How To Restore Old Windows

By Scott Sidler • November 11, 2012

how to restore old windowsEveryone who owns an old house needs to know how to restore old windows. There are lots of them and they usually need a lot of work, but with the tutorials, tools, and supplies on this page, you can learn how to restore old windows like a pro, from a pro.

Your home’s old wood windows are some of the most valuable, yet misunderstood elements of a historic house. Most people find them painted shut with sash cords cut, and with missing bits and pieces of hardware. That’s the time they usually opt to start over with replacement windows.

But replacing historic windows is a big mistake and I don’t want you fall into it!

Reasons people choose to replace old windows:

  • Inoperable windows
  • Leaky and energy-inefficient windows
  • Lead paint concerns
  • Aggressive marketing from window companies

All these problems can be easily solved and you can make your historic windows just as efficient as a new window, but much longer lasting!

 

The Facts About Historic Windows

1. Repairable – Historic wood windows are designed to be easy to repair. Unlike replacement windows where the whole window unit must often be replaced or factory repaired if an issue arises, historic windows can be repaired piecemeal. Each individual piece can be repaired, restored, or replaced quite simply by the homeowner or local tradesman.

2. Upgradable – Your old windows may be drafty but they can very easily be weatherstripped and have storm windows (interior or exterior) added to dramatically increase their efficiency beyond even what new replacement windows can offer.

3. Simple to Maintain – Keep your old windows painted. That’s it! With some paint every decade or so, you can keep them protected and safe for decades longer than a replacement window will last.

4. Resilient – Being made from old-growth lumber, these windows (when properly maintained) can last for several centuries unlike replacement windows today which are obsolete within just a few years.

Now that you know the facts, you’ll want to know the how and what of repairing these old windows. So below I have included links to posts that detail exactly how to restore and care for these windows. I’ve also included links to where you can find the proper tools and products to use in the restoration process.

old-windows-made-easy-3D-coverOld Windows Made Easy

First things first: if you want a comprehensive guide for the restoration of your wood windows you need to get a copy of my book Old Windows Made Easy. This book is the absolute simplest way to restore your wood windows. In this guide, I walk you through the entire restoration process step-by-step so as to leave no stone unturned.

This book will save you hours and hours of working time and thousands of dollars in restoration costs. You can learn more about the book here  or  order your copy now!

Not ready for the book? Then check out the information below for free and you’ll learn how to restore old windows at the pace you want.

The Techniques

Old Window Tools & Supplies

Sarco Multi-Glaze GallonSarco MultiGlaze Putty

My favorite putty for wood sash. Fast skinning and ready for paint within 1 week. This linseed oil based glazing putty is for in shop glazing only.

 

 

Sarco Dual Glaze GallonSarco DualGlaze Putty

A slow curing (2-3 weeks) glazing putty ideal for on-site repairs and steel or wood sash. Immense flexibility and long life is the name of the game for this linseed oil-based glazing putty.

 

Abatron Wood EpoxAbatron Wood Epoxy

My favorite and still undefeated champion of epoxies in my honest opinion. This easy to use wood epoxy is great for making almost any kind of repair to wood windows. From minor filling of rot, to complete reconstruction of profiles, this combination of epoxy filler and consolidant does it all with style.

 

 

samson spot cordSamson Sash Rope

Sampson #8 Spot Cord is the ideal sash rope for wood windows. Able to support up to 150 lbs it will support any size window, and that’s why it has been the industry standard for over 100 years.

 

Window ZipperWindow Zipper

An easy to use tool great for cutting sashes free from years of built up paint and caulk to get them working again. Its serrated edges provide a great cutting edge that helps keep other surfaces free of damage.

 

 

glazier's toolGlazier’s Tool

With 2 sides this glazier’s tool can be useful for those learning to glaze. I use only the beveled edge after years, which I find has the perfect bevel for glazing my windows.

