How To: Repair Old Wood Windows

Historic Wood Window

Image Credit: Scott Sidler

This resource page is full of info about restoring old windows. You can find links to almost anything related to the repair and care of historic windows right here.

Your home’s old wooden windows are some of the most valuable yet misunderstood elements of a historic house. Most people find them painted shut with sash cords cut and with missing bits and pieces of hardware. That’s the time they usually opt to start over with replacement windows.

Reasons people choose to replace old windows:

    • Inoperable windows
    • Leaky and energy-inefficient windows
    • Chipping lead paint worries
    • Aggressive marketing from window companies


 If you’re thinking about replacing your windows know this important fact:

 Every one of these problems can be addressed and these windows can be brought back up to REAL efficiency and functionality.

The Facts About Historic Windows

1. Repairable - Historic wood windows are designed to be easy to repair. Unlike replacement windows where the whole window unit must often be replaced or factory repaired if an issue arises, historic windows can be repaired piecemeal. Each individual piece can be repaired, restored or replaced quite simply by the homeowner or local tradesman.

2. Upgradable - Your old windows may or may not have weather stripping, but if they don’t you can easily add it and dramatically increase their efficiency.

3. Simple to Maintain - Keep your old windows painted. That’s it! With some paint every decade or so you can keep them protected and safe for a long, long time.

4. Resilient - Being made from old-growth lumber these windows (when properly maintained) can be made to last for several centuries unlike replacement windows today which are obsolete within just a few years.

Now that you know the facts you’ll want to know the how and what of repairing these old windows. So below I have included links to posts that detail exactly how to restore and care for these windows. I’ve also included links to where you can find the proper tools and products to use in the restoration process.

Some of these are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission (at not extra cost to you) if you decide to buy one of them. However, I WILL NOT link to anything that I do not personally use and recommend. Everything here is something we use at Austin Home Restorations almost every week while restoring and rehabbing old windows.

The Techniques

More Research

The Tools

49 comments

  1. Angelo on said:

    The Los angeles office of historic resources sent me a list I’ll send you. It’s mostly large contractors who work on large masonry buildings and mansions. Those of us with little bungalows need to select from a better curated set of vendors.

    It turns out the studios (paramount and Fox) are a good resource for period wood work like cornices, moldings and casings. They have full featured workshops and exhaustive lists of categorized millwork profiles. I have talked to people who tell me they are about half the price of a normal millworks in this area, which I’m also told exist in Los Angeles but which I cannot find. I’ll update here as I find out. Or perhaps there should be another topic opened up for fabricating windows from scratch since so many people need to do that, and all this talk about how important it is to keep your windows at all costs is just so discouraging to those of us who have already lost our windows.

    Tags: Los angeles, Southern California, historic window builders.

    There are a lot of windows that need replacing in Los Angeles. The aluminum sliders that were installed in the 1970s and 80s have not worked for most of their lives. The newer double pane replacements from the 90s and 2000s are already seizing up due to settling. The last place I lived (a 1913 bungalow) had them and most of the widows were already near impossible to open, as was the Home Depot front door. The landlord himself told me it was settling.

    If you are are a homeowner who wants to restore a typical Los Angeles bungalow that has already lost its windows and been stuccoed over, don’t lose hope. The best path is still restoration. Don’t give up. Focus on the facade first. Windows may not be the cheapest place to start, but we are starting to with them because they have the largest impact on the interior and exterior appearance.

    A source in the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources told me realtors call and ask him which properties already have mills act contracts because that is used as a selling point (due to the tax advantage) Two realtors already confirmed that every dollar spent on careful, well-placed historic restoration can easily net five times that in the market.

  2. Angelo on said:

    Scott, we have a 1906 craftsman in Los Angeles, CA that needs lots of work. We need to have windows made. Do you know of anyone in our area?

    • I don’t know of anyone in that area, but I’m currently searching for quality craftsman in S. California so let me know if you find someone you like.

