Whether it’s an errant baseball or a tropical storm, windows are bound to break sometimes. And before you call a window specialist to replace your broken window glass, you might just be able to do it yourself. More importantly, if you have an old house, your broken window glass will need to be replaced in a different way than most specialists know how to do today.
What’s Different About Historic Windows?
Old wood windows (typically pre-1950s) were almost always putty glazed (you can watch our video on how to putty glaze windows here). Most window contractors today don’t know how to putty glaze, and when confronted with a historic window, they use caulk or some other product not intended for these old windows. This can create a host of problems for your old windows. It’s always best to replace materials on a historic home with in-kind materials so that the repair blends seamlessly and doesn’t stick out like a band-aid. Here’s how to do it!
- Remove the Broken Glass – Wearing gloves and glasses, carefully remove the remaining pieces of broken window glass and dispose of them safely.
- Clean the Rabbet – Clean the old glazing putty from the rabbets on the outside of the window. Use a firm putty knife for this and be careful not to gouge the soft window wood while you scrape the putty out.
- Remove Any Glazing Points – There may be some glazing points (little metal triangles or diamonds) remaining in the rabbets. Using needle nose pliers, pull them out and dispose of them too.
- Wipe On Boiled Linseed Oil – Once the rabbets are clean of old putty and glazing points, wipe them down thoroughly with Boiled Linseed Oil (it’s available in the paint section of any hardware store).
- Cut Your Replacement Glass – Measure the width of the opening for your replacement glass. You can either cut your own window glass, or take the measurements to your local hardware store and have them cut it for you. Important: Be exact on these measurements! You have to cut the glass 1/16″ smaller than the opening otherwise the glass may break as the wood swells in certain weather. Glazing rabbets are very small so your measurements have to be precise. This is the hardest part. Just remember the old saying “Measure twice, cut once.”
- Glaze the Rabbet – Add glazing putty to the rabbet. This will create an air tight cushion for the glass to rest in. For repairs outside the shop, I recommend Sarco Dual Glaze putty. It can handle the elements better than other putties and excels in this application. But there are other acceptable types of glazing putty.
- Bed Your Glass – Put your replacement window glass into place and press it gently but with firm pressure around the edges into the glazed rabbet. This will cause some putty to squeeze out over the inside of the glass which we’ll clean later.
- Set the Glazing Points – Glazing points are what hold the window pane securely in place. Depending on the size of your replacement window glass, you may need more or less points. A good rule of thumb is to use one point for every 12″ of width and at least one point on each of the four sides. Bottom line, too many is better than too few.
- Glaze the Window – Spread a fair amount of putty around the edges of the window and really push it into place. It doesn’t have to be pretty at this point.
- Tool the Putty – Run your putty knife along the length of the window to smooth the putty at a bevel. Come back and make nice clean corners. You can mess with the putty as much as you want. If it doesn’t look good, keep tooling it until you are happy with the results. For a more in depth explanation of glazing watch our video: How To Reglaze Old Windows.
- Clean the Glass – Brush on some whiting to clean the window glass of oily fingerprints from the putty (this video will show you how) and you’re done!
You’ll have to let the putty sit a few weeks until it “skins over” and is ready for paint. Don’t wait too long to paint. Glazing putty won’t survive long without paint. It can mildew and fail in a few short months when not painted. But when painted it should last decades without much maintenance.
For more on working with old windows you can visit our resource page How To Repair Old Windows.
Step-by-Step in Pictures
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.