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How To Restore Old Windows

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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231 thoughts on “How To Restore Old Windows

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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!!!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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???

  10. 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

  11. I just purchased a 1920 Colonial 3 bedroom in East Rutherford, NJ. I have all wood windows and the insides were never painted. I am about to start my window renovation and read your book Old Windows Made Easy. It says to paint both exterior and interior after sanding and to lap the glass which I understand. But what if I want to keep my interiors unpainted and stain instead? Do I lap the glass with the shellac or some other finish? Or is it okay not to? Thanks

  12. Hello all-I want to putty my windows and am having a hard time deciding how to go about it. I have some Sarco Dual Glaze so I have options as far as doing it in situ or taking the sashes out and laying them flat. I did a little last fall just leaving them in place and it went okay but since I’m just learning how to putty windows it doesn’t look great. No big deal there….I would really like to do more of a full resto but that’s another discussion. I guess what I’m wondering about is this-what do people who are working on their windows in a house in which they are living do when they take out the windows to keep out the elements? Use plywood to cover the openings or what? And as a complete novice at this is it really going to make that much difference for me if I take them out to putty? It sure seems like it would be easier, plus I would like to strip the old paint down and really do it right. That’s not to mention what I would like to work on from the inside (we are talking about casement windows here, so the crank mechanisms, etc). Any ideas for me?

    1. Yes, people can use plywood, I use “carriage bolts” going through the plywood on the outside, with the washer and nut on the inside through a piece of wood straddling the frame.

      Daughter with the fine motor skills is doing the glazing on the project. We have many “windows” that are part of a French-window style “gardenroom/conservatory” that don’t come out unless one wants to cut through framing nails, etc. She spent time practicing on an old window that we hung vertically, in preparation of the task itself.
      YouTube instructional videos by this guy Scott Sidler and his team were very helpful.

      1. Thanks Mike. Yeah, I also “practiced” a bit myself last fall. I used my back storm door for my practice windows. It was a little disheartening that it looks better than the subsequent windows I worked on but, oh well. I did the bottom part of the sashes on a few of our windows to get a feel for it as well as try to prevent the condensation buildup we see in the winter.
        BTW- who is this Scott Sidler guy you speak of haha?

  13. Has anyone seen glazing compound “pre-formed”, like rope caulk? Either flat for bedding, and /or angled? I’m sorry, but while I am happy to strip down windows and trim for restoration, I lose too much time and patience trying to make the glazing live up to the work involved in restoring the window,
    especially with “French-style” panels that are difficult to remove and have a pro do it.
    Thanks…
    I may just have to find a pro to come out and do them in mass after I have prepared them.

    1. Mike, I’ve seen a product out there with preformed foam to look like putty, but I didn’t believe it would actually last. If the putty drives you nuts then bringing them to a glazier might be a good way to go. The price wouldn’t likely be too much for just glazing and I know there are some folks locally to you in Philly.

      1. Can you give me specific recommendations on who to contact?
        Do you still do “virtual consultations”, and if so, what is the rate/procedure?
        Thanks as always

  14. I have an old window I want to use as a picture frame. We took all of the original glass out of it since the putty was dried and crumbling. Now I want to put them back in but I’m not sure what to use. The point things that hold them in are still there, but I’m pretty sure they won’t hold the glass securely. I would appreciate any ideas. Thanks!

    1. Jenny, remove the old points and set the new glass in place then install new points. Use at least 1 on each side and 1 for every extra 12″ of length along the glass. They’ll hold just fine!

  15. We have a room off of the living room that is french door style windows (1895 Queen Anne), in groupings of 4 panels. The 2 center panels have visible latches and hinges, then on either side is a panel that looks like it is intended to be removed from the frame as well. (there is what looks like a space between the outside edge of the sash and the interior of the frame.) Is this just the way it was constructed? were they meant to be replaced with panels with screens in the summer? they were not functional when we bought the house, now that we are redoing them, I’m wondering if we should “leave them painted shut” or open them and rehab the working edges as well. (No, I don’t have $$ for a pro and have too much work still to do on the house for unnecessary unforeseen [mis]adventures…)
    I have pictures
    thanks

  16. Hi Scott. I have bought a 1942 house and I love the large windows. The problem is I know nothing about windows and everyone wants me to replace them. These windows had pulleys attached with string to hold them up. Really strange because I don’t think they have a sash or the part that windows fit in to go up and down, just wood. Can they be repaired? Or should I replace?

  17. I have restored about 20 Windows and a million to go. I have your book and it is a great resource. A new problem I have not seen. The paint on some of the glazing seems to be bubbling up or wrinkling up.
    I prime the window with oil and my second coat is a latex exterior paint-good quality. I do not prime the glazing just paint two coats with latex. I am seeing the bubbling early-like at 4-6 weeks.
    The glazing is M type as you recc. I had been using dual glaze but switched to M type recently.
    The glaze was painted at little bit over 2 weeks and I thought was skinned over well.
    I do remove the paint on my Windows with a steam box. Is this a moisture issue.
    let me know your thoughts when you get time.

    1. Michelle, there are a few reasons you may get the bubbling or wrinkling paint on top of putty.
      1) The skin on the putty may not be significant enough yet for paint. Solution: Wait a little longer before painting.
      2) The paint may have been subject to stressed while drying like rain or dew, direct sunlight, etc. Solution: Paint out of direct sunlight and when protected from rain for at least 24 hrs if possible.
      3. Not enough time between coats of paint. Solution: Make sure you wait the manufacturer’s recommended time before applying a second coat not just until it’s dry to the touch.
      Despite this I have had it happen occasionally and it usually lays back down properly in a little time. If it starts to peel then you may need to re paint though. Hope that helps!

  18. Great resource! I also found this article, about increasing energy efficiency in homes with older windows, helpful:

  19. the double hung windows in a 1955 house, are not weighted nor sash cords. Instead the jam is metal sliding up and down and has screw in jam. which I will assume is a tension screw??
    can not open windows, some I open and will not stay up??

    1. Tish, likely the balance system is something call an “invisible sash balance”. Replacements are still available today from Strybuc. They are pretty difficult to work with but can be restored to operability with some patience.

      1. Scott-
        Does your ebook include instructions on working with the metal jambs? I like doing things myself and enjoy new projects but have no experience in working with windows. Our son recently purchased a small 1950s home and I would like to try to repair/restore the windows but am starting from ground zero in terms of both assessing whether is it feasible and whether/how I can actually do it successfully. The jamb is definitely metal because it is the first time I’ve seen that with wood windows

        Thanks

        1. It does, but I believe Dave Bowers at Olde Window Restorer has some videos on the topic that might help. We run into so little I haven’t thought to include it, but I might add a post on it soon to see if I can help.

  20. Hey Scott, thanks again for all the great info on your site and in you book. It’s been invaluable in the process of restoring 26 100 year old windows at my place. I recently opened up another bank of 3 windows on the back of the house and found that the middle set of sashes have no pulleys or cords. I guess these are single hung? (Not “hung” at all really) The upper sash was secured in place with two large nails driven into the jam. It looks like they were bent over and then the sash was forced past them. The sash would then have stayed put due to friction against the nails and a solid paint seal. I don’t need for this sash to be operable, but can you recommend a more elegant solution for fixing it in place now that it’s all prettied up again? Thanks!

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