 

SpeedheaterOriginal Speedheater

For paint stripping infrared heat is a great way to get the paint off without damaging the surface beneath. Lose decades of old paint easily in minutes with this tool and keep yourself safe from lead paint by eliminating dust.

 

 

Cobra SpeedheaterCobra Speedheater

Faster and smaller than the Original Speedheater, this new addition to the line up is great for the small parts on windows like muntins. Softens paint in only 2-3 seconds and overall makes your life easier.

 

 

Triangle glazing pointsTriangle Glazing Points

Simple to use and provides great hold for glass in wood sash. This style works great with the Fletcher glazing point setting tool below. For simple hand setting of points, this is the best choice.

 

 

Fletcher Glazing Point ToolGlazing Point Setting Tool

Point driving guns can be expensive, but with this easy hand tool, you can set multiple styles of glazing points with one affordable tool. Sure, it might take a little longer than a gun, but it gets the job done all the same.

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225 thoughts on “How To Restore Old Windows”

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  2. Finally I found someone that is able to explain what sort of window I have and why there is no visible form of counterweight system. I have a 1860s farm house — definitely single hung windows. No counterweight pulley systems. Great condition except many panes are cracked. They’ll be really easy to repair but before I do I really want some sort of a solution to the fact that the only way to keep the window open is with a stick. I was thinking of installing a track system — isn’t there some sort of a strip you can screw into the side and rout out the sash to glide up and down on it? I haven’t found anything on that online but recall having that done in an old house I used to live in. Is there simpler option for keeping the windows open? Do sash stays (stops) work?

  3. We have old windows with weights. We are reglazing all the windows 32 sashes) and then replacing the weights after we add new rope and knots. We have two windows without weights – they are sitting with in the window frame – is there something we can purchase that we can set in the window frame so that the sahes will go up and down?

    TY Kim

  4. We recently purchased and began restoring a colonial revival 1954 ranch. If I am to be honest with you, I sometimes wish my home was older, so people could just understand why we are working so hard, and pouring so mush time and research into our home. Poor little 1950’s homes, they are always the first to be gutted and flipped. I had to save it!
    One of the best things about my home is it’s very large floor to ceiling wood windows. My neighbors think I’m crazy for keeping them, having all replaced there own with crappy plastic windows. yuck! I love my wavy glass, double-hung beauties! I wish they only knew what they were missing. It has been refreshing to read your blog and find someone who loves old homes (almost ) as much as I do 😉
    The first window we used an entire bottle of CitrStrip (no kidding) and plastic scrapper to get off years of globby chipped paint.
    It took forever…
    Here’s my question: is there an easier/faster way? (I’m still fairly new to your blog). We are wanting to get the Cobra Speedheater to hurry up the process, but will I need to pop out my windows to do so?
    Thanks!

  5. Hello Scott – What about cutting old glass – say glass from 150 years ago. Can I cut that the same way as in your video?

  6. Hello Scott!

    My question is how to deal with painting a window frame (jamb?) the area where the window slides open and shut should not be painted inside and outside, is my understanding
    I have a 101yr old Craftsman/Victorian Transitional .. in Berkeley Ca, with all original and restored windows in the double hung single pane, they all open and I want to keep it that way!

  7. We claim a 1954 (all around built) block farm with 72 windows, for the most part extensive picture windows with overhang windows on the base. We as of late supplanted huge numbers of the all-wood windows all through the home since painting the outside windows like clockwork was getting to be troublesome. Despite everything we have the first picture windows and base shade windows in the living/lounge area and the family room underneath. We are endeavoring to choose on the off chance that we ought to have those supplanted at a heavy cost, or attempt to sand down the canopy windows on the sides and base so they close and afterward have them painted. We think the wood on the overhang windows has most likely swelled with age. Is sanding them down a smart thought and after that having them painted outwardly, or will that reason different issues?

    thanks to you!

