Was blind but now I see…curtains!

When we moved into the ‘Zoo, all of the windows (except in the bathrooms) had these lovely faux wood, wood-tone blinds.  If they were a rich espresso or even a pale maple, we probably could have lived with them.  But they weren’t.  They also were the older kind with the pull-cords rather than the turning rod for opening and closing them, and the cords had these unfortunate wooden beads on the end that were practically calling the cats to come play  strangle themselves.  We donated the blinds to a local rescue mission that accepts these kinds of items.


My mom changed all of her draperies to the blackout kind, so she gave us some curtain panels that she had purchased from Bed Bath & Beyond a few years back.  They are a nice thick weave and a good neutral that will work until I have the time/money to make some that are more “us.”  I love that they have grommets–easy to open and close.  A tad industrial.  Perfect for these:

I really loved these rods best, but they weren’t in the budget.  We decided, in the interest of saving money, to make our own industrial-look curtain rods with the help of the blogosphere and Pinterest, rather than buy them from West Elm.

Aspiring DIYers, beware.  We encountered some difficulties making our rods, and you may, too.  Before we get to the how-to, here’s an overview of the biggest problems we encountered when completing this project:

1.  Hardware Hardships
We couldn’t find the hardware we needed to be able to follow some bloggers’ tutorials, and the big box employees weren’t really able to help us much either since we were using materials in unconventional ways.  We tried following this tutorial so that we could easily take our curtains down to wash/change, but the wing nuts wouldn’t actually tighten despite our best efforts. This resulted in a round #1 DIY fail for us.

On our more successful round #2, the tutorial we followed gave clearer information about what to purchase, but we still could not find the hardware we needed to mount the floor flanges to the wall, which meant we had to improvise a bit.  A well-meaning Lowe’s employee recommended a small screw and washer combo, but we weren’t very confident that his solution would hold anything up, let alone galvanized pipe + heavy curtain panels.  Then I found this pack of awesomeness that looked strong enough for the job (and also fit our flanges):

2.  Paint Problems
Don’t expect to spray paint galvanized metal with typical available-to-homeowners paint and get lasting results.  Some bloggers make note of this; others blithely spray paint their pipe and say “You can, too!”  Because we were aware of this thanks to the more realistic bloggers, we ORBed a scrap piece of conduit leftover from our cuts.  With the wear and tear of curtains being pulled back and forth, we didn’t want to have weird grey streaks where the grommets or curtain clips were rubbing paint off.  When we simulated the grommets sliding back and forth on our test piece, the ORB finish did indeed start coming off.  You could probably spray paint pipe fittings for shelving or something that won’t be subjected to constant motion that would rub the paint off, but we decided to leave our rods in their galvanized state.

photo 2

Note: After galvanized metal has been exposed to the elements (about a year’s time outside, multiple years inside), the zinc oxidizes enough that other bloggers say you can paint the metal at that point.  If, in a few years, we decided to paint our rods, we can; otherwise, we may decided to continue leaving them as is or save up money to purchase “forever” rods.

3.  Manufacturing Mishaps
Not all pipe fittings are exactly alike, even from the same store.  The thread pattern on some of our galvanized elbows was a perfect fit for our conduit, but on others, we had to wrap tape around the ends of the conduit to “thicken it up” so that the fit inside the elbow would be tight enough to stay put.  The elbows were the same size, in the same bin, from the same store, but different manufacturers.  Be careful when sanding the edges of your conduit so that you don’t overly thin the conduit and make this even more of an issue.

photo 3

Enacting Operation Curtain Rod:

The Plan
We  needed rods for 5 standard-ish windows (about 35″ +/- a few eighths), 1 smaller window over the kitchen sink, and 2 extra wide windows (about 70″, again +/- a few eighths).  We made our materials list and went to two different Lowe’s, because neither had enough of the materials we needed.

The Tools
Phillips screwdriver

The Materials
(5) 10′ pieces of galvanized EMT conduit
(2) 3/8″ galvanized floor flanges per window x 8 windows = 16
(2) 3″ x 3/8″ galvanized threaded pipe nipples x 8 windows= 16*
(2) 1/2″ to 3/8″ galvanized threaded pipe elbows x 8 windows = 16

photo 3

Note: The tutorial we were following called for 1/2″ flanges, pipe nipples, and elbows, but we ended up going with 3/8″ (and a 1/2″ to 3/8″ elbow so the 1/2″ conduit would go in the 1/2″ side) because (a) there weren’t enough 1/2″ flanges and (b) the 3/8″ flanges were a lot cheaper.