  3. Beth on said:

    I have a 1910 Shaker style house in Minneapolis, MN. The windows are in fantastic shape. The all function smoothly, both top and bottom, and the interior side is not painted. However, the exterior paint is in horrible shape (blistering) and is lead paint. What are your opinions on paint removal/abatement vs painting over? Do you know of any restoration contractors in the area? Everyone I’ve talked to wants to replace them entirely (no!) or refuses to bid a removal/repair. If I paint, I’m nervous that the layers of the encapsulant and paint will limit the movement of the windows. Also, simply repainting doesn’t remove the potential for generating lead dust when the windows slide up and down. Any input would be appreciated. I love my windows and want to do the right repair.

    • Try Borden Windows or Restoration Window Systems both of which are in St. Paul.

    • Mike in Philly on said:

      You might also try:
      http://www.rogerluebeck.com/

      Years ago I ran across Roger’s website and he was kind enough to give me some advice, as he specializes in doing old house repaints, stripping down to the bare wood, and guarantees his work for 20 years. In doing my Queen Anne with areas impossible to reach and old cedar shingle, I wanted my paint job to last as long as possible.
      I would love to send him some business. If you contact him, tell him “some guy in philly you gave advice to by email told me about you”.

    • Mike in Philly on said:

      You might also try:
      http://www.rogerluebeck.com/

      Years ago I ran across Roger’s website and he was kind enough to give me some advice, as he specializes in doing old house repaints, stripping down to the bare wood, and guarantees his work for 20 years. In doing my Queen Anne with areas impossible to reach and old cedar shingle, I wanted my paint job to last as long as possible.
      I would love to send him some business. If you contact him, tell him “some guy in philly you gave advice to by email told me about you”.

  4. Mark on said:

    Hi There – I’m restoring a wood window, I’ve removed the rot from the corner, replaced with wood and will now cut a new mortise and tenon into the repaired portion.
    My first instinct is to use a really good waterproof glue to glue it all back together, but then I remembered that it seemed to be only nailed thru the joinery… Should I glue it or Pin it? If glue, do I go to a hide glue or a modern waterproof glue?

    • Mark, to repair a joint that is severely deteriorated it usually ends up that I put it together with epoxy and/or a dutchman that result in that joint not being able to be taken apart again in the future. It’s easier that way from a production stand point but if you have the time and desire to mill new parts precisely enough that the joinery can function again my hat’s off to you. If you do glue I would use a waterproof glue like Titebond III.

  5. Scott, you provide great advice and resources to support folks keeping not trashing their old windows. Keep it up.

  6. Robin Wright on said:

    We have a 1920s dutch colonial in Southeast Michigan and are in desperate need of window repair. Most of them do not stay up, many do not open, and all of them have sills that are rotten to some degree. All of our 28 windows have aluminum exterior storms/screens installed many years ago. We panic at the thought of undertaking this massive project on our own. Are there people out there–specifically in SE Michigan–who do this kind of work?

      • Hillary on said:

        Are you aware of any companies that do this work in mid-Michigan? Or should I contact the same Detroit company?

  7. Jan Scott on said:

    Have 1907 house in Des Moines Iowa and can’t find someone to rebuild. Do you have any names for Iowa?

    • Jan, The only name I know in Iowa is Iowa City Window & Door (319) 351-3513. If they can’t help you let me know and my company can ship you rebuilt window sashes if that’s what you need.

  8. Not too familiar with those, but likely the culprit is either a detached or broken spring tensioner on the top sash. You may be able to find replacement parts at Strybuc.

  9. Cliff Harmon on said:

    Scott, we are in a 1897 Victorian House in St Louis and love it. I’m working on windows myself and need to find a supply for curved glass windows. I have two that are cracked and I want to replace them myself. Anyone you know of in zipcode 63108?

