Learning to restring old windows is a pretty straight forward task that any DIYer can tackle to get their old windows working again. Personally, there is nothing that irks me more than living in an old house where I can’t open any of my windows. It feels downright claustrophobic. So, if you have a bunch of cut or missing sash cords on your old motionless windows, you can get these windows working again in about an hour.
Old historic windows are architecturally beautiful, and when restored properly, operate more easily than modern replacement windows. But, the best feature of historic windows is that they are not designed to become obsolete.
They will last centuries with proper maintenance, which is honestly very minimal. If your windows are also painted shut, check out my post How To: Open Stuck Windows in 4 Easy Steps before you attempt to restring.
Tools You’ll Need
Tip: If only one rope is broken/missing, remove the stop on the side of the broken/missing rope.
Bottom sash – Start by removing the stop on one side of the inside of the window. You’ll only need to remove one side to get the sash out. The stop is the trim piece that keeps the bottom sash in the proper line. To remove the stop, you’ll want to score the paint between the window casing and stop and then slow use you putty knife to pry the stop free. Once the stop is removed, you should be able to remove the bottom sash. With the bottom sash off, you can now remove any remnants of the old ropes on it’s sides.
Step #2 Remove the Parting Bead
Caution! If your top sash is not strung up anymore when you cut the paint free and remove the parting bead, it can come crashing down. Make sure it is carefully supported.
Top sash – If you need to restring a top sash, you’ll need to remove the parting bead on one side as well. This piece holds the top sash in place and is usually not nailed in place, though it will likely have a dozen or so coats of paint holding it in place. Score the parting bead just like the stop and slowly try to pry it out using the putty knife, or pliers if necessary.
Once you have the sashes, stop, and parting bead out, you can access the sash weights via the access door. This door will be hiding on the sides of the window casing toward the bottom where the parting bead was, and will have one or two painted over screws that, when removed, will allow you to access the weights. With the door removed, you’ll have to carefully fish around in there to find your old iron weights. Occasionally, someone will have replaced the weights with insulation. In that case, you’ll have to search salvage yards for replacements weights.
After you get the weights located, feed a new length of rope through the pulley at the top down into the weight pocket until it reaches the weights. Then, thread the rope through the eyelet on the top of the weight and tie it off with a Bow knot.
To determine the proper length of the rope, measure so that if the sash was in its upmost position, the weights would still be suspended and not resting on the bottom. Once you have your rope cut, tie a double knot that fits into the circular hole on the side of the sash. The rest of the length of rope will fit inside the channel above that circle. You can add a nail here to secure it or some people leave it as is. If you do use a nail, make sure it is fully inside the hole and not long enough to protrude into the glass. Don’t forget to do both sides, and be careful supporting the sash while trying to attach the rope that the weights don’t come crashing down if you suddenly lose your grip.
Reassembling the window has to be done in a specific order and so here it is:
- Attach the top sash
- Reinstall the parting bead (this is easiest if the top sash is all the way down)
- Attach the bottom sash
- Reinstall the window stop (use a few finish nails or a brad nailer to do this)
Once everything is in again, test your windows to make sure everything is working smoothly. Open and close both sashes all the way to make sure you have the proper length sash cords and that the window stops are not to tight. There you have it! Enjoy your windows and share some pictures with us when you’ve finished.
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.