Tuesday, August 8, 2023


I have a client couple in Windham County (often referred to "The Quiet Corner" in Connettykit) with a fine 1832 (or 1836, I don't remember) home containing some rather gnarly windows. The glass in the original upper six lite sashes is original and highly convoluted, and single lite the lower sashes are obvious replacements, probably added in the 1940s or 50s. My guess is that half the original sashes (would have been six lites like the top sashes, no one used single lites in those days) rotted and they moved the good ones to the tops before replacing the bottoms. I know this because after pulling the first two sashes I noticed that one of the uppers has a bevel on its bottom rail (now turned upside down to be the top rail), indicating that it was a bottom sash at one time.

Note the extreme overglazing of uneven putty

I'll be featuring a big post soon on the restoration of one of the upper sashes done step by step so you straights will know just how much work goes into this process. Like the Colonial job below doesn't show that; but I didn't get into a few techniques I often use in that post and will in the next.

Oh my, someone went to town with the putty knife AND the caulk gun...

In the meantime, here's a comparison of old to new. The newly restored sashes shine so well because I convinced the clients to pull their storm sashes, clean the tracks of dead bugs and cocoons, clean the glass, dry lube the tracks, and replace the sashes. That makes it look like there is no glass in it at all. Sanding, painting and reglazing the putty helps a little, too.

Actually not the same window, but in the same room and a twin of the gnarly one above, which is next to be done of the sixteen sets they have. Even the finger pull at the bottom of the lower sash is beautiful. It's copper, and I was careful to remove layers of paint with a split of ipe wood, which is extremely hard and won't scratch the soft metal.

Windows are mechanical devices, people, and must be maintained to work well. It's hard to believe how much more efficient your storms can be if you restore them by merely cleaning them. 

I also do this if you pay me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023


   This sash lock was one of ten that accompanied the full restoration of the same number of openings from an 1899 home in Fairfield. The lock is, typically, composed of  a latch and a keeper. The keeper here is apparently made to look like a cresting wave, which was unidentifiable as such until I stripped the old paint from the mechanism. Many locks that I encounter in restoration of windows are so encrusted with ancient paint that they don't even operate. Keep in mind that almost ALL are coated with many layers of lead paint, and that each time the lock is used (if they operate at all), a tiny amount of lead paint is released as dust or flakes.

The safe way to strip one of these is to use a razor knife to clear the screw slots (use a HEPA vacuum and wear a mask while doing even this small task), remove the screws and lock, and strip them all with citrus stripper. Covering the pieces with  clear kitchen-type food wrap keeps the stripper moist and allows it to do a better job. After a day or so, immerse the latch and keeper into a bucket of water and scrub with a small brass-bristle or plastic brush to remove the stripper and softened paint. Sometimes a second soaking in stripper is needed. Once dry, I use a grinder with a wire wheel to remove any dried residue (and yes, I have a vac attachment nearby to suck up even this much lead paint residue). If the hardware is brass (and it is usually steel), care must be taken not to scratch it and less abrasive tools should be used or you will need to re-polish the surface.

If it is steel, it will rust, so either coat it with a clear coating or spray it with a rustproof paint.

Friday, March 3, 2023


The owner of a magnificent 18th century farm near the Mystic River in Connecticut had some broken panes in one of his workshop windows, and I gave him the option of simply replacing the panes with some antique glass (I have a lot of this) or doing a full restoration of both sashes. They were glazed with a mix of putty and caulk, had about fourteen pounds of roughly applied paint on them, and hadn't operated in years.
He chose full restoration. This is how that's done.

 A bit rough from the inside as well.

The first task is to remove the sash. Almost all upper sashes in a double-hung overhead system like this have been painted shut for years. Back in the goodle days, the upper sash often operated to allow warmer air to escape in the warmer months. This set of sashes, being Colonial, are different from more modern (19th and 20th century) sashes. The upper was non-operational from the beginning. This being a small shed/workshop, the upper air circulation was deemed unnecessary. Plus it's Connecticut, where the cold is more of a factor in how windows operate.
Needles to say, I used my trusty multitool to cut the sashes from the casement, then put plywood panels in to keep out the rain, birds and wayward hobos looking for an overnight. Actually there are none of those at this farm.

Once on the operating table in the Stripping Shop, I gently scraped the sash to reveal the structural repairs I'd need to do. If the corners have begun to separate, I screw thin plywood gussets to them to reinforce them while doing paint removal. This saves the wood as well as the glass, and some of the glass in these windows was Crown, a hand-blown early Colonial glass that is nearly irreplaceable. It has much more distortion that later antique glass, with more bubbles, streaks, and often a potato-chip shape that makes it impossible to cut without breaking. I handle it with utmost care; removing any metal points can be problematic and is performed as surgery. This window had small square nails holding in the glass, and it took some care to get the rusty buggers out. But I didn't crack any panes. 