  8. Hi,
    Lots of good information here! I have just started restoring my single-hung wood windows. They have never been painted shut but I thought the numerous coats of paint over the years may have been the cause of them sticking. I completely stripped the paint off the lower sashes, sanded and repainted the first two. However, they still seem quite tight and are difficult to move up and down. Do you have any suggestions before I go any further?
    Thanks!

  9. Hey Scott,

    I’m using your e-book to restore my sashes. I bedded the glass and install points but when I instead of top points, I realized that you can see them from the inside. When I looked at another window that I haven’t touched yet, it seems that the top of the bottom sash isn’t glazed at all. There is actually a slit to insert the glass into. I’m assuming then that glazing points are not needed?

    Thanks!

    Jeremy walker

  10. Hello Scott. I’m in the processs of refurbishing my 1927 stucco missin style home . Some of the original wintare beyond repair. Do you know of any resources where I can purchase replacements sashes that are also original double hung windows. I do not want to put in new modern window instead. Many thanks

    1. Hello Dixie! Thanks so much for reading and commenting on the blog. So thankful to hear you don’t want to replace the windows with modern vinyl. Yuck! Our best recommendation would be to use our directory to find a certified restorer in your area and they can advise upon seeing in person, most likely. https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/
      Best of luck to you!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  11. Hey Scott-
    Are there any windows that were not intended to be bedded in putty on the inside? I can’t tell if my windows had putty there originally or not. It really doesn’t look like it but I would like to take them out, restore the sashes, putty them inside, etc. They are wooden casement windows and I was wondering if there would be any reason to NOT do this with them.

  12. Scott, I own a 1932 American four square with 42 windows, and will be taking on the task of saving the old windows which are in need of various levels of repair, question being the lower sash of these windows have glazing compound on three sides and a kerf joint on the top that the glass slides into, this causes a rattle in the window pain should the kerf joint be caulked, left alone or some other means of restoration? Thanks for the Blog without it I would not have the ambition to take on time deserving task.

  13. Hi Scott, My husband and I are reno an old house (1920) to rent out. We are getting rid of the old windows with the long weights on them. I can’t talk my husband into keeping them. Is there a market to sell the windows and/or the weights? Thanks for the advice.

  14. Nice article keep sharing these type of article with us i found it very useful ..thank you so much for sharing this article ..

  15. Hi, I just bought a 100year old house. There are portions that have been added on over the years and they have newer style aluminum type windows that are ridiculously ugly and in sad shape. I want to replace them with real old wooden windows like the rest of the house has. I’ve seen some sashes for sale on Craigslist from people that have removed them to put in the ugly vinyl replacements. So my question is, how do I do the opposite- how do I remove a newer style window and replace it with an old one? All I’ve found so far for sale are the sashes, (and I want to save them all, haha!) but no frames. Should I keep looking for ones with the frame? If I can’t find one with the frame included, how hard is it to build a new one? Thanks!

  16. Hi Scott, So far the information here has been fantastic. I have one set of windows in my house that are no longer square due to settling (the house was built in 1904). How would I go about making the frames square again? Are there sections in your book on this issue?

    Thank you

    1. I don’t get into squaring up frames, but it can be done. Often the most common practice is to leave the frame (jamb) as it is and add on or trim the sash so that it matches the out of square of the frame. It can be challenging to get a square frame when the whole wall has settled.

  17. When restoring older wood windows sometimes the springs, weights or chains need replaced. They are not easy to find but I found if replaced with a spring counterbalance like the one in the photos(see , the well with the chain can be insulated while replacing window for better energy efficiency in older houses.

  18. Hi Scott,

    Great post – and great info. I’ve recently joined the staff at a University and I’m in a wonderful old building with tall old windows which haven’t been cleaned in a while. Since someone installed an air conditioner at the top of the window, I can’t easily clean in between those windows (photo: . There’s about 1/2 inch of space between the two windows to insert some type of cleaning tool. Does anyone have any suggestions on where I could find/make such a thin cleaning tool?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    1. There is a tool made specifically for this job. It’s called a “Window Wizard”. Sold at hardware stores or direct,www.windowwizard.eu. Gets inside the small space between windows and cleans both sides at once.

