How to Install a Clawfoot Bathtub after the Plumbing Supply Guy Says There’s No Way You Can Do It

We’d had the new clawfoot (also called a lion’s paw) bathtub sitting in my bathroom awaiting installation for months. Finally, though, the time had come to finish the job.

The under-floor piping for both bathrooms, mine and Pam’s, was in place and ready to go. The holes in the box floor had been drilled to take the 5/16″ bolt “leg pegs” that would keep the lightweight resin beast from skittering sideways at the slightest nudge. I’d even set the tub in place, connected the drainpipe, and found out that worked with no leaks.

But there was a problem which came in two parts.

1. The pretty chrome water inlet standpipes that came with the tub were going to be a challenge when it came to making the final connections. No flex to them at all, and thus no margin for error. Unforgiving to the max.

2. In order to make the maximum use of available space, the tub was being installed crosswise near the far end of the bathroom. The faucet-end edge would be sitting just 1/2″ away from the wall. There was not enough room to get all of me down on the far side, so that (hot water) hookup would have to be made in extremely tight circumstances.

Naturally, I promptly skyrocketed the whole deal from “minor hassle” to “major oopsie” by grabbing the hacksaw and cutting one of the stiff chrome pipes an inch too short. No idea how I managed that, then or now, but I was not particularly upset.

Now I could go to town and find flex-pipe connectors. That really made more sense anyway.

Besides, I needed to pick up a batch of 3/8″ steel washers to stack as “leg lifters” under the tub. The bathroom floor is not exactly level, and the drain test had showed that, without a bit of leg height adjustment, a bit of water would tend to pool at the wrong end.

All righty then. Off we go.

 The rigid chrome pipe, inflexible and unforgiving to the max.

The rigid chrome pipe, inflexible and unforgiving to the max.

First stop: Home Depot. They had a whole bag of the right sized leg-lifting steel washers for $3.95. Good enough.

No flexy pipe to replace the stiff chrome thingies, though.

Correction: Knowing what I know now, they probably do have what I needed…but neither I nor my favorite “plumber’s helper” in the place made the mental connection. No harm done, though. My wife, stepson, and the Home Depot dude all agreed that the plumbing supply house which shall be Nameless would have just the thing.

Off I went, toodling yonder to Nameless Plumbing Supply.

Not that I’ve ever had much use for Nameless, which is why their official name does not appear on this page. Not once have I found a needed part in that place.

So naturally I drove right by the joint. Selective vision. Ended up nearby, at a store that has helped me on occasion. But the only person visible on the premises was one dude in the back room, leaning on a counter and talking on the phone. After a few minutes of this, enough already. Out the door, retrace route, zip–well, trudge–on in to Nameless.

The young bushy haired fellow behind the counter…Clueless. He seemed to get it at first, zipped right back down his parts aisles, retruned hippety-hop with a pair of very nice flex pipes. One problem, though. The nuts on the ends of the pipes weren’t even close to being the right size.

Not unless you know how to screw a half-inch nut onto a 3/4″ set of threads, they weren’t. That was at one end.

Things went downhill from there. Before we were done, Clueless says to me, “Don’t ever think you know near as much as I do about these things.”

There was more added on the end of that, but I wasn’t listening.

Then Mother Clueless showed up from some side office. Took one look at the smaller nut at the bottom end of the pipe. Said loudly to the fellow who was once again fetching parts that wouldn’t fit, “That’s a 7/16, son!”

“It’s not a 7/16,” I put in, but without much heat to it. These yahoos were already one big ol’ lost cause.

When (at Mama’s urging) young Clueless came up with a couple of monster steel elbows that would no more solve the problem than Obama’s election solved the healthcare crisis in this country, I’d finally had enough. Snagged my unforgiving chrome pipe and booked on outa there.

Though not before YC (Young Clueless) managed to add yet another ignorant sentence to his daily production.

“Those flex pipes can only hook up to steel pipes!”

Held my peace on that one. Never mind that stainless steel connectors have been successfully bonded to steel, brass, PVC, whatever. I’ve seen it. Heck, I’ve done it. But like the old movie line says, “What we have here…is a failure to communicate.”

Didn’t peel out of the parking lot. I’m not nineteen. But my war flags were flying, my blood was up, and that’s a good thing. When I get just about so ticked at having to deal with experts who are nothing but drips under pressure, I know success is just around the corner.

Headed for Lowe’s. I’d bought the tub there in the first place, special order.

Muscle memory wheeled the Subaru right into the Wal-Mart parking lot along the way, but hey. Zip through, out the back, across the street, and Lowe’s is right there.

Wanted to talk to Tim. Turned out he wasn’t working that day.

So, John helped me. Another somewhat bushy haired young man, but far from clueless. Showed him what I needed.

“Hm,” says John, “that looks lite a three quarter.”

We walk over to a section in Lowe’s I’d never visited before. John reaches into a parts bin, hands me an 18″ flexible stainless steel hot water connector pipe.