The exterior showed a lot of the putty had fallen out and had been replaced by caulk, a common practice that works, but looks horrible, making the thin muntins (crossbars) look clunky and uneven. But it did save these windows from disintegration.

After steaming

The sash are examined in the stripping shop, and loose glass is removed so it won't break during the handling of the windows. The glass panes are numbered with a Sharpie from one to whatever in a clockwise pattern from top to bottom. Sharpie ink, once allowed to dry, is quite resilient through the steaming process. It is easily removed by rubbing with  mineral spirits soaked cloth once set back in place.
Why number these panes? Aren't they all the same?
Slight differences in the original cutting of the glass and warping of the wood over years makes it necessary to mount the glass EXACTLY as it was removed from the same positions.
It takes several steamings in a big wood box specifically made for such a purpose to get the putty soft and to remove the glass. Then the flat surfaces of the rails and stiles (they are the frame of the sash) can be scraped of lead paint. I use Swedish steel scrapers, one of which can be seen in the picture. They are sharp enough to remove the softened paint without gouging the wood.

But even using my fingers to remove the old paint from the muntins, the ancient white pine gets fibrous and begins to lose its profile, made in a water powered mill three centuries before.

Strips of acrylic caulk removed from the upper sash.
This is no way to glaze a window pane...

S'not easy to remove, even with steaming the sash. Sticks like glue. I have to be careful using steel tools around the thin putty rails, lest I damage them. It's like surgery in a wrestling match. The window cools as it is pulled from the steamer and you have to be vewwy vewwy careful as you remove the putty. Single edge razor blades are my friends.
Note the small nail in the upper pane. Not exactly the way we pro-fesh-un-ulls would do it.

After removing the panes and scraping the flat parts of the sash, I hang them to dry.
There is only so much I can do to scrape a window while it is wet, right out of the steamer. Wet scraping must be done with kid gloves, even though it needs to be done quickly, while the sash is warm and the putty and paint are soft. Care must be taken, and I'm constantly observing whether the wood fibers start to pull away as I scrape. Despite the extremely sharp Swedish steel of my scraper, the direction of the wood grain is the guide to which direction you must scrape. Otherwise you turn the wood into fuzz.
Once dry, the paint has crystallized and can be carefully scraped and sanded. Yes, I use HEPA vacuums and wear a respirator and protective clothing.

After the sash dries, I dry scrape the entire thing. The scrapers must be extremely sharp to remove crystallized paint and not gouge the wood of the stiles (sides) and rails (top and bottom). I use softer steel and even extremely hard wood tools to remove the paint on the muntins, and you'll see why in the next pic.

The ancient white pine of this nearly 300 year old sash is quite friable, and so fuzzed up heavily, therefore I did only as much removal as necessary. It would take some careful sanding to restore the muntins and remove the fuzz.
 If you look carefully, you can see that the tiny square bead on the top of the muntin has been previously sanded, leaving the center of the bead almost invisible and the ends that are in contact with the rail and next muntin nearly as intact as it was when milled. 
This will be seen throughout this particular project, as the age and soft wood combine with the many times this window sash has been repainted.
It takes a light hand to deal with muntins. They are fragile. and white pine is very, very soft.


The trick is to use finer and finer grits of sand paper. I usually begin with 80 grit, step up to 120, then finish it out with 150, The higher the number, the finer the sandpaper and the smoother the surface becomes.
But this window started with 120 and ended at 220, then was rubbed down with green Scotchbrite. The former removes most of the fuzz, the latter smooths the surfaces and corners without dulling the profiles.

This is my favorite feature of this job.
Yankee craftsmen, especially backinnagoodledays, never threw anything away, and I am (as many of my friends and colleagues know), cut from the same cloth. I don't hoard; I reuse and save that which I know will come in handy in future jobs or tasks or whatnot.
The craftsman that built this sash is my hero.
Most other woodworkers would have thrown away the split of wood that was to make up the bottom rail of this sash. It had a very serious KNOT in it, and so would interfere with the sash's ability to not warp as well as causing a weak spot that would cause it to break in the future.
Not this craftsman, and not this flitch of wood.
Whoever it was, by chance or by intention (I suspect the latter), not only chose this piece intentionally but placed the knot EXACTLY WHERE IT WOULD DO THE MOST GOOD.
Most knots cause problems and are stuck fast in a piece of wood, but I suspect this one was loose, fell out, and left a nearly perfect opening that, when squared up, would accept the end of the muntin (a tenon) easily. And it would hold that muntin for a long, long, time. 
Keep in mind that none of these windows' joints used glue; they relied on the craftsman's ability to JOIN them well, Peg them properly and let the GLASS do the structural work once puttied in. That's how windows work.
But to use a knot as a structural device???
Genius. Pure genius.
Or, as we say in Connetykit,
'Makes sense and saves a board."

