Restoring Windows

Written by  //  June 21, 2012  //  biz  //  4 Comments

If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a girl builder and a boy builder I can tell you right here.

I’m set up in a friend’s garage for a bit of paint stripping on my old windows for the house. As I packed at home in a hurry, I forgot a few handy little bits, including a set of small paintbrushes. Rather than snuff around through my mates’ stuff I remembered the fab care-package sent by a friend earlier in the week: a serious stash of cosmetic goodies, from Le Mer samples to herbal nail treatments and whatnot. Unreal, especially right now as I’m needing that makeup brush to apply a dainty layer of toxic chemical on my DIY project of the moment…

OK, so a guy builder could have thought of it, sure, but would he get away with it? Later in the morning session I felt the need for an emery board, to get at those pesky corner bits. As it happens I was given a rather large pack of them for Christmas, from another intuitive female who I’ve never met but who obviously could sense that I was the tricky-creative-random-tool/emery-board-emergency kind of person. Now, boys, don’t go stealing the lady’s stuff. Get your own.

About these windows. I’m going to do a crazy thing. I’m going to ask for your advice.

Eyes being the windows to the soul, windows are the soul of a house.

And new windows ain’t got no soul, man! I’ve got some 40 or so windows and doors here that have been ripped out of a chateaux in France, or fell off the back of a truck or whatever. They are gorgeous. Trouble is, big, old, single pane windows do nothing to help insulate against cold. It snows in my village. Snow = double glazing. The second most important thing after insulation in designing an energy efficient house is double glazing. So. I’ve decided to make old fashioned double glazed windows, as in this:

Massive job. Stripping 34 windows and making 17 boxes to contain them. Plus the windows quite possibly contain lead paint, and there’s only so much lead poisoning a girl can take. Let’s put aside the cost for a minute because the alternative is also expensive: new timber double-glazed windows for my place will cost upwards of €5000 or more than €300 a unit. So far, it’s taking about a week to strip each window, so there goes the rest of the year if I’m going to do the lot myself. That’s out. So how can I simplify what needs to be done, while still using the old windows but upgrading their insulation potential from single-glazing?

Anyone got any paint stripping tips? Does anyone really vouch for a hot-air gun over sanding? Know anyone in the furniture restoration business, who can strip them for a good price, and possibly stain them? And that someone will not be dumping the waste in the nearest river…

Maybe then I just make the boxes. Is this style of box the way to go? It’s been suggested that I could stick on a single pane of glass over the top of the existing with a 5mm air gap, but I can see condensation and mould, because the air space is useless if not sealed. Does the frame need to go inside another rough frame? I’m thinking not, (some unusual self-restraint on my part). What are your thoughts regarding expansion and movement? Treat against insects? Treat against water penetration? Oil or polyurethane stain? Sill gasket, foil, or insulation between the frame and the stone surround? Chocks and spray insulation? Any bright ideas anyone?

Or here’s a third idea from a “get-on-with-it” type builder: don’t strip the windows back to timber, just prep them for more painting. And he’s got a point because in my all-white-Scandinavian-modern style interior, the window interiors would be white, and not stained timber. It certainly would be a travesty to have stripped the windows beautifully, expensively and toxically if only then to paint one side anyway… so, I put it to you, dear reader, could we work with painted timber windows for the exteriors? I’m thinking slate grey or chocolate brown. I like the idea for it’s skipping the stripping process, but I baulk at it from an aesthetic pov (not that there’s any evidence that the windows are made from a noble timber, or that there is any thing worth “revealing” from the paint stripping process). And, as pointed out by someone else – there will always be an apparent difference of the timbers of the old windows and the new boxes, which painting would sympathise. Is there any added protection against humidity and insects with a paint finish other than a oil or stain?

Painted timber windows anyone? Or does everyone want to remind me what a economically crushing massive overproduction this idea is?

4 Comments on "Restoring Windows"

  1. G June 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm · Reply

    I saw your old French ones on your blog ages ago, they will look great used in pairs but you need shutters. Two bits of glass in a box won’t be enough. I am going to sandwich blown insulation with thin woodish sheet for cheap, light, high R internal shutters but IIRC you don’t like that stuff – foiled bubble wrap type would work too. Even good dg loses loads of heat.

    I was told just last week you can strip old paint with strong caustic soda solution which is cheap but refinishing them will be expensive and take forever so I like the idea of a once over & repaint. The lead stays where it is, keeping weather out. Have heard fables of furniture strippers but never found one, or any stripped furniture for sale.

    Good luck

  2. Ana June 21, 2012 at 11:06 pm · Reply

    Hi Emma,

    I have done a lot of stripping over the years – ‘wood stripping that is’ and have found a heat gun to be very useful in most cases. The only time I had trouble with a heater was with a turn of the century place in Ontario. The house trim had several coats of paint and varnish, the heat created a mass of goo.

    Personally if you are going to paint inside, I would paint outside. The paint will protect the wood from the elements.

    If you end up with a leftover window or two, I do have a suggestion. My brother stripped down an old pane window and inserted mirrors instead of panes, and then hung it in his living room. I’ve seen a few variations on this, I think it looks really neat.

  3. Linda Cockburn July 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm · Reply

    Sorry this is so late for your project,but as a former clockmaker’s apprentice I had a lot of cases to strip/refinish. We used a marine stripping gel, went with the grain,then dusted well with fine sawdust (like you’d get from a bandsaw) let it set for the required time,about 15 minutes and then used a strong natural brush to remove all. The really great aspect of this is clean-up is a breeze and if the gel drips on you (ouch) the sawdust immediately removes it.

    Love the windows~!!

  4. S. Oliver October 14, 2013 at 10:12 am · Reply

    I hope I am not too late in suggesting but if I am, it’s valid advice for the next person who has to strip lots of paint from lots of wood. Instead of risking your health in handling really caustic chemicals, why don’t you get a sand blaster instead? It’s a small investment for your needs and you can sell it to someone who needs one after you are done or you can use it to make some money on the side.
    There are several types of sand blasters, including portable ones. Like with all electrical tools, be careful when using.

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