Introduction: Steampunk Water Closet With Bidet
When my wife and I bought our home, we decided that one bathroom just wasn't enough, so we asked our contractor to frame out a small room that we could eventually turn into a bathroom. (Thanks Brendan!) Because of the layout of our first floor, the only practical place was in the kitchen, next to the backyard door. This tiny "room" remained a utility closet for a few years, until I hired a plumber for some other work, and had him add the pipes and toilet.
And our "Water Closet" was born!
• a flush toilet.
• a room containing a flush toilet.
I first learned the term "water closet" many years ago when traveling on a train through Europe. I needed to use the facilities, and found a door marked "W.C." which I later learned is an abbreviation for "Water Closet." This isn't a term we frequently use in North America, but it's common in Europe and South America. When you think about it, it's much more accurate than the terms we North Americans use for such a public facility: "Restroom" or "Bathroom." Rarely do we use these rooms to "rest" or take a "bath." And then there's the realtors term "half-bath," which, by definition, means there is no bath!
Because of the tiny dimensions of our "closet", (32" x 42") I realized that I would either have to forgo a sink, or come up with a creative way to add a tiny sink to this tiny room. So I did some research, and came across this fantastic Instructable: "HACK A TOILET FOR FREE WATER." I loved the concept, and the idea of "recycling" water, and most of all, it would allow me to add a sink to the water closet without having to take up any floor space, or add any additional plumbing. (You can also find Instructables that will show you how to make a similar sink from wood, concrete, and even on your 3D - Printer.) This is perfect way to add a sink to a tiny bathroom in a tiny home.
At first I didn't have the time or materials to create my own toilet tank sink, so I bought this online from a big-box store: "Touch-Free Water/Space Saving Adjustable Toilet Tank Retrofit Sink/Faucet Basin." It wasn't cheap. And it also wasn't very stylish. But my biggest problem with this model was that it was extremely shallow - kind of like rinsing your hands in a frisbee. It looked great, just like the porcelain tank, but it's actually made from light-weight plastic, and was quite light. The slightest tap would move it around, and it would have to be readjusted.
When I finally had the time and all the materials, I decided to build my dream Steampunk Water Closet!
Step 1: Remove Old Fixtures
Originally I outfitted this bathroom with oak fixtures, so these all had to be removed. This involved patching holes in the sheetrock and wainscot wall paneling. I used an old dowel (maybe the stick for a small flag?) and cut it down to plugs. I plugged the holes, covered with sheet rock compound, and then painted.
A note about the paneling: I chose wainscot paneling because I liked the old-fashioned look, and pvc rather than composite board because I was concerned about moisture. And to be on the safe side, I painted it with a water-resistant semi-gloss paint.
Step 2: Out With the Oak, in With the Steel!
I made the sink frame, towel rack and toilet paper holder out of ½" black steel heating pipe from my local big-box store. I considered copper pipes, but went with steel for a number of reason.
- Steel is cheaper.
- Steel is stronger.
- Copper tarnishes.
I used standard length pieces, as I wanted to avoid cutting and threading custom size pieces. I got lucky with the dimensions of the sink counter, as standard 30" pipes were the perfect height for the legs, to give me enough clearance for the top of the toilet tank, and just enough clearance for the seat to remain up. (When you're talking to a man about a horse, the last thing you want is for the barn door to slam shut!)
And the reason I chose to build a frame for the counter is that I was concerned that the weight of a granite counter top would be too much for the porcelain tank to support. Plus I wanted to have some extra lavatory space.
So rather than copper, I used steel, but wanted that steampunk look that comes with copper, so I used a can of copper spray paint for the pipes, and hammered copper for the fittings, to add some contrast. And best of all: Spray paint doesn't tarnish!
I made a small rig from scrap wood to hold the pipes while they were drying, to avoid scuffs and marks from forming while the paint was drying.
Note: Almost all the pipes and fittings for the frame, towel rack and toilet paper holder came from my local big-box store, but I did have to purchase 1 item online from a plumbing supply place: the 3-way outlet used for the corners of the frame.
I was a little concerned about the stability of the frame, so to be on the safe side, I got a pair of angle brackets, (like you would use to mount a shelf), and bent them in a vice to fit around the pipe. I mounted the brackets with drywall anchors in position to support the frame.
To mount the the towel rack and toilet paper holder, I also used drywall anchors, and to keep with the decor, I spray painted the screws copper too.
And for additional steampunk flare, I swapped out the oak switch plate for a decorative copper french lace model.
