All in all I'd say the project takes "much longer than a weekend" to complete, and is best done with the help of another person - if only just to move the several hundred pound bathtub from place to place. However, once done, you'll have a one of a kind piece of furniture that really speaks for itself. Having made it, instead of bought it, will really speak to your abilities as as a creator of things, and that's cool too if you're into that sort of thing.
Step 1: This Idea is Not New
There is currently a reproduced DIY version on a french blog, however it provides zero instruction, and takes a slightly different design approach by using an elevated seat. There's also a retailer on Etsy called Redux Tubs out of Canada who is selling the couch from $1,100 and up. Finally, my co-worker Carley has also wanted to build a bathtub couch for some time.
I think I am merely riding the groundswell of claw foot bathtub couch interest, as we all our - I simply have taken the time to document the process so that we may have the opportunity to make bathtub couches while hopefully learning a bit from my mistakes. I in no way take credit for this idea.
History accurate as of publish date September, 2012.
Step 2: Procure Clawfoot Tub
Buying a new claw foot tub costs almost as much as buying the already made claw foot tub couch - no way! That means you've got to pick up the tub used. While there are several retailers in the bay area that stock clawfoot tubs 365 days a year like Urban Ore and Omega Salvage, they charge almost double for what you can buy the tub for off of Craigslist.
I looked on Craigslist for a few days before contacting any sellers to get a feel for the market. It was worth the wait because I got my tub for $150 with free delivery right to my shop! In case you don't know, that's a good price for a claw foot tub.
The condition of the bathtub really doesn't matter so long as it's not cracked. Fixtures are optional. Urban Ore sells individual claw feet for $30, so even if it's missing a leg or two, if it's got a good price go for it!
The one that got delivered to my shop was in fair condition - certainly not cracked and of nice proportions to make a couch out of.
Some tubs are shorter then others. I was looking for a longer one so you could fit two people on it.
Step 3: Assess
Ideally the interior of the tub will be finished with porcelain and wont have any funky paint on it. If it has paint on it it will have to be removed, but we'll get to that later.
The outside of the tub if purchased used will likely be painted. Heavy paint chipping and rust are possible and likely.
Don't worry too much about the superficial condition, just rule out any significant damage or cracks.
Be careful when handling the tub - it's extremely heavy!
Step 4: Remove Hardware
Set the legs and any fixtures that come off the tub aside.
Step 5: Sand Blast Outside of Tub and Claw Feet
Sandblast only the outside of the tub and the claw feet! Not the inside!
Sandblasting the outside removes all of the paint and corrosion on the outside of the tub. When it's done it should like the second photo below - nice raw cast iron.
Sandblasting the porcelain on the inside will remove the shiny glaze and expose the porous interior of the ceramic coating. This leaves a delicate bone-like finish, which although cool, is not appropriate for this application. I did this on a test piece to find out what would happen.
*For the shrewdest of readers you'll notice that I sandblasted after making my cut. This was a mistake, I should have done it in the order that I'm showing here in the Instructable. In the order that I did it in, I was needlessly exposed to possibly lead paint laden dust while cutting. I wore a respirator so it didn't matter, but given the choice to do it again, I'd sandblast first, then make my cut.
Lesson learned: sandblast before cutting and blast only the outside, not the inside porcelain coating.
Step 6: Test Cut
Upon recommendation from my friend Luigi who is a metal worker I purchased a Freud ferrous cutting circular saw blade and loaded it into my worm drive skilsaw.
Cutting cast iron with a circular saw is intense, so put on heavy work pants, closed toe shoes, a leather welding jacket, a face shield, a respirator, ear protection, eye protection and a hat or helmet to make sure that the hot metal chips don't accidentally light your hair on fire.
Fully protected, I slowly engaged the saw blade into an area of the tub I knew I was cutting away to form the couch just in case the worst happened and low and behold in cut like butter! Inching slowly through the cast iron the saw blade sliced an 1/8" path spitting hot metal chunks everywhere and howling like a mechanical banshee.
Lesson learned: don't sweat cutting cast iron - it can be done!
Step 7: Plan Cut
The general cut out should allow for two people to sit in the tub. You want to be sure to cut one side of the tub low enough so that the lip that's left doesn't dig into your legs. Don't take too much off the sides as you'll loose your arm rest and disrupt the nice sweeping curve that hooks around where your back would normally rest in an uncut tub. Aside from those guidelines the cut line is largely up to you.
By the time I figured out where I wanted to cut line I had so many lines drawn on the tub that I couldn't tell which ones were the good ones and which ones were the mistakes. I used big arrows to clear things up.
