If I've learned anything throughout the course of Dunn DIY (and I've learned a lot), it's that the process of learning is a never-ending one. I'm constantly upping my skills, which means sometimes I revisit projects from way-back-when and do them again—only better. Such is the case with this DIY paper towel holder, which was an early Dunn DIY project.
I love this project for a number of reasons—partly because of its sleek, modern style and inexpensive cost, but also because it's a great project for beginners. Here at Dunn DIY, we're all about empowering people. From cutting a copper pipe with a hacksaw to drilling through lumber with a power drill, this DIY paper tower holder is a fantastic introduction to basic skills—and at the end of it, you get an eye-catching piece in your kitchen.
Step 1: Cut copper pipe for paper towel holder
First, cut the copper pipe to size. It’s a matter of preference how much of the pipe you want to be seen above the paper towel roll, but we cut our pipe to 12 1/2" (a typical roll of paper towels is 11" long, so at this length you'll have about an inch visible at the top).
The first time I cut metal I was very intimidated, but don't worry! Because the pipe is hollow and made out of fairly pliable metal, and because the material is consistent (unlike the woodgrain), I actually find it easier to cut than wood. To cut the pipe, you’ll need a pipe cutter or hacksaw. (A hacksaw is a saw with fine teeth, and it's designed for cutting metal.) Cutting through copper is surprisingly easy when you have the right tools. Measure and mark where you need to cut with a permanent marker. Line it up with the 90-degree slot on the miter box and clamp down. A hacksaw has very, very fine teeth, which makes it very easy to start a cut with. The teeth point ever-so-slightly forward, which means that it's easiest to start sawing by pulling the saw toward you. Start out slowly with a few of strokes in the same direction until you have a groove started, then continue to saw back and forth at a comfortable pace.
Both ends of the pipe will be covered up in the end, but if you have some particularly sharp spots at the end, you can use rough sandpaper to smooth them out.
Step 2: Clean and polish paper towel rod
Copper pipe isn’t designed to be on display, so you may find it looks a little drab. I always like to start with cleaning the pipe. Krud Kutter works well for tough dirt, and if you have a sticker on the pipe that's not coming off easily, Krud Kutter Adhesive Remover is my go-to solution.
Once the pipe is cleaned, don’t worry if it still doesn’t look its best because this next step will make all the difference, appearance-wise: Grab very fine steel wool and polish the copper. The steel wool polish brings out the shine and will help eliminate—or at least fade—any stamping you might find. Make sure you also clean and polish the pipe cap, because that’s what will show above the roll of paper towels.
Step 3: Mark wood for paper towel holder base
For the base of the holder, we’re going to be cutting the one-by-six into a hexagon or a square. I’ll show both, and you can pick the shape you like best.
We used hemlock because it has a beautiful natural color and you can buy it in a two-foot length (a lot of lumber can't be purchased in lengths that short, so this way you'll have less waste). But if you already have a one-by-six in a different type of wood, if you prefer a different look, or if you want to pick the most cost-effective option, you can use whatever wood speaks to you.
For the square, measure a length the same as the width of the wood. Remember the principle of nominal dimensions: "Nominal dimensions" is a fancy way of saying that even though this board is called a one-by-six, it’s not actually 1” x 6”. The board started out 1” x 6”, but it was planed down and made smooth during the process of preparing it to be sold. All that prep work means the board shrunk slightly, so this board is actually closer to 3/4” x 5 1/2”. Because wood is organic and can grow and shrink, it’s best to measure your specific board so you have accurate measurements—in other words, don't assume that a board called a one-by-six will actually measure 1" x 6".
For the hexagon (3 5/16”), print out this template (make sure to measure it once it's printed as some printers will automatically scale the template to fit the page) and cut it out. Lay out the template on your board. The hexagon shape should line up with the edges of the one-by-six. Trace the shape onto the wood.
Step 4: Cut paper towel holder wood base
Because we’re cutting a one-by-six instead of a one-by-four, the board is too wide to fit in a miter box. If you’re feeling confident, you can clamp down your wood and freehand it with the saw. Because I’m a total perfectionist, I like to line up my speed square with the lines and use that to get my cut started. Once I’ve made a groove, I unclamp the speed square and cut the rest freehand.
When cutting with a backsaw, it’s best to start with a few strokes pulling the saw towards yourself before you begin sawing back and forth. This is because the teeth of the saw point forward and make it harder to push the saw in that direction. Once you have a groove established, you can saw back and forth, starting with light pressure and increasing your speed once you find a rhythm.
Step 5: Mark center of wooden base
Next, measure the width of the base and mark the center (aprox. 2 3/4”).
Step 6: Drill hole for paper towel holder pipe
Once the center is marked, clamp down your base on top of a piece of scrap wood. Take your 7/8” spade bit and measure up from the point 7/8” and tape around the spade bit with a piece of masking tape. (This will act as a guide for you to know how deep to drill.) The middle point of the spade bit will poke through, but the goal is to not drill the rest of the way through the board. This will leave more for the pipe to be glued to. If you do drill through all the way, don’t worry—you can still make it work.
Drilling with a spade bit can be a little trickier than drilling with a regular drill bit, because it’s much bigger—and it's meant for drilling much bigger holes. Position your drill on top of the mark and press down the point of the spade bit into the wood, so that it grips right where you want it and doesn’t travel while you’re trying to drill. Start the drill at a high speed with light pressure, until the side points make contact. (This is a great time to check and make sure you’re drilling straight down.) If one side makes contact and the other doesn’t, that means the drill is crooked, and you should try to straighten it out before continuing. Once all of the points have made contact with the wood, begin to add more pressure to drive the bit through the wood. If you’re applying pressure but the drill seems to be spinning in place, take the bit out of the hole and remove any wood shavings caught on the bottom of the spade bit.
Drill until the masking tape touches the surface of the wood.
Step 7: Sand paper towel holder base
Once all the cuts and drilling are done, it’s time to sand. Sand the base with 150-grit sandpaper, focusing on the edges and the hole in the center. (Here's a little tip that makes a big difference: When you're sanding the surface of the base, sand in the direction of the grain for the best effect.)
Step 8: Condition wood for paper towel holder
We like Daly’s Kitchen Wood Treatment, but you can also use mineral oil if you already have it around the house. Both of these products work similarly to furniture polish: Apply it by rubbing it into the wood, let the wood soak in the product (like a conditioner), then reapply over time when it starts to show wear and the color begins to fade.
For Daly’s Kitchen Wood Treatment, rub on a generous amount with a paper towel or a lint-free cloth and allow it to sit for a few minutes before wiping off any excess.
Step 9: Glue paper towel holder together
While the wood is conditioning, fit the copper cap onto the cut pipe and glue it in place. Glue the bottom of the pipe to the wood base by applying glue to the hole and then fitting the pipe in place. Wipe away any excess glue and allow it to dry.
Step 10: Add rubber feet to paper towel holder
Finally, add rubber feet onto the bottom of your holder. This will keep it from sliding around on your countertop when you go to grab a paper towel.
That’s it! Now, even your paper towels can match your style. Looking for other simple projects to up your kitchen? Check out our DIY bulletin board for some home organization inspiration (weekly meal planning, anyone?) or our storage pegboard (love this for small spaces especially).