Hook 21 steps to hanging a towel

Step 1: Get a sudden inspiration

Glancing in the corner behind the bathroom door, I realized: what a great place for a hook! Why didn’t we think of that before?

Step 2: Accept that what you currently have is inadequate

I’d suggested that we try one of those over-the-door 3-hook jobs on the door itself, but I hate those things. They’re ugly, they’re an obvious stop-gap, they usually bang against the door, and they put stress on the door and hinges when you load them up with things like wet towels. But we happen to have one that we’re not using and it seemed like an adequate temporary solution while my dad and stepmother were in town for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, when we actually tried it, the door wouldn’t shut.

Step 3: Consider options

Of course, I’ve also considered screwing a hook into the door itself, but it’s managed to survive that indignity for close to a century and I just can’t allow it on my watch. It’s a nice door.

But the wall hadn’t occurred to me. The space is 14 inches wide, plenty of room, and the door would still open fully. Plus, a hook there would balance the one I installed on the other side of the built-in linen cabinet. Brilliant.

Step 4: Assess the worth of your brilliant idea

Now, home improvement and design magazines always pitch the idea of the bathroom “spa” or “getaway” or “oasis,” words that imply the rest of your home is a desert wasteland through which you must crawl, parched and sunburned, in order to reach paradise so that you can pee or brush your teeth. I suppose this is because many bathroom activities are solitary and, for many people, it is truly an escape.

But our bathroom was remodeled in the late 70s or early 80s. The original white porcelain hex tile remains on the floor, and there’s the built-in which holds a lot of stuff, but everything else came later: the beige-ish wall tile, the beige-ish double-layered wallpaper, the beige-ish granite-topped vanity, the beige-ish pickled finish applied to the woodwork, the ornately-gilded-yet-still-beige-ish mirrored medicine cabinet.

It is fully functional and mostly clean. And, having lived without fully functional bathrooms in the past, I’m grateful for this one. Do I wish there weren’t squares of drywall “temporarily” covering the gaping holes I had to create in the wet wall while tracking down rusted pipe joints? Sure. (I didn’t even bother screwing in the patch behind the vanity; who knows when I’ll need quick access to that.)

I mention all this because we plan to someday renovate the bathroom, and I therefore want to spend as little time and money on it as possible. Any improvement is temporary. And while our bathroom is the perfect size, it lacks the horizontal wall space that you need for multiple towel bars. There’s one hovering over the toilet, but it’s 7 feet from the tub. And there are two towel bars in the shower/tub enclosure itself, opposite the showerhead, but when there’s a towel on the upper bar, it hangs over the lower bar, and a towel on the lower bar is at risk of getting wet from the shower itself. You get the idea.

Step 5: Locate a hook

My goal with most house projects is to use only what we already have. Thanks to our kitchen renovation a few years ago (and many other projects) we have a lot of tools, fasteners, materials, etc. So, I knew we had a hook that matched the one I’d installed in the bathroom several years ago, but then I remembered that I’d installed it on the back porch where it sees everyday use. If I moved it up to the bathroom, then I’d have to replace it, and we get into the land of Scope Creep.

Step 4: Proud of your ability to keep this project under control, locate a hook

I looked around my basement shop and workbench, sorting through various knobs and handles and entirely unsuitable hooks, all of which brought back memories of past projects.

Step 5: Pause to reflect on how much time and energy you’ve spent on past projects

Step 6: Confident that this little project won’t turn into an all-day affair with several trips to the store, locate a hook

Yes! I ran upstairs to the guest room closet, slid open the door, and there it was: an odd metal ornamental hook that MT had found at World Market a few years ago. We’d used it in the powder room during that project. I slipped it up and off the screw from which it hung and tromped over to the bathroom. A good fit. I sought MT’s approval, which was easily obtained.

