Monday, 6 January 2014

The "Forever" Towel Bar Install

OK this is not the fastest way to install a towel bar. Its also not the easiest, but if you live in a house like mine where munchkins regularly rip stuff outta the walls and tell you 'it was just like that' as they stand with a towel bar in their hands, then you need this article on installing a wall fixture with hidden backer-board embedded in the wall.

I am aware that this is not the most exciting blog post ever, but meh, whatever.

Choose your site. Pin up the template.

Most towel bars come with a template that shows where to drill for a proper installation. Using a pair of thumbtacks, attach it to the wall. The thumbtacks do 2 wonderful things. First they don't mark or tear the paper. Second, they leave a center hole for you to line up a drill on. Put a tack in on the dead center of where each holder shown on the template.

Once the template is in place and level, you can drill small exploratory holes using the tack holes as your guides. These holes will show whether you are on a stud or not. If you are on a stud, there will be wood shavings after you get through the drywall. If not, you will hit either air or insulation.

Installing the towel bar this way, you don't have to be on a stud, but it does make things a little easier if you are. In my case, I hit a stud with one end of the towel bar, but not the other. That means I only need to install one backer-board.

Make some holes

In order to hide your backer-board, the first thing to do is get out the largest hole saw you can find. I happen to own a 4" hole saw, but a smaller one is fine for this. Just get the biggest one you can. Using the pilot hole you already made as your centre, drill into the wall to make a big hole. Save the plug.

If you aren't familiar with hole saws, I have put a section at the bottom of this post to help you figure out how to assemble them, and how they work. Please skip ahead to it now. If you are familiar with hole saws, read on!

Install Backer-Board

This step is the one that makes this a "forever install" By putting a wood backer board behind the towel bar we can ensure that the bar can't be ripped out. Basically we are holding the towel bar in with a chunk of wood instead of a couple puny screws. I went to the garage and grabbed a scrap hunk of plywood out of my bin. Measured to make sure it would fit through my hole, and then set it in place.

I like to put a screw in the board about 1/2 way down to act as a handle and to make sure it doesn't fall into the wall cavity. here I have insulation to help hold it in place, so its not as critical to have a way to hold the board.

Slide the board up into the hole and then back down into place. Use a couple drywall screws to hold it there.

Backer board screwed in place. Centre screw is temporary handle.

Now we need to replace our drywall plug to give a nice surface to attach the towel bar to. I'll put a couple more drywall screws in place to hold the board firmly, then screw the drywall plug to the piece of wood with some screws offset from the others. I don't like packing too many screws together.

Camera flash turned this green! It should be blue!

At this point I pull out my drywall mud and slather up the repair to hide your work. No one will ever know that there is a board behind the wall. Take the rest of the day off while the mud dries. You can go sledding with the kids or something.

Drywall patched and sanded!

The next morning you will be ready to sand the mud down, and make it look ready for paint. 5 minutes with a paintbrush, and the wall looks like it did before this all started.

Whats more exciting than watching paint dry? Playing!
Go play with the kids for an hour!

Now you can go have breakfast while the paint dries, and know that before another half hour is past, you will have your towel bar ready to go.

Put the template back up. Now that you know where solid surface is, and since the surface is so over sized, you can afford to move it around a little. In my case, I knew exactly where the stud was (from my first exploratory hole) I was able to skip the thumbtacks and set straight to putting up holders.

Your towel bar will have come with 2 holders, 4 screws, and 2 wall anchor plugs. The work we have done so far means you can throw out the plastic wall anchor plugs. They never work anyways. Measure the screws. If they are 1" long or more, we can use them. If less than 1" long, throw them out too and get some 1-1/4" wood screws.

Using the paper template, attach one holder to the wall with 1 screw.If your first pilot hole hit a stud, like mine did, then use that hole for the screw. If not, go right through the drywall and screw into the wooden backer board. Leave the screw loose enough to be able to adjust the template.

Use a thumbtack and a level to get the template exactly in position, then put the second screw in for the first holder. Repeat at the other end of the template. Tighten everything.

You will now have a towel bar template screwed to your wall. If your wife walks in at this stage she will be convinced you are nuts.With everything in place, you can tear the template off the wall. It is garbage anyways, so show no mercy. Just rip it off. Don't bother loosening the screws. A little paper may stay in there. It's not an issue.

Your towel bar will have come with a set screw in each end piece. The set screws go down. Put in one end piece and tighten the set screw to hold it in place. Install the bar itself, put on the other end and tighten its setscrew. Check for level and decide if you need to tweak things. If you do, you will have to loosen the screw in the wall enough to tap the holder up or down a little. My bar was out a little but not enough for me to worry about.

Et voila! a towel bar set in wood on both ends that the kids will never rip out of the wall!

About Hole-Saws

Back when I worked in a hardware store, a lot of folks didn't know how to assemble a hole saw, so this is for folks like that. I hope this is helpful to those of you using a hole saw for the first time!

Hole saws have 2 parts. A cutter that is a big circle and a mandrel that is a drill bit attached to a holder. Sometimes you can buy both parts together, but sometimes they come separately. The picture below is my 4" hole saw and a mandrel.

To assemble the hole-saw, you just put the drill through the saw part, and then spin. there is a thread inside the hole-saw part, and a thread on the mandrel. Those threads will hold the two together. Sort of. Once the threads are together all the way comes step 2 of the assembly.

The 4 smaller holes surrounding the centre hole on the saw are there for the mandrel to lock onto in order to prevent the mandrel from either over-tightening or coming undone while the saw is used. With the mandrel screwed all the way onto the saw, push the knurled part of the hole saw down, and unscrew the mandrel until the pins engage in the holes in the top of the hole saw. It should be between 1/8 and 1/4 turn to get the pins to engage.
Mandrel with pins in the "disengaged" position

Mandrel with pins in the "engaged" position
Now you have a fully assembled saw, ready for work!

Hole saw all together with pins in holes

Hole Saw mounted to drill

 With the hole saw assembled, you are ready to cut a hole. It is very important to hold the saw so that its entire circle touches the wall at once. Keep it level (square?) or one side of the saw will grab and try to twist the drill out of your hand. With th ehole cut, you will wind up with a circle of wallboard inside the hole saw. Don't worry about that, but don't damage that plug either. We are going to need it.

Hole and plug. (Camera was tilted - that stud should be up and down!)
To get the plug out of your hole saw, you should be able to use a screwdriver or other small tool to poke through the additional holes in the back of the hole saw Just go gently. Try not to damage the plug.

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