Throwing in the towel

What do you do with a towel rail that keeps throwing in the towel?

One of the two towel rails we had in the upstairs bathroom was a collapso-maniac. You just had to walk past it for it to fall off the wall. You didn’t even need to touch it for it to let go and succumb to gravity. Sometimes it just spontaneously fell, because it felt like it, in an ongoing mini re-enactment of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.*

Yves Klein. ‘Leap into the Void’ 1960. Image source.

My days were filled with a constant round of put it back up/hear it clatter down/back up/clatter down up down up down up down AARRRRRGH

Plus, I always found it slightly disturbing that other rail was right next to the toilet. The towel on it hung directly over the toilet paper/bath tissue, so that you had to move it out the way when you needed to.

Old rail directly next to the toilet. Errrk.

I am so far away from being a germ-o-phobe normally. If you are ever in need of an immune system boost I recommend a visit to our house while I am in the middle of a big project, but I found the position of that towel rail really eeeeewwww.

You can imagine I was pretty keen to figure something out that solved both of these irritations.

I have always liked the idea of using a ladder to hang towels in the bathroom.

West Elm ladder as towel rail. Image source.

There is something satisfying about re-using things in unexpected places (even though the ladder to towel rail idea is far from new), I like the mental jolt it gives, a sort of wake-up tonic for the brain. They are also very practical: you can hang multiple towels in one place, which would be ideal for our space-challenged bathroom.

At first I thought of finding a metal ladder and somehow attaching it to the wall, but there were none on Craigslist, or at my local salvage yard and the new ones were prohibitively expensive.

I would love one of those heated metal ones.

Beautiful heated ladder-style towel rail. Image source.

But, that would need wiring, and besides we cant afford one on our current budget. One day …

A ladder is a pretty simple shape to make, you just need some wood for the rails, a hole saw or spade bit attachment for your drill, and some sort of round tube shape (like dowel or pipe) to make the rungs.

I have been spending quite a lot of my time in the plumbing aisle at the hardware store lately, and I soon thought of the lengths of galvanized pipe and fittings that I saw last time I was there. They come in various different diameters and lengths, and they have threaded ends so you can attach various fittings.

Galv. pipe and pipe ends. Lovely.

With end caps screwed on, they would make the p-e-r-f-e-c-t industrial-esque rungs.

Off I hurried to the hardware store and returned home with a piece of 24 x 48 inch ply (to act as a backing), five 24 inch pipes (rungs), 10 end caps and a couple of bits of wood (side rails).

I was ready to get to work.

First of all I cut my two bits of wood to length.

The ply was already the exact size I wanted, so that was easy.

Then I laid everything out and played with how wide apart to put the rails, and the spacing of the rungs; figuring out how much room I wanted to leave at the top and the bottom.

playing with the spacing

Then it was time to drill the holes in the bits of wood. I carefully measured and marked the location of the holes on one plank, and then lined the other one up next to it, and transferred the measurements across.

Measuring and matching the hole locations

I did this, rather than measuring the second bit of wood because a) it saves time, b) I have a measuring impediment and it made it less likely that I would make a mistake, and c) I would be sure that my holes were lined up on both boards when I came to attach them to the ply backing board.

Next up, I added a spade bit to my drill. Before you start drilling, a word of warning. The diameter of pipe is an INTERNAL measurement. If you have ½ inch pipe (like I did), do not use a ½ inch spade bit. Your hole will be too big. Then your rungs will be loose, and will slip and slide about as you hang your towels. We can all imagine how annoying that would be.

Luckily, I experimented with a couple of different bits on a scrap bit of wood until I found a good snug fit for the pipe. For my ½ inch pipe I used a 22mm bit (one I brought with me from Australia, clearly). This is about 7/8 of an inch.

I drilled my holes.

hole making in progress

Next I needed to attach the rails to the backing board. First I measured and marked the location of the rails on the back of the ply sheet.

Drilling guide for screws on the back of the ply sheet

Then, I glued the rails.

Wood glue on

And then clamped the glued bits of wood to the ply. After this I flipped the whole thing over and screwed them into place from the back, using my marks as a guide for the screws.

clamping and screwing

I waited for the glue to dry and then got ready to stain the whole thing a nice dark blue-grey.

I decided to go with a stain, rather than metal panels and rivets, like I did on the vanity and my wall boxes, because I thought it would be a bit over the top to have yet another metallic element in there.

I used fabric dye to get the color I wanted. Yes you can use fabric dye to stain wood. Any color you want.

Using fabric dye to color wood

Simply mix the dye with boiling water in a container (you never want to use this for food afterwards, so use something that doesn’t matter).

And then apply with a brush.

Post dyeing

I waited for it to dry, then gave it 3 coats of matt spray polyurethane.

Now I was ready to attach my rails to the wall.

I measured out where my screw holes were going to be. And used my trusty stud solvers to attach the frame to the wall. There was no way that this baby was going to throw itself off the wall.

Then it was simply a matter of inserting the rods, and screwing in the ends.

One pipe in

5 pipes in

Love those pipe ends

Excitedly I hung the new towels that I got at Ross: Dress for Less (which is a clearance store here in the States).

hanging the towels

They are a mismatched bunch of high-end designer towels, and would have cost me 4 times as much as I paid for them, if I bought them at a regular store. I think mixing and matching is way more interesting visually, rather than having everything immaculately matchy matchy. And gentler on the budget, too.

I stuck with grey and white, so even though they are not exactly the same, they are all in the same color family.

Then my industrial-style towel rail was done.

I love it so much, and I am know it will never throw in the towel.

*In case you are disturbed by this image, Klein didn’t really throw himself off a building for this shot, it is a photomontage. Looks effective, though …

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