    2. Try looking for Aquarium glass cleaner pads – two sets of magnets… in aquarium shops or online. You may need to creat a secondary tool to maneuver the cleaning tool into and out of the space. Of course with metal window this may add some additional problems

  19. Hi!
    We just set out to fix the pulleys on our double hung windows only to find out that they were retro fitted with a “modern” system when cellulose was blown into the weight pockets 20 some years ago. We haven’t even been able to get the sash out yet because after removing the window stop we discovered it’s been fitted with metal rails that are screwed in place. My main concern is that the original wooden rails have had sections routed out to accommodate the new system and I don’t think they will fit in the frame properly if we try to revert. Have you ever encountered something like this?

      1. I have the same problem and am wondering what you suggest: replace jamb liners that include a spring mechanism; leave jamb liners and retrofit with a tension spring as you (i think) suggest elsewhere, or; something else? The old jamb liners in my windows don’t even appear to have springs and tension alone will not keep either sash in place. Having to redo the windows myself is a huge learning curve so your blog help has been invaluable. Just keep running into additional problems that I’m not even sure I’m asking the right questions to solve. Right now I’ve got a jamb liner that has dropped completely down as I’m trying to replace a rotten outside sill and can’t figure out how it was attached to the casing without extricating the whole thing. If you could address some of these jamb liner retrofit scenarios, I would VERY GREATLY appreciate it.

  20. Hi Again Scott,
    I bet this is covered in your blog but haven’t gotten 100% thought reading. I just replace one pane of glass (of the 4 that makes up 2 double hung windows).
    I used double strength glass (which I saw you breaking in your video) (I broke version # 1)
    These windows are weighted vs sash balance … and I am thinking I might have problems when I reinstall them because the glass is now heavier in one of the sashes.
    Will you direct me if you have already covered this, & or reply with your knowledge.
    Thank you!
    Also, I started an order yesterday (apple & firefox) and just got a spinning circle in a circle. Is there something I need to do or could I do a phone order to expedite? (preferred)
    Thanks for your reply from yesterday re 3/8 points, now I am wondering if I read it wrong & it was about 3/8 triangles — ran across that reference a few minutes ago.
    One more topic:
    after breaking a pane I decided to leave difficult putting in the 3 sashes that remained & glaze over it. If you have input on that I would also appreciate hearing it. I love the old glass. Some of the glass is barely covering the opening. Makes for visible putty from the other side. Not optimal but really want to keep the old glass. Is there a fix for sealing up the inside where there is no back bedding and might be tiny gaps?
    Also how much play should there be if I get new glass or start cutting it myself? 1/16 on 2 of 4 sides would be my guess.
    Thank you thank you thank you and thank you!!!

  21. Hi, My husband and I are currently restoring the eight, double-hung windows in our 1940’s home. We have two questions for you, please: We finished scrapping away all the old, interior and exterior paint, and are wondering 1) if we need to wash/clean all the wooden surface areas of each window before we apply the oil-based primer to the interior and exterior of all the windows? 2) Should we paint the window jambs or leave them unfinished so that the windows slide easier? We do understand that we should not paint the sides of the windows, as well as the top of the top sash and the bottom of the bottom sash. Thank you for your response, and thank you, Scott, for such a fabulous site!!

    1. Kathryn, 1) you need to clean off any dust/dirt from any surface before priming so yes. Use a tack cloth. 2) it depends what was originally there. I usually paint all y jambs because I’m in Florida and we need the paint to protect from all the moisture. Others areas don’t have painted jambs.

  22. Scott:

    I am tackling the work of restoring all of our wooden double hung windows on a 1936 colonial. Have a pair with sagging bottom rails and was wondering if there is a way to fix without rebuilding the rail?

    1. It depends on how bad the sag is. Sometimes you can take all the glass out and clamp things into place and then install trim screws thru the meeting rail into the mountains to help hold things where they should be.

