...because home doesn't happen overnight.

tub cradle base 1

A few things before I get into the nitty gritty details of the tub cradle base: 1) Our family vacation was wonderful! I’ll share more soon. 2) No pretty pictures in this post. These images were taken on the fly with our phones. Sometimes (a lot of times) convenience wins. 3) This is not a DIY tutorial. This is just us sharing what we did. We aren’t woodworkers. Feel free to improve upon our methods or forgo them all together. Good? M’kay.

When we started this tub escapade over two years ago (!), we were inspired by a similar cradle base created by none other than Jessica Helgerson and her handy husband. At the time, I shot Jessica an email asking about their tub base. I didn’t anticipate an answer but figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. I was so surprised when she replied! Turns out, Jessica’s husband scribed two wooden cradles out of Douglas fir to fit the contour of the tub’s bottom. The weight of the tub was enough to hold the setup in place. Adhesive wasn’t necessary.

Sounds easy enough, right? Sorta.

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First, we had to find some wood. But before that, we had to figure out how big of a piece of wood we needed. Using the height of the original claw feet as a guide and browsing images of other cradle bases online, we decided on two scribed bases measuring 25″L x 4¾”W x 10″H. That meant we needed a sizable chunk of wood measuring at least 10″ thick. We searched all over and even considered driving a few hours north to scope out salvaged beams. But in the end, we found an inexpensive 10″ x 10″ x 8′ beam right under our noses at Dayton Reclamation and Restoration LLC. It set us back $40. Done.

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We had hoped to take the beam to a sawmill or woodworker to have it cut to size (into two smaller blocks). But after some difficulty locating a place / person to do the job (at one point, we were advised to call “a woodcutting man in the woods” – lumberjack? – but he never answered his phone) at a location and / or time that was convenient for us, Steve decided to go for it himself.

He discovered that the wood nearest the core of beam had less splits, and we wanted the sides of the bases to be finished (as opposed to rough hewn) so he focused on cutting out the innermost wood from the beam. (He didn’t cut the two blocks out side-by-side but, rather, end-to-end from the beam.) Using a circular saw set on the deepest setting, he cut a block of wood to length from the beam. He ran the circular saw around the perimeter of the beam then used a sawzall to cut it free. He repeated this for a second block.

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Once the two blocks were cut, we set the tub upside down on 2×4’s in the garage. We put the original claw feet in place (but didn’t attach them…seen above in the background) then shimmed and leveled the tub so that it was as if the tub was sitting upright and level on the floor, only upside down. Have I lost you yet? Basically, we were taking into account the fact that the tub slopes toward the drain – a good thing.

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With the tub still upside down and the original claw feet in position (but not affixed to the tub), Steve carefully set a level across the two front feet. The level was lined with a strip of masking tape marked at the center point between the two feet and marked at 1″ increments out from the center. Using a tape measure, he measured the distance from the level to the contoured bottom of the tub at each 1″ mark and noted the measurements on the masking tape. Then he was able to transfer the curve onto a piece of foam board. He repeated the same process for the back legs. (The contour of the tub changes from the drain end to the non-drain end so we had to make two different templates.)

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Knowing the overall desired height (10″) and length (25″) of the cradles, Steve cut out templates from the foam board. We guesstimated a roughly 2″ depth for the highest part of the base that would hug the tub. If you haven’t noticed by now, there was a lot of guessing and eyeballing involved in this project.

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Using the custom foam board templates, Steve traced the curve onto the two wood blocks. (If you look closely you can see a pencil line on the wood in the image shown above.) He traced the curve onto both sides of the respective blocks to guide him during the cutting process. He made straight cuts down to the pencil line with a reciprocating saw, leaving an inch or so between cuts and keeping an eye on both sides of the block to make sure he wasn’t cutting one side deeper than the other.

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Working in sections, he tapped out the cut slivers with a hammer.

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Eventually, the cradle started to take shape. With the contour roughly cut, he used a Lancelot blade on an angle grinder to further carve out the cradle. Then he went back in with a flap disc to smooth out the curve. He repeated the same process on the second block.

After that there was a lot of setting the cradles on the upside down tub in the garage and making adjustments. We used a wood bit to cut notches in the cradles for the claw foot mounts to rest in, recessed. (We decided early on to place the cradles in the same positions as the claw feet for proper support and balance.) This step of the project involved a lot of trial and error and was extremely tedious. But it was necessary for a snug fit.

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The cradles were sanded with an orbital sander a total of SIX TIMES! We worked our way from 80 to 320 grit sandpaper for a smooth-as-a-baby’s-butt finish. We conditioned the cradles with Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner then applied two coats of Minwax special walnut stain and two coats of Waterlox to protect the wood from future splashes.