“That’ll do it!” I wasn’t salivating, but close enough. “Gimme two!”

All we needed now were a couple of double male connector pieces, threads at both ends.

Not a problem. At Lowe’s, they had options in that category. I took the pretty brass thingies, ’cause they were pretty. Steel only goes to steel, my a**.


Back home, the process was now–at last!–simplicity itself.

1. Connect those awesome flexible steel pipes (that don’t exist, at least according to Nameless Plumbing Supply) to the tub’s faucet stand.

 Flex pipes connected to tub.

Flex pipes connected to tub.

2. Hacksaw the stiff chrome pipes off short, leaving just 3″ of length.

3. Connect the 3″ stub pipes to the shutoff valves.

4. Add the brass double-male connectors to the chrome stubs.

The chrome stubs making the transition from 1/2" rigid inlet pipes to 3'4" brass connectors.

The chrome stubs making the transition from 1/2″ rigid inlet pipes to 3’4″ brass connectors.

5. Set the tub in place, adding little piles of steel washers to three of the four legs to achieve the desirable leveling.

The rear legs.

The rear legs.

 The farside front leg, the only one with no leg-lifting washers applied.

The farside front leg, the only one with no leg-lifting washers applied.

The nearside front leg.

The nearside front leg.

6. Attach the farside (most difficult to reach) flex pipe to the brass connector (hot water inlet). This worked best with two wide-jaw Stanley brand adjustable wrenches.

7. Cinch down the drainpipe no-leak nut with monster pipe pliers.

The farside connection and drain cinch-down complete. Just one more connection to make.

The farside connection and drain cinch-down complete. Just one more connection to make.

8. Connect the nearside (cold water inlet) pipe.

Final connection squared away.

Final connection squared away.

From there, it was a matter of getting Pam to come watch the water test. It was “cold water only” (since at this point the only hot water we have is heated on the camp stove), as well as gravity feed only. But as far as it went, everything worked perfectly.

After twenty minutes or so, a slight seep (one drop of water every whole bunch of minutes) was detected at the transition connection from cold water PVC to stainless steel shutoff valve. While no leak can be considered a good thing, this was no big deal. Had to wrap a towel around the standpipe (flex pipe) to catch the water, then disconnect things, cinch the shutoff valve down another half turn and…done.

That did the trick.

The water test.

The water test.

Moral of the story: Yea, verily, though the Nameless and Clueless walk among us, creativity and determination go on forever. Where there’s a will there’s a way. And, last but not least, refusing to listen to idiots is by far the best way to finish installing a clawfoot bathtub after the plumbing supply guy says there’s no way you can do it.

14 thoughts on “How to Install a Clawfoot Bathtub after the Plumbing Supply Guy Says There’s No Way You Can Do It

  1. You would think that every person with access to the Internet is a qualified plumber judging by the complete lack of information about the below-floor plumbing required to install a claw foot tub! I can find endless references to the water lines and every other aspect of tubbery, but nothing on the drain! Here is my question: the chrome piece that screws into the T assembly (waste and overflow) goes through the floor into the waste assembly (P-trap with a pipe going down from the floor). What is at the top of that pip that holds onto that chrome pipe? Yours looks like a black PVC joint with a white slip nut on it. Is that what it is? Is that standard fare at Home Depot? Normally, I get blank stares and hear crickets when I ask a question at my local Home Depot, as it is typically staffed by ex-snowbird-now-permanent-Floridians older than Methuselah. I read NOT to use a slip nut on a tub drain, however, I can’t think of a way to do it otherwise. (And I have to say that I am not a plumber, I am a copywriting ex-cop with a degree in painting. I am great for party conversation and can wing most any repair but have no idea what is “correct.”) Help. Please.

  2. Richard, your eyes do not deceive you; that is indeed a white slip nut securing the chrome into the black ABS drain pipe. (There is such a thing as black PVC pipe, though around here I’ve only seen it in dedicated plumbing supply stores, never at Home Depot or Lowe’s.) As for the “expert” or “experts” who wrote not to use a slip nut on a tub drain, all I can say is that I couldn’t think of another way to do it, either.

    I don’t remember if the slip nut and ABS connecting pipe came from Home Depot or Lowe’s, though my memory (such as it is) leans a bit toward Lowe’s. I do know that by the time I was done with the entire installation, I’d ransacked every plumbing supply outlet (including Ace Hardware and two pro plumbing supply places) in town. Repeatedly.

    Note: This page looks like an October 2013 post, but it was actually written in the summer of 2011 and moved to this location when I left another writing site and set up my own. Point being, the tub has been functioning (including that slip nut drain setup) for more than 2 1/2 years now with no problems and no leaks.

  3. I’m trying to figure out if the drain can be retrofitted to go through a wall rather than the floor. I’m thinking of installing such a tub on top of a concrete slab, and it would be so much simpler to drain it out the wall than having to jackhammer a hole in the floor.

