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Napkin Holder

By Rob Brown

The design of this quintessential al fresco dining companion incorporates a rod to keep the napkins in place and a finger recess so napkins can be removed one at a time.

Perfect for entertaining or everyday use.

What You'll Need:



  • ​table saw
  • band saw
  • router
  • 1/2” router bit
  • depth gauge
  • clamps
  • metal file
  • mini plane


  • ​hardwood (40” long x 4” wide x 1” thick)
  • contrasting hardwood strip (8” long x 1/2” x 1/2”)
  • 1/4” plywood (for bottom)
  • masking tape
  • wood glue
  • sanding block
Napkin Holder

Here's How

  • ​Breakout a 40” long x 31/2” wide x 9/16” thick blank.
  • Mark lines that divide the blank’s length into four 9” long sections, with some waste at either end.
  • Number the sections so they can be assembled in order.
  • On sections #2 and #4, mark two lines 1/4” on either side of the centre point. These lines will locate the notches for the rod. (photo 1)
  • With a 1/2” diameter bit in your router table, use a mitre gauge, stop block and clamps to machine the two 1/2” deep notches. Optional: router longer notches if you want the rod to sit on the top napkin and adjust with the height of napkins. (photo 2)
  • Machine a rabbet on the lower inside edge of the blank to accept the plywood bottom.
  • Crosscut the four parts to rough length so they are all about 9” long.
  • Mark the locations of the mitre cuts on edges of the two notched workpieces. These lines must be located so the inner surface of these parts is 7” long and the notches are centred on the parts. (photo 3)
  • Cut the mitres on all four workpieces.
  • Bore a 1” diameter hole in one of the workpieces without the notches, then draw two angled lines and remove the waste on the band saw. (photo 4)
  • Smooth the edges. (photo 5)
  • Sand the inner faces of the workpieces.
  • Lay the four parts face down and end-to-end on a flat work surface and stretch masking tape across the mating joints.
  • Flip over the assembly, add glue to the mitres, wrap the parts together and tape the final joint closed. (photo 6)
  • Cut the plywood bottom to size and glue in place.
  • With a piece of 1/2” x 1/2” scrap, chamfer the four edges to create a vague octagon shape. Smooth it further to create a pleasing rod to hold the napkins in place. (photo 7)
  • Sand the outer surface and break all sharp edges.
  • Apply a finish to the box and rod.
Step 1
1. ​Mark the Two Notches
Mark the locations of the two 1/2” wide notches on the edges of the workpieces. The overall length of the workpiece is still longer than is required at this stage.
Step 2
2. ​Cut the Notches
With a 1/2” diameter router bit set to cut about 2/3 of the way through the workpiece, use a mitre gauge and clamps to help guide the workpiece. A stop block clamped to the router table will stop the notch at about 1/2” deep.
Step 3
3. ​Mark the Length
Working backwards from the location of the notches, mark the location where the mitres need to be cut on both ends of these two pieces.
Step 4
4. ​Finger Recess
Once the 1” diameter hole is bored in one of the pieces without a notch, add angled lines tangent to the hole, then remove the waste.
Step 5
​5. Smooth the Cut
Smooth the transition between the 
cut and the hole, then sand the surface smooth.
Step 6
​6. Glue, then Fold Together
Once glue has been added to the mitre joints, fold the parts together and apply tape across the final joint. Ensure the assembly is square while it dries.
Step 7
7. Heavy Chamfer
Use a block plane to ease the edges of a 1/2” x 1/2” length of hardwood to create a rod with an octagonal cross section. An imperfect handmade look adds to the design. ​
Rob Brown designs and builds custom furniture and is the editor of Canadian Woodworking and Home Improvement magazine. www.canadianwoodworking.com
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