Once a coat of oil based primer is applied to the slightly fuzzy wood, a miracle happens!

The wood is just as fuzzy as before.
But the wood FIBERS are now hardened with the absorption of the oil based paint. A few wipes with 220 grit sandpaper and a swipe or two of Scotchbrite, and the sashes, including rails, stiles, muntins, and milled profiles, are smooth as can be. Sometimes a second coat of primer is applied, but this is seldom necessary.

One note to readers. 
It is before the primer is applied that I do the repairs, and these sashes needed a few new pieces of wood added where the old had become desiccated, rotted, or split out. That subject is for another post upon which I am working. Keep your eye out in the next week or two.

Smoothie McSmoothface.

Rails and stiles with pits from weathering are filled with a sandable mix we call MH, named after the company that makes it. Any good hardware store has it. It's a mix of powdered nepheline syenite (a type of feldspar) and benzene.
Work it quick, smooth it with a thin blade and don't breathe the fumes!
Then sand it smooth and prime it.
Caulks and fillers should always be applied AFTER the primer has been applied. Otherwise the raw wood, being thirsty, will absorb the vehicle (the oil or water, depending on the application) too quickly and the filler or caulk will shrink prematurely.
I'll bet you folks have seen this happen, too.
A slight touch-up with primer is a good idea where the caulk or filler has been applied
After they dry, of course.

This particular window was restored during a severe cold snap in southern Connecticut, and I planned for this by bringing in a lot of semi-dry wood for the wood stove. Paint doesn't set well below 40 degrees, and we had two nights at 7 below.
What you're seeing here is a bunch of wood splits drying on the wood stove itself. 
Do not try this at home. I was there working in the shop to take the splits, turn them, and remove them so they didn't smolder while drying on the stove.

I only burned down the shop twice after doing this.

One of the advantages of having a wood stove is that my window sashes dry rather quickly when hung above it. 
This is particularly useful during a 7 below cold snap.
Such as in this picture. Note that the propane heater, only used before the wood stove reaches Hotness, is dark.

Chunks of candlewood ready to split into...splits.

One of the advantages of being an antique woodworker (yes, I'm old, but here I refer to the wood, like duhr) is that my collection of sappy longleaf pine is available to cut into tiny splits that start fires in my wood stove by merely breathing on them after a good night's snort.
No, NO!
That was last night. By breath is no longer flammable this morning. I use a MAP gas cylinder and a hose with a lighter/torch to apply flame to the naturally turpentine-soaked wood. It nearly explodes before I load the tiny fire with more heart pine flitches and cutoff wood. The kindling and smallwood then follows, and by the time I'm ready to go to bed, I can put a number of large logs into the stove.

No, I jest. In an hour I can turn off the propane heater and let the stove do it's thing.
I often have to open the shop door, even on cold days. And my ceiling is 1/5 insulated. Wait til next year, they'll find me as a crispy critter in my shop!
What a way to go...

Non-sap impregnated heart pine that will take the candlewood to heights.
Each piece comes from old growth longleaf pine that was milled a hundred fifty years ago and was a seedling when the Spanish conquistadors roamed the south. These particular pieces are small and not worthy of milling into beautiful objects. I have plenty of THAT kind of antique pine and don't burn it, except as cutoffs.

Even after the primer, the Great Knot of Mystic River still shines.

How's about some professional controversy, Scarecrow?

At this point, the professional window restoration  technician should backbed the already-cleaned original panes with the same putty to be used in glazing the window. This will fill the gaps between the glass and the wood of the window. The glass is pressed down into the putty and all is weatherproof, waterproof, and right with the world.
But this particular window contained original mid-1700s glass, some of it Crown glass. Crown is very thin, very convoluted, and very rare. It was hand-blown and spun. Named for the fact that it came in small panes from England in Colonial times, it was used as ballast on square-rigged ships that also brought Colonists and trade goods to the Colonies. This was the only glass available to the Colonists, and as good ol' King George (choose one) needed money for  his constant wars against France or Spain (choose one), he taxed glass to the ceiling. If you think tea taxes and the Stamp Act led to revolution, you are dead wrong. It was the Glass Tax.
But I digress, and that usually smells bad. Most people leave the room.