Step 7: Assess your wall

Lath and plaster. There’s nothing quite like this bizarre combination: a slurry of lime plaster, horsehair, and sand spread across horizontal strips of wood. I love the simplicity. I love the sound-proofing (far better than paper-coated gypsum drywall). I even love the cracks that inevitably form.

I hate attaching anything to it.

If you can find a stud to screw into, you’re fine. But you only get that chance every 16 inches, and the older the house, the less reliable that becomes. My spot behind the door? No stud.

Plaster itself has no real holding strength and is very brittle, but I’ve learned that the wood lath is very strong if you take a few precautions. (As a side note: the previous owners of our house didn’t hang much on the walls.)

Step 8: Drill a hole

I use a smallish bit, say 7/64″, and go slowly. If I’m lucky, I’ll hit the lath and feel the resistance as the bit passes through it. However, even though it’s statistically less likely, I usually manage to choose a spot in between the strips of lath and the bit just pops through.

Step 9: Drill another hole about 1″ above or below the first one

You see, that first hole was exploratory. And, no, I won’t patch it because then I’d be spending too much time & energy on this bathroom. I hit the lath this time around, so I’m good.

Step 10: Expand the size of the hole using a 1/2″ bit

If your hook is going to see light duty, you might be able to just send a screw into the lath and be done with it. Your 7/64″ hole will act as a good pilot hole for a standard drywall screw. But there are a few problems:

  1. The wood lath is very dry. It might crack, which will make the screw wiggle.
  2. Remember that the screw has to pass through 3/8″ – 1/2″ of brittle, crumbly plaster. Whenever that screw wiggles, and it probably will if you’re regularly hanging things off it, the plaster around the hole will deteriorate.
  3. The beige-ish wallpaper will not keep the plaster from crumbling.

So my solution is to drill a large hole that will accept any number of different anchoring systems. My current favorite is the Toggler Snaptoggle BB Toggle Anchor with Bolts. That Amazon page has a little video that shows how it works. It works well with plaster & lath because the plastic collar helps protect and stabilize the plaster somewhat. And despite what I said above, the wallpaper provides a surface for the anchor’s collar to lock onto.

Step 11: Insert the Toggler anchor into the hole

As you do so, make sure the steel channel will run vertically on the other side of the lath. Then slide the collar up tight against the wall and snap off the extra plastic straps.

Here’s what it looks like, with the bolt inserted loosely:

Toggle anchor installed. Note the exploratory hole just above it. I also like this system because you can easily remove the screw without losing the anchor.

Toggle anchor installed. Note the exploratory hole just above it. I also like this system because you can easily remove the screw without losing the anchor.

Step 12: Discover that the head of the bolt is too big

I started to hang the hook, anticipating that my work would be done and I could start cleaning up. But the keyhole on the back of the hook wasn’t large enough to accommodate the head of the anchor’s bolt.

Step 13: Sigh

Step 14: Over-engineer a solution

I stared at the hook for awhile, then at the wall, then at the hook. I could have tried enlarging the hook’s keyhole, but I’m not that patient and I didn’t think I had the right file to do that.

Instead, I came up with a truly ugly solution. I’d use a scrap of window/door stop moulding as a mounting plate for the hook. I’d attach the moulding to the wall using the anchor I just installed, and then drive a smaller screw into the moulding for the hook to hang from.

However, I didn’t want the stop moulding to spin around on the wall, so I decided to install another anchor to support it.

Step 15: Realize you just used your last Toggler anchor

Unfortunately, I’d just used my last Toggler anchor. The next best option I could find in my shop was a common toggle bolt, also known as a butterfly anchor. (I’ve actually been calling these Molly bolts my whole life, but that’s a different little beast.)

Step 16: Drill countersink holes in the stop moulding

One of the best purchases I ever made was this clever countersink drill bit. I’ve had it since my first house in the mid-90s.

Pre-drilling a countersink in the stop moulding

Pre-drilling a countersink in the stop moulding. You can see that I’ve already attached the upper bolt.

