length as the slat (I), and cut a ¾” x 16″ x 16″ pressure plate from a piece of sheet stock. A concrete block makes a good ‘clamp’.

Finishing the Cabinet

To make it easier to apply a finish to the tambour, use the band saw to cut two 6 ½” to 7″ diameter discs from a piece of 2 x 8 softwood. Wrap a piece of double sided tape around each disc. Placing a disc at each end of the tambour, wrap it, slat side out, around the discs. This will expose the edges of the slats for finishing. Several coats of a thinned varnish applied by brush will go on easier than a single heavy coat.

Apply a finish to the remainder of the cabinet components, install the tambour door, the face board assembly (C, D), face board support blocks (G), bumper blocks, and bumper feet. Finally, apply a coat of wax on the drawer slides.

For the final, and crucial installation of the spice bottles, it’s a good idea to involve the person who will be the cabinet. Now, where is that leg of lamb that I had in mind for Sunday’s dinner?

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