  23. I have purchased an old house, circa 1936 that has old mill windows on every wall in the back room which was an add on to the original house. The rest of the house has the old original wooden windows. I was wondering if it was worth trying to redo them and after reading your post I am thinking it may be. I defiantly want to restore the mill windows and the putty or plaster or whatever it is that hold the window panels in have deteriorated and is cracking and fallin off. Is it possible to repair these? If so how? Are these featured in the book?

    1. Not sure who is receiving my reply. PLEASE HELP ! Refinishing 8 two pane doublehung windows. Can’t get window (as in frame) back in.

  24. We own a 1954 (well-constructed) brick ranch with 72 windows, mostly large picture windows with awning windows on the bottom. We recently replaced many of the all-wood windows throughout the home because painting the outside windows every few years was becoming difficult. We still have the original picture windows and bottom awning windows in the living/dining room and the family room below. We are trying to decide if we should have those replaced at a hefty cost, or try to sand down the awning windows on the sides and bottom so they close and then have them painted. We think the wood on the awning windows has probably swelled with age. Is sanding them down a good idea and then having them painted on the outside, or will that cause other problems?
    Thank you!

  25. My Question is my children put some sort of soap on the glass of my bookshelf. it was there for a while. when I washed it off it has dul marks on the glass is there a way to restore the glass???

  26. About the glass,
    we have some panes with old “wavy” glass that are cracked, sometimes the crack ends blindly in the middle of the glass and sometimes from edge to edge making 2 separate pieces.
    In a previous lifetime in the chem lab I/we would repair cracked pyrex by heating it up at the point of the crack and “refusing” the glass.
    Can that be done with window glass and a hand torch? Any other suggestions on using glue or sealant to salvage? Obviously other options are to replace with current glass or find “wavy” glass from an architectural salvage place, but I would hate to pay for a 2×3 ft piece of wavy glass because of a crack in the corner… (multiple times)
    Thanks

      1. Hi Scott, I just bought a 1915 house in Houston and would like to restore the double hung wooden sash windows that have been painted shut. They are still in good condition. I originally tried to find a company that restores them, but we only have two companies here in Houston that seem to be able to repair them. Both extremely busy and expensive – at least USD 1500 per window and I have a lot of windows.
        One of the companies recommended to leave the upper sash and most of the lower ones in place and just make two lower sashes per room operable. They also said that there was no need to strip the paint – even better to leave the old paint – and just paint over it after filling those portions where the paint had chipped off. They also wanted to leave the old putty and just put silicone over the old putty.

        To me this seems to be the wrong way to handle the windows:
        – Shouldn’t I try to make all the sashes – upper and lower operable?
        – What do you think about leaving the upper sash paint shut?
        – Shouldn’t the old putty be removed and replaced by new? Instead of siliconing it?
        – would you recommend to strip the old paint or should I just fill in where the old paint has chipped off and then paint over the old lead paint?

        After meeting the two companies I am considering to do the work myself, so have a couple of questions:
        – how long will it take per window? Freeing and removing the two sashes, removing putty, glazing points, and panes, stripping old paint, priming, reglazing, painting.
        – how do I handle the lead paint – I understand that sanding is dangerous. What happens when one uses the speed heater you are offering? Does the lead get into the fumes which one then would risk to inhale. Is the lead not set free by the heat? I have a garage where I could perform the works – how do I do it completely safely?
        – removing the putty seems to be a hard task and the company I asked warned that 20% of the panes would crack if they would try to remove the putty. Is that so? I am sure you know a way to avoid it?
        – i have couple of cracked panes – is there a place where one can order the old wavy glass and what is a fair price per sqft?

    1. Mike,
      I’d suggest going to a architectural salvage place and scouring it for old sashes with wavy glass, then remove the glass and take it to a glass place to have it cut. Unfortunately there is almost always a supply of old sashes nowadays. Old glass will clean up nicely if you use 0000 steel wool.
      Sam

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