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Paper Towel Holders

Published September 2015

How we tested

We could put a roll of paper towels directly on the counter, but a designated paper towel holder aids with tearing and protects the roll from wet spots and spills. We purchased six models, priced from $13.00 to $24.99, determined to find a sturdy holder that would make tearing quick, precise, and tidy. All consisted of a center pole set on a metal base, sometimes with an arm to provide resistance for tearing. After checking that towel rolls of all styles and widths fit on the models, we tore off sheets in small and large increments (using one hand and two) and made note of which models were easy—or not—to handle and move.

For a full large roll to be able to fit and spin, it requires at least 3 1/4 inches of clearance between the holder’s center pole and any helper arm, and we quickly eliminated one model with just 2 inches of space. Angled, hinged arms also automatically adapt to accommodate rolls of any size. Not only did these arms make one-handed tearing more precise, but they also prevented sheets from drooping and kept rolls looking tidy. (Straight, stationary arms become useless once a few layers of towels have been pulled off.)

Countertop stability is also crucial, and we quickly learned that heavier models are better. Anything under 1 3/4 pounds felt flimsy and slid across the counter, while the suction cup base on one lightweight model was difficult to activate and had to be released each time we wanted to move the holder. Tall, easy-to-grip center poles also helped with mobility, but testers balked at models with oversize twist-on knobs that had to be removed each time a roll had to be replaced. A few models had additional features intended to hold the rolls in place, like flexible fins on the center column and textured silicone pads on the base, but these simply weren’t necessary.

After narrowing our lineup to three front-runners, two with arms and one without, we subjected them to a month of near-constant use in the kitchen to evaluate long-term durability and stain resistance. All three cleaned up easily—even when we deliberately stained them with yellow mustard, oil, and minced garlic and left them over the weekend—but one model in particular won us over. Not only did its angled arm ensure precise and even tearing, but it was also stable and featured an easy-to-grip knob atop its center pole that didn’t have to be removed when changing the rolls.

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.