(Be careful Googling "french lace model" at work!;-)
Step 3: Preparing the Granite Counter and Tank Lid
When we renovated our kitchen, we had a piece of granite left over from our repurposed counter tops, which I saved, because I knew eventually it would come in handy. And it was almost the perfect size for the basin sink counter! Luckily I have a neighbor with an industrial size gas-powered concrete saw, and he trimmed a few inches off the back. (Thanks Darren!)
All I had to do was drill a few holes in it; one for the drain and one for the faucet. This first hole required the purchase of a special set of tools: a diamond hole saw drill bit set.
First I cut a test hole in a piece of scrap granite, before moving onto the actual piece I was going to use for the counter. The key thing to know about using these hole saw bits is that you have to keep the surface wet. So work with a bottle of water nearby to pour on the surface as you drill.
Before drilling the hole for the faucet, I positioned the bowl I was going to use for the sink, to see where the very edge of the bowl would be, as I wanted the faucet positioned up against the bowl to give it additional support.
Measure twice (or three or four times;-) and cut once!
Measurements confirmed, I used a masonry bit to drill a hole for the faucet.
After I cut the granite counter piece, I lined up the porcelain toilet lid, and cut corresponding holes. I was afraid that the porcelain might crack, but I kept it wet while drilling, and it cut like butter, (or maybe Marble Cake;-).
PS Do this outside if at all possible - It's messy!
Step 4: Fabricating a Faucet
This was actually the most challenging part of this entire project.
I had a piece of copper pipe left over from my old boiler, which I decided would be perfect for my new W.C. faucet. (It was just the right length, and had threads where I needed them). After a few minutes on the bench grinder wire wheel, it was shining like a new penny. And speaking of new pennies, I remembered from my high school chemistry class that you could clean an old penny with Coca Cola, so I poured a can of Coke through the copper pipe to clean out whatever gunk might have accumulated. (Thanks Mr. Wernick, and sorry I switched your penny!)
A cousin of mine who knows I'm into making steampunk gadgets was thoughtful enough to buy me a huge collection of old brass pipe fittings and connectors for my birthday which proved perfect for finishing off the fittings for the faucet (Thanks Nora!) After a few minute on the bench grinder wire wheel, the brass fittings where shining like a brand new set of gold teeth!
Now for the tricky part - I didn't want the water running straight through pipe, for fear of corrosion and leaks, and I needed a way to connect the faucet to the refill tube in the toilet tank, so I decided to pull a piece of aquarium tubing through the copper pipe and brass fitting. (My guess is it's about a ¼" tubing).
The method I finally came up with was to thread a heavy duty piece of nylon cord through a hole in the tip of the tubing. I tied a nut to the other end of the cord, and dropped it through the pipe. And then I pulled. And pulled. And pulled. Going around the first 90 degree turn wasn't too bad, but clearing the second 90 degree turn proved quite challenging. When the tubing finally cleared the lip of the pipe, I pulled some more with a small pliers, and then attached the final fitting to serve as the mouth of the faucet. (Not sure what this piece is called, but it looked like it was dying to be the spout of a steampunk faucet;-)
With the faucet assembled, the final step before installation was to coat it with ProtectaClear, which is a protective coating designed to prevent brass and copper from tarnishing. (It's held up great after a year-and-a-half of use!)
Step 5: From Brownie Bowl to Wash Basin
I shopped around and looked at some very expensive copper basin sinks, but they were all too large for the dimension of my counter, (10.5") and all would have ended up hitting the head of any seated on the throne. And, if they had a faucet, it also had an "on/off" handle, which I didn't need.
This classic antique French copper bowl (above) belonged to my mother for decades. Countless birthdays, Thanksgivings and Sunday dinners were graced with brownies my Mom whipped up in this bowl. My Mom is famous with all our friends and family for her brownies made in this bowl, which she was kind enough to sacrifice for my toilet! (Thanks Mom!) (Brownie lovers fear not - she has another one;-)
So this copper bowl, with a diameter of 10" was just perfect! One might think that having the lip of the bowl so close to the edge of the counter might be a problem when someone is sitting in front of it, but the reality is that when most people sit in the W.C., they lean forward not, back. (We've already established it's not a room for resting!)
A few minutes on the bench grinder and this bowl looked like it did during the de Gaulle administration. To make sure I removed all the tarnish I could, I also gave it a once over with a wire wheel brush bit.
Now to make a hole for the drain. I tried cutting a hole with the diamond drill bits, but found that they moved around too much, as they lack a center spike, so I opted for a Forstner bit I inherited. (Thanks Mary!) This is the kind of bit you would use to drill a hole in a cabinet to mount a hinge. Certainly not intended for copper, but it went through like butter. (And alas, this bowl will hold no more;-)
With the hole for the drain drilled, I used a wire cutting pliers to trim and then a file to clean up the edges around the hole.
