Repairing a Rolltop Desk

March 30, 2016

Repairing a Rolltop DeskMy rolltop's tambour would not open all the way. It was like it was jammed from being able to be pushed up all the way to the top, in the totally open position. This meant the drawers were locked. Fortunately, not all of the drawers were shut.


These instructions will enable you to get your tambour all the way open and unlock the remaining drawers, provided you have the same scenario as I did.

  1. Remove any drawer, one on both sides. For my drawers there is a small piece of plastic that is shoved through a slot. It is bent over to make it too large to fit through the slot. One is located on each side of the track.

    To release it I had to simply unbend the piece of plastic and lift the drawer vertically thus allowing the plastic piece to slide back through the slot.

  2. Once the drawer is removed, take a flashlight and look toward the back of the opening where the drawer had once been housed. Now you can see the locking mechanism behind the drawers.

    In my desk, it comprises a vertical wooden shaft with cut-outs to engage the locking hook on the back of each drawer.

  3. Take a long stick or something and put it in the cut-out and lift.

  4. As it is lifted, open the other drawers.

  5. Repeat this step on the top drawer on each side to unlock all the drawers.

In my particular case, there is a plastic tube that fits in a hole on the underneath side of the desktop. This plastic tube is the mechanism that moves up and down as the tambour is lifted and lowered. This plastic tube is open at one end and has a flat rectangle at the other end. The open end fits in a hole and a flat rectangle is the part that actually moves the pivoting wooden lift.

The rectangle piece got caught on some wood and would not move. This prevented the tambour from completely opening. I simply took a long tool, reached in through opening left by the removed drawer and unjammed it. The tambour was freed up to work properly!

In order to keep the drawers from locking again if the tambour gets jammed, I removed all the drawers and unscrewed the metal hooks. These hooks are actually what is inserted into the wooden shafts cutouts to lock them in place. They are located the back of the drawer and easy to remove with a screwdriver.

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April 20, 2009

How do you make a stiff roll top desk roll up and down easier?

By karen from marion il.


April 21, 20090 found this helpful
Best Answer

Just what I was going to say; soap or wax or WD40.

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Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 108 Feedbacks
April 21, 20090 found this helpful
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I inherited my Father's antique rolltop desk and it needed some dust removed from the rolltop to make it open smoothly. I vacuumned the rolltop while closed along every movable part and moved the rolltop up and vacuumed the channels it moved in as much as possible. I also used furniture lemon oil on the channels and rolltop too. It worked for me.


I have also used candle wax on sticky drawers before. Maybe that would help too. Good luck.

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April 14, 2019

I have a child's roll top desk and the slats must have shrunk because they keep coming off the track? Is there any way to fix this? Do I need to buy new ones or what would you suggest?


Gold Post Medal for All Time! 677 Posts
April 14, 20190 found this helpful

You have to remove the roll top to repair it. Instructions are here

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Bronze Feedback Medal for All Time! 196 Feedbacks
April 14, 20190 found this helpful

There are some YouTube videos on how to do this. This is a sample:

You have to search by the phrase tambour repair if this one is not helpful. There are bunches out there!


Best wishes for an easy fix!!

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June 17, 2017

How do I re-insert the rolltop insert back into my desk after I refinished it? I can't get it started in the grooves and it will not fit back again.

I need to slide the rolltop back where it is suppose to go.


May 3, 20200 found this helpful

Biggest problem I found when re-inserting roll-top: Much of the retaining fabric had perished and the individual slats could slide against each other far too easily. Two people gently guiding did the trick for me.


But that doesn't really count as what we'd call a 'proper job', more a 'bodge'. But it works now!

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