Emergency Towel Dispenser




I am a huge fan of Douglas Adams and his inaccurately named Hitchikers Trilogy. One of the important lessons learned from each book is the importance of having a towel. According to the Guide: “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant
marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

In order to be properly prepared for an unexpected jaunt into space, one must keep their towel on their person at all times. For the times when this is not possible, I suggest keeping an Emergency Towel Dispenser mounted on a wall so that a towel is always within reach. This Instructable covers the construction of said Emergency Towel Dispenser.


Shadowbox – The housing is a simple black
shadowbox, slightly taller than wide, an inch or so deep, with a glass front. I
buy mine at Michaels craft stores, in either 6”X14” or 5”X7”.

Towel Ring – This may be the difficult part to
find. I mostly use the plastic rings that department stores use to display
scarves. Ask the clerk if they have any extras laying around.

Sign materials – I etch the signs in sheet
aluminum (see my Instructable for simple aluminum etching), BUT you can use any
medium you like, such as stenciling or printing on cardstock, hand cut paper
letters, paint, or peel-n-stick letters. You will also need some way of
attaching the signs to the shadowbox frame. I will cover how I attach the
etched aluminum plate, which may be improvised to attach your sign material of

Random extra bits – Some shadowboxes need a
pretty background added (I use peel-n-stick felt sheets but you could use
contact paper or even paint). To fasten the towel ring I use cable ties, but
you can use tape, glue, wire, or anything else that will hold the plastic ring
in place.

Most importantly, you need a towel that will
fit in the shadowbox. For a 6”X14”shadowbox, I use a 15”X18” ‘Bar Towel’. For a
5”X7” shadowbox, I use a washcloth.

Step 1: Create the Signs

To provide clear instructions and a visible towel, you will need 2 signs: 1 for the top of the frame, and 1 for the bottom. Each sign should be sized to take up less than ¼ of the visible area. The wording I use for the top is “In Case Of Interstellar Travel” and the bottom is “Break Glass and Don't Panic” This provides clear instructions for the unexpecting traveler.

IF an alien grabs you and starts fiddling with an Electric Thumb, and you do not have your towel, simply break the glass, grab the towel, and Don’t Panic. Nice and easy…

Step 2: Mount the Signs

Open the shadow box and set the back piece off to the side. The signs need to be mounted to the front of the shadowbox, tight to the glass. (Pay attention to the wall hanger on the shadowbox. Be sure the top sign is on the top and the bottom sign is on the bottom. )

For my aluminum signs, I use E6000 adhesive and small cuts of ½” aluminum angle. I glue the angle to the sign first then glue the angle to the frame. Once everything is in place, I set it aside overnight to allow the E6000 to dry.

Step 3: Mount the Towel Ring

So as not to distract from the instructions shown on the signs, I like to keep the background of the shadowbox nice a simple. Black. Some shadowboxes already have a nice solid black background. If your does, skip this next bit… if not, keep reading… If your shadowbox has an unacceptable background, it can be easily fixed with peel-n-stick felt. Use the back mark the felt to the correct size, cut, peel, n, stick.

Now that the background is nice and simple (so as not to distract from the instructions or the towel), you need to mount the towel ring. The ring should be centered and the top of the box and should be mounted only at the top of the ring. It also needs to be mounted in a way that will not interfere with closing the shadowbox. I lay the ring on the back and mark holes to allow cable ties to wrap around the ring. I then drill the holes and pass the ties through the front, around the back, and up and over the plastic ring. This will place the cable ties ‘heads’ inside the box and hidden by the top sign. I snug the ties fairly tight and cut off the excess tails.

Step 4: Hang the Towel

Carefully fold the towel so that it will look nice when hung through the ring. Carefully lift the ring and feed the towel through. Carefully fluff the towel to achieve the best possible look and ensure that the unexpected traveler will recognize that it is a towel while they are scrambling to prepare for interstellar travel.

Step 5: Reassemble the Shadowbox

Place the back of the shadowbox onto the front of the shadowbox, being sure to put the top (where the towel ring is) at the top of the frame (where the top sign is). Be sure to fluff the towel on the ring, and place the bottom in behind the bottom sign. You may have to open and close it several times to get it to look good, but be patient and get it right. Once you are happy with the placement, secure the back with whatever closures the shadowbox came with. If you want to permanently seal the box, you can add a small bead of glue around the edge… BUT you will not be able to change the towel in the future (such as for decorative purposes or to re-soak a corner in
some nutrients.

Step 6: Hang the Emergency Towel Dispenser

Now find an appropriate location to hang your dispenser. I would suggest one in the living room, one in the dining room, and one at the local pub (somewhere near the bar where they keep the packets of peanuts).

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    26 Discussions


    3 years ago

    I absolutely love this!! I have to make one for my daughters college dorm room! It will go next to her 42 poster! I'm sorry if you already answered this, but what font did you use? Again, this is very cool! Great job!


    3 years ago on Introduction

    This is amazingly cute and cool! And I'm going to HAVE to make one (or more)!


    Please, to avoid any (more?) keyboards getting spewed upon, edit the typo in Step 3, next-to-last line in the first paragraph. I was so glad I had already swallowed my mouthful of tea, or I would've needed the towel before it ever got installed. :-D

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, I caught that line while it was in voting, so I wasn't sure if it was froody to edit it. Fixed now...


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent idea. I've go another project on the go at the moment and I like to finish one before I start another. I'd like to make one of these using a Japanese tenugui - a towel but more useful than a western towel

    I was going to say that is one hoopy Instructable by a frood who definitely knows where his towel is, but then I read the other comments and realized I'm too late, it's already been done. Just like how it's too late for me to invent this awesome ETD, because it's already been done, by you.

    Oh well. I guess I'm going to have to be satisfied with voting for your awesome ETD, then drown my sorrows with a Pan Galactic Garggle Blaster (or a nice cup of tea).

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    If it will make you feel better, we could pop off to Milliways for lunch?

    Sure... just let me grab my towel and go drop a nickel into my account. It has to be a nickel, since pennies technically don't exist here anymore, so lunch is on me. ;-)


    3 years ago on Introduction

    This is pretty awesome! Great job. i might have to make one just to be cool.

    Zaphod Beetlebrox

    3 years ago

    That's epic, so glad to have seen it. Might make it one day.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    This is one hoopy Instructable! Now to write one on how to soak a towel in nutrients, reinforce the seams and weave in some copper thread. You know... just in case. :)

    2 replies