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How To: Paint a Wood Window Sash

How To: Paint a Wood Window SashAfter all the hard work is done restoring a wood window, there is one final step: painting your window sash. Painting a window is by far the most important part of the process because it protects all the work underneath. It keeps sun, rain, dirt, insects, air and anything else from harming your window.

Without paint, glazing putty is no good after only a couple months, the sun’s UV rays begin breaking down the wood fibers of the window immediately, water will cause corrosion of your glazing points.

Without paint, your window will fail quickly. But you already know that you have to paint your windows, right? Maybe so, but there is a very specific way that historic windows should be painted to both protect their parts AND ensure smooth operation.

Here are my 5 rules for how to paint a wood window sash.

1. Don’t Paint the Sides

The sides of the sash that slide up and down in the jambs should be left bare. No primer and no paint. This may sound odd, but it has been in practice for well over 200 years. These areas are not seen or readily exposed to the elements so there is no cosmetic reason to paint them, but there is a more practical reason NOT to paint them. By leaving these areas bare you allow both rails (horizontal parts of the sash frame) and both stiles (vertical parts of the sash frame) to expel moisture.

How to paint wood window
Unpainted sides and bottom on old window sash

With these sections bare, the entire sash is able to dry out if it should happen to get wet. Bare wood breathes much, much better than primed and painted wood.

In addition, these parts of the sash slide against the window jamb and if they are coated with paint (especially latex paint) they will stick and be extremely difficult to open and close. Leave it bare.

2. Don’t Paint the Bottom or Top

For the same reasons as above the top of the upper sash and bottom of the lower sash should not be primed or painted either. These parts are not visible when the window is closed and therefore not exposed to the elements. Again, this will aid in the window’s ability to dry out. Not much else to say about this, so let’s move on.

3. Use Oil-based Primer

For the best performance use an exterior oil-based primer. I prefer Kilz Complete in my shop because it is hides very well, goes on easily and sands down nicely. The sash should be primed and lightly sanded with 220-grit paper to smooth out the surface before installing the glazing putty.

Use a brush and work the primer into the wood. Spraying on primer is fine, but be sure to work it in with a brush as you spray. Brushing ensures a better bond between the wood and primer than spraying alone.

4. Apply 2 Coats of Quality Paint

Whether you decide to go with oil-based paint or water-based doesn’t matter to me. The point is the get at least two coats of paint on the inside and outside. Don’t skimp on this paint either. Use a top-notch enamel paint. I prefer Sherwin-Williams Porch & Floor because it is an easy to work with water-based paint and since it is formulated for floors it gets very hard, very quickly.

The technique for painting your window sash is difficult to describe in a blog post, so I’ve put together a short video to show you how it should be done.

Check out the video below and don’t forget that you can get more videos like this by subscribing to our YouTube channel.

5. Finishing Up

Once the windows are painted let them sit aside and cure for at least a few days. This may sound pretty elementary and I’m sure you would never try to put windows with wet paint back in, right? It’s not about the windows being dry. It’s about the paint having time to cure.

Water-based and oil-based paints can take up to 30 days to fully cure. Until that time the paint is more prone to being damaged by scuffs, knicks, and water. Don’t try to wipe down new latex paint or clean it until that 30 days has passed. Otherwise, you run the risk of messing up your paint job.

Once the paint is cured, enjoy the finished product by opening those windows as much as you’d like. You deserve it!

If you have more questions about the rest of the process of restoring a wood window visit my resource page How To: Repair Old Windows

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98 thoughts on “How To: Paint a Wood Window Sash

  1. Thanks for taking time to share your knowledge on windows! I am making several storm windows and I’m wondering if the sides, and tops and bottoms should be painted? They are not sliding at all but simply placed in position and held with several turn buttons.

  2. Hello, I’m hoping to keep the natural look of the wood on my sash. Is it possible to apply something like teak oil yearly with similar results to painting? Thanks.

  3. Why would we use an oil based primer when using water based top coats? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use a water based primer as well?

  4. I am currently replacing 8 4-0-8-0 windows built in 1868. Lincoln was still around. I had the original frames and sashes duplicated exactly. I understand what to not paint on the sashes but the frames are another matter. Historically, did the painters leave the parting strip, stop edges and inside track bare wood? This would make sense to me. Also what about the side of the frame adjacent to the weights? Thank you for your response, Norm

  5. Hello, Sherwin-Williams Porch & Floor Enamel seems to be sold out… any other recommendations? I used Sherwin-Williams Exterior Oil-Based Wood Primer and pretty happy with it.

  6. Hi, great informative post. What oil based primer would you recommend now either Kilz Complete no longer available? Kilz Original oil exterior/interior?

  7. Hello! I found your post extremely helpful and informative since I’m about to restore and paint my sash windows for the first time. Please excuse my inexperienced question: where the panes meet the frame on the inside of my windows I had such bad damp and mildew that stuff inbetween the pane and frame (I assumed putty) is cracking and coming loose, and needs to be removed, leaving a gap. However since reading your blog I realised that that can’t be putty, putty is only used on the exterior part, right? So how should I fill that gap? Or should I opt to remove the panes completely and re-bed them? Thank you!

  8. Such great advice, just months in a 1912 craftsman home. So much to learn. I do have a question, we also have casement windows, do you paint the sides, top or bottom on these?

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