I hate to admit it, but I really do like things that have a “wow factor,” like desks with secret compartments, cabinets with fancy marquetry… and the box shown above and at the left. This box has a little surprise: When you open the drawer, the top of the box retracts like a mini roll-top desk. The top is a tambour, with a series of narrow slats glued to a flexible canvas backing. The tambour slides in a curving track in the sides of the box, and its bottom edge is directly attached to the back of the drawer. When you pull the drawer open, the tambour automatically opens, revealing a shelf inside.
The box is sized to be useful as a jewelry box, a case for storing watches, sunglasses, etc., or as a desktop caddy to keep pens, erasers and other office supplies organized.
The Sides and Tambour Track
To start this project, cut out the two sides of the box from any nice hardwood stock planed down to a final thickness of 5/8″. Cut out two partial discs that are exactly 7-1⁄2″ diameter by putting the point of a compass exactly 1-1⁄2″ from the square edge of the stock. After rough cutting the discs out with a band saw or jigsaw, stick them together using double-stick tape or adhesive transfer tape, then use a stationary disc or belt sander to sand them to final size (Figure 1). Separate the parts, remove the tape and mark the inside face and front-facing edge of each part.
Next, rout the tambour tracks on the inside faces of the sides (I’ve made a video of the entire tambour making process, which can be viewed here: www.woodworkersjournal.com/TambourBox). To create the track, use a small plunge router fitted with a 1/4″ spiral-fluted straight bit (with a 1/4″ shaft) and a 3/8″ O.D. guide bushing attached to the router’s subbase. A template, made from a 7″ by 4-3⁄4″ piece of 1/4″ thick Masonite or hardboard guides the bushing during track routing. Print out a paper copy of the template available below, and glue it to the template stock with craft spray glue. After drilling two 3/8″ holes in the locations shown, cut the outer edge of the template to shape, as well as the waste in the channel section of the template. Use a 3/8″ bit in a router table to rout the channel to final size, using the table’s fence to guide the cut (Figure 2). Sand the edges of the template square and smooth with a stationary disc or strip sander.
Use adhesive transfer tape or double-stick tape to temporarily secure the template in place on the inside face of one of the box sides, carefully positioning the template’s bottom edge flush with the bottom of the side and its front edge flush with the front of the side.
With the plunge router set to take a 1/4″ deep cut, rout the track starting at the top of the template. As you move the router around the template, take care to keep the guide bushing tight against the template’s edge (Figure 3). When you reach the end of the channel, raise the bit and switch off the router. Before removing the template, mark its angled end (just below where the channel starts) onto the side with a fine pencil line. Now remove the template, peel or rub off the tape, and attach the template to the inside face of the other box side, reversing it front-to-back so that you’ll rout a mirror image of the track. Rout and mark as before.
There’s one more bit of track routing you’ll need to do, to allow the tambour to be installed or removed from the assembled box. Make the second 1/4″ thick template following the pattern shown in the Drawings. Line up the template’s angled notch with the pencil mark you made earlier and set its lower edge so that it overhangs the bottom of the box side by 3/8″. Clamp the template and side down to a bench top, taking care to locate the clamps so they don’t interfere with the router’s base. Then rout the short exit track, starting the router at the bottom edge of the template.