DIY Antique-Style Towel Rail

While working on the recent renovation we did on our Downstairs Loo, I knew I needed a new towel rail, but couldn't quite decide what to buy. Meanwhile, I was rummaging around in our attic storeroom one day when I came across a couple of salvaged antique furniture corbels that I'd bought online a couple of years previously. I picked them up, turned them over in my hand, and decided that I could maybe make a DIY towel rail out of them. I got lovely feedback on it when I did the One Room Challenge room reveal for the loo, so I thought I'd share the details of how I made it ... 

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The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

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Materials

Salvaged oak furniture corbels (search auction sites for "salvaged corbels")

Approx. 19mm diameter pipe/tube (e.g. towel bar, wardrobe rail, shower curtain rail, plumbing pipe)

Pair of slotted brass plates

Pair of L-brackets

Wood screws

Plank of wood for shelf (I used a salvaged oak floorboard)

Wood dye (optional)

Sealant (optional, if your wood is not already finished - I used waterbased polyurethane)

Sandpaper

I also used a drill with a 20mm spade bit, a pipe cutter, a wood saw (I used a chop saw & a table saw), and a router (optional). 

Corbels

The corbels themselves were in excellent condition and so, with just a slight touch-up to the colour, they were ready to use.  

My plan was to use the corbels to hold a pipe that I would use as the towel bar. I started by marking a suitable position for the towel bar on the inside of each corbel.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

I had a 19mm pipe to use as the towel bar, so I used a 20mm spade bit to drill a hole into the side of each corbel. I used a drill press to help hold the drill steady and to set the depth of the hole to be drilled but, if you don't have a drill press, you can drill the hole by hand.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

For hanging the towel rail, I used a slotted brass plate on the back of each corbel. These would allow the towel rail to slide into place over the head of a screw. 

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

So that the towel rail could sit flush against the wall, I cut a rebate in the back of each corbel to fit the slotted plates. This was my first ever attempt at using a router freehand, so they're not perfect. But they fulfill their purpose and, besides, they are hidden at the back anyway! I also drilled a deeper slot behind the plate that would accept the head of the screw used to hang the towel rail.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

I wanted to attach the shelf to the corbels in a way that would be invisible, so I used a rebated L-bracket at the top of each corbel (these rebates are much neater because, being at the outer edge of the wood instead of the centre, I was able to use the router table for this part). If you don't have a router, you can instead choose to screw, nail, and/or glue the shelf in place.

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Towel Bar

You can't have a towel rail without a towel bar! For this, I used a black-finish steel wardrobe rail (to co-ordinate with our black cast iron radiator, above which the towel rail would hang). 

I used a pipe cutter (used for plumbing) to cut it to size. 

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

Shelf

As mentioned above, I wanted to incorporate a shelf into the top of my towel rail. The easy thing to do would have been to just buy some wood at the hardware store, but I really wanted something that would sit better against the antique wood of the corbels. Most of the lumber available in Ireland is cheap white deal (similar to pine). I don't like such wood because it is too soft, too knotty, and the grain is very wide - not at all like the quality old hardwoods you find on antique furniture. So I needed to get creative. 

We had kept all the oak floorboards we removed from our entrance hall last year when we tiled the floor. It is good-quality solid oak, which is difficult to come by in this country. However, it is also in a sorry state after being lifted off our concrete subfloor, so it required a bit of work to make a usable piece.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

I started by using a paint scraper to remove the concrete and glue residue from the back of the floorboard. Then I used an electric planer to reduce the grooved texture underneath. 

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

I cut the wood to size using a table saw and a chop saw. Finally, I used a belt sander to remove the varnish finish from the top of the board, and to smooth the wood all around.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

I could have stopped there, but I wanted the shelf to have an interesting front-facing edge. So I used the router table to cut an ogee profile along the front and side edges.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

Under normal circumstances, I would have been done at this point - had it not been for the fact that we had panelled (wainscoted) the wall where the towel rail was to hang. That meant that my shelf would not have a flat surface to sit against. Having reached the limits of my woodworking ability at this stage, I recruited my Hubby to make two cut-outs at the back of the shelf to accommodate the battens of the wall panelling.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

Staining the Wood

Obviously, the raw oak didn't match the dark wood of the corbels, so I set about staining it. I had two gel woodstains left over from previous projects: they were Brown Mahogany (a reddish-brown colour) and Java (a very dark brown). The Brown Mahogany was too light, and the Java was too dark. So I set about making a custom colour by mixing two parts Brown Mahogany with one part Java.

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Using an old veterinary syringe to measure out the right amount of woodstain

I tested the colour on a spare piece of wood first and it was a perfect match!

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail
 As mentioned above, the wide grain of the white deal wood from the hardware store on the left is not as good a match for the antique wood compared to the salvaged oak floorboard on the right.

After staining the shelf, I sealed it with three coats of a waterbased polyurethane that has a lovely matte finish to match the antique corbels. 

Assembly

With all the pieces prepared, the final step was to assemble everything. I attached one side of the L-brackets to the underside of the shelf first, and attached the slotted plates to the back of the corbels. The pipe simply slotted into the holes drilled in the corbels. Attaching the other side of the L-brackets onto the corbels was the final step that held everything together.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

To hang the towel rail on the wall, I screwed two large-headed screws into the wall, which then slotted into the plates on the back of the towel rail.

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

The cut-outs Hubby did on the back of the shelf allow the unit to sit perfectly against the wall panelling! 

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The House that Will | DIY Antique-style Towel Rail

I love that my DIY towel rail adds a unique touch to our downstairs loo. Best of all, because I mostly used salvaged materials, it cost me less than €10 for the bar and brackets!  I hope this inspires you to consider what unique pieces you can make for your home from items you already have around your house.

norma

Related Posts:

One Room Challenge: Downstairs Loo Reveal

Sink Unit Makeover

Staining Woodwork