FYI – The state of our garage is an embarrassment so don’t look too closely! The walls are *mostly* organized but the floor is cluttered with all the components of the main bath renovation and the entire space is dirty. We’ve had an entire bathroom (tub, toilet, vanity, lighting, etc.) sitting in our garage for over two years! Maybe after the bathroom is finished, we’ll actually park a car in here. FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

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As for the tub exterior, I used Sherwin Williams products. (I had tested the tub for lead a few months prior and the results were negative.) We had good luck with their enamel latex when we painted the builder kitchen cabinets in our previous house so I decided to use it for the tub, too. The tub’s exterior had been stripped and sanded before we bought it via craigslist. Yay for someone else doing the prep work for me! I wiped it down then applied one coat of Sherwin Williams all surface enamel oil base primer tinted to a medium gray. I had anticipated needing two coats but the coverage was superb. I finished up with two coats of Sherwin Williams all surface enamel acrylic latex in satin, color-matched to Benjamin Moore black jack. The sleek, contrasting exterior was exactly what we had envisioned!

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We were anxious to bring the new old tub into the house but completely forgot how long it takes for enamel paint to cure. We left the cradles and tub out in the garage for another 1-2 weeks to cure and off-gas. After a test run of placing the tub on the cradles in the garage, Steve had one of his *strong* buddies help him carry the tub in through the front door to the bathroom. The tub weighs 250-300lbs! We were leery of rolling that much weight on a furniture dolly across our wood floors. It would have been easier with a third pair of ripped arms but there wasn’t any room in the hallway / bathroom for another person.

We had built up “the moving of the tub” so much but, in reality, it was relatively anticlimactic. It fit through the bathroom doorway with the door off the hinges (whew!) and in minutes the tub was in place resting on the cradles. It was level, too! Because of the hex floor tiling fiasco, we were sure we’d need to shim or readjust things but we didn’t. Rarely are things easier than we expect so it was a nice surprise. The exterior suffered one small scratch but it only penetrated the top layers of paint – not the primer.

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It probably wasn’t necessary but we did add a bead of silicone to secure the cradles. Due to the weight of the tub and a snug fit, the tub doesn’t wobble or tip at all. We’ve jumped up and down in the tub and tried to rock it. It’s solid! We’re also really happy with the tub interior. It’s in great shape for a vintage tub. We’re guessing it was reglazed at some point.

All in all, we spent $270 on Project Declawed Tub (excluding fixtures and plumbing): $200 for the tub, $40 for the beam, $30 for the Lancelot disc. The staining and sealing materials were leftover from previous projects. For the primer and paint, I used a Sherwin Williams gift card I had won two years ago in Apartment Therapy’s Room for Color contest.

In a perfect world, the cradles would be spaced more evenly. I think the one on the left would look better if it was moved further to the left. But that’s where the drain is so it’s not an option. It’s worth noting that if you desire a completely symmetrical setup, a freestanding tub with a center drain is a must. But we weren’t willing to move plumbing lines in the bathroom. In fact, the goal was to work with the original layout. I also think the cradles would look better if they were ~2″ shorter. However, I’m not sure they would function as well. We kept the distance between the floor and the bottom of the tub the same as it was with the original claw feet. At 2″ shorter, the tub might have felt too low? Maybe not. We needed the clearance for the drain line. Not to mention, a lower tub would have put more strain on the already strained water supply lines. Ah! So many little things to think about.

Overall, we’re extremely happy with how the tub turned out. Especially since it was a unique concept. We’ve blamed this bathroom’s non-existence on time, kids, blah, blah, blah, but honestly there was some fear involved, too. How’s this all going to work?! We like straying from the norm and sometimes it’s scary but it’s always worth it. We either love what we end up with or learn something new or, if we’re lucky, both.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

38 Comments

18.November.2014

So much work went into this, I’m a little flabbergasted at all Steve did for the wooden base. But it looks amazing! And I bet it’s so nice to finally see this space coming together and have your dream of getting your master bath come that much closer to being realized. ^_^

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replied on November 18th, 2014

Yes! We’re very much looking forward to having TWO bathrooms!!

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18.November.2014

I seriously could not love this any more! It is fantastic! We are looking into houses right now and I’m thinking I may need to troll craigslist for a vintage tub!

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18.November.2014

WOW! This is fantastic. I can’t wait to see it with the rest of the stuff filled in. Once the tile started going in it seems like things have begun to gain a nice momentum in here. You must be so relieved to have the tub in, and the sense of accomplishment you must feel for having figured this out must feel great! Well done. (Clapping emoji).

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replied on November 18th, 2014

Thanks for the cheerleading, Staci. After the tiling hurdle, we didn’t have a ton of confidence going into the tub project but we’re really happy with how it turned out. We know it’s not for everyone. It’s for us! And that’s the point, really. Doing stuff that YOU want to YOUR house. It feels pretty good. But maybe that’s only because we finally have a second toilet. Ha!

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18.November.2014

LOVE it Dana, and I (we) can certainly relate to the “fear factor” – it definitely has caused procrastination on some of our projects as well! But if you never try, you’ll never know, right?!!
I am super proud of you guys for going for it!
P.S. (and WHEW, it WORKED!!!!!)
Leah: )

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replied on November 18th, 2014

Aw, thanks Leah. And yes, a big fat WHEW! was had by all over here. Sometimes scary things are fun in retrospect.

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replied on November 18th, 2014

“Scary is the new fun”, right? ;) Love how it turned out!

