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How To: Replace Broken Sash Cords

How To: Replace Broken Sash Cords

On this memorial day weekend, here is the last free excerpt from my new book Old Windows In-Depth that has just been released. Make sure to check it out in the store to get sale pricing before June 1st!

So, you’ve got old double hung windows with broken sash cords that no longer stay open. Don’t fear, it’s not the end of the world. Far from it! Learning to replace ropes on window sash with broken sash cords is one of the easier repairs you can make to an old window. And once you have that new sash cord in, you won’t need another replacement for a good 40-60 years.

In this post, I’ll show you how to re-rope your windows quickly and easily the way I do every day. Pay attention to not just the techniques, but the materials as well, because using the wrong type of rope can mean you will be replacing it in months, rather than decades.

No more sticks or rulers holding your window open this year. Grab your pry-bar and lets get to it!

How To Remove the Sash

To re-rope window sash you’re going to need to remove the sash from the window jamb in order to access everything you need to, so we’ll start with that process before we get into the specifics of accessing the ropes and changing them out.

I’ve got two options for you to learn how to remove and install the window sash. The best way by far is the video below which walks you through the whole process of removal, replacing sash cords, and installing sash. Or you can check out my previous post How To: Remove Window Sash. Follow the four simple steps in this post and you’ll have your windows out in no time. Once you have both sash out, follow the steps below.

How To Replace Broken Sash Cords

The video above shows you all the good stuff but there are a few notes I need to include to help you get the right stuff in place. The first thing is using the right sash cord. You don’t want to use any kind of synthetic rope on window sash. Synthetic ropes stretch out resulting in sagging windows and some materials do not hold up to the UV rays they are subjected to. Cotton is the best material for sash cord.

My favorite is Samson Spot Cord since it has been around for over a century and is extremely durable. You want to replace your sash cord once and not have to replace cheap substandard rope again and again, so get something proven to last 60+ years like Samson rope.

Next, the knots you tie are super important. Tying the wrong kind of knot can result in the weight sagging or it can eventually work itself open. There are several options for a good knot but my recommendation is a “Bowline” knot, which is sometimes called a simplified Figure 8. Click here for an animation of the knot or watch my demonstration in the video above.

Step 1 Open Pocket Doors

First, get your pocket doors open by unscrewing the set screws and prying them off with a 5-in-1. The parting bead will need to be removed first before the pocket door will come off in most cases.

Step 2 Remove Weights

Pull the weights out of the pocket and set them on the sill. Cut the old rope off the weight and pull it out through the pulley or out of the weight pocket and dispose of it. Make sure to keep the same weight for the same sash if you are doing multiple windows, because top sash may be a different weight from bottom sash.

Step 3 Run New Cord

Cut a length of rope the height of the opening and tie a simple knot at one end. Run the rope down the pulley so that you can grab the other end in the weight pocket. Sometimes the rope doesn’t want to make its way down to the pocket door. If that is the case, try one of the hacks in this post to resolve that. If you have a very short window (under about 36″ tall then you may need to add about 4-6″ to your rope length)

Step 4 Attach Weights

Starting with the top sash weight first, run the rope through the eye on the weight and tie a bowline knot so that when in the pocket the weight is floating just above the sill. Cut off any excess rope and re-install the pocket door. Test everything to make sure it moves freely.

Step 5 Hang Sash

Put your sash on the sill and install the new rope into the mortise on the sides of the sash. I like to put a small nail for security to hold the rope in place. Trust me, nothing is more frustrating than putting everything back together and a rope coming off! Test the balance of your sash and troubleshoot any issues.

Now you’ve got new ropes and if you used the right sash cord, you should never have to replace them in your lifetime unless your windows are attacked by a 4-year-old with scissors. Happy restoring!

