Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Windows - Getting the Paint Off

I have two goals in restoring my vintage windows. First, I want well functioning windows. Secondly, I am slowly removing the old lead paint from the woodwork in my house and the windows carry about 75% of that old paint.

I made the decision early on in this project (and my house for that matter) that I wasn't going to rush. I'm in no big hurry and I want to take my time so it doesn't become a nightmare that scars me (and the house) for life. I also decided that I want to work on these windows once and that's it. So, I'm telling you now, my methods are not always the most efficient. In my last post, I included photos of what some of my windows looked like in the beginning.

It's pretty straightforward removing sashes from the window frame. In casements, obviously you just unscrew the hinges. In the double hung windows, you need to gently pry off the interior stop (trim piece that holds in the sash). If it's painted on, I first take a utility knife and run it down the seam where the interior trim meets the windows frame. Then I use a putty knife to pry up the stop pieces. I've been saving my stop trim pieces, but it's not the end of the world if they snap. Many profiles of replacement stop can be found at the big box stores.

I work on one sash at a time. Once the trim is off, you can swing out the bottom sash while it is still attached to the side ropes. The rope has a knot on the end (and sometimes a small nail) to keep it in a small little cave on the side of the sash. I tie a stick to the end of the rope after I pull it off of the sash to prevent the pulley weight from sliding back down into it's hole and the old rope will be helpful later.

I've been filling in the missing sash space with a piece of plywood and attaching it on the interior while I work on the sash. I also have permanently attached storms which help when working on the windows.

For the most part, I work on stripping the paint from the windows outside or with the windows wide open. The first thing I do is remove the old, wavy glass from the sashes. Don't panic, I reinstall it later. If I'm lucky I can use a dental pick, razor blades....and whatever else to pull off the old putty and very, very carefully pull out the old glass. This is a painstaking process and takes a lot of time. You can't rush it.

If the old putty won't budge, I put some heat reflective tape (find it in the plumbing dept.) on the glass next to the putty and then use my heat gun on low setting to gently heat the putty. Sometimes I can get it to crumble with the heat. If that fails, I brush a little stripper on the putty and let it work for a while. Sometimes I can get the putty to melt with the stripper. Just a tiny warning - some strippers can etch old glass, so you want to be very careful.

Removing the glass is almost always hellish. There will be a point while you are removing the glass where you will seriously consider giving up your will to live. When this happens, go take a little nap and know that you are about halfway done.

Once the glass is out, I very carefully label it and set it aside. My upper sashes have three panels and I learned my lesson the hard way - the glass is cut for one specific space and labeling the glass makes it easy to put it back where it belongs. Just remember, the old glass is pretty fragile. If it breaks don't kick yourself too much. Buy some replacement glass and move on.

Next I take off the hardware, put it into a baggie and set it aside. Trust me on the baggie.

I use a heat gun & putty knife to remove the bulk of the paint on the wood sash frame and Zinsser Strip Fast & steel wool/those little stripper brushes to remove the residue. I also remove the paint from the sash channel....and all of the interior trim using the same methods. But remember, this is lead paint and you need to take your own circumstances into consideration when removing paint.

I'm obsessive about things and I always have my camera ready to document the different paint colors as I remove the old paint layers.

Once all of the paint is removed, it's amazing how rock hard the old growth wood is. I am not exaggerating when I say rock hard. My window sashes are old growth pine and it boggles my mind that it is even related to what we call "pine" today. One can easily see how these sashes will last another 100 years. At this point, I do a light sanding of the bare wood to get to fresh wood, but I'm a fan of keeping some of the dings of the old wood. Call it character. If there is rot or missing wood, I use WoodEpox to repair it. If any joints are loose, I tighten them (although, frankly, I've only had to do that once)

I also treat the wood with BoraCare as a preservative. Some people put a coat of boiled linseed oil/turpentine on the wood as a treatment. I'm not a fan of this mix on exterior wood (I do use it when restoring interior furniture), so I pass on that.

The next step (and post) is to reinstall the old glass.....


Shy said...

Can't wait for the next post. I'm lucky that my windows have never been painted (except the porch), but I have some cracked glass to replace....

Nate said...

I'm loving the lesson here. I'll be tackling my (identical) double hung windows this summer. I'm not brave enough to try in the winter. Brr! I'll definatelly be printing your posts out and using them as a guide!


StuccoHouse said...

Shy - Putting the glass back in is my favorite part :-)

Nate - The whole process is a lot easier than people lead you to believe (i.e. window salesmen).

Lol....I don't blame you for not working on them in the winter. I woke up to -12 today and I'm sure you were even colder up there!

Although, I'm doing this pretty slowly and last winter I lived without my sashes in one window (just the storm & 3M shrink plastic).

Teri said...

I found your blog by accident. It's funny. I saw the house and thought, "If it's anyplace but Minneapolis, I will be surprised." And I was not surprised. Grew up in a house like yours, but live in Oregon now. Much less snow.

Anonymous said...

Excellent notes. I am writing them down for when I tackle my two windows this summer. Thanks much and keep it up.


Larry said...

Great job! I just finished doing some of the windows in our kitchen.

If you go to my blog you can see them.

Cheers -


Page Farm Chick said...

Well I began to tackle the restoration of the 16 double hung windows in the farmhouse. Removing the paint from the interior of one took about 6 hours! Got a question - when you say you use the BoraCare as a wood preservative, do you mean from the elements or from pests, such as termites, etc. Our local home improvement store does not sell BoraCare, but I have found it online. BTW, I have order the book, Working Windows, and it should be arriving soon.

StuccoHouse said...

Page Farm Chick - Boracare is a borate so it prevents both rot & insect activity (termites, carpenter ants). It took me a while to find a source locally....some pest or lawn contractors sell it. Restored double hung windows turn out amazingly. Mine look new and I can lift them with one finger. The Working Windows book is money well spent.

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