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18.November.2014

This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. It looks so good! You’re so brave with your DIY, and it really encourages me to try more out of the box things with my house. Thanks for all the inspiration :) Can’t wait to see how the rest of the bathroom shapes up, it already looks amazing!

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18.November.2014

Our front door is the same black from Ben Moore! Love it!

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replied on November 18th, 2014

It’s a great black, isn’t it? No weird undertones.

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18.November.2014

Wow! It looks fantastic. So impressed with how it turned out!

I wanted to ask you what you ended up thinking of the Sheffield design course you signed up for a while back? I’m interested in taking it and haven’t found many reviews online.

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18.November.2014

Looks awesome! Have you used it yet? Bathed any kiddos?

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18.November.2014

Love, love, love! Anyone bathed in it yet? :-)

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replied on November 18th, 2014

Ha! I was gonna ask the same question. :)

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replied on November 18th, 2014

We’ve been working on setting the toilet and there’s no door on the hinges yet so no! :( But we have filled it a few times to make sure it doesn’t leak. I still need to find a shower curtain, too.

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18.November.2014

Looks great!!
We just recently purchased a similar tub but it’s going to need some interior work. You didn’t have to do anything to the tub on the inside? I was hoping for some advice :-)

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replied on November 19th, 2014

Fortunately, it looks like the previous owners had the tub reglazed at some point. There is some staining near the faucet / drain from what looks like a previous leaky faucet but otherwise it’s great. Big sigh of relief!

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19.November.2014

I. Love. It. And I totally get the ‘would, coulda, shoulda’ of renovations. I wish that we made our vanity longer, but then we would have had to move the plumbing. In order to keep the costs down, we left it where it was and now, six months later, it (hardly) bothers me :)

The bathroom looks amazing!

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19.November.2014

could you tell me where you got the tub faucet/shower rod setup? thanks

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19.November.2014

The cradle looks very cool – I love some natural materials in a bathroom. And your bath is SO CUTE. It’s like the bath emoji come to life. And painted black… I have to ask though – are you worried about the water mess from the kids in a shower like that or are they more inclined to have a bath? We used to have a claw foot bath in my first house (pre-blogging days!) which I adored, but my godfather it was a pain with the water (though, that said, we didn’t have the curtain all the way around the bath). Just curious (nosey?)… Though you may also have tidier children than I do! Can’t wait to see the end result! xxx

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replied on November 19th, 2014

The plan is to hang two shower curtains since the flanges holding up the oval shower rod won’t allow a single curtain to enclose the entire tub. I’ll let you know how it goes. Our two youngest still take baths and our oldest enjoys a bath every now and then. I see it primarily being used as a bath. Not sure how practical showering will be but we wanted the option of a shower in case two people need to shower at the same time, in separate showers of course ;)

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19.November.2014

I can’t wait for the full reveal! I wasn’t sure about the HD vanity you chose, but after seeing the tub base I think they will look soooo good together! And it’s been controversial but the square toilet juxtaposed with the square wood bases of the tub and vanity, ahh-mazing. So much better than a standard toilet would have looked. You’re going to have a show stopper bathroom! Perfect for showing off your hard work when guests come over. Bravo Dana (and Steve)!

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19.November.2014

I love it! This bathroom is providing me with some serious inspiration. the moment I saw that black hex tile go in I fell in love. We just bought our first house and I think I’m going to imitate this bathroom completely. I love that it has a modern feel, but it’s still vintagey too.

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20.November.2014

What a beautiful room. The tiles on the wall, the tiles on the floor. And that tub. Wow!

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21.November.2014

You have me dreaming about tearing out this bathroom and starting again. Surely the owners wouldn’t notice ;)

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replied on November 21st, 2014

Do it! They’d probably thank you ;)

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22.November.2014

Turned out fantastic!

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29.December.2014

I have been wondering where on Earth to find reclaimed wood pieces. I can’t believe there is a great place in Dayton! I see projects in my future…

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06.February.2015

[…] one trim paint – Benjamin Moore super white tub – vintage, craigslist tub base – DIY tub exterior paint – Sherwin Williams enamel latex color-matched to Benjamin Moore black jack […]

24.June.2015

Just wanted you to know that you and your HH saved me and my HH!! We had the same issue…a 1937 clawfoot tub with a bum leg. We needed a simple (and inexpensive) way to fix it. After searching high and low, I happened upon your site. BLESS YOU GUYS FOR THIS!!! Following your design, we created our own tub cradles and now we have peace of mind. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

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replied on June 24th, 2015

That’s so great! I actually took inspiration for the tub cradle base from one of my favorite designers, Jessica Helgerson. I was so grateful for her interpretation so it’s nice to know that the gratitude is being paid forward. xx

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20.August.2015

thank you! i’ve been searching for the completed project & design info.

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replied on August 20th, 2015

this is our tub on facebook. we have 2 of the feet. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153556858752943&set=a.10153506931312943.1073741895.641032942&type=3&theater

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21.December.2015

How did you apply the exterior paint to the tub – spray or brush?

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replied on December 24th, 2015

Brush!

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22.April.2016

Just wondering, what are the dimensions of this bathroom?

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replied on April 25th, 2016

It’s roughly 5′ x 8′.

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