Monday, August 21, 2006

How Do I Fix Broken Clawfoot Tub Feet?

I like posting the more interesting letters we get from our customers. Today, Camille wrote us about some problems she was having with her tub feet:

We recently had a man put tile down on our bathroom floor. He had to remove the claw foot tub from the bathroom in order to complete the task. In order for him to remove the tub, he had to take two off the back legs. When he finished tiling out the floor and put the tub back we found out one of the legs was not secure and there was a big boom. The pipes broke in half and water was coming from the bathroom, through our dining room ceiling, ruining an already old but functioning chandelier. We called him and had him come back to see what went wrong. He tried soldering it back onto the bottom, but that didn’t work and the other back leg fell off too. So now we have tiles and bricks trying to hold up the tub. We would like to know if there is a company near Philadelphia that can fix this type of tub. It’s a shame to have to get rid of it, which is what we are thinking of doing. What do you suggest? We were told by someone that a tub like ours could cost a few thousand dollars because it’s antique, and I guess it's cast iron. Help! I look forward to your response.

My reply:

Clawfoot Tub Feet
Replacement Clawfoot Tub Feet
from Strom Plumbing
Here is what I would do. First, do not try to reattach broken feet to a tub. They just don’t work. We don’t suggest welding the feet back on as the intense heat of this processes can damage the porcelain interior of the tub. You can try to find an antique foot that matches your foot, but that that might be a chore as there are over 450 different styles of antique tub feet. 

Next, you could try to have a foot cast to match your tub. Again, this is a bit tricky because the front legs of many tubs are a slightly different length than the rear legs so you need a rear foot to make the copy. Unfortunately, it sounds like the other rear foot was damaged as well.

I would suggest you replace all four feet with a new cradle and foot set from Strom Plumbing. We've had good luck with these feet.

Alternatively, you could get rid of your tub and replace it with a new one. I would not recommend this unless your current tub is in need of refinishing or you were planning on replacing it anyway. I have no idea what your tub is worth, but unless it is a truly rare piece, it will only be worth $50 - $500 depending on condition. The two broken feet in the back will drop the tub value quite a bit.

Thanks for the question,


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Reason Why American Faucets Don’t Work in the United Kingdom

Here is an interesting question from Diane C. in the UK.

I live in England and am having a lot of trouble finding a hand shower faucet for my old clawfooted tub. I was wondering if the threading is different for the faucets you carry from the English standard threading for piping.... I have no idea if your products will be of use to me here or not. I certainly hope so as they are fabulous!!

The unfortunate answer is US faucets will not work out of the box with English plumbing because our standards are different. You can, however, make a few modifications to the English rough-in to fit the American faucet. Before we discuss the workaround, let’s take a look at why they don’t work in the first place.

Simply put, American plumbing threading is tapered while British plumbing threads are non-tapered. Plumbing threads are tapered in the US because this allows them to self-tap slightly when torqued and form a seal as the threads compress against each other. This means that NPT fittings are easiest to make leak free with the aid of Teflon tape or a similar thread sealant compound. This standard is known as Nominal Pipe Taper (NPT) and can be seen in cross-section below:

American Threaded Plumbing Pipe
Cross-Section of an American Threaded Plumbing Pipe (NPT Standard)

Notice the NPT threading is on a 60-degree angle, comes to a point at each crest, and is tapered.

The standard in the United Kingdom is known as BSP (British Standard Pipe Thread). Devised in 1841, this system does not taper the threads and uses a 55-degree angle between individual threads. 

British Standard Pipe Thread
Cross-Section of a British Standard Pipe Thread (BSP Standard)

This is why an NPT standard American faucet will not fit a set of British supply lines that accept BSP standard faucets.

You may be able to work around this by using both American faucet and supply lines with an NPT standard rough-in threaded pipe. The NPT rough-in pipe would then have to be sweated onto the existing British interior plumbing. I have not personally tried this, but I believe it could be done relatively easily. If you live in the UK, check with your plumber first before ordering any US plumbing. I would be very interested to hear how others have approached and solved this problem.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Vintage Tub & Bath Announces 2006 Community Giving Program

We are thrilled to officially announce the details of our Community Giving Program for 2006. This year we will be donating over $10,000 to support emergency responders, community programs, veterans programs and charitable organizations in the greater Hazleton, PA area. We announced the project at the Hazleton City Hall with Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta (shown below, at right, with Vintage Tub and Bath owner Norman Dick).

