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How To: Open Stuck Windows in 4 Easy Steps

Historic WindowIf your house is old enough to have needed a new paint job in its life, then you might have a couple windows that have been painted shut. If your house is as old as mine (1929), you’d be lucky to find a window that still opens. Over the years, numerous coats of paint by lazy painters have typically sealed shut most windows on a historic home. But, you don’t have to live with that anymore. If it’s just a few coats of paint standing between you and some fresh air, then I can show you how to get things moving again.

The Tools

You’ll need a putty knife and a box cutter (razor knife), or a Window Zipper (If you’re planning to work on more than a couple windows, you’ll want to get one of these tools. They make cutting the windows open a million times easier.

Check sash cordsStep #1 Inspect

To determine if it is paint that’s the cause of your problems, we’ll need to check a few things. First, make sure the sash cords are still in working order. Pull on them to see if they are still attached to the sash weights in their pockets. If the pulleys turn and you can feel the tension from the sash weights, then you’re probably in good shape. If the cords are missing or they are no longer attached to the weights, then you’ll need to follow a more involved process which I’ll be outlining next week right here. So stay tuned!




Cut Int paintStep #2 Free The Interior

Most old windows have been painted shut on both the exterior and interior, so let’s start with the interior. Be very careful not to cut yourself or gouge the wood while cutting the windows open. Use the razor blade to draw a straight line between the sash and window stops on both sides. Then, push your putty knife into the space along the line to gently break the bond. If you’re using a window zipper, simply cut this line in one step.

Next, do the same at the meeting rail (where the top and bottom sash meet when in the closed position.) You’ll need to have the sash lock unlocked in order to separate the two sashes.



Step #3 Free The Exterior

Cut Ext paintDo the same thing as the interior, except this time, you’ll be cutting between the sash and the parting bead (which is the square trim piece just outside of the sash.) Then, move on to the underside of the meeting rail. After that, don’t forget to cut the paint and use your putty knife at the bottom of the sash where it meets the window sill (like in the picture at the top of the post.)





Step #4 Open Your Window

Open windowNow, head back inside and slowly try to wiggle the window open. Even if you have cut all the paint out of the seams, the window will most likely be very stubborn. *Don’t be too rough on the window! You may break the glass or bust the mortise and tenon joints that hold the frame together. It will take some elbow grease, but you should not be straining to make it open. If it is still stubborn, keep using your putty knife to clean out the remaining paint.

Once you get it moving a bit, gently keep opening and closing the window. It will continue to slide easier and easier. If you need to, you can also add some dry lubricant (like a graphite spray) to help things move a little smoother. Now, you can enjoy a little fresh air all thanks to your own effort and at no cost!


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60 thoughts on “How To: Open Stuck Windows in 4 Easy Steps

  1. I have double hung windows manufactured by Royal oak Window Co. (1960s) pat 2761182,2586946, 2630090, My problem is I’ve painted and repaired them however, after putting the window back the aluminum springs I guess you would call them doesn’t allow the window to open from the bottom four or five inches . I can’t figure what I’m doing wrong. I can’t fine any pictures of these types of windows. It is hard to explain perhaps you help me.

    1. I don’t have an answer to your question, but I think I have the same windows as you based on the patents you shared. Can you give me some details about your experience with redoing the windows? I’ll be attempting this soon too.

  2. I have single hung wooden windows – 116 years old. The bottom sash was opening and closing fine two days ago – now it is jammed shut. It looks like one side is slightly higher than the other but it won’t budge no matter what. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Todd,
      Oh goodness, so sorry to hear your window is stuck! Honestly, our best recommendation would be to use our directory to find a licensed preservationist and old window expert in your area to come look at it in person if these hacks and tricks aren’t working.
      Best of luck to you!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  3. I have metal storms that were painted over as well as the screws. Any suggestions how to best get them off? Thanks!

  4. I have metal framed strom windows in a 1956 house. The strom windows are inside with handles at the bottom of them. I cant get them out of the window even though i have gotten them loose. Any ideas?

  5. I just moved into a house where the landlord had all the windows purposely sealed. How do I unseal the windows?

  6. I have metal storms over my 1885, VERY LARGE, Original windows. The issue is that they cannot be opened from the outside. I also have bars installed on the lower windows and the lag screws require a special (large anti theft tool) to remove them and they look to be painted and rusted. Am I going to have to cut these bolts off

  7. We are having our house painted. I was told that the windows are double hung but the tops don’t look like they have a way to grab to bring down. This causes an issue since some of the window can not be painted, where the locks are and they are going from burgundy to a light grey so when the window is open you will still see the original color since it will not get painted. Any ideas on how I may get them down?

  8. To un-stick window sashes that have been caulked or painted shut, I use an oscillating multi-tool with a fine tooth wood cutting blade. Harbor Freight sells an oscillating tool for about $15 (about the price of the window zipper tools) that will do the job. Other brands are about $40 and up. Just be careful to keep the oscillating blade flat against the face of the sash when cutting out the caulk and paint between the sash and the stops or parting beads. Also be careful to not cut any deeper than necessary, stopping when you feel less resistance. This method works like a charm and allows you to un-stick a sash in about 5 minutes.

  9. Thanks so much for both clear words and pictures. How can I tell if the upper sash is painted shut or if it is a single hung window? And how aggressive should I be on that upper sash to find out? This is an old (1950’s-ish) townhouse that I just purchased.

  10. My husband and I have a 1919 colonial revival home. All the windows are painted shut including the storms. I love my windows and plan on keeping them! We have begun trying to open them and they all need reglazing. Can we glaze them in place without taking them out. I hate to tear up the trim inside the house. Is there in hope?

  11. Ok, that didn’t work. I still have the the original windows, although not the original glass, in my 1900 house. Previous owners put storm windows up. The screens are between the window and storm window. After following all the steps, my window still won’t budge. There is no way to remove the storm window from the outside. I can either break the glass in my window in order to open the screen and storm window, OR, and this is a better alternative, find the previous owners and make them free all 15 remaining windows, after which we will re-enact a scene from “Casino”. This is so ridiculous and frustrating! Who paints windows shut????

  12. I have had to unstick several windows from the 1920s that are painted and siliconed shut. Hyde makes a tool for just unsticking windows that is very useful, but the best I find is the circular saw on my right angle reciprocating saw. You do need to be careful, but the blade is very thin and can be edged deep into the window channel, easily removing old paint. It will mar the window, so you will certainly need to re-paint when you finish.

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