Sunday, March 29, 2009

Simple Project: Paper Towel Holder Part II

In part one I discussed the design, layout and cutting of the brackets for this simple paper towel holder. Now let's look at how I finished the project.

After cutting and shaping the second bracket, using the first as a pattern, I started on the base. Because of the way this holder is mounted under the cabinet (the cabinet bottom is actually recessed) the base will not be readily visible. So nothing fancy here - just a board with two dados to hold the brackets.

Dados are like grooves, except they run cross grain, while grooves run parallel to the grain. There are many ways of making these by hand. I decide to do a side-by-side (literally) comparison of two of these ways: knife, chisel, and router plane; and dado plane.

After laying out the dado with the square and marking knife, I used the router plane to mark the final depth of the dado. Of course, you could do this with a marking gauge etc. but I find this a convenient shortcut.

The next step is just zipping out the waste with the chisel. As shown, I started with the chisel bevel up, and then switched to bevel down action. There are two things to watch out for here. First, you need to be careful to avoid tearout on the far edge of the board. I do this by either cutting a small ramp with knife and chisel, or avoiding the issue entirely by working in from both edges. You also need to be careful to keep the chisel (and your arms and body) moving in a straight line. If you pivot or arch your stroke to either side, the chisel will dig into the sides of the dado and cause tearout. I find short, almost "jabby" strokes work better than long smooth ones in most cases - which somehow seems counterintuitive... Also, the knife lines will need to be redone as the dado deepens.

After getting close with the chisel, I switched to the router plane to clean things up and insure a flat, level bottom. I prefer the spear point cutter, but a square one works too.

For the second dado, I used a tool made specifically for the job. The dado plane combines the abilities of all the tools used on the first dado. It has dual nickers that knife the cross grain fibers to avoid tearout. It has a skewed iron that cleanly removes the wood between the knifed lines. And it has an adjustable depth stop to create a smooth and level bottom in the dado.

All the assistance it requires is a small batten attached to the board to guide it. Since I knew that the holes wouldn't show, I just nailed the batten to the board. If you wanted to avoid that, you could clamp it. Once the batten was in place, it was easy to plane the dado.

Both methods worked fine, but using the dado plane was easier (once it was properly adjusted) and produced a cleaner dado. Here's a shot of the test fit and a close-up of the dado joint made with the plane.

Once the brackets were nailed and glued into the dados, it was time to work on the rod that actually holds the roll of towels. I selected a piece of 2x stock with straight grain and using a hatchet and maul, split off a section.

Taking the billet over to the shavehorse I use a drawknife to square it up...

...then I created an octagon...

...and finally, using a concave spokeshave, changed this into a cylindrical rod.

After rounding the rod ends by cutting facets with the drawknife, it was time to hang the finished holder from the bottom of the cabinet. A huge improvement in my opinion. Where before I managed to avoid noticing the junky plastic holder, I now enjoy noticing and appreciating the new wooden holder. Sometimes small things are big changes.

Here's the hand tool kit used on this project.

Left to right, top to bottom:

Rip saw, concave spokeshave, #6 fore plane, flat spokeshave, shoulder plane, #5 jack plane, #3 smoothing plane, cross-cut panel saw, ¾” dado plane, #71 router plane, fine and coarse half-round files, 14” Brace with #20 bit, hatchet, batten, ¾” bevel edged chisel, awl, nail set, hammer, drawknife, square, marking knife, zigzag rule, plane setting hammer, and compass w/ pencil.


  1. Fun project Dan! Any excuse to use the shave horse. They're just too fun to work on.

  2. Bob - Yeah, I like the short, easy projects this time of year. But hey - I'm supposed to have an excuse to use the horse? It is too much fun - the first rod I was making ended up looking more like a pencil - I was just enjoying shaving away!

  3. Dan: Very nice work. I like it... Can't wait for the weather to heat up more so I can head on out to my Shop.

    By the way, if you are interested, I did post my Shop Tour Video on my Blog if you are interested in checking it out!

    Keep up the great work Dude, always love reading your Projects and all.


  4. Great small project! Makes the metal one in my kitchen look bad. Might just have to do something about that someday.

  5. I'd always rather look at wood than at plastic. Nice job, Dan!

  6. Handi, David and Kari,

    Thanks for your kind comments. As always, they are appreciated.

  7. Here's my response to an emailed question about what keeps the rod in place:

    When I made the rod I gave it a long taper, so it tends to bind up before going all the way through in one direction. Of course, there is nothing stopping it from going out the other way, and honestly, I don't think you would need the taper at all, but I could be wrong. The slightly oval and faceted form, combined with a snug fit, might make it slide around less than a standard, closet rod type of dowel.