Norman Dick speaks with Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta

In the past, we used to donate money from time to time to the local fire companies but we decided to really start giving after we saw just how bad the need was. Some of our local volunteer firefighters respond to fires wearing fire jackets that are no longer fit for service (like the remnant I am holding below):

Allan Dick Showing A Worn Out Fire Jacket Still in Regular Use

But it does not end there – our community ambulance companies use basic life-saving equipment that is worn out, 7 of the 11 playgrounds in the city of Hazleton need major repair so our children can have a safe and fun place to play, only 3 of the 5 fire engines in Hazleton had carbon monoxide detection equipment to identify that deadly gas, our local Rails to Trails organization needed funding to conduct a chainsaw training class so their volunteers could keep the trail open, and so on and so on.

Once we realized just how urgent the need was, we felt we had to take action. We know that a strong company can only exist in a strong community. Our business thrives because we are based in an area with a deep work and volunteer ethic and we need to help maintain that spirit. Also: how, as either a business or as individuals, can we ask the volunteers and professionals who protect our property and safety to do their jobs with obsolescent or non-existent equipment? Yet every day many individuals and businesses unconsciously demand that very service.

Some businesses would argue that this is foolish spending – that it only hurts the bottom line. Did this donation “hurt” our bottom line? From a strictly monetary standpoint, yes it did. Was this donation worth it? In our estimation, yes it was – every last penny.

Fortunately, not all businesses think that community giving is foolish. Let me thank Hitwise (a leading online competitive research firm) and (a great source for REAL Persian carpets at fantastic prices) for their donations to the West Hazleton Fire Department. The $1,100 they donated will go a long way to helping that department modernize its equipment. Assistant Fire Chief Ward is shown below (at right) accepting the Hitwise and checks.

Allan Dick Handing Checks from Hitwise and to West Hazleton Asst. Fire Chief Ward

Full details of our 2006 Community Giving Program can be found here.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Should I Restore and Refinish My Antique Tub and Faucets?

I received this question today:

Hi Allan,

I have a dilemma concerning my antique tubs. The first tub - the wall mounted tub, from all the information I've received is an Ahrens & Ott 1913, 5 1/2 foot Clarion tub. All original plumbing was in the wall - including the standing waste valve. Both of my tubs have a low bell spout tub filler. We only have bits and pieces of the original plumbing for both tubs. The other tub is 5 feet in length, not sure of the manufacturer or date, but it has a 5" flat-rolled rim. As you can see it also has a standing waste valve and all the fixtures came up through the rim of the tub. Should I spend the money to refinish these and get them in working order? I've done quite a bit of research and everyone wants at least $2,000 to rebuild the faucets, not counting refinishing the tubs. Would they be considered rare or of historic value? I really love them and want to keep them with the 1900 house were are renovating since they were original, but I'm not sure about spending that much. Any help or advice you could give me would be so so appreciated!!

My reply:

I don't have any specific information about Ahrens and Ott so I can't appraise the items for you. I think the bigger questions to ask yourself is “what are these vintage items worth to me?” and “how hard will I be using them?”

Let’s consider the following:

Durability: Restored faucets and refinished clawfoot tubs require more care and thoughtful use than their new counterparts. The restored faucets will, at a minimum, need new washers over time. You will need to be careful using the faucets so you don’t break items like porcelain handles and the more fragile interior components. Of course, if you do break the faucet, you will be paying top dollar to get parts and have the item repaired. Refinished tubs are usually only warranted for 1-5 years because most refinishing materials just don’t stand up over time – especially under heavy use. You also have to be very careful when cleaning a refinished tub as harsh chemicals will destroy the finish.

Value: Things to think about here are “Are these items original to the house?” “Do these items have any inherent value?” “Do these items have any sentimental value?” Let’s say you live in a Frank Lloyd Wright home and you want the house to be as close as possible to original condition. In this case, the value of the home might make having the restoration work worthwhile. If you live in a post-war ranch, then these items will seem out of place.

Use: Will these items get heavy or light use? Will my 6 kids be using this tub or is it for a guest or master bath? The easier you will be on the items, the longer they will last and the more value you will get out of them.

Code: Before investing a lot of money in getting your antique plumbing refinished and restored, you will definitely want to check to make certain that it will meet the plumbing code in your area. Tubs with built-in spouts near the drain will almost never pass code unless some sort of backflow prevention device is installed in your supply lines. Even then, some municipalities will not pass it. Check first.

