Make It Yourself: Free How-To from Salvage-Style Projects

Amy Hughes is an editor at This Old House, so it's a given that she knows her stuff. She's also the author of Salvage-Style Projects and, as an old friend of Apartment Therapy (we did a House Tour of her apartment), she's kindly sharing a full project from the book. It's a sneak peek at Amy's brand of salvage-style and everything you need to know to create your own version of her faucet handle towel rack…

Use Faucet Handles to Make a Towel Rack from Salvage-Style Projects

Creamy white faucet handles can double as stylish towel or robe hooks. All you've got to do is mount the old porcelain beauties on a board — I used salvaged barn siding, but any scrap wood will do — and hang the assembly on a bathroom wall.

For my project, I went a step further, adding a shelf supported by ornate cast-iron brackets, about $15 each at online housewares shops. This way I can stack fresh bath towels on top and hang wet ones to dry from the handles below.

I scored three cross-style handles at a salvage yard for $45, including the matching porcelain escutcheons that used to sleeve over the faucets' valve stems. The escutcheons came in handy again, but this time to hide the dummy door spindles on which each handle is mounted. You can find the spindles, which are typically used for interior French doors or closet doors that have fixed pull-type knobs, at home centers or locksmith shops for about $4 each.

Since there's no scalding water to worry about with this towel rack project, feel free to arrange your handles on the board any way you wish. But if you're a stickler for historical accuracy, the HOT one was always on the left.

Supplies Needed:

3 PORCELAIN HANDLES AND ESCUTCHEONS
BARN WOOD OR SCRAP BOARDS
2 SHELF BRACKETS
3 DUMMY SPINDLES
PENCIL
EPOXY
15⁄8-INCH TRIM-HEAD SCREWS

Tools Needed:

TAPE MEASURE
DRILL/DRIVER
1⁄16-INCH DRILL BIT
SCREWDRIVER
COMBINATION SQUARE

COST: $100
TIME: 1 HOUR
SKILL LEVEL: EASY

Step-by-Step instructions:

1. Measure the mounting board.
Cut wood to size and use a tape measure to determine the rough distance between each handle. I planned to space mine evenly across the face of the board. Factor in an extra inch on either side of the board for the brackets.

2. Mark where the shelf will go.
Trace a line on the board where its top shelf will sit to figure out how high to position the supporting brackets on either end.

3. Determine the bracket locations.
Position the brackets 1 inch in from the ends of the mounting board, with their tops just below the pencil line. Mark where the brackets' fasteners will go.

4. Secure the brackets.
First, use your drill/driver to create pilot holes for the fasteners. Then use the screws provided with the brackets
to fasten the supports to the board.

5. Mark layout lines to determine handle placement.
Use your pencil to lightly draw a horizontal line across the center of the mounting board. Then mark evenly spaced vertical lines through the horizontal one. The handles will go where the lines intersect.

6. Add the dummy spindles.
Place the posts on the marks and drill pilot holes for their fasteners. Secure the posts to the board.

7. Glue on the escutcheons.
Mix a two-part fast-drying epoxy formulated for bonding metal. Spread the epoxy on the rims of the porcelain escutcheons and place them over
the spindles.

8. Adhere the handle "hooks."
Fill the metal fittings at the base of each handle with epoxy and fit them on top of the spindles. Wipe away any epoxy that seeps out, and wait 5 minutes for the adhesive to set. (It takes 1 hour
for it to cure.)

9. Put on the shelf.
Rest the shelf top on the brackets. To secure it in place, drill pilot holes and drive trim-head screws through the back of the mounting board and into the edge of the shelf. Now pick a nice spot in the bath for your new towel rack.

Pin it button big

Amy's notes on faucet handles:

Bathroom technology was pretty much perfected in the late 19th century. So why'd we have to mess with it? Case in point: the porcelain cross-style faucet handle. To crank up the heat--and water pressure--in your shower, you just turned the handle marked HOT.

These days, it can require a manual to navigate high-tech digital control panels. Luckily for Luddites like me, those old-timey handles were built to last and still grace many a well-preserved bathroom. Their debut coincided with the widespread use of compression faucets, which gave bathers variable control over water flow with the twist of a handle. Earlier ball-valve faucets relied on beer-tap-like levers that had just two settings: ON or OFF. Compression faucets remain the most popular and easiest to maintain--great news for fans of the old cross-handles.

Thanks, Amy!

MORE INFO ON AMY'S BOOK: Salvage-Style Projects

Images: top photo - Matthew Benson, all other photos - Kristine Larsen/Salvage-Style Projects