Sunday, January 24, 2010

Restoration of a Queen-Simple Window Repair

Since I've been working with the windows, I thought it might be a good time to share another important aspect of increasing the energy-efficiency of old windows.  This is one of the attic windows that was in appalling condition as there are no storm windows on the attic.  Mind you, this was a window that was part of the "renovation" of 30 years ago and I've never been able to understand how when you have such lovely things to work with that a person would drop the ball on things that are important to protect-functional windows being one of them, beautiful ones being the bonus.

This was the condition of the window when Donnie brought it down from the attic. 

If you'll notice, there is plenty of damage, missing pieces, crappy paint job, peeled off paint, dry wood, and failed glazing compound.  There is nothing energy-efficient about a window in this condition as there is little left to keep drafts from blowing right in.

Here's a detail of the muntins and mullions.  You can see the cracked glazing compound as well as some broken muntins (the horizontal pieces) and separating mullions (the longer vertical pieces).  It was in really sad shape and while I'd replaced the glazing compound in several windows before, I'd never had to actually replace missing, split, or rotted parts, so I got my window restoration education from this sash.

The first order of business was to remove the glazing compound and carefully remove the glass.  Next was to strip the old paint from the exterior of the frame, sand off the dead wood, and apply a couple of coats of linseed oil to put some moisture back into the wood.  There are other products on the market for conditioning wood, but I've always used linseed.  I chose linseed over tung oil for this part because the color of the interior side of the frame was very splotchy colored and I knew I was going to want to try to even it out with some stain.  Tung oil dries to a hard finish much faster than linseed which is why I went that route-I wanted the stain to soak into the wood, not lay on top of it.

I took a break from working on the sashes to see what could be done about the glass panes that had paint slopped all over them.  As you can see, it looks like there was no effort at tidiness employed when these windows were painted.  Usually I do my glass cleaning with a razor blade as it's quick, doesn't burn your skin, and has no fumes.  Stained glass however, can't be effectively scraped with a razor as the surface is textured.

After giving it some thought, the no-brainer answer was to clean them with liquid paint stripper and a soft tooth brush.  The results look like new:

So, now it's back to the sashes.  Once prepped and well oiled, it was time to play with some stains.  The trim in the house is red oak however the window sashes are pine.  To add the orange-reddish cast to the sash, I first applied a red oak stain which turned them quite orange.  As you can see, the light red oak stain allows noticeable discolorations from water stains.

Next, I applied a thin coat of red mahogany stain over the red oak which knocked down the intensity of the orange and produced some color dimension as well as helping to blend in the imperfections and make them less noticeable.  It's the same concept used with creating color uniformity in modern kitchen cabinetry-which is where I learned this useful tactic.

So now we have a top and bottom sash that look convincing enough to be the appropriate color and continuity for the wood windows and trim in the rest of the house that has undergone over a hundred years of the aging process.  I put three coats of oil-based varnish over the stain.  I was delighted that these turned out so well.  It's a shame they will be in the attic where they will never be seen.

Now for the hard part-figuring out how to fix the broken and missing pieces of the frame without having any experience or even having needed to give it a thought before.  After pondering and wandering around the house and shop looking at objects, the right possibility presented itself in the form of a paint stirring stick.  While they come in slightly different thicknesses, they're generally made of a soft wood that can be cut to the length needed then split along the grain to the desired thickness to make the depth needed to function as a muntin.  Muntins, being the horizontal element of the grid are more susceptible to damage than mullions (the vertical members of the grid) since water can pool there and rot them out especially if the glazing compound is missing as there is no longer an angle to divert the water away from the glass.  Glazing compound failure can allow water to seep or pool on the muntin as well and is also a cause of damage as is evident on this sash.

The supplies I used for the project are as follows:

  1. Chisel-to remove the damaged backsides of the muntin
  2. Measuring guide (I can't think of the technical term for the thing at the moment)-for measuring  the length of the muntin
  3. Paint stirring stick-to use as a replacement part
  4. Awl-to poke holes in the paint stick and exterior of the remaining muntin
  5. Hammer-to use with the awl
  6. Utility knife-to cut the paint stick into strips
  7. Toothpicks-to stabilize the paint stick to the backside of the muntin
  8. Wood glue-(not pictured) to glue the toothpick to the paint stick and the muntin

Step 1-use the chisel to remove the backside of the muntin until it is fairly flat and will make a suitable surface for attaching the replacement part.
Step 2-cut the paint stick to the necessary length
Step 3-cut the paint stick to the desired width to match the existing muntins
Step 4-poke a couple of starter holes in the thin side of the paint stick so that the toothpick can be inserted.

