Weatherstripping windows (for fun and little profit)

As I mentioned below, my house has a lot of old double-hung windows. They leak. A lot. And it’s endemic to the design of a double-hung window; there’s a lot of surface area to leak with very little way to seal it.

The standard weather-stripping approach is to use something called spring bronze, which is basically a 1″ wide bronze strip that you put between the window and the frame. I tried it with mixed results. Upside: less draft. Downside: it makes the window more sticky and results in a metallic screeching whenever you open or close the window. Screeching == bad.

Then I saw a company offering insulating parting stops (the square bit that keeps the upper and lower panes apart), and it got me wondering… could I do that? It turns out I could.

For reference: said company can be found here.

I looked at two options: weatherstripping the sash and weatherstripping the trim. The sash was attractive because it was bigger, but it turns out there isn’t a good way to get the edges weatherstripped because of how the ropes hung. That left me looking at the parting stop. That piece is 3/4″ wide by 1/2″ deep, and half the 3/4″ is buried in the wall. Was there enough left over? Yes. To the table saw!

I had weatherstripping (from here, specifically WS74) that was designed to fit into a 1/4″ deep, 1/8″ groove. I wanted this to fit as tightly to the stop as possible, so I also needed to hold the plastic shoulder of the weatherstripping. All together, I needed a profile like so:

where the light gray shows the part that’s buried in the wall and the dark grey shows the part I need cut out. Of course, I need to groove the front side for the lower sash and the back side for the upper sash. There’s also some overlap, but it all holds together.

I used the table saw and router. The saw can make a 1/8″ wide groove pretty effectively, but the end won’t be square. So I started with the table saw and made three passes per side, ending before the end of the groove. I then cleaned it up with a router and a 1/8″ bit.

Finally, I snapped in the weatherstripping and installed the parting bead. Miracle of miracles, it worked! Which mean I was halfway there – I also needed the top, bottom, and between the sashes.

I had expected to install the top edge weatherstripping by cutting a groove into the top edge of the upper sash and using tubular weatherstripping (specifically WS10). However, in at least two windows, the trim on the top edge was actually bowed and thus anything on the top edge of the sash would not seal. Instead, I installed it on the back edge of the top parting bead by milling another groove. It seems to work fine.

Niggly little detail: you want to be sure to weatherstrip the entire perimeter, so the pile weatherstrip actually fits into the top stop a bit. I freehanded the groove for that one.

Next up: meeting rail and bottom sash!

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Window trim

I spent most of the day yesterday milling new window trim. One of the nice things about older windows is that there aren’t a lot of fancy shapes involved; everything was made by hand, and so there were a lot of rectangles involved. And so when I decided to replace the window trim instead of putting on Yet Another Coat Of Paint ™, it was pretty straightforward.

Double-hung windows use three critical pieces of trim: the inside stop, the parting stop, and the outside stop. The inside stop attaches to the inside edge of the window and keeps the inner, lower sash from falling on to your head. It’s typically about 1″ to 1 1/2″ wide and 1/4″ to 3/8″ thick. If you go to a hardware store, you will probably find this simple rectangle will cost about a dollar a foot, which is pretty inexpensive; however, compared to raw lumber, it’s crazy.

As a side digression, lumber is typically priced by the “board foot”, which is the volume of a 12″ x 12″ x 1″ (thick) board. If we do math, the inside stop is… about 1/20 of a board foot per foot. Given that you can get paint-grade lumber for $2/bf, by making my own I’m looking at a) ten cents a foot (or even if you round up a lot, 20 cents) and b) better wood.

I started with some 8/4 (or 2″ thick) poplar, which is an excellent painting wood, and cut down the pieces I needed. Admittedly, this required a bandsaw (or table saw) and planer; but if you already have them making molding is a remarkably zen-like experience. There’s nothing finicky; you’re just cutting one piece out over and over. So after about an hour, I had a stack of molding ready to paint. I even did this nifty 45* chamfer.

The next piece is the parting stop, which keeps the sashes from hitting each other. Like the inside stop, the parting stop is a rectangle – in this case, 1/2″ x 3/4″. That’s even easier to work with than the inside stops, since you take a standard 1-by board and cut it into 1/2″ wide strips. As a note, I originally bought red oak to do this, because I’d heard that oak is rot-resistant; turns out that’s _white_ oak.

Finally, the outside stops I’m leaving in place. You don’t see them often, and so the many layers of paint aren’t as bad.

The takeaway lesson here? There’s two of them. First, once you put enough layers of paint on something, it ends up looking like… you’ve put a lot of layers of paint on it. It’s not that hard to replace the molding and it will look much better without spending a ton on replacing windows. Second, if you have access to a decent woodworking shop, you can do a lot of it yourself in a weekend afternoon.

Up next: weatherstripping the parting stops. I think that I can weatherstrip the stops instead of trying to groove the panes themselves.


