Introduction: Restaurant-Style Paper Holder (Bearings, Magnets, Rope)

About: Programmer, woodworker, problem solver, problem maker.

What Is It?

A paper / photo / postcard / mail / notecard / art holder that can:

  • Be used with 1 hand (allowing higher placement on the wall)
  • Accommodate a considerable variety of paper thicknesses (and stacks of papers)


How's it work?

  • Bearings & Magnets hold the paper tight
  • Rope keeps the bearings from falling on your head.
  • Wood holds the magnets
  • Wood clamps the tensioned rope to the wall.



Short-order cooks single-handedly stick order tickets to a rail above their heads. That's amazing usability. We wanted some of those for our house, workshop, and office areas.

They're expensive. We bought some cheap ones, and they were fidgety (and not all that cheap).

2 years ago, I began drawing & prototyping the ideas that led to this (which I finished last week!)


The companion YouTube video covers:

  1. History of this design (the 6 scrapped designs)
  2. Building these (including up-close detail shots)
  3. A scrapped idea that become something greater.


Watch the YouTube video.

Hey, you should seriously watch the YouTube video. It's not necessary for this Instructable, but it should be helpful.


HOW TO READ THIS INSTRUCTABLE For the sake of clarity, I'll:

  • Use bulleted and numbered lists
  • Use underlines to indicate important chunks or bits
  • [use brackets to indicate tidbits you should skip over until you actually build the project.]



Step 1: Pick Mounting Location & Select/Prepare Wood

By the end of this step, you should:

  1. Know exactly where you're putting this thing, and
  2. Have the wood cut to final dimensions

Both of these depend on your situation, so here are some tips:

Picking a Location

  • Pick a part of the wall that spans studs. [we'll be relying on them!]
  • Since you can use these with 1 hand, you can mount these higher than normal...and even slightly out-of-reach if you're the only one (or the shortest one) using it!


Wood Selection

I'm going to assume that you're buying wood that's pre-surfaced, or you already know how to surface lumber.

  • At least 3/4" thick (ideal: 1" or thicker)
  • At least 30" long (so you can mount enough paper)
  • At least 3" wide (for sturdy-ness and friction for clamping the rope)

We used Black Walnut w/ a live edge (live end?)


Since this was going on a chalk-board wall, I routed a chalk-holder groove up top...FTW!

Step 2: Mark & Drill Through-Holes (for Stud Screws & Rope Holes)

I'm going to deviate a bit from the video for drilling-related topics. We'll just go ahead and get all the through-hole drilling out of the way.

Stud Centers:

  1. On your wall, find the stud centers.
  2. Mark stud centers on the wood, and center-punch.
  3. Using a drill bit larger than the screw's head, drill a recess just deep enough so the head won't protrude once the screws is driven in.
  4. Using a drill bit the size of the screw's threads, drill through the wood the rest of the way.


Rope Holes

Rope will go through these holes, then down the back to be clamped to the wall by the wood. Taking that into consideration here are some TIPS for helping you decide where to drill your rope holes:

  1. Close enough to the board ends that you maximize usable space between those holes
  2. Not within 1" of the end grain.
  3. Close-ish to stud screws to help with clamping

Punch & Drill:

  1. Center-punch the rope hole locations.
  2. Drill through using a 3/8" bit.


Step 3: Magnet Recesses - Plan, Mark & Drill

Objective: recess magnets in the wood to make them flush.

Plan Spacing & Center-Punch

Your spacing will differ based on your usage. We used 4" magnet spacing.

  1. Find your rope holes
  2. Determine your magnet spacing. We used 4"
  3. Far-left and Far-right magnets should be at least 3" from the rope holes
  4. Pick spacing that avoids the stud screws.
  5. Center-punch.


Using an 18mm Forstner bit, drill the recesses for the magnets to sit inside.

  1. Install the Forstner bit in the drill press & raise the platform
  2. Set your depth stop to avoid drilling too deep.
  3. Drill at each magnet center-punch

Your magnets should sit flush in these holes now.

DO NOT GLUE IN THE MAGNETS YET. I realize the next step's pictures will show magnets, but I made a mistake. Wait until AFTER the finish to install magnets (see that step for instructions).

Step 4: Make Clamping Grooves for Rope

On the backside of the board, find the 2 rope holes.

