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Do It Yourself: Bathtub grab bars need to be secure

Q. I want to install a couple of grab bars in my bathtub-shower to help prevent falls and injuries and also to hang towels on sometimes. The places where I want to put them do not match the location of studs where I can fasten them. I know they won’t be secure fastened to just tiled drywall, so how do I proceed?

A. Screwing the bars directly to studs would be the most secure installation, of course.

It is possible to fasten grab bars directly to drywall, but ordinary hollow-wall fasteners won’t give a firm enough grip if, for example, a 150-pound person suddenly slips and grabs the bar for support. Even molly bolts, which will support some weight, aren’t strong enough.

One type of grab bar, for installation on smooth surfaces like ceramic tile and fiberglass, uses suction cups to secure it. Suction-cup bars claim to support a significant amount of weight, but this probably isn’t the best and safest method.

Another method, which requires opening the wall in the area where the bars are to be installed, fastens so-called wood blocking to the studs; the wall is then closed up and the grab bars are fastened to the blocking.

Fortunately, special fasteners are available that should work for you and they don’t require tearing up the walls. Most of these fasteners require drilling holes into the wall. The fastener is inserted into the hole and opens up inside the cavity so that it can be pulled against the back of the drywall.

Fasteners of this type generally cost about $30 to $35 per pair. Wrights and Moen are among the manufacturers.

For information and sources, search for Grab Bar Fasteners for Drywall on the Web.

Q. How can I fill the gaps between the planks in my wood flooring?

A. The main problem with filling gaps between floorboards is that the boards shrink and expand with weather and humidity conditions. The gaps are usually largest in winter, when the air is relatively dry, and narrowest during humid summer weather.

The shrinkage and expansion usually makes it impractical to use wood putty to fill the gaps, because the putty will generally loosen and come out.

A very old method of filling wide gaps is to pack them with jute rope. The rope is flexible enough to withstand the shrinking and expansion without coming out.

If you want to try this, choose rope that is about the same width as the cracks in winter. Stain the rope to match the floor finish as closely as possible, using a pigmented oil stain (Minwax makes these stains in many colors).

Let the rope dry, then cut 3- or 4-foot lengths and pack them between the boards with the blade of a putty knife.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.