*We went to two different Lowe’s and could not find enough of the same size pipe nipples to make all of our rods the same size, so some of our curtain rods have pipe nipples that are 2″ long, while others are 3″ long.  We thought this could be a good experiment to test what worked best to share, so we went ahead with purchasing some 2″ and some 3″ ones (we did make sure that we had two matching ones for each window, though!). At first we thought the 2″ would look better because they would be more like a standard curtain rod, but the 3″ makes it much easier to open and close the curtains, and the panels look more crisp and less bunched because they have more room. We would recommend the 3″ if you are using curtains with grommets, but you could probably get away with the 2″ if you are using curtain clips instead.

photo 3

The Sawing and Sanding
We marked our conduit with a Sharpie at the right measurements for our respective windows, allowing 6″ on either side of the windows so that we could hang them “high and wide.” This isn’t as wide as some people go, but we have a small house, so some of our walls don’t really allow for super-wide hanging.  We used a hacksaw to cut through the conduit, with Chris cutting and me holding the pipe to add sufficient tension for the hacksaw to work.  We could have bought/used a conduit cutter, but a hacksaw is a more universal tool and thus a better buy for us.

2014-07-12 14.56.10

We just propped the conduit in the ridges of our recycling bins to help hold the conduit in place during the cutting process.  After cutting, Chris gently sanded the edges smooth.

2014-07-12 15.06.59

The Assembly
We fitted the elbows, nipples, and flanges together as shown here.
photo 2

Then we screwed the elbows onto the conduit, making sure that they were sufficiently tight and oriented so that they would be flush against the wall.  Testing them against the floor is the easiest thing to do.  As mentioned earlier, we had to add tape to some of the ends of the conduit to account for the variability in size of the elbows.  We didn’t put our grommet panels on just yet because we needed to hold the rods up to the wall to mark the positions of the flanges, and holding up heavy galvanized pipe plus heavy draperies would be even worse.  However, before you screw the flanges into the wall, you will want to put the grommet panels on the rods.  If you are using curtain clips, no worries–you can wait until the end.

photo 4

The Installation
We measured and made a mark at six inches wide on each side of the window by six inches high to achieve a relatively balanced look.  We then centered the flanges on those marks, checked if the rod was level, and traced the screw holes.  We experimented by orienting the flange holes in the T position shown here for some sets of curtains and an X position for other sets.  We thought the T looked better aesthetically, but the X position was easier for drilling/using the screwdriver.  Note: The galvanized flanges leave dingy marks on the wall, but these marks were hidden once the flanges are mounted. photo 2 

We then placed our rods back over the traced holes to doublecheck that everything was still level.  This was not the easiest thing to do, and we had to retrace holes a couple of times.  I tend to be able to spot when things aren’t level by a hair, so this would really drive me nuts if they weren’t exactly spot on.  In fact, I would recommend three people for this phase–two to hold the ends in place, and one person to check the level so that the skewed vantage point of one of the holders doesn’t result in a tilted rod.  Unless you like that sort of look. I probably won’t come to your house, though.  Just sayin’.

photo 3

We drilled holes for the anchors and hammered them in. Then we put our curtain panels on the rods and screwed in the flanges.  The rods were ridiculously heavy to hold up while affixing the flanges to the wall; our arms kept going numb from holding heavy things above our head while also trying to use a screwdriver.  The T position prevents you from using a power tool for screwing the flanges to the wall, hence why we recommend the X position if you can stand it.  This was definitely a two-person gig and would have been better with a third person, as I’ve already mentioned.

photo 5

Since we had some curtains with 2-inch pipe nipples and others with 3-inch pipe nipples, we made sure that rooms with multiple windows got the same kinds of pipe nipples so that one curtain wouldn’t jut out more than another.  It took FOREVER to install these babies, but it’s nice to have window treatments that allow for more natural light, are easier to open/close, and aren’t deathtraps for our cats, which is the most important thing, after all.

Note: We apologize for the horribly dark picture.  We’ll break out the real camera soon. Promise.

4 thoughts on “Was blind but now I see…curtains!

  1. Heather says:

    Good job! And way to stick with it! We use a pipe for our curtain rod in the living room. It wasn’t galvanized, though, so we were able to paint it. It’s been there for many years. No problems. :o)

    DIYers for the win!!

  2. Simply want to say your article is as astonishing.
    The clearness to your post is just great and
    i could think you are a professional on this subject.

    Fine with your permission allow me to clutch your RSS feed to stay up to date
    with drawing close post. Thanks one million and please continue
    the enjoyable work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s