Step 8: Gear Up
- heavy work pants
- eye protection
- face mask
- hair protection
- ear protection
No hair fire = no problem!
Step 9: Cutting Plan A
For about 4 inches everything was going great. The saw was cutting like butter and I was making a big mess of metal dust everywhere. Then, I started to have to push the circular increasingly harder to make any headway on my cut. Then, it barely would budge at all and it stopped really eating into the cast iron.
The saw blade dulled very quickly while cutting through the tub - much faster then normal when cutting steel. The problem (I suspect) - the porcelain interior of the tub was just too tough and abrasive for the saw teeth on the blade - it dulled them unusually fast rendering the circular saw cut method ineffective. Much how a ceramic sharpening stone can put a razor edge on a carbon steel knife at the proper angle, I guess it can dull an edge pretty fast when it's dragged across a sharpened edge head on thousands and thousands of times.
If you were going to cut cast iron alone - not coated in porcelain, I think this method would actually work quite well and result in a nice smooth straight cut.
No matter, there are always alternatives - on to plan B.
Lesson learned: don't use ferrous cutting circular saw blades on metals coated in porcelain.
Step 10: Cutting Plan B
After shedding the leather jacket and hair protection (angle grinding is tame compared to the circular saw ferrous blade setup) I slowly began tracing my cut lines with the edge of the ange grinder. Make a shallow pass at first to lock in the path. Then, make increasingly deeper cuts with each pass until you've "rutted out" the cut. Once the cut is rutted out it will be easy to run the grinder through deeper and deeper until you've cut through to the other side.
The angle grinder works great to make this cut except for the following two shortcomings:
- The cut off wheels don't last very long. I used around 7 wheels in making the cut.
- The cut off wheel can sometimes chip off a big chunk of porcelain adjacent to the cut line (see additional photo below) - although I believe losing these chunks of porcelain is unavoidable, it can be reduced using the following technique: cut first with a masonry abrasive wheel through the porcelain until you've reached the cast iron. Then switch to the metal cutting disc and continue the cut. This will allow you to have much greater control while cutting through the porcelain rather than what I did - which was more like pretending that it wasn't there and treating it as steel.
Step 11: Keep Cutting
You've got to treat it like a marathon, except, no bare feet or peeing in your pants!
If you're getting chips of porcelain flying off like in the photos below don't despair - we'll fix those later with composite filler.
Step 12: Leave Tabs
Step 13: Finish Cut and Remove Panel
Step 14: Clean Up Edge with Grinding Disc
Step 15: Clean Up Edge with Sanding Disc
This marks the end of the "metal working" section of the Instructable and ushers in the painting section of the project. I thought the cutting of the cast iron was the tricky challenge in this project, boy was a wrong, as it's the painting and finishing process that actually took the most time and experimentation.
Step 16: Prime Outside of Tub and Feet
Soon after sandblasting you'll want to put on a primer coat to seal out any moisture and corrosion on the cast iron. With it being completely bare after blasting it's particularly vulnerable to rusting from any moisture. The primer protects against this and lays down a good base for colored top coats.
I used Rustoleum Clean Metal Primer and a disposable chip brush to prime all of the sandblasted surfaces, which include the outside of the tub (excluding the lip), and the 4 feet. The paint is thick and coats the porous tub easily. Paint on a smooth even coat and let it dry for the manufacturers recommended time.
Step 17: Paint Outside of Tub and Feet
I chose to paint the outside of the bathtub blue, and the claw feet yellow. The contrasting colors make the tub really pop. People seem to really do some nice color accenting in this step from the other tubs I've seen so come up with your own interesting combinations.
Step 18: Sand Outside of Tub and Feet
Step 19: Put Final Coat of Paint on Outside of Tub
Thin even coats are the answer here, if it takes multiple coats to get the depth of coverage you'd like, do multiple coats instead of painting one on too thick.
Lesson learned: don't rush the topcoat and use multiple thin coats instead of one thick gloppy coat.
Step 20: Reinstall Hardware
Step 21: Clean Inside of Tub
Take the tub outside and use an abrasive cleaner and abrasive pad to clean out the inside of the bathtub. I didn't have common household abrasive cleaners around like Comet, so I used Zep Hand Cleaner from the shop bathroom instead - it worked just fine.
After a healthy dose of scrubbing wash out the inside of the tub with a hose, it conveniently drains through the drain hole!
Step 22: Fill Chips Inside of Tub
In essence we're doing "body work" on the tub just like you'd do to a car after an accident.