You have to guess at the depth of the hole as you’re drilling, but it’s easy to get the hang of. Countersinking the bolt heads allows the hook to hang flush against the moulding.

Step 17: More drilling

With the holes countersunk, I then drilled actual holes through the stop moulding to accommodate the bolts. Then I installed the moulding using the Toggler in the upper hole.

As with the Toggler, I drilled a 1/2″ hole in the wall. This one isn’t as crucial since most of the work is being done by the upper anchor, plus I want this project to stop creeping, so I’m moving fast now.

Step 18: Install it already

A picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m pushing 2000 already, so this should clear up any confusion:

It's an optical illusion. The upper bolt is perfectly aligned with its anchor.

It’s an optical illusion. The upper bolt is perfectly aligned with its anchor.

Step 19: Find a screw that fits the keyhole

This one was pretty easy. I found a screw that fit, I drilled a pilot hole in the moulding, and I screwed it in.

Step 20: Just hang the damn hook


So close.

So close.

Step 21: Remember why you didn’t like this hook to begin with

I forgot: since the hook hangs from the single keyhole, and it’s impossible to tighten the screw through all the filigree, the thing swings around. A lot.

Somehow, this has now become my hook, for my towel.



Laura Lindemuth

I was just thinking about one of my early violin teachers, and was shocked to discover that she passed away just last month. I studied with Laura in the 1980s for probably 4 years, and she was a major influence on me as a musician, violinist, and just as a person.

There’s a thing that happens almost every day when I’m practicing. As I move through scales and etudes, little bits of memory will bubble up and it’s as if all my teachers are chiming in at various points. They’ll comment on my bow arm, or my intonation, or my vibrato. I’m pretty sure I owe my vibrato to Laura.

I’m also reminded of this wonderful line from the play I’m in right now, Jessica Dickey’s Charles Ives Take Me Home:

…the people we know in life
If we go about things the right way
Are like instruments we can pick up and play
Whenever we want.
Whenever we need.
You can come back to this at any time.



Unintended Consequences

The mortise lock from our bathroom door

Mortise locks

My dad and my stepmother, Alice, are coming to stay for Thanksgiving, which is, incidentally, my favorite holiday. MT & I have hosted it every year since we were first together. It’s the 5th Thanksgiving we’ve hosted in the house, and the 11th overall. It’s also my favorite weekend of the year. We don’t go in for the mad shopping. We generally just do whatever we want to the house, or just relax, or just see friends. That Friday – Sunday is magic.

Prior to Thanksgiving day itself, we are models of action, efficiency, and planning. Well, MT is a model of action, efficiency and planning. I’m anything but efficient. The discussions start in September: how many people (a number which always seems to equal 16), what will we serve, when do we start setting up the table, what did we do last year? I invariably state that we shouldn’t bother preparing salad, because who wants to eat salad on Thanksgiving? It takes up valuable stomach and table space. MT puts in orders with Paulina Market (turducken, turkey breast) and First Slice (butternut squash lasagna, balsamic pear pie, key lime pie). Negotiations with family/guests reveal who will bring what, and we figure out what we’ll actually be preparing.

And lists are made. And remade. Repeatedly. I try to remember if we saved a master list from last year, and then MT produces her small journal of past Thanksgivings and I say, “oh, yeah.” As of today, the list looks like this:

Pre-Thanksgiving punch list

As you can see, this isn’t the shopping list. It’s more of a pre-Thanksgiving punch list.

  • Brushing the dog is an ongoing pursuit this time of year, as she sheds her summer coat.
  • The shadow boxes were decoupaged by MT, and it was my task to hang them in the powder room.
  • There are 3 wooden radiator covers that need to have old insulation removed and new foil-backed insulation installed.
  • I’ve been meaning to add some blocking between a couple joists in the basement.
  • The storm window in the bathroom needs to be swapped with the screen.
  • I’d love to caulk around the tub.
  • I also hung a vintage thermometer (sadly lacking its glass tube) in the powder room.
  • And the Adirondack chairs and the fire pit need to be stored for winter.