Then a thick coat of ProtectaClear for posterity.
I'm sure the Frenchmen who made this bowl a half-century ago could never imagine it would be creatively misused as a lavatory wash basin.
Step 6: The Plumbing
“If I had my life to live over again, I’d be a plumber.” – Albert Einstein
Yeh, but would he come up with the idea for a Steampunk Water Closet?!
It didn't take an Einstein to finish the plumbing on this project. And I'm very proud that I managed to hack my toilet bowl not just once but twice - both coming and going!
The first hack of the W.C. was to adapt the water supply coming up from the floor to add a hand held bidet. This involved installing a t-valve and replacing the water supply line. I gave the valve and supply line a coat a copper spray paint to match the decor. And installed with ample teflon tape.
Why a bidet? Why NOT? Without going into too much detail, as this is a family website, to paraphrase a euphemism again, let's just say: When you drop the kids off at the pool, you don't want to be left with a mess in the backseat!
While not common in North America, bidets are widely popular in Southern Europe and South America, and they're prevalent in Brazil, where I got spoiled;-) In Brazil, they call it a "chuveirinho," which loosely translates to a "little shower." Sounds much nicer than "hand held bidet."
The t-valve comes with a handle to regulate the water pressure, which is helpful. Especially when you want to shut it off when you have curious and/or unruly kids visiting.
For my germophobe friends, I tell them I installed the bidet just to wash dishes;-)
The second hack of the W.C. was to provide the water supply to the faucet. All this really required was inserting the refill tube from the toilet tank into the aquarium tube that I installed in the faucet. There are a few photos above to illustrate this process. (And to understand the inner workings of your toilet tank, there are a ton of pictures and diagrams on the internet). I thought about it, but didn't put any plumber's putty or silicon around the faucet where it attaches to the granite, as I was concerned that I might need to detach it in case there are any problems in the tank. The copper pipe fits tightly into the hole in the granite, and I was able to push it in far enough that there is no wiggle to it.
I do not look forward to the day I have to remove the counter/faucet/sink from the tank to make repairs, but when I have to, the whole thing will lift right off.
With the faucet installed, all that's left is the sink. Generous amounts of silicon on the top and bottom of the bowl around the hole, tightened the drain as much as possible, generous amounts of silicon on the granite counter top, and then inserted the drain pipe through the hole in the granite.
So how does it work?
You flush the toilet, and rather than refilling the tank, first the water comes up through the refill tube, through the faucet, and down through the drain into the tank. Once the tank is full, the faucet automatically shuts off. Turns out it's more than enough time to wash your hands, even splash your face if you're brave! I've had a few people who still couldn't understand how it works after explaining a few times. So I just tell them they're washing their hands with whatever the last person flushed.
And if you want to rinse your hands without flushing the toilet, there's the chuveirinho.
A note about water temperature: I was initially concerned that in the depths of North American winter, that the water coming out of the faucet would be unbearably cold, and out of the bidet, unmentionable. But as a stroke of luck would have it, the water supply pipe that supplies this toilet runs alongside the pipe in the basement that supplies steam to our Victorian steam radiators, unintentionally but delightfully heating the water that supplies the sink. The result is that when our heat is on during the winter, we actually have warm water in our Steampunk W.C.! (When the heat is off, the water is just room temperature, which is fine for a quick rinse).
Step 7: Decorations and Obvious Vanity Shots
All renovations, remodeling, hacking and plumbing complete, all that was left is a few decorations.
With such a small room, I decided to add some dimension by mounting a mirror, made from one of our houses original windows, which we found inside a wall during the demolition process. (Some day I'll post a whole Instructable on this project). And the battery-powered faux-candles add an ambiance to the decor. The reflection of the "window mirror" off the medicine cabinet really adds dimension to an otherwise tiny room.
The awesome sign: "Hot Baths: Clean Water - 15¢, Used Water - 5¢" came with our house, and it seemed perfect for a Steampunk W.C. which "reuses" water. (Thanks Mr & Mrs. Sheehan!)
The copper typography box came from a local craft store, and the soap dish from a 99¢ store just seemed to fit.
And of course it wasn't complete until I had a brass plaque on the door like the one I saw so many years ago on a train traveling through Europe, which says: "W.C."
If this Instructable inspires you to make one of your own, post a photo here, and I'll send you a free 3 month Pro-membership to Instructables!
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