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I was watching a show on PBS this weekend and they made a tambour using canvas and contact cement as the adhesive.  Got me to wondering, how were they made in the 18th century?  Did they just use hide glue?  Was wondering about the flexibilty of hide glue soaked canvas?

The addition of small amounts of potash was commonly used to prevent animal glue from age-cracking when making folding screens and theatrical backdrops etc. From the late eighteenth-century, glycerol (glycerine) was the preferred modifier of animal glue to make it flexible enough for tambour doors etc.

Only a small amount of glycerine (from the supermarket) is required and it doesn't otherwise affect the glue's properties. The quantity isn't critical, though as with everything else, experimentation is your best ally.
The last one I did was straight hide glue. Just flexed the canvas the next day. The main thing I learned was to pre-shrink the canvas!!
Would anyone have specifics on the canvas?
What weight, etc.
I am also making a Seymour desk and this will be my first tambour

Here is a link to an 8.5 oz cotton canvas.
Would this be correct for a tambour


Linen was the traditional fabric used for tambours – it's incredibly tough. Linen is made from very long fibres from the flax plant. Cotton is made from short fibres and typically fails where it folds, or in your case, hinges.

Make sure you purchase 100% natural linen and not a blended linen fabric. Purchase medium weight linen in the region of 5-6oz.
I fixed a tambor desk for a friend about 12 years ago. I was advised to use natural linen sail cloth, the stuff that's used for making ship sails. It worked great!
Tambours- Flexible door made up of a series of thin wooden slats either glued to a fabric backing or threaded together with wire cable with tongues on each end of each slat tag turn in tracking grooves in the carcase.

Range of tabour slat size- 5/16" to 1/2" thick, 3/8" to 3/4" wide.
Range of grooves to accept tambour size- 3/16" x 3/16" to 51/16" x 5/16".
Minimum radius for groove- 1 1/8" radius to the outside of the groove.

For the fabric backing it can be linen canvas, cotton canvas, and even silk. 
Most common is the unprimed cotton artist's canvas.
After research 8 oz. weight for small tambour is best and for larger roll top type 10 oz. weight canvas is recommended. 

I was informed by Lance Patternson that the canvas should be washed and dried at least 3 times with hot water to aid in the pre-shrinking the canvas.

Tambour slats can be stained and finished before gluing to the fabric. Yet that option is up to the individual.  Just be aware that the finish must be kept off the back of the slats for hide glue will not stick to any finish. 

To help in gluing the slats to canvas please vista FWW No. 12. The article is written by Alphonse Mattia. I would post my drawing here but again the file is too LARGE. Ahhhh.

After the slats have been glued down to the fabric, you can then trim the slates to length, and establish rabbets. You will be able to cut all the material by hand by scribing everything first and with a series of fine cuts with a sharp plane.  A router can be use as well or a table saw.  The tongue on the tambour assembly should not rub against the shoulder, it is better to have 1/32 or gap, for this will keep things moving smoothly. 

Well that is it for now.

Thanks, I will look for Linen (canvas)
Jack when you say Linen, do you mean linen canvas or just linen?

what do you think of this product? I see wild fluctuations in price


Dan, You don't want a very heavy fabric like canvas as it can be counter productive: When stiffened with glue, it can make the whole tambour stiff and non-conforming with the curved track. The fabric of extant, non-restored tambours is usually surprisingly lightweight.

You might find one of these fabrics would suit your needs better (both in North America and well priced):



I should mention; the fabric backing should not cover the ends of the slats where they run in the track or the tambour could bind.
I should also mention I am basing my recommendations on the type of delicate tambours found on eighteenth-century night stands and small writing desks etc.

Large, heavy Victorian roll-top desks may require a different weight of fabric (and possibly electric activation).
thanks, I am making a Seymour Ladies writing desk. The tambours are only about 12" tall and are vertical