  10. Connie Patterson on said:

    We are restoring all the widows in our 1887 Tudor. Sadly some of the widows could not be restored and made operable agin. For Texas folks…… John with Wood Solutions in Galveston Tx has made several new windows for us including 3’x4′ casement, a142″ jamb and lower sash for a 9′ walk thru window ……. The other more common size sashes we have found at GHF Warehouse ( Galveston Historical Foundation) which has hundreds of original sash windows usually costing about $20 -$ 40 a sash……….. Hope this help some

  11. Helen Armstrong on said:

    We have windows made by ROW, Rocky Mt. VA and installed circa 1950. The windows are in great shape with the exception that a few of the sash cups aka retainers have pulled through the aluminum ‘jamb liners’. We have been trying to located the aluminum cups to repair the jamb liners. Have tried numerous window parts suppliers and would appreciate suggestions on other suppliers; we are now considering have them made by a machine shop.

    • Helen, for mid century window parts try Strybuc or Robert Brooke & Associates.

  12. Dave D on said:

    ALso suggestions for sealing the wood between the panes which looks like it had a clear sealant of some sort.

  13. Dave D on said:

    I have 1956 Pella roll screens and casement windows. Most of the latching hardware will not latch and the windows need a lot of TLC and paint/sealant. They are the type with inside storm panes with aluminum frames and swing clips. The sashes are wood. I would like to rebuild them one at a time and clad the exterior in aluminum. There doesn’t seen to be any companies locally that clad. Any suggestions as to where to find replacement hardware and a copany that couold provide cladding for my install?

  14. Gaby on said:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks for this. I just moved into the first floor of an 1899 townhouse in Greenwich Village in NYC. Do you know anyone in the NY area who can help fix my old wood casement windows?

  15. Mike in Philly on said:

    The third floor of 1 side of our home has a pair of mirrored casement windows opening outward, same size, both with a “sunrise” motif above them.
    The sash on one of them is a “Frankenstein”, composed of pieces of at least 2 other sashes (that are not identical) that have nothing in common with the matching/facing window/sash.
    So, I was on the hunt to get sash material to match the “good” window…
    then I realized that the other two windows do not match each other, nor do either of them match the other “good” one. And none of them have the original glass to suggest if any of them is original. So, I’m going to check out some architectural salvage places for hints some cold rainy day.
    FWIW, I did find a local lumber company in philly that will mill any trim or sash stock for you, if it is in their collection of knives (thousands) for a $75 set up fee plus (they can make a knife for extra).

  16. Marissa on said:

    Hi Scott,
    I’m tackling the restoration of my wood windows in my nearly 100 year old home. This past week-end was my first day/attempt and I’ve noticed my windows maybe not as old as I thought they were. They are all wood w/rope and pulley but the rope isn’t interwined into the wood frame of the window, it was notted and nailed into the side. I’m thinking there must of been a rehab done to my windows sometime in the 50’s maybe??? I know the back half of my house was an addition so I think maybe I still have some 100 year old windows somewhere in my house unless it was a complete renovation. Anyways my question is are these windows from mid-century (possibly) still worth saving??? I hate replacement windows but I’m a little bummed that my windows are not as old as originally thought.

  17. Heidi on said:

    Hi Scott! I’m buying a 1911 farmhouse in Ohio with a split personality…the interior looks beautiful and well-preserved, but outside all the windows were replaced with picture-framed vinyl windows in the not-too-distant past.
    I want to return my facade to its former glory, but I’m a little stumped…how do I know what that glory should look like? 2 over 1? 6 over 6? Is there a good way to find out?? I’ve got a picture of it on the front page of my site. Thank you!

    • Heidi, congrats on the big purchase! The best way to tell what your windows looked like is to find an old picture of the house (not always easy to do). The next best thing is to look at houses of similar age and style in your local area and see what their original windows looked like. Good luck!

      • Heidi on said:

        Thank you! And great news!! We found the ORIGINAL 1911 blueprints tucked in the drawer of the built-ins, and it shows the original windows as having been 6 over 1. So my next move is going to be to have these paper gems restored to the extent possible and preserved.

  18. Nikki on said:

    Hi…we had a fire in our 1890 Rhode Island home. It is a complete gut. All the windows were broken out and we are really having some problems restoring them. We were hoping to have someone build new sashes but having some difficulty finding someone that can do that work, and of course we have a limited budget….any suggestions? Many thanks, love your website!