The facts in your specific case are:

  • You are restoring a 1900 home
  • You have two tubs, a toilet, and several sinks with faucets
  • You really love the fixtures
  • The cost is $2,000 for the restored faucets and an additional $1,200 (my guess) for the tub refinishing

Let’s assume the home will be restored to its former glory and that you are trying to keep it as close to original as possible. I would do the following:

Check the local plumbing code to see if you can use the tubs. If not, buy a tub (either a new one or a good-condition antique clawfoot tub with the original porcelain intact.). Buying a refinished tub does not make a lot of sense to me when you can buy a new clawfoot tub with a lifetime warranty for under $1,000.

Next, consider how you will be using the tub and fixtures. Avoid the refinishing /restoration if they are used daily (especially if kids are involved – they are murder on refinishing). Again, go with new or original porcelain with no rust or cast iron showing through the interior finish.

Finally, determine how much you really love the fixtures. If you really, really dig them, then get ‘em done because you won’t be able to look at your finished bathroom without thinking to yourself that you should have kept the antique items.

One last note: You could keep some of the items and sell off the lesser pieces. The toilet looks neat as well as one of the pedestal sinks. Perhaps you keep those two items and match them up with a new or original tub in one of the bathrooms.

I hope this helps you make a decision about your antique items.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

A (Very, Very Brief) History of the L. Wolff Manufacturing Co.

Yet another loyal reader of the Daily Tubber wrote:

Hey, I saw on your blog a bit of info on American Standard clawfoot tubs. My tub was made by Wolff Manufacturing. Do you know the years that company made tubs? Ours is a typical clawfoot tub. We can't find a date on it - any guess on the age? We figure the '20s.

According to the Chicago Historical Society, Ludwig Wolff (1836 - 1911) came to Chicago in 1854 and by 1876 he had a large plumbing supply factory under the name L. Wolff Manufacturing Co. Wolff built a large new Chicago plant in 1887. This facility soon employed about 1,000 men and produced $1.5 million worth of goods a year. As indoor plumbing became more common by the late nineteenth century, Wolff began producing a wider array of plumbing items for homes, hospitals, businesses, and schools. By 1910, the company had about 3,500 workers at two Chicago-area plants and sales and service operations in about 10 other cities. Wolff's operations shrank during the Great Depression and the company stopped operating shortly after World War II.

The Chicago Historical Society also has a 1912 Wolff Plumbing Catalog online.

One of their clawfoot tubs is shown on pages 10 and 11 of the catalog. The only other useful reference I found for Wolff Mfg. was from the Victorian Crapper site.

I am sorry I could not get more information about the company or the approximate date for your tub. If I had to guess, I would say it was built between 1910 and 1939. I know it is not a very tight date range but it is the best I can do for now. Does anyone else have any more information about the Wolff company?

20 April 2006 UPDATE
Evan D. wrote to tell us that he found a Wolff tub "without a faucet and some rough holes cut for a replacement. So I cobbled my own freestanding unit. The tub itself was sandblasted (where we found the casting date), reglazed, outside painted, wood rim repaired and refinished, feet brass plated to match drain system."

Here is the stunning result:

Refinished Wolff Claw Foot Bath Tub

Here is a detail shot of the Wolff name on the overflow cover:

Close-up of Claw Foot Tub Overflow Cover

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Standard Sanitary Claw Foot Tub Feet - A Question

Kerwin from PA recently asked us an interesting question about vintage claw foot tub feet. He wrote:

I have a 1924 clawfoot tub with legs that have two different casting numbers inside the legs. Two have "43" and two have "43L". I have inspected them carefully and can find no differences. I have put them in all different configurations around the tub and there is always an imbalance, as in opposite corners are too high and too low. The tub rocks.

What Kerwin has are the feet from an American Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Company (Mfg. Co.) 5’ Roll Rim Claw Foot Tub. These were made by the tens of thousands during the 1920's and 30’s and are the most common type of antique claw foot tub found today.

