Introduction: One Hand Paper Towel Dispenser

About: Love building fun things with wood (automata, puzzles, etc). Music is my 2nd love, Concertina, Bass, piano, etc.

Simplicity, daily use, and wood components make this an ideal woodworking project. In almost all cases, when you need a paper towel, BOTH hands are full of goo! Then you have to grab the paper towel with one hand and tear off a sheet with the other, leaving goo all over the paper towel roll. With this paper towel dispenser you do not have to touch the paper roll. Every home, camper, shop, farm, needs paper towels and this dispenser may be the answer.

To dispense a paper towel with this unit, simply pull out the desired sheet(s), press down on the spring loaded top plate to squeeze the paper roll, and tear the paper sheet from the roll. To install a roll of paper, lift the top plate to remove it and slide the new roll onto the spindle. Then replace the top plate.


1 x 8 - 2' long

1 1/4" wood dowel - 12" long (See text for options)

1/2" wood dowel 12" long

Metal compression spring - 7/16" x 1 7/16" .040 wire (See text for options)

Step 1: Base Plate

The base plate starts with a piece of 3/4" wood, 7 1/4" x 7 1/4" square. A standard piece of 1 x 8 is 7 1/4" wide.

Your choice of wood is important. A spine and limiter dowel have to be inserted into the base plate. If the wood dowels are a tight fit you may split the wood on the base. You could slightly sand the end of the dowels to make them fit a little easier. Using a better quality wood (Plywood, Maple, Oak, etc.) would also minimize the problem.

The base will eventually be a round circle. Using a compass or whatever you might have for drawing circles, draw a 7 1/4" circle.

Draw diagonal lines from corner to corner to find the center of the base.

The paper rolls that I have found all have a 1 1/2" center hole. I happened to have a piece of 1 1/4" dowel so that's what I used for the spine. The limiters for the size of the dowel to be used for the spine is it must be big enough to allow a 17/32" hole down the center and it must be small enough to allow a paper roll to rotate on it..

Drill a 1 1/4" hole in the center of the base.

Drill a 1/2" hole 5/8" from the edge of the base. This hole will be used for a "Limiter" pin to help keep the paper from unraveling. The limiter pin is 1/2" dowel, 6" long, rounded smooth on one end.

Using the circle drawn, cut the 7 1/4" circle. The method I used is cut ~1/16" outside the line all the way around the circle. Then sand it down to the exact line.

Bevel the top edge of the base plate. A router makes it easy if you have one. A lathe would also make it easy. Another option is to insert a dowel slightly smaller than 1 1/4". Clamp the dowel in a vice. Have someone spin the base while you hold sandpaper against the edge.

Step 2: Top Plate

The top plate starts with a piece of 1/2" wood, 5" x 5" square. This piece receives all the action so I recommend a strong type of wood such as plywood, Maple, Oak, etc.

Draw a 5" circle centered on the board.

Draw diagonal lines from the corners to find the exact center.

Drill a 1/2" hole in the center.

Cut the 5" circle out of the wood.

Bevel the top edge. Use the same techniques you used for the base plate. Make this bevel as smooth as possible. This is the area that will be pressed down by hand.

For the center rod cut a piece about 6" long to start with. The length is dependent on the actual length of the spring that will be inserted under it.

Do not insert the rod into the top plate until you find the exact length needed during the assembly.

Step 3: Spine

The spine is a 11 1/4" piece of 1 1/4" wood dowel.

We need to drill a hole slightly larger than 1/2" for the top plate rod. I used a 17/32" drill bit but a 9/16" would also work.

The spine hole has to be 5" deep on one end. Drilling a hole 5" deep in the end of a dowel can present a challenge. The hole has to be drilled straight down the center. You will need to clamp the spine in position exactly 90 degrees from the base. To drill the 5" hole perfectly straight is the problem.

This is the method I used to drill a 17/32" hole 5" deep.

1. Drill the hole 3" deep.

2. Cut 2/12" off the end of the spine with the hole in it.

3. Using the remaining 1/2" deep hole as a guide, drill it an additional 2" for 2 1/2" total.

4. Glue the 2 1/2" piece back onto the spine. You should now have a 5" hole.

5. Sand the spine glue joint smooth.

The spring used is the "Compression" type which means it is designed to be squeezed together. The dimensions are variable. The spring I used was 7/16" in diameter, 1 7/16" long, and has .040 wire. The brand name is "Handi-Pack" and I bought it at Menard's. The spring must be able to fit into the 17/32" hole in the spine and still have room to be able to compress easily. If the spring is too narrow it may tilt to the side and not allow full compression. If your spring is too long, drill the spine hole deeper or shorten the top plate rod. If the spring is too short, make the top plate rod longer. The nice thing is that you can try any spring you have laying around because it just sits at the bottom of the hole in the spine.

Step 4: Assembly

The fist step of the assembly is mounting the spine in the base. It may be a tight fit so you may not need any glue. Gently tap the spine into the base. If needed, you could slightly sand the end of the spine for an easier insertion.

The spine should be flush with the bottom of the base.

Drop the spring into the top hole in the spine. Insert the top plate rod into the end of the spine. Press down on the rod to compress the spring. There should be at least 3/8" of compression.

Insert a roll of paper onto the spine.

Place the top plate next to the top of the rod. There should be ~3/8" between the top of the paper roll and the bottom of the top plate. Cut the rod to the proper length.

Insert the rod into the top plate. Do not apply glue until you are sure about the length of the rod. Set the top plate on the spine. Pressing the top plate should firmly lock the paper roll. Glue the rod into the top plate.

The last step is inserting the paper limiter pin in the base. The hole is only 5/8" from the edge so you have to use a little caution.

If you want to try your creative skills you could add a lot to the limiter pin. You could add a clip on top for post-it notes, or make a little sign with a cute saying of some kind. or just have an empty spring clip to hold whatever is right for you.

I think you will find this project to be very useful and probably will find use for it in more than one place.