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How To: Cut Window Weight Access Doors

How to cut weight pocket doorsSometimes builders installed their old wood windows without weight pocket access doors to save a couple bucks. While it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, it creates a whole lot of work for us today when a sash rope breaks.

Rather than being stuck with the typical alternative of removing the window trim and leaving yourself with a lot of plaster repair, here is an easier way to fix the problem for good.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to cut weight pocket access doors yourself so that whenever the ropes break in the future, you can easily repair them.

It only takes a few minutes per window and you need a couple tools.

Tools Needed:
  1. Circular saw
  2. Multi-Tool
  3. Pencil
  4. Tape Measure
  5. Speed Square
  6. Two 3/4″ screws per access door

How To Cut Window Weight Access Doors

In order to cut the access doors, you’ll have to have the window sash out of the opening first. If you’re not sure how to do that, I have tutorials on that on my resource page How To: Repair Old Wood Windows that you can easily follow.

Step #1 Measure

Run your tape from the window sill up the side of the jamb. You’ll need to make two marks, one at about 9″ above the sill and the other about 24″ to 28″ above the sill. I try to keep the top of my access doors below the top of the bottom sash for reference.

Step #2 Mark Your Cuts

Using a speed square draw a straight line across the inside portion of the jamb at each of the marks you made in Step #1 using the blind stop as a straight edge. You’ll need to mark the half of the jamb from the parting bead channel to just under where the interior stop goes.

Step #3 Cut Tops and Bottoms

Using the multi-tool, make a plunge cut into the top and bottom marks on the jamb as shown in the picture below. It is imperative that you cut at a different 45º angle for the top and bottom. Attaining a perfect 45º is not crucial, but the direction that the angle goes is. Here is the breakdown:

The top cut should be at a DOWNWARD angle.

The bottom cut should be at an UPWARD angle.

Cutting at these two angle creates a trapezoid which cannot fall back into the hole you will create. This is the most important part, so pay careful attention.

Step #4 Cut the Sides

Time to break out your circular saw. I used a corded model in this tutorial, but the little battery powered ones are much easier for this. Why didn’t I use one? Because someone (me) forgot to load it in the truck the morning we were taking pictures!

Anyway, Set the depth on your circular saw to just over 3/4″ since most jambs are made of wood this thick. If your house is older than the 1890s, then you may have 7/8″ or even 1″ thick jambs. If that’s the case, you’ll need to change the depth.

You may ask why I don’t just set the depth to 1″ or 1 1/2″ to cover all my bases? Because there are lead or iron weights sitting right behind the jamb and I don’t want my saw blade to be hitting those big metal weights and create damage and sparks. Start at the shallowest cut and if it doesn’t work, keep creeping up on the thickness until you find the right depth.

You’ll need to make 2 vertical plunge cuts. If you’ve never made a plunge cut using a circular saw before, do a little research to make sure you are doing it safely.  The first should be inside the parting bead channel or rabbet. This cut needs to connect the bottom and top lines you just cut with the multi-tool.

The second vertical line should be located underneath the interior stop so that it is hidden when the window is reinstalled. On this cut, it’s important to leave at least 1/2″ to 3/4″ of space between the inside edge of the jamb and the cut. This way you don’t compromise the strength of the jamb.

Step #5 Remove & Add Screws

After these two cuts are finished, your new access door should fall right out. If it is still resisting removal, then check that there are a few places you may not have cut all the way through yet.

Once it is free, you can change out the ropes freely. When you’re ready to close things up, you’ll need to add two 3/4″ screws (one at the top and one at the bottom) to secure the door in place until the next time you need to open it.

I always pre-drill the holes because the screws are so close to the ends of the access door which greatly increases the chance the wood will split if you don’t. Trust me, it’s worth the extra 20 seconds.

Steps 1-5 in Pictures

Now you can easily access the weights anytime you need, not to mention, you’ve been much more generous to the next guy or gal who owns your house, unlike that stingy builder.

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6 thoughts on “How To: Cut Window Weight Access Doors

  1. Does “access the weights” mean that you can actually lift them out of the pocket? Are you supposed to cut the access door so it’s wide enough to allow that? I’m assuming so, but wasn’t specified so want to double check.

  2. I have removed and repaired the lower sash( which had rotted at the r/h lower mortise joint) – quite wrecked really.- had to make half a stile and half a lower rail and re-build. Quite please with the finished work; then frustrated to find on return to fit new cords to the sash, that there was no access pocket to be found. Hence very interested in your article on how to make new access pockets “IN SITU” I have noted that the parting bead must be removed to carry out this work. Just hope the rain stays away long enough.
    Many thanks for your ideas.

  3. I have the access doors already on my windows but have a heck of a time trying to get them out. I often caused quite a bit of damage in some cases to the wood pulling them out. I’ve only done a few up to this point and have been searching for a better method. Any recommendations or good links to a video to help with this process? Thanks

    1. I find most people have problems removing the access panels when they don’t first remove the parting strip between the windows. The parting strip often holds the access doors snugly in place. Take out the lower sash, then remove the parting strip (the piece that keeps the two sashes from rubbing together) and the access panel should come out easily. (You might have to scrape old paint off it first…)

      1. If you’re lucky to have the access panel held in by the parting bead, as I have, then cut right through any paint on all four sides then drill a hole through the panel in the bottom of the bead channel where it will be hidden by the bead when reassembled. The hole should be near the bottom of the panel. Hook the short end of an allen key through the hole and pull the panel out. Usually they’re designed to pull out at the bottom first then down. If the panel doesn’t come out easily there is still paint somewhere gluing it to the jamb.

        Where the parting bead doesn’t provide a hidding place I’d still drill a neat hole and plug it when done.

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