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12 thoughts on “How To: Replace Broken Sash Cords

  1. Is it possible to replace cord with sash chain? Are the pulley different?
    I am getting close to finishing 8 4/4 over 1 windows. The glazing info from your site has been invaluable. I did pick up one tip from Gary Cernoch that really works – polish your glazing knife with steel wool.
    I have bought 4 quarts of putty from you guys – Oh, I’ll never use a gallon…..

  2. I have an 1895 shotgun house in New Orleans with double-hung windows. The bottom sashes are functioning but the upper sashes aren’t- they’re either nailed and painted in place, and the cords are missing. I’m pretty sure the weights for the upper sashes have fallen down in the wall and am wondering if you have any advice for how to search for and fish them out? The access doors on each side are located on the inner sash channel so it’s difficult to peek down into the outer channel. Replacement weights aren’t hard to find, but I’m concerned that if I don’t get the old ones out, they might block the new ones from sitting in there properly.

  3. Any advice on calculating how long the sash cord should be? I had someone replace all of mine and now 2 different windows have the cord wedge next to the pully because of what I suspect were cords that were too long. Once the weight hit the bottom, the slack allowed the cord to lift off the pully so that when the sash was pulled down again, the cord was able to wander off he center of the pully and wedge itself.

  4. Hello everyone,
    This is my problem ..
    I am living in and trying to restore/fix/paint a 1940s house in Northern California. It has both rope and “wire” pulls. The rope I get…I think. The wire, not so much. The windows leak (having it painted and it was power washer yesterday) found the leaks! I’m attempting reglazing them. The first window found wire! Needs replaced as it is fraying. Help!

    1. Hi Lydia,
      Oh man! That’s so odd. Honestly, without being able to see it in person, our best bet would be to recommend using our directory to find a licensed preservationist in your area in Northern California who can give you better direction after seeing it in person. https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/
      Best of luck to you, Lydia. Thanks so much for reading and commenting and feel free to keep us in the loop on your window repair journey.
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  5. I have a 1941 house which I imagine was near the end of the run for sash cords, pulleys, and weights. Twenty-seven windows and not a pocket access door on any of them – all original cords. Now I have a broken one. Do you have a video on making pocket access doors? I really don’t want to take the freshly painted casing down and knock a hole in the plaster. Thanks.

  6. I really appreciate this blog and this post was extremely helpful in inspiring me to tackle replacing the broken cords in my double hung windows! Unfortunately, I hit a snag right off the bat when I discovered that they are equipped with interlocking weatherstripping. I can’t figure out how to extract the sash without destroying the weatherstripping. Any suggestions? Is this covered in either of your windows books? I think I’m at the basic level, but if this isn’t covered in the basic book, I’ll be happy to get the new more comprehensive one. Any help would be appreciated.

  7. This is really helpful– thank you! However I hit a snag in my own project, when it turned out I have interlocking weatherstripping on my double hung windows and it’s preventing me from getting the sashes out without destroying the weatherstripping. Any advice? Do either of your books on windows deal with this issue?

  8. Thanks for posting this. I was inspired to finally replace the sash cords on one of several windows with broken cords on our house. Now I’m eager to move on to the next window!

  9. This was super helpful! I’m really happy someone is valuing and restoring old houses. I’ve recently started in on replacing all the broken sash cords in my beautiful 1920s double hung windows. They’re not heavily painted, so I thought I’d have it easy– ha! Turns out I have interlocking metal weatherstripping which is keep me from removing the bottom sash. I’ve scoured your posts on windows and found a comment in which you say that I’ll have to remove the weatherstripping with the sash, and you recommend punching through the nails holding the metal to the parting bead. But I can’t see how even that will help me remove the sash, as the metal is like a three-sided cap on top of the parting bead. Releasing the metal from the parting bead still won’t let me pull the window out, as I essentially have an S of metal: in the center of the top gap sits the parting bead and in the center of the bottom sits the window sash. I can’t pull out the sash without pulling out the parting bead, and I can’t pull out the parting bead while the sash is in the way. Help!

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