How To: Re-rope Old Windows

How-to-Restring-Old-WindowsRestringing old windows is a pretty straight forward task that any DIYer can tackle to get their old windows working again. Personally, there is nothing that irks me more than living in an old house where I can’t open any of my windows. It feels downright claustrophobic. So, if you have a bunch of cut or missing sash cords on your old motionless windows you can get these windows working again in about an hour.

Old historic windows are architecturally beautiful, and when restored properly operate more easily than modern replacement windows. But the best feature of historic windows is that they are not designed to become obsolete. They will last centuries with proper maintenance, which is honestly very minimal. If your windows are also painted shut check out my post How To: Open Stuck Windows in 4 Easy Steps before you attempt to restring.

Tools You’ll Need
  • Hammer
  • Flat head screw driver
  • Trim pry-bar or firm putty knife
  • Medium-duty sash rope (I buy mine from Ace Hardware)

 

Step #1 Remove the StopRemove Window Stop

Tip: If only one rope is broken/missing remove the stop on the side of the broken/missing rope.

Bottom sash – Start by removing the stop on one side of the inside of the window. You’ll only need to remove one side to get the sash out. The stop is the trim piece that keeps the bottom sash in the proper line. To remove the stop you’ll want to score the paint between the window casing and stop and then slow use you putty knife to pry the stop free. Once the stop is removed you should be able to remove the bottom sash. With the bottom sash off you can now remove any remnants of the old ropes on it’s sides.

 

Window Anatomy

photo by Old-House Journal

Step #2 Remove the Parting Bead

Caution! If your top sash is not strung up anymore when you cut the paint free and remove the parting bead it can come crashing down. Make sure it is carefully supported.

Top sash – If you need to restring a top sash you’ll need to remove the parting bead on one side as well. This piece holds the top sash in place and is usually not nailed in place though it will likely have a dozen or so coats of paint holding it in place. Score the parting bead just like the stop and slowly try to pry it out using the putty knife or pliers if necessary.

 

 

Access Sash WeightsStep #3 Reattach the Sash Weights

Once you have the sashes, stop and parting bead out you can access the sash weights via the access door. This door will be hiding on the sides of the window casing toward the bottom where the parting bead was and will have one or two painted over screws that when removed will allow you to access the weights. With the door removed you’ll have to carefully fish around in there to find your old iron weights. Occasionally, someone will have replaced the weights with insulation. In that case you’ll have to search salvage yards for replacements weights.

After you get the weights located feed a new length of rope through the pulley at the top down into the weight pocket until it reaches the weights. Then thread the rope through the eyelet on the top of the weight and tie it off with a Bow knot.

 

 

Step #4 Tie Off the SashesTie Off Window Sash

To determine the proper length of the rope measure so that if the sash was in its upmost position the weights would still be suspended and not resting on the bottom. Once you have your rope cut tie a double knot that fits into the circular hole on the side of the sash. The rest of the length of rope will fit inside the channel above that circle. You can add a nail here to secure it or some people leave it as is. If you do use a nail make sure it is fully inside the hole and not long enough to protrude into the glass. Don’t forget to do both sides and be careful supporting the sash while trying to attach the rope that the weights don’t come crashing down. If you suddenly lose your grip.

 

 

Step #5 Reassemble the PuzzleRestring Old Window

Reassembling the window has to be done in a specific order and so here it is.

  1. Attach the top sash
  2. Reinstall the parting bead (this is easiest if the top sash is all the way down)
  3. Attach the bottom sash
  4. Reinstall the window stop (use a few finish nails or a brad nailer to do this)

Once everything is in again test your windows to make sure everything is working smoothly. Open and close both sashes all the way to make sure you have the proper length sash cords and that the window stops are not to tight. There you have it! Enjoy your windows and share some pictures with us when you’ve finished.

Here’s some other posts you might find helpful:

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.

http://www.austinhomerestorations.com

11 comments

  1. spencer on said:

    Scott,
    is it uncommon to have the top sash fixed so it will not move? I’ll never use it any way

  2. Kim Convy on said:

    Hi Scott! I am working on restoring some old double hung windows in a 1950’s house here is So California. I finally got the two sash windows moving again independent of each other. They’re still realIy sticky though. I looked at all the videos to replace the cords, etc.. However, when I looked at the windows there are no pulleys, no little box to open at the bottom. Instead it has a flat metal piece in the sliding part, right where the two windows come together in the middle. I thought those were stops??? The top window has a metal cord. It all looks like original wood. What the heck is this system and how do I fix it? I can’t find any info on it.
    I’m taking the windows out today to investigate further since I can’t see where that metal cord is suppose to attach too. It’s only on one side. Weird!!!

    • It sound like you have a the “invisible sash balance” system. It was popular in the 1950s and it something I loath working on. No pulleys just a spring loaded balance that is mortised into the side of the sash. The small wire is held under tension and screwed into the window jamb. When you unscrew it it will shoot back into its housing if you’re not holding onto it tightly. You find a little more info on them here: http://www.oldewindowrestorer.com/invisible.html

  3. Gary on said:

    A few questions:
    1) Any thoughts on using chain instead of rope for longevity?
    2) If only 1 rope is broken or missing,aren’t the chances good the other one has a similar lifespan?
    3) Are weights counterbalanced to the specific window? How do you know what weight to get for a replacement if none are there to begin with?

    • Good questions Gary!
      1) Chain is definitely an upgrade and will last longer, but quality sash rope should last about 80-100 years and is much cheaper. I use chain only when the sashes are extremely heavy or the client wants it for aesthetic purposes.
      2) If you are replacing one rope you might as well do both.
      3)Weights are specific to each sash. If there are no weights you can take the sash out and weigh it. Then get two weights that are each half the total weight of the sash. (Ie. a 12 lbs. sash will need two 6 lbs. weights)

  4. Charles on said:

    Please use lead-safe work practices when removing paint that was put on pre-1978; his likely is lead-based and VERY toxic fumes and dust. If kids or pregnant moms inhale or ingest it, it can cause irreversible nervous system, brain and other organ damage. See epa.gov/lead. Make sure the unit you buy is UL-listed for international safety like any quality tool sold in the US should. I don’t think this machine is. Look for an infrared paint remover that has this certification.

    • The Silent Paint Remover is indeed UL listed and an EPA approved method for removing lead paint.

  5. Shawn Dehner on said:

    This piece a nice complement to Fine Homebuilding article a few years ago on the same subject. Where we live (outside Vancouver, BC) it’s very difficult to find old windows and window components, even at architectural salvage stores. Seattle – our next big town to the south – is the same and what one does find is expensive. That said, New England was a different story when we were building there several years ago; there were plenty of old barn-style stores filled with antiques and dusty old house parts. In either case, being Northerners, restoring these windows while increasing their efficiency would be ideal, an enjoyable and not altogether easy project! I too hail from the South and wonder if bargains are still abundant. I spent a great deal of my childhood chasing antique bargains with my grandparents in the 1970’s! Thanks for sharing…

    • The deals are still here in the south. I can usually find about any style old window I need at a salvage yard for about $40. And it does make it much easier to use original parts.

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