The Completed Roll Top Cabinet
The roll top cabinet is finally finished!
Antique Dentist’s Desk
As I described in an earlier post, this piece was inspired by a “Dentist’s Desk” I had seen at a friend’s house. I liked the unusual look of the roll top, with its quick vertical drop after a tight-radius curve. Most roll tops seem to drop at a much more gentle angle. I also liked the beveled fronts on the shallow drawers, and while not copied, I incorporated a similar style to this piece.
I built this cabinet from quarter-sawn white oak, which remains my favorite wood to use for furniture. It is very stable with little movement, provides a tough surface, takes a finish well, and looks great, too.
This was my first attempt at making a roll top. The concept always seemed pretty straight-forward, but I wasn’t sure how to go about making something that would actually slide up and down freely. So many roll top desks seem to be very difficult to operate. When it was nearing completion, I waxed the track the tambor rides in, and waxed the tambor itself. I was very pleased with the way it moves — it works better than I had hoped.
The piece is finished to match the kitchen table and chairs I made a few years back. (with two more chairs currently in the works.) Once sanded and assembled, I covered the cabinet with a large piece of plastic, and set a bowl of ammonia in the enclosure. The fumes from the ammonia darken the wood. The longer the exposure, the darker the piece will get. I fumed this piece for about 4 hours. When removed from the ammonia tent, (and when the smell goes away) the white oak takes on a bit of a gray tint. To bring a bit of warmer tones to the finish, I then apply a coat of garnet shellac. I used a 1.5 lb. cut of shellac, and applied it as a hand-rubbed finish. I then applied 5 coats of General Finishes Oil and Urethane, also hand-rubbed, with very light sanding between coats. The final coat was not sanded, but was followed by a coat of Renaissance Wax.
The piece appears to have doors at the bottom. This is actually a drawer front, designed to hold a recycling container. I am not sure what inspired this little design detail, but it works well.
Door Front Drawer for Recycling.
Completed Cabinet with Roll Top Open
Roll Top Cabinet with Top Closed
I am pleased with the way the cabinet turned out. One other little feature which I have not photographed yet is a “charging station” which goes inside the roll top to the left of the dividers. This has USB and 110v plug-ins for charging phones, tablets, cameras etc. I will try to get a picture of that soon.
This was a fun project to take on, from design through completion. I got my first experience making tambor for the roll top, I got to use my 18″ band saw to resaw the wood for the side panels, I made a jig to cut the bevels on the drawer fronts, got a lot of use from my recently-acquired smoothing plane, and managed to match the finish on other pieces. With a little modification, this design could easily become a desk (like the piece that inspired it) or even a stand up desk. The basic dimensions for this piece are: 53″ tall (38″ to the inside top surface) x 34″ wide x 18″ deep.