The problem with early Colonial glass and Crown glass in particular, is that it is often curved, sometimes called 'potato chip' glass due to its opposite curves from end to end, resembling a potato chip.
This makes the glass pane difficult to set. And Impossible to Cut.
I would normally backbed my glass in a thin line of Sarco Type "M", my favorite glazing putty, then use trimmed push points or diamond points from an antique Red Devil Point Gun to hold the glass to the wood. But the older the glass, the more likely it is to break when you use metal points to hold the pane in place.
The solution is to bed the thin, curved glass in an adhesive caulk, and I choose one that is a vinyl caulk that hardens. This way I can let it set, trim off the excess with a number of razor tools, and not worry about breaking antique glass. 
Which is the Ultimate Sin in restoring antique windows.

I carefully apply this caulk only to the edge of the muntin so that it does not squeeze through to the side that gets the glazing putty. That way I can apply the putty even if the caulk does not dry after the first 24 hours, which is likely in the Connecticut winter. But 2 days later, I can trim it so close that no one knows it's there.
Don't tell.
It takes some very careful pressing down on the very thin glass pane to achieve the proper backbed, but it WORKS.

See? After pressing.
Note the distortion of the light reflection. Pane 3 is flat glass, pane 2 is Colonial glass. Wavy, bubbly, and warped.
Kind of like me.

Windows made in the 1700s have been sanded and painted many times, and only a restoration tech knows the history of that window, and that only after that tech puts it to rights.
For instance, in the picture above, it is obvious that someone (many someones) in the past sanded the thin putty rail so heavily that it has curved downwards in the middle. This makes it really hard to apply putty in a straight line.

The curves in the stiles don't help, either.

A really good view of the oversanded putty rails. And that what awaits them.

Jump ahead to after putty work is done.
You'll have to wait until next time for a lesson in puttying, and trust me, it took me decades to get it right.
I deserve a reward.
This is simply the best Pinot Noir I've ever had. Mix it with small chunks of good English Stilton, and the travails of the window shop melt away.
Nothing like Willamette Valley.
Pronounced wil-Amett, you cretins.

After installation (and having made it operable for the first time in decades), the window on the right is the finished product, the left, the (hopefully) next to restore. Right looked like left when this thing started.


Actually the twin window to the south. But you get the picture.

And I'm still not satisfied with it.
The sill was scraped, primed, and the casement is set up for restoration when the weather warms. This was all done in early February in New England. Warmest winter ever.

Yet to be restored

Oh, yeah.
Dat's da ticket.

Looking out to my ancient 1985 van, the overly-sanded muntin tops show their age. and how smooth they have become.
Ready to face another hundred years.
As long as they are maintained.

A final shot of my favorite knot.
Even with a primer coat and two topcoats, it still shows the intent of an ancient craftsman.
Like me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022



 In 1999 an F3 tornado ripped through the Governor's Mansion and MacArthur park Historic Districts in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, and I became a very busy restoration tech.

                actually another tornado I photographed ten years later in Mayflower, Arkansas

It also ripped through non-historic neighborhoods but I didn't work there.

When the dust settled, I ended up in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I guess my wife decided to spend what money I'd made that year on a Cabin in the Woods.

What happened afterward was that I got used to doing some very interesting and strange jobs; nothing like what I'd done in Little Rock.

Here's one.

When one of the  Library Ladies called me about a leak, I met her and saw a huge dark stain on the plaster of the front wall of the Carnegie Library, one of the finest buildings in Eureka Springs. And since Eureka is filled with fine stone buildings, that's saying a lot. Eureka Springs looks like a mix of San Francisco, the Ozark Mountains, and Disneyland. Or maybe it doesn't; you'd have to go there to see. Built around many springs that flow from the Ozark Limestone, it has no streets meeting at right angles, no flat surfaces, and no traffic lights. The Basin Park Hotel has at least eight floors, and each one is a ground floor. That's how steep this town is. It sports about two thousand residents, many of which live out in the County and not in the city. And a city it is, as is evidenced by the fine restaurants and art galleries and the fact that it swells to 60,000 tourists on a big weekend in summer or fall.

But the Carnegie had a major leak and the plaster was stained and disintegrating.

Carnegie Free Library, one of many Andy Carnegie built around the nation

"We don't understand where it comes from!" the Library Ladies chimed.

"Of course you don't, " I soothed . "You're Library Ladies. Your job is to educate and guide. I'm the Old House Doctor. Let me get my stethoscope."

One of the loveliest of the Library Ladies looking disappointed when she found out I was married. Not really, but I wisht it was!

I didn't need a stethoscope; I'd already seen the downspout on the other side of the wall, just outside where the leak was. I surmised it was clogged, and it needed cleaning.