  1. Draw lines extending from the holes downward to the bottom of the boards (but NOT up)
  2. Make a very shallow recess that will keep the rope in place.
  3. Recess needs to be shallow enough that the wood can still clamp the rope to the wall.

Ideas for creating this recess:

  • Round nose bit on a hand-held router
  • Dremel carving attachments
  • A chisel. (It doesn't need to be deep or pretty.)

Step 5: Apply Finish


Prep-Sand for Finish. Here was my sanding process:

  • Random-orbit sander: Grits 80, 120, 150, and 180
  • Sanding block: 180 grit - sand with the grain.


The Finish

I'm going to avoid getting deep here, because there's a lot of finishing advice on the internet, and often the advice differs based on the wood used, personal preferences, etc.

Here's what I did:

  • Wipe-on polyurethane blend (50/50 Mineral Spirits & Gloss Polyurethane)
  • followed by 2 coats of semi-gloss spray polyurethane.

If I'd do it again, I'd just use spray.


[It's OK to get the finish in the holes, but try to avoid puddling, as we're going to drill it out in the next step.]

Step 6: Install Magnets

Drill Out the Finish

Using the 18mm Forstner bit, lightly drill the holes again - just enough to drill out the finish - to expose the wood. [If you drill out some wood that's fine... the hot melt glue will fill the gap]


Glue the Magnets Use hot melt glue to stick the magnets in the recesses.

I think we're all pretty familiar with hot melt glue around here, so maybe I'll just give some tips:

  • Use high-temp glue sticks
  • Use a high-temp gluing device (I don't want to trip up the filter)
  • Don't apply too much glue, else you won't be able to get the magnet flush.

Step 7: Install Rope & Bearings

Run the Rope

  1. Thread the rope through the bearings
  2. Thread the 2 rope ends through the wood (front to back)


Tie the Knots

  1. Tie a knot on one end of the rope, positioned so the knot grabs the bottom edge of the wood.
  2. Tie a loop on the other end of the rope, hanging below the bottom edge of the wood.


I'm terrible with knots, but am accepting free advice if you have any.

Step 8: Mount to Wall, Tension Rope

This is awkward because you really need 4 hands, but I'll instruct based on the assumption that you only have 2 hands.

  1. Screw the contraption to the wall
  2. Back it away from the wall w/ a 1/2" gap between the board & the wall.


New Terms:

  • Knot-Side: Side of board w/ knot hanging down
  • Loop-Side: Side of board w/ loop hanging down.


Tension the rope:

  1. Slowly screw the Knot-Side to the wall, while tugging the rope at the front hole - keeping the knot firmly against the bottom edge of the wood.
  2. Fully tighten the Knot-Side.
  3. Slowly tighten the Loop-Side to the point that you can still move the rope through the hole, but not easily.
  4. Slide the bearings to the center-most magnet. [this will provide extra slack in the rope while tensioning]
  5. Pull the loop as tight as possible
  6. Screw in the Loop-Side the rest of the way.
  7. Re-position the bearings on the magnets



That's kind of a sour note to end on. It's the most awkward and physically demanding part of the project...right at the end... and now you're probably thinking "wait, why? To hold paper? All hold paper?"

Step 9: Gotchas & Notables

Things worth noting.

Magnet Size & Strength

When paired with a 608 series bearing, the 18mm x 4mm ceramic magnet is perfect & natural for handling thicknesses ranging from 1-10+ notecards. It can do thin paper, but handles thicker paper better.

If you will primarily use super thin paper, go with an 18mm x 3mm ceramic magnet. Thin sheets of paper slide through really nicely without buckling.


The Side Bearings Clamp Stronger

The rope is actually pulling the bearings against the magnet w/ more force.For our situation, that's not an issue, as our usage typically involves sturdy paper like greeting cards.

You can alleviate this by using a spacer or eyelet directly beside the rope-hole (see teal arrow in pic) to raise the rope to the level of the bearings.

Step 10: Variations of the Concept + Closing Remarks

There's something oddly satisfying about the click of the bearing & magnet when pulling out a stack of papers.


Notable Ad-Hoc Variation (with small risk)

One of the previous designs was very simple:

  1. Neodymium magnet
  2. Steel ball

I never felt like it was something I could recommend due to the risk of the steel ball falling. BUT, I use it all the time (and if the ball falls, I pick it up).

See the last few minutes of this video where I show various amazing ad-hoc uses for the magnet/ball combo.



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