Mix up the epoxy in small batches and apply it to the effected parts with a putty knife.
Working up the chipped lip of the tub isn't the easiest thing to do. Put on small amounts of filler only where the chips occur rather than building up the entire edge. 99% of the filler is going to be sanded off once it's dry so putting on less now means doing less work later. I didn't always follow this suggestion and ended up making more work for myself.
If the interior porcelain has any other pot marks or holes, now's the time to fill those too.
Lesson Learned: Only use filler where the chips occur and resist the urge to spread on a thick coat and completely rebuild the lip of the tub.
Step 23: Sand and Prep Inside of Tub
I did this with a random orbital sander and lots of 120 grit sanding discs.
Remember to wear a dust mask and work outside if you can.
Sanding the inside of the tub creates a uniform surface that the interior paint will be able to adhere to.
Step 24: Tape Edges and Holes of Tub
I used a roll of brown paper in certain areas that were drip prone to offer further protection.
Mask off the outside of the tub as best as possible. It's likely that you'll have to do some re-touching of the outside coat once the inside is painted just because it's hard to paint perfectly I certainly can't and re-touching the exterior paint job isn't hard to do.
Step 25: Choices of Interior Finishes
Ideally in making a claw foot bath tub couch I would have liked to re-porcelain the tub. This is of course the most expensive option and involves shipping out the tub and using a hired professional to blast down the pre-existing porcelain and refinish the tub with new porcelain using a kiln. This process isn't available everywhere, but professionals do offer the service in some locations. This method would create the same glossy even finish that's most likely on the fixtures in your actual bathroom. There's no substitute for porcelain since it's basically melted and cooled glass, so any painted on finish will simply be an approximation.
That being said, we're making a couch out of a bathtub - the entire thing is an approximation!
Next option up is powder coating. Now, no one I talked to really knows how well a sprayed on layer of powder coating will adhere to sand blasted porcelain. While I did find powdercoaters who were willing to attempt refinishing the tub, there were apprehensive and warned that the finish might crack over the sandblasted sub layer of ceramic beneath the glossy porcelain top coat of the tub. Although I was excited to try this method because 1) it meant I could do less work and hand the finishing process over to a professional, and 2) it would result in a really nice durable finish for the tub since powder coating is heavy duty industrial finish used on steel in many wear and tear applications, I didn't go this route do to the fear of the finish cracking and, the additional cost of having a professional do it.
DIY Tub Refinishing Kit
There are actually a few DIY epoxy based kits for people who want to refinish their tubs themselves. Some are cheap like the Rustoleum Tub and Tile Refinish Kit and others are more expensive and involve acid etchers that must be used before you apply your top coat of paint. All of the kits seem to have a lot of controversy swirling around them, with results varying all over the map. It seemed like if you use the kit properly, you could in fact refinish your tub for a fraction of the cost of what a pro would charge to come and do a similar process. Others seemed to have endless problems of cracking, dripping and dulling over time and warn against "doing it yourself" loud and clear. Although I was curious about these kits because of their ease and simple instructions to follow, I ended up coming up with my own approach and methods.
Two Part Epoxy Primer with a High Quality Gloss Polyurethane Top Coat
Using the basic knowledge that I have of enamel paints and talking to a few experts in the field, I decided to take my own approach and use a two part epoxy primer and a high gloss polyurethane top coat from Interlux. Interlux makes high quality paints for boats and can be found at West Marine or online. I used the Interlux Epoxy PrimeKote as a primer. It sands reasonably well, dries with an ultra hard and most importantly doesn't need an acid etch before being applied.
For the final interior gloss white coat I chose the Interlux BrightSide High Gloss Polyurethane Marine Paint. If you haven't used a high quality paint like this before you are in for a pleasant surprise. Even though they cost 3 - 4 times as much than standard enamel paints like I used on the outside, when you need a quality finish it makes a big difference. If I ever have to paint anything that needs to last I'm going to use marine quality paint like this.
Step 26: Paint Inside of Tub With Two Part Epoxy PrimeKote
Brush on an even coat of the primer making sure you don't have any large drips or runs. Better to put it on a little thin then too thick. That's a lesson in painting that I need to remind myself of time and time again. This was a "lesson learned" in a previous step, I guess I didn't learn it very well...
Step 27: Sand Epoxy PrimeKote
Wear a respirator for this step and definitely do it outside. It will make a lot of dust. Ideally use a sanding system that connects to a dust collector. This can easily be done using just a shop vac and attaching it wear the dust bag on palm sander connects.