    • Nikki, Not sure where you are in RI, but it’s not exactly a huge state. Try contacting Heritage Restoration (401) 789-9347 in Wakefield, RI or Highland Restoration (401) 742-1540 in West Kingston, RI. They should be able to take good care of you!

  19. WILMA on said:

    Are there restorers in the southern Virginia area for repairing window frames in a 112 year old home?

  20. Torrie on said:

    My husband and I are in the process of purchasing my aunts 117 year old victorian. Most of the windows are original except for 2. The curved glass in the turret is even still in tack. However, the windows need some care. Right now we are planning replacement, but I just read your blog and wonder if we should try to repair. I’m worried about lead paint and some of the tops are diamond pattern that is bowed out. I’ve found someone in our area to help with the curved glass windows, but he’s scheduling for a year out! Any thoughts you had would be welcomed. Thanks.

    • Torrie, Replacement windows are almost always a bad decision despite the incredible claims they make. The only situation where lead paint is an issue is if the paint is peeling or falling off and if you have children under 6 or are pregnant. If the paint is still in decent shape inside the house I would schedule the window restoration (even though it is a year out). They have lasted 117 years so they can probably make it 1 more. If the restoration company is scheduling that far out it usually means they are pretty darn good!
      You can always try the windows yourself. They are not too difficult once you get the hang of it. I’ve got plenty of tutorials here to help you along the way too.

  21. stephanie on said:

    hi! I just happened upon while asking about my thick walls and have a question..is there a resource or even a market for taking out the newly(but still kinda old)replaced windows in my hundred plus year old house and replace them back with around the same originals? The several owners before me gutted my house of everything original even down to the doors and replaced them with hollow slabs so im trying to put things back into place a little at a time! thanks so much!

    • Stephanie, there is a market and many sources around the country like my company here in Orlando who build historic replacement windows that are made exactly the same way as the originals. It’s a worthwhile investment because of the longevity of the windows and the ability to restore the original appearance.

  22. Louisa on said:

    I have some old single hung wooden window. It can lift up but can’t stay so it close again. Is any one can help me to fix it. We are in Northern California bay area

  23. Mike in Philly on said:

    Some of our windows have problems not only with the windows, but with the framing being rotted away. There are places where there is some type of old metal weather-stripping that fits into groves in the side of the window that is flapping in the breeze with no wood behind it.
    Scott, does your ebook or the window standards book cover dealing with these kinds of problems as well?
    (I have more disposable time than disposable income to hire a pro!)

  24. The National Window Standards developed by a collaborative of over 100 people is now available to the public at http://www.windowstandards.org. It provides a list of tools needed, steps, and methods of evaluation for every part of restoring an old wood window. Check it out.

    • Thanks for sharing Catherine! I’ve already hot my copy and it is a fantastic resource.

  25. david ford on said:

    I had seen and purchased a replacement stop for old windows made from pvc with fibers on one side to block air and ease movement. I cant seem to find it anywhere now. Are you familiar with such a product and where it can be purchased? Thanks for any help.

    • I’m not familiar with that product, but there are plenty of weatherstripping options you can add to either the stop or the sash itself. Try http://conservationtechnology.com/ for tons of weatherstrip options for old windows.

  26. Charles on said:

    I really like your videos. I was really nervous about doing my windows. I also found a cool set of 3 tools at eco-strip.com for $99 which had a rolling chisel and a great round-pointed scraper. Both helped me clean off the heater-softened glazing and even paint carefully.

  27. LB on said:

    Hi Scott, we have a 1947 ranch home in San Diego, CA with a 5’x6′ wooden picture window that has the outer sill and framing rotted out from a combination of water and termites. We are looking for someone that can repair or help us repair the window. All the contractors that came over to do an estimate for the repair try to convince us to just replace it with a vinyl one. Know anyone who appreciates wooden windows in Southern California that we could call?

  28. Great resource page, Scott! Thanks for putting it all together for us!

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