Monday, March 23, 2009

Simple Project: Paper Towel Holder

You know how some things just hide right in front of you? You look at them every day, but somehow you don't really see them. And then, one day, BAM! "Where did THAT come from?"

That was our kitchen paper towel holder. For years, it's been there. I get paper towels from it every single day. But when I finally "saw" it - Yuck! It's awful. Dingy. Shoddy. Plastic. How could I have let that thing stay in my kitchen?

It's all the more shameful when compared to my shop paper towel holder. Which, although simple in design and construction, I do notice every time I get a towel from it. It's wood. I made it. It makes me happy. Big, big difference.

It was time for action.

First, I created a new design based on my shop holder, but with modifications made for mounting it under the cabinet, rather than on the wall. Then I figured out how much wood it required, and the dimensions of the stock.

After crosscutting a pine 1x12 to rough length, I used my panel gauge to mark the width for ripping.

After a quick trip to the saw bench, and a few passes of a fore plane, it was time for layout. I used pencil so I could make changes as I went. After the third redo, I liked what I saw.

The next step was to bore the hole for the rod that will hold the paper towels. I do most of my boring on my low saw bench. The slot down the length of the bench makes supporting the workpiece easy. For the boring, I used my Stanley "Yankee" clone, 12" sweep with a 1 1/4" (marked "20" - as auger bits are numbered in 1/16ths) auger bit. The bigger sweep gives me much more torque. Even in the soft pine, a bit that size has quite a lot of resistance, and although a brace with a shorter sweep would function fine, less effort equals smoother action and less likelihood of tearout on the face from wobble. The trick to avoiding tearout on the back is to not bore all the way through. As soon as the lead screw breaks through on the other side stop and flip the board. You can reach under to feel for the tip, but after some practice you can just feel it in the brace when the tip breaks free. It's pretty amazing, but that tip can just barely be felt with your finger tip, barely even be seen, but the tool and your body will tell you, if you are listening.

After you flip the board, place the lead screw in the tiny hole and bore in from the back side. As the screw has nothing to hold onto, you have to apply more pressure to keep the bit cutting. This is where having the low bench really pays off. I just lean over the work, put the back of my top hand on my chest and bear down on the brace, letting my weight do the work.

Side Note: If you don't have a bit this big, expandable bits are useful, but the flipping technique above doesn't really work. Because expandable bits tend to have only one cutting fluke, they don't rotate cleanly once the bit looses the guidance of the lead screw. In this situation, your best approach is to use a piece of scrap wood as a backer and just bore straight through from the front side. I used to put a piece of paper between the two boards to show me when I was completely through (just like a lot of old shop instruction books tell you), but you don't need too. If you pay attention, you can feel the brace tell you when you are in the second piece of wood. It's pretty cool.

Once the hole was finished it was time for roughing out the shape with my bowsaw. I like to cut with the grain when I can, so I cut and rotate often.

The bowsaw was followed by the spokeshave...

and the file.

Next I will use this piece to layout the duplicate bracket for the other end. Then I will need to cut a piece for the top, cut two dadoes in the top, make the rod, attach the brackets to the top and mount the holder under the cabinet.

Soon that plastic piece of junk will no longer be hanging in our kitchen. Which is good, because now that I have noticed it, it mocks me unmercifully every chance it gets.


  1. Good project Dan! I actually have one of those cheap nasty plastic things in my shop!!!! I've always meant to replace it with a nice one but never made it a priority. I may have to add it to the list now. I've been on a shop project/tool making binge lately anyway so what's one more quick little project. As a side note, these types of projects are great ways to use up offcuts from prior projects (since I can never bring myself to throw them in the fireplace).

  2. Dan: Very nice so far, I've been thinking about a Design for one of them myself.

    We have a Plastic one, but it's not mounted, and the paper towls are moved to the convenient location where we can grab them at the time of need lol.

    Which is wherever we are at lol, When I get around to working on mine or getting wood to so do, I will be sure to post a link for you to check it out since you arn't following my Blog lol.


  3. Bob - I know what you mean about the priority thing - I have so many items on my "list" that sometimes really obvious, everyday things just get squeezed out.

    Handi - I'd love to see what you come up with. I think a moveable design would be fun to work on.


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