The feet, in fact, are slightly different. The feet marked 43 should be on the drain end of the tub. The 43L feet should be on the end furthest away from the drain. The L stands for “long” and puts the tub at a slight angle in order for the water to run into the drain. A cross-section of the claw foot tub foot appears below:

American Standard Sanitary Claw Foot Tub

If the tub continues to wobble, you can be truly vintage and use the standard leveling kit from the United States Mint – pennies, nickels or dimes wedged under the feet. Yes, this really is the way to level the tub because the feet are not adjustable. When we used to remove claw foot tubs from old buildings we would always find coins under the feet. This is the only solution we know of for leveling old tubs.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Upgrading the Kitchen Sink - Easier than Expected

I asked Mindy from the Our Fixer Upper to review the Whitehaus WH512 Large Double-Bowl Farmer Fireclay Kitchen Sink for the Daily Tubber.
In the spirit of full disclosure: We offered her a substantial discount on the sink if she would provide us with a truthful review. I told her to share the good, bad and the ugly. Her comments appear below exactly as she wrote them.

About a year ago, my husband and I bought our first home - a Victorian fixer-upper. We've been renovating the kitchen for months, and we are finally getting to the fun stuff. Our countertops, sink, and faucet had all seen better days. Keeping the old porcelain sink looking clean meant bleaching and scrubbing it daily. I'd been dreaming about an old-fashioned farmhouse sink since the day we moved in, so I was thrilled to finally pick one out.

We decided on a Whitehaus Double Bowl Farmer Sink because it incorporates the classic look we love with the convenience of two bowls. For the new countertop, we chose wood. The new faucet fixture is double-handled with a high spout and a brushed nickel finish.

Replacing an old sink seems daunting, but it turned out to be very easy. Our sink arrived on Monday afternoon, and my husband had it installed and usable before bed that night. Beforehand, we prepped by removing the old countertop and unhooking the old sink. Both got hauled out to the junk pile where they belong. We then cut the wood countertop to the appropriate length and made sure it fit snug against the wall.

After the sink arrived, our first step was to site the opening for the sink and fixtures. We set the sink onto the wood countertop and carefully traced around it, leaving 3 inches on the back edge for the faucet. 

Farmhouse Sink

Using a scroll saw, my husband cut along the lines to create the opening. Since the sink sits under the counter, it was important to keep this cut as clean as possible. We sanded the new edges down for good measure.

Kitchen Sink Installation

After cutting out the opening, he added framing for the undermount kit used to hold the sink in place. The cupboard sides we attached the bars to weren't very sturdy, so the additional framing was mostly for peace of mind.

Kitchen Sink Installation

Kitchen Sink Installation

Once the undermount flanges were screwed in and the bars were in place, we set the sink on top and laid the countertop over it. Then we stood back to take a long, proud look!

Farmhouse Sink

Because our old sink only had one drain, we did a bit of additional plumbing work to get both drains hooked up, but all in all it was a surprisingly painless DIY project with a BIG aesthetic payoff. I wish all our projects were this easy!

If you'd like to read more about our adventures in DIY home repair, you can visit our house blog:

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Questions About Lead in Clawfoot Bathtubs

I like to share some of the more interesting questions from our customers. Recently, one of our customers wrote us: “Hello! My husband and I bought two lovely claw tubs with accessories in the summer of 2005. I am wondering if there is any lead in the cast iron tubs which we purchased.”

Norman, my brother, and owner of Vintage Tub & Bath answered the question this way:

That is a very broad question and, as such, merits both a technical and practical answer.

Technically, lead is a naturally occurring element. I am sure that the vast majority of material present on the surface of the Earth contains at least some trace of lead. Our tubs aren't excluded from that group. To specifically and technically answer your exact question, we feel that the answer must be yes.

In practical terms, if your question was meant to ask whether or not the tubs you bought present any type of known lead-based health hazard under normal use and conditions, the answer is no (i.e., the tubs are not known to leach hazardous lead into water or emit lead particles into the air, etc.). Furthermore, Vintage Tub & Bath doesn't have any reason to believe any of the materials present in your tub contain a significant amount of lead to present a lead-based health hazard under virtually any condition.

You may have asked us this question because many years ago lead and a host of other harmful materials were significant constituents in paints, surface-smoothing fills, as well as the frits (ground-up glass) that were used to make the porcelain enamel coating used on the inside of cast iron tubs. In fact, in the early 1900s, pure lead was used in major American manufacturing operations to smooth the outside of some clawfoot tubs. The lead would be applied hot, cooled and then ground down by hand by workers with little to no respiratory protection. As a result, lead-based hazards abounded with these older products for workers and consumers alike.

The use of pure lead and significantly lead-based materials in these types of processes and products has long since been abandoned (as in decades ago), and your tubs were manufactured under modern manufacturing conditions no earlier than 2002 to 2003. As a result, we are confident your tubs are quite safe in terms of both lead content and resultant exposure risk. I hope this answers your question.