  4. Cynthia, that should be possible, contingent on a couple (a few?) things:
    1. Enough height to slide out through the wall and then drop sufficiently to drain well.

    2. Missing a wall stud. Cutting all the way through a stud would be a pain, not to mention weakening the wall.

    3. Where the water goes after exiting the wall. As long as the tub has a decent gray water drain field to handle the runoff, everything should work okay.

  5. Thank you. It seemed possible to me, too, just didn’t see any evidence of that on the interwebs.

  6. Cynthia, I’d guess there’s a simple reason for that: Your solution is a simple, common sense approach that may have been used by others in the past–but most likely those others were fans of “redneck fixes” and taking care of their own challenges, not people with web pages. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems to me that more often than not a “standard opinion” on “the way things are done” gets posted by somebody with a few credentials that look good on paper…and then every other writer’s three legged horse pretty much copies that, sometimes word for word. Pretty soon it gives the appearance of being carved in stone and that’s that.

    It doesn’t have to be “normal stuff done to code” to suffer from being buried under tons of same-old, same-old, either. Example: There are quite a few web pages out there describing earthbag dome construction, many of which seem to believe building straight earthbag walls equals a prescription for disaster–and yet here Pam and I are, living in a house put together with just such walls, each 36 feet in length in a square “hybrid” home I built in 2010.

    There’s always an answer; “impossible” is not even listed in our personal dictionary here at the Border Fort.

  7. I hear you. I’m always opting for “out of the box” solutions. I’m a long-time farmer on a budget, and you’ve got to be crafty if you’re going to survive.

  8. Aha! “…a long-time farmer on a budget….” That says it all. I was raised on a ranch. Did a number of years in City Prison (meaning a desk job, strangled in a necktie), but made it back to my roots some time ago.

  9. Very helpful article. I reconnected a tub much like yours however I had the added problem of a defected drum trap (1922). Had to take up the floor and install a p trap next were the feeds which were chrom plated brass. Because the height of the tub was effected I had to cut the feeds and retread them with a half inch dye which allowed me to instal shut off values then 3/8 by 1/2 inch feed lines to the faucet. Feeds with shut offs are straight just like yours and 7″ off the finished floor. Retiled the bath looks pretty good. More labor than cost of material

  10. Sounds like you did it right. Obviously, it did help that you already had a tap and die set on hand, right? (Assuming here, but only because the cost of a new set would certainly have made it “more cost than labor….:”)

  11. Thanks for posting; knowing you got some help from this page made my day.

    Update: Over time, I did upgrade the Border Fort to include greater water storage, a booster pump, and a 50 gallon water heater designed for off grid use. Many luxurious “hot soaks” later, we moved north to my native Montana (though my wife had to be moved back to Arizona less than a year after that for health reasons) and sold the off grid property in May of 2018. The last we heard (we’re still in touch with the current owner, who is a personal friend), the tub installation is still operating perfectly with no leaks.

    And do I ever miss that tub. May get around to installing one here, eventually…. 😀

  12. What is the hexagonal fitting on the end of the PVC supply stubs before the shutoff valve? How are the shutoffs connected to the PVC supply? I’ve got a clawfoot tub with rigid brass supplies, but that hexagonal fitting before the shutoff seems to be embedded in tile cement. Of course my supplies are double offsets and don’t have shutoffs (WHYYYYY), so I want to add those.

    Here’s what I think my options are:
    1) Dig out the supplies at the ground level, replace as needed with new copper stubs, add shutoffs and replace with flex tubing.
    2) Cut the existing brass supply, like you did, add shutoffs to these and flex tubing to the tub. Would that even work to add the shutoffs above transition to the brass supply?

    Thank you for the first high-res detailed pictures of this I could find ANYWHERE on the internet.

  13. AD, the hexagonal fittings are PVC connectors (with hex nut shape at top end so a wrench can be used to hold them steady during installation). The bottom side of each fitting has a smooth inner surface, which is glued up and slip-fit down over the inlet water pipe stub that comes up through the raised wooden floor. (No concrete involved anywhere here, just a PVC pipe run along the lower rubber flooring, then an elbow to bring the stub up to meet the fitting.)

    The top (hex) end of the fitting is threaded and screws on over the stainless shutoff valve, using Teflon tape for sealant between the two dissimilar (steel and PVC) surfaces.

    Note: The entire upper assembly [brass, steel with shutoff valve, hexagonal PVC fitting] had to be put together first so that the slip-fit PVC fitting could then be glued together without any further twisting and turning of anything.]

    I don’t see why you couldn’t add the shutoffs above transition to brass if you felt like doing it that way. As long as all connections below the shutoffs are secure, nothing should leak. It was simplest for me to do it the way I did, simply because the shutoff valve had a great, matching male thread that matched the hexagonal PVC female thread perfectly.

    And finally, thanks for appreciating the photos. Obviously, I didn’t find squat before my own pics were posted, either.

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