But let’s talk about those mortise springs. An earlier version of this list had the following item:

  • bath lock

This is the master bath upstairs we’re talking about. Right next to our bedroom. Most of the time, when it’s just us, the lock isn’t used. If the door is closed, that’s really all you need to know. But when we have guests, the lock is pressed into service. Our house was built in 1917, though I keep finding evidence that it must have been started in 1916. In either case, that door has been in almost daily use for close to a hundred years. MT asked if I could take a look at it before my dad and Alice came to stay.

Here’s the thing. We know our house, just like you know yours. We know all the sounds it makes, and we know how to keep those sounds from being made. This house is amazingly solid, but after so many years, almost every door has developed a unique quirk or three. In this case, when you close the bathroom door, it needs a little extra push before the latch engages. It’s very slight. My diagnosis is that the stop molding needs to be adjusted by a fraction of an inch, so that the top corner of the door doesn’t press against it so tightly. And I still hope to do that, but I know what’s involved and can imagine it spiraling beyond its scope. (Our gut-renovation of the kitchen a few years ago began when the 1970s wall oven stopped working 2 weeks before our first Thanksgiving in the house and we decided to replace it with a standard oven/range which involved some minor demolition of the cabinets on that wall and boom a few weeks later we’re tearing out the stairs to the basement and moving the powder room and digging up the basement floor to repair the sewer and 9 months later we have a new kitchen.)

That’s why I decided to just remove the mortise lock from the door, open it up, and lubricate it. The photo at the top shows it on my workbench, right after I opened it up. These old locks are beautiful examples of simple engineering. They’re like very rough clock mechanisms. The lock is upside down in the photo, so the bolt/lock is at top, and the latch is below it. If you look closely, you might see that there appear to be two latch springs. That’s because the spring broke at some point, and the shorter bit got jumbled up in there. The latch still worked, but it didn’t push out all the way because the spring was shorter.

This is an easy fix, you say: just replace the spring. Sure, go ahead and search for “mortise lock springs” or something similar. Maybe you’ll have more luck than I did, but these things just aren’t sold any more. I found all kinds of instructions for fixing these locks, but replacement springs themselves are hard to find.

Because it’s easier than traversing 2 stories and a basement, I traveled through the house in my mind, looking for springs, yes, but also checking all the doors. I figured there must be one we don’t use much and I could swap springs or entire locks with it. Trouble is, we actually use most of the doors in our house. But then I found a good source: the door to what we call “Frank’s Office” in the basement. The jamb is barely a jamb and the latch doesn’t even begin to catch (originally, this door was probably located on the long-lost wall that separated the kitchen and the breakfast room; the original jamb is also long-lost). The knob felt nice and springy when I turned it.

The door to "Franks's Office"

The door to “Franks’s Office”

As it turns out, the mortise locks on these doors are different sizes, so a direct swap wasn’t possible. So I opened it up:

Mortise lock from "Frank's Office" door. I've already temporarily inserted the broken spring from the bathroom door. And note what's probably the patent year in the lower left: 3-7-11. That's before the Titanic sank.

Mortise lock from “Frank’s Office” door. I’ve already temporarily inserted the broken spring from the bathroom door. And note what’s probably the patent year in the lower left: 3-7-11. That’s before the Titanic sank.

The spring in this lock was a narrower diameter, but it works in the bathroom lock. For now, anyway. I added a few drops of machine oil from the bottle that sits near the boiler, put it back together, and slid it back into the bathroom door. It’s so quiet now. Perhaps this means we won’t be awakened when a guest is trying to get out of the bathroom at 3:30am.

Oh, so you’re wondering about “Frank’s Office” door. I’m watching two different Ebay auctions that are selling 8-12 complete antique mortise locks. They shouldn’t be too expensive, and even if the brands don’t match, the springs just might.

Perhaps I’ll have a project for Thanksgiving weekend.