But, but, BUT!

Once I got up on the roof, I found a very different problem for which a solution had to be invented.

This building has interior gutters, or box gutters. That means they can't be seen from the street or down below and are behind the front wood trim. This also means that when they leak, they can to a TON of damage because the water comes through the trim, down the inside walls, and leaves a trail of destruction wherever it goes.

And though I don't remember how I got to the top. I certainly remember what I found.

In addition to the leak, there was a hideous monster living in the downspout.

Then the work started in earnest.

It took some time to  cut away all the hardened tar from this downspout flange, and when I did, I discovered that the flange had originally been secured to the steel gutter metal with molten lead, a common practice in the late 1800s and early 1900s. But years of neglect caused water to gather there, likely in a pile of wet leaves. The neglect was undoubtedly caused by the nearly inaccessible roof and the fact that it is a city property. Municipalities don't pay as much attention to these things as private individuals; there are simply too many levels of responsibility, so small things are forgotten.
The water deteriorated the steel on the edges of the lead flange, and hot tar was poured on top of it, sealing it for a short amount of time before separating and allowing water to come underneath, accelerating the rusting process.
After removing the old tar and debris, I came up with a plan to rebuild the gutter/flange connection. The first task was to cut out the rusted sections, which I did with a grinder and cutoff wheel.

To add to the problems, there was silicone spread on the flange above a cast-iron elbow below (the rusted thing below the lead). Cast iron rusts very quickly and silicone is the bane of repair techs. It separates easily and where it sticks it is a bitch to remove.
And then there was the hideous monster living in the hole.

The hideous monster! A vacuum cleaner hose or some such nonsense was siliconed along the flange. Well, at least it restricted water from getting down the downspout. Great plan.
Apparently the building had an erection in 1910. And this before Viagra!

Once the rusted metal and silicone was cut away, I coated all old metal surfaces with silica glycol, a rust preventative and reformer. It actually converts light rust back into inert steel and is an amazing product. Rustoleum sell it as Rust Reformer. I did this to the cast iron elbow below the lead flange, then coated the joint with polyurethane caulk. This type of caulk is so sticky, waterproof, and elastic that even after the library falls down in 300 years there will still be a ring of poly caulk hovering in midair.
The wood that makes up the structure of the gutter was surprisingly intact. There was no reason to remove the lead flange; lead is a Forever element and stays stuck for eternity.

Just before I vacuumed out the debris and coated the wood with an epoxy consolidant to preserve it.

The first section of galvanized sheet steel being installed. It would take a number of pieces, and each would be set in a thick bead of polyurethane caulk, then riveted into original steel where it was intact.
If you look above my knee to the left, you can see a section of original sheet steel on the small parapet below has been removed, then overlaid with new steel. This allowed me to examine the rest of the cast iron downspout below to make sure no other joints were leaking. Once everything proved to be intact, I installed another piece of galvanized sheet steel over it, bedded it in poly caulk, and screwed it down. I used screws instead of  rivets in case someone needed to access it in the future. Of course, getting it away from the poly caulk might prove problematic.

I was able to use steel rivets to install the new steel to the gutter bottom, but the sides of the gutter proved to be a problem. The wood frame was too close, and the rivets didn't pull the two pieces together properly. I decided to use steel screws, but the gutter width was simply too narrow to put my drill in position to drive the screws.
But I am made of sterner stuff than that; I cut a small nailset in half, clamped it in a  set of Vice-Grips, and somehow managed to tap it with the side of my hammer until it drove through the  metal flange and side of the gutter. I brought out a squatty Phillips screwdriver and set the screws, metal, and polyurethane caulk together.
Just call me Dr. Smartypants.

Last piece going in.

My worksite, including tools. Note the lacquer thinner. I use this to clean the polyurethane from surfaces and from my fingers. This caulk will turn your fingers black if you don't remove it before it cures.

Victory! The Library Ladies watched for the next few months and admitted the water leak was gone. I didn't do the interior repair, it was done by someone from the City.

But my efforts were celebrated far and wide with much rousing ha-ha and glib repartee.
Well, at least this library patron was friendly, giving the picture (and my parapet patch) perspective.

Sealing the entire patch with several layers of a thick acrylic waterproofing compound similar to what is used in concrete swimming pools, I topped it with a wire mesh that would keep out the bigger items but allow smaller stuff to flush through. It IS a 4 inch pipe after all, and few people will be up here to clean it, if I don't miss my guess.

  BEFORE AND AFTER PREVIEW I have a client couple in Windham County (often referred to "The Quiet Corner" in Connettykit) with a f...