Break a toothpick in half and stick the pointy end into the starter holes in the replacement part.  Gently hammer them in until the point sticks out the other side (as shown on the toothpick on the left).  Cut off the excess toothpick where it will stick into the muntin with the utility knife (probably around 3/8" to 1/2" protruding from the stick)

Put a little glue (or chalk) on the end of the toothpicks and position it evenly on the frame over the damaged area.  This is just to mark the proper position of the replacement part so that you know where the holes in the remaining muntin should go.  Once you have the locations marked, use the awl to poke the holes at the markings.  Be careful not to poke the awl all the way through to the interior surface of the muntin.

Dry fit the replacement part to the holes in the muntin and make any needed adjustments.
Once you're satisfied that it will be a clean, flush fit, fill the holes in the frame with wood glue and run a bead along the length of the muntin.

Fit the replacement piece into the holes, cut off any bits of toothpick protruding from the front of the replacement piece, wipe off the excess glue with a moist paper towel and move onto the next one.  Pretty simple and cheap to boot!

Here's the repaired frame with its replacement parts.

When everything is dry, you can put a little primer on the areas that will be covered with glazing compound as well as the noses of each piece.  Some people don't prime behind the compound (there are reasons, but I won't go into them right now) and others do.  I'm not sure which way is the most correct or if it even matters, but I chose to prime everything.

Once all of that has dried, it's time to reinstall the glass.  When I remove the glass, I stack it top to bottom, left to right and keep them oriented the same way that they were when I took them out of the frame.  Masking tape stuck to the back of each pane of glass and marked with the position in the frame and which direction is "up" is great for keeping track of what goes where since the pieces sometimes don't fit any other hole than the one they came out of.  Yeah, I know I'm anal.

Once you have the panes positioned back in the appropriate openings, use some glazing points to hold the glass in place.  Because muntins and mullions are thin, the glazing point will likely poke through to the other side of the wood, so you'll want to stagger the positioning of the points which will help keep the adjoining pieces of glass in place.  Something to consider before installing the panes is to run a whisper-thin bit of caulk (I like to use clear) around the backside of each opening.  This creates a cushion between the frame and the glass which eliminates rattle, provides sound-proofing, and the prevents dust from lodging in any irregular gaps in the wood.  The key here is thin as you don't want a lot of goop squeezing out onto the textured surface of the panes now that they're nice and clean and paint-free.  You can also use a thin bed of glazing compound for this as well, again thin being key.

Once you install the glazing points and the panes aren't moving, turn the window over and clean off any excess caulking from the interior of the panes while it's still wet.  If you've used the glazing compound as a bed, there's no rush on this part as it takes several weeks to cure and will remain easy to clean up for months.

I'm not an expert when it comes to making beautiful joints with the compound on an entire window at once-or at all for that matter.  Since time wasn't of the essence on these windows, I chose to do the compounding in 2 parts-mullions first, then when the compound was solid enough so as not to try to stick to my tools, I worked the muntins.  On a standard plain glass window, I work the whole thing at once as the spaces are big enough to do without too much trouble, but with these tight little panes, it was less stress and a cleaner job to do it this way.

I used the old-fashioned DAP brand compound for the windows I've done so far.  I've heard high praise about other products, so being an experimenter, I may try one that doesn't take a month or more of dry-time before you can paint it.  I'll go into window glazing some other day as I have a full set of pictures of accomplishing that task as well.

Now, ya've got to adore a man that doesn't notice that you look like a homeless chic (my signature style, it seems) but is so enamored by what you do that he'll take a picture of you looking like this and post it on his blog!

Once the glazing compound has cured enough to paint (which in our humidity, the DAP takes about a month) I applied three coats of oil-based gloss black.

While it doesn't look like a brand-spanking-new window, it certainly is improved!

Inside of sash stained with red oak, then over-stained with red mahogany.

 The completed outside of sash-what you see from the street

  It's hard to believe this is the same window!

So, with a little time, patience, common sense, and a good cup of coffee at hand, there's no end to what can be achieved.  This was a pretty simple project that didn't take all that long to do, but the results are astonishing. 


  1. Christie - the pancakes look good, but I can't get enough of the sash restoration you did. That window is vastly improved over what she looked like when you started. Even if it is an attic window, at least every time you look up there, you'll be able to see the light shining in and the colors playing off the walls. Nice job!

  2. That was quite a project to undertake. You did a good job.

    Laura Goff Parham
    State of the Art, Inc
    Stained Glass Studio

  3. Christine,

    Wow, the window is completely transformed. Beautiful work! I sure appreciate reading your instructions and photos showing the restoration process. When you come visit me Christine, please make it a week . . . I have a stained glass window to do. Wish you could stand over my shoulder and help me through the project. Do you want to trade for one of those lamps you liked? Ha. Ha.

    Mrs. D.