This step takes some time, but its well worth it, since it's the only way to ensure an absolutely even and smooth surface for the top coat to be applied to. Don't worry if you sand all the way through the epoxy top coat to the porcelain in places, the polyurethane paint is good stuff and will adhere well to either surface.
Step 28: Paint Inside of Tub
Paint on two coats of the top coat letting the paint dry for the manufacturers specified time doing a very light sanding with 400 grit paper in between coats.
The finish that results from the Interlux Brightside paint is considerably better then what I would have expected from a standard enamel paint.
The paint was more expensive and certainly harder to work with since it had to be thinned before it could be brushed out well, but in the end it yielded a finish that you'd have to look really hard at in order to notice that it wasn't porcelain - just look at that shine!
Step 29: Remove Tape and Touch-Up
The touchups on the tub went fast and all of the blemishes that I had created through the washing, sanding, and interior painting were quickly taken care of. It's easier to touch up the outside then the inside. That's why I think it's best to paint the outside first, then come back to it, and only have to deal with the inside once.
Step 30: Cut Foam Cushion
I picked up 4" thick furniture foam at The Famous Foam Factory in Berkeley, CA. Foam is expensive! next time I'm going to cut apart a couch that's been left out on the street. The 4' x 2' x 4" piece cost around $80! It is nice foam though...
I tried all manner of tools to cut the foam and then finally caved and bought an electric carving knife which is the $20 tool of choice for shaping foam. You can cut it with a standard knife but you can't really shape it. In order to do that you need an electric tool. The pro's use something that looks like a very tall dual blade jig-saw, but the electric carving knife gets it done for the rest of us.
Make an outline of the bottom of the tub on a big piece of butcher paper and then transfer the pattern over to the foam using a permanent marker. Use the electric carving knife to remove small sections of foam working your way closer and closer to the contour necessary to fit inside the tub snugly. You don't want to remove a chunk in error as you can't get it back!
I labeled the orientation of the foam in the tub since it can get a little confusing...
*The photos show the foam insert being cut before the inside of the tub was painted even in the Instructable this step comes afterward. Gotta do something while waiting for the paint to dry, sorry to photographs depart from the written instructions in terms of timing in this small way.
Step 31: Cut Fabric for Foam Cushion
You'll want enough fabric to cover the top, bottom, and sides of the cushion, plus extra if adding piping to the edge, as well as enough soft rope cording to go around the top edge of the cushion.
Since the foam for this cushion was carved to be rounded on the bottom to fit inside the tub, it made sense to cover it in two pieces rather than three. So the top fabric was cut flat, and the bottom fabric was cut to come up around the sides and be tucked around the curves.
Lay the top side of the foam on top of the wrong side of the fabric and trace around the edge.
Cut the fabric with 1" seam allowance all the way around.
Lay the foam face up on the wrong side of the fabric and trace around it.
Cut the fabric with enough seam allowance to go up the sides and still have 1" left over.
Step 32: Making the Piping for the Couch Cushion
Cut fabric on the bias long enough and wide to cover the cording. I cut two strips at 2" wide and sewed them together to make a strip long enough to cover the length of cording. The reason you need to cut the fabric on the bias is so that it will curve smoothly along the edge of the cushion. The bias of the fabric has the most stretch to it and will eliminate folds and bumps that would occur if you cut the fabric on the straight of grain.
Lay the cording in the middle of the fabric strip, and fold the fabric over to encase the cording.
Using a sewing machine, sew as close to the cording as possible. This is made easier by using a zipper foot and moving the needle as far over to the left as possible.
Step 33: Upholster Couch Cushion
Using a sewing machine, sew along seam line, again using a zipper foot to get as close to the inner cording as possible.
Take the fabric you've cut for the bottom of the cushion and wrap it up around the sides and pin to the top, pinning in tucks around the curves.
Mark the edge of the top of the cushion on the fabric with chalk or disappearing ink. Be sure to mark all of the tucks as well.
Pin the top fabric to the bottom fabric with the right sides facing and piping sandwiched in between. Pin along the lines you marked, keeping the tucks where you want them.
Using a sewing machine, sew 2/3 of the way around this seam, leaving a large enough opening to insert the foam cushion. Trim away all excess fabric, leaving a seam allowance of about 1/2".
Turn the cover right side out and insert the foam cushion. Hand stitch the remaining opening closed.
Step 34: Sit Down
Kelley (icantbelieveshehasnousername) lies back and reads a book on a sunny California day many months later when I finally got around to properly photo-documenting this project in it's final form.
Send me a PM or comment below if you have any questions about the tub. It was a lot of work, but a great build.