Yesterday, my Dad came over to help me make this industrial-style copper paper towel holder. We are pretty short on counter space in our small kitchen and I’ve been trying to declutter where I can.
Decluttering is a tough business for me because there’s a powerful gravity that exists between me and clutter. But I’m also a serious cook and I use my kitchen and everything in it a LOT. There are things that need to be within arm’s reach and I just have to accept that I’ll never be that person with one bowl of lemons and two rustic spoons on their counter. Plus we’re apparently running an illegal espresso bar and can’t possibly live without BOTH an espresso machine and coffee maker in our tiny coffee loving lives.
One easy win was to get rid of our countertop paper towel holder in favor of a hanging dispenser under one of our shelves by the sink.
Before you go hating on the asymmetry of these one-bracket shelves you should know that (a) there was a decent reason for building them like this and (b) I’ve already beat myself up good for not taking more time to design ones that I liked better. I just wanted them to be functional, sturdy and cheap (thanks to a good case of renovation fatigue). If I were to change them out I think I would go for something more rectilinear like these or floating shelves like these. But whatever. In 4 years when I get around to doing something about it maybe I will have changed my mind again.
Moving past the self deprecation…I’m going to show you how to make this kick arse copper paper towel holder.
Here’s what you need to hunt and gather from hardware stores, Dads and basements:
- propane torch with standard nozzle
- 18″ piece (or longer) of ½” copper tubing cut to the following sizes:
- (1) 14″ piece
- (4) 3/4″ pieces
- (4) ½” copper tees
- (4) ½” copper caps
- tin-lead or lead-free tin solder
- soldering flux (we used paste flux but any form will work)
- (2) screw hooks
- emery paper
- tubing cutter (any size will cut ½” tubing)
- power drill fitted with 3/16″ bit
Other supplies you’ll need:
- WD-40, Goo Gone or ketchup
- permanent marker
- square (optional but very helpful)
- measuring tape
Here’s my super technical design drawing:
The two biggest considerations we had were (1) to make it easy to change the roll and (2) to prevent it from sliding out of the hook/hanging mechanism during use. I wanted a modern/industrial look so we headed to the plumbing aisle at the hardware store to see what we could dig up in Copper Land.
We decided to use screw hooks as our mounting/hanging mechanism because they’re easy to install and leave an opening for removing the dowel to change the roll. Using copper tees would solve the issue of sliding and keep the dowel in place so we grabbed a couple of those.
In order to cap off the tees for a finished look, we would need to cut small pieces of tubing to use as connector pieces. They do make caps that fit inside the tees, eliminating the need to cut connector pieces. But they’re $5/ea versus the standard caps which are $0.75/ea. I went with the standard caps and bought myself an iced latte and piece of $12 cheese from the fancy food shop in town…because that’s what’s up with my priorities.
OK here are THE STEPS:
First use your funny looking tubing cutter to cut one 14″ piece and four 3/4″ pieces from your copper tubing length. Cutting tubing and pipes sounds like it would be scary and involve goggles and sparks, but it’s actually really easy and about as scary as using scissors. I’m lucky because I have one of those Dads who knows how to do everything. Here’s a good video tutorial for cutting tubing that could stand in for an all-knowing Dad if you need it to.
Then you’ll want to clean up any serious gunk that’s on the tubing. For this you can use Goo Gone, WD-40 or…Ketchup! It’s nasty but it works.
To really get your copper shining bright like a diamond, you’ll need to go over it with emery paper or very very fine sand paper. Sand the outside of your long piece and the ends and insides of your connector pieces, tees and caps. This step is really important because it removes any oxidation so that the solder will adhere to the copper. You want to work fairly quickly and do this when you’re ready to get right to soldering so that it doesn’t re-oxidize. (PS – those are my Dad’s ManHands…I love them.)
After all of your pieces are sanded inside and out, use your ManHands to apply flux (capacitor) to the parts of tubing that will be connected. I’m a fan of this kind of work just because it’s an excuse to use the word ‘flux’ all day.
As you apply flux to each piece, begin to assemble the holder. Flux flux flux. Use my super technical drawing above as a reference…the long piece connects to the tee, which connects to the connectors, which connects to the caps. Capisce?
Assembled and ready to solder…
Use a paper towel to wipe off any extra fluxity-flux-flux.
Now get to torchin’. The only real safety tips for using a propane torch are these:
- go outside in a well ventilated area, especially if you’re using solder that contains lead
- wear goggles because it makes you look like you’re doing something dangerous
- wear gloves to protect your gorgeous ManHands
- work on a piece of wood or tin – no stone (you’ll crack it) and no asphalt (you’ll melt it) and no piles of leaves (you’ll start a forest fire)
- don’t be a dope and burn yourself while you’re reaching for something
- you know…workin’ with fire…
- if all of this scares you too much, just grab someone who knows their way around a torch for help
Turn on your propane torch and heat up one end of the assembled rod, being careful not to place your hand too close to the flame (the entire pipe will heat up as it sits over the open flame, another good reason to wear gloves). Notice that Dad didn’t heed any of my safety warnings.
As you heat the copper, hold the solder over the seam and allow it to drip into place and spread to form a bond.
The whole job takes about three minutes. Once you’ve covered your seams, use an old rag to wipe away extra tin and clean it up a little. If you want to get it really clean, you can bust out your emery paper again, being careful not to sand away your bond. Personally, I prefer the look of the mixed metals which will complement the screw hooks.
Head inside and do a whole bunch of head-hurting fraction math to figure out where to drill holes to hang your hooks so that the paper towels will have space to turn and you can easily take the rod out to change them. Measure a million times, cut once, is the goal.
Dad taught me another good trick for making sure you don’t drill clean through your beautiful shelves, which I’m 100% sure I would have done. Hold the screw up to your shelf and mark the depth on the screw with a permanent marker. You can do the same directly onto your drill bit for drilling your pilot holes. Then you just stop when you get to the line! And you can feel free to do this dance.
Drill some pilot holes…
Screw in your hooks and hang that sucker!!
I LERVE it. Si! Si! Si! I think it complements the colors in our counters and coffee station quite nicely.
The asparagus dish, btw, was my Dad’s Mother’s and it has a good story. It hung in her kitchen for years when my Dad was growing up. When she passed, he and my Mom got it. It hung in our kitchen in Oak Park. Years later we moved to New York and down-sized to fit into a loft apartment. She gifted it to our dear friends Anne + Jeff across the street. It hung in their kitchen for the better part of 14 years until I got married and Anne gifted it to me at my shower. I cried. And it hangs here in proud memory of my Grandma Betty.
The whole project (including a run to the hardware store) took us just under 4 hours. It cost about $25 not including the solder, flux and tubing cutter. If you’re not into pyrotechnics but are loving the industrial copper look you can score a similar one for $65 at ScoutMob.
I’m pumped because I freed up about 8″ of counter space…and that’s a big deal for me. Plus I got to spend the day with Dad and play with fire.