Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Freedom from Windows

DSC_0036No, I did not buy a Macbook. In what is rapidly becoming a July 4th weekend tradition, I have liberated our home from the shackles that prevented birds, flies and hot air from entering it: a window. Exactly one year ago, I demolished the bathroom, creating the cavernous hole you see at left. That hole remained a fixture (or a void) in my life for some time, a testament to the truism that there is no construction project that cannot be dramatically underestimated in ways that you never dreamed possible.

In the case of the bathroom, my original estimate was something like 4 days. It took six months. Eh, I blame the economy. For 2010's reprise, my substantially lowered expectations for the long weekend were to restore a single double-hung window.

The window in question was directly adjacent to the bathroom window, and is (was) by far the worst-off window in my house. The upper sash was badly rotted and needed to be rebuilt. One of the panes was broken and held together with duct tape, barely. The lower sash was OK but also needed some help. The exterior window sill was also a goner, but I'd already made and finished a new one, so that didn't worry me.

Unfortunately, the frame itself turned out to be in pretty bad shape, too. As I started deconstructing things to get the sashes out, I realized that it was probably going to be easier just to completely rebuild the old frame.

After three days of weekend work, and three trips to Strosniders related to my incompetence in handling 32" x 18" pieces of glass, I just about finished restoring the sashes. That involved:

  • removing all the old window glazing and broken glass
  • masterfully removing the 3 intact panes from the decrepit frame, intact
  • stripping off all the old paint and varnish, scraping, sanding, cleaning
  • crafting a piece of wood to replace the rotted part of the upper sash, which required about 6 passes on the table saw, a router, a miter saw, some drilling, hand chiseling, and filing to reproduce it
  • removing the old rotted piece without damaging the rest of the frame, and installing the new replica, which miraculously seemed to fit properly
  • Repairing some other rotted parts of the frame with Bondo, which I left out and N. discovered later (she referred to it as "weird grey putty smelling up the house")
  • succesively breaking each one of the 3 original panes while trying to reinstall them, and, finally,
  • reglazing the four new panes in a quasi-professional manner.

This is not my window frame.
But it's about what I was dealing with.
That took, basically, 3 half-assed days of work. That is to say, I did stuff other than just work on this over the weekend. But that is, I hope, the hard part. What is left is reconstructing the frame itself.

The frame, luckily, is not quite the precision piece of woodworking that the sashes are. However, nor is it slapping a couple boards together, either. It needs to be reasonably precise in order that the windows work well, and to construct it properly involves making grooves into 6' long pieces of wood. Into these grooves will go the strips of wood against which the windows slide.

For this trick I will need to use a tool called a stacked dado set on my table saw, which I have never done before. I've cut grooves using a router in the past, but my experience with the router for such long grooves as this is that I will screw it up 3 times for every one I get right. So, a new tool: the dado set. This, my friends, I will be attempting over the next two nights. If I do not succeed at this, I will be installing a piece of plywood in the window, as I am going away this weekend.

When this is done, you will know the answer to whether a carpenter of moderate skills is capable of rebuilding an antique window frame. I have never met my match before on this old house, so I am optimistic, though I am sure it will come with much cursing and several trips to Home Depot to buy more pieces of wood.


Unknown said...

It's good to have a talented son! Dad

Jamie, you must have the patience of Job! We look forward to seeing the window in the flesh in November.

Unknown said...

It's good to have a talented son! Dad

Jamie, you must have the patience of Job! We look forward to seeing the window in the flesh in November.

Alex said...

I am extremely impressed that you actually rebuilt a window, rather than buying something prefab and sticking it in there.

Just failed on the captcha for the 4th time :(

Jamie said...

I am reserving judgment on my own abilities to do this until it's done :) But so far seems to be going pretty well, I got most of the frame pieces set up yesterday.

N. painting and staining last night while I was carpentering so things seem to be moving right along, though physical limitations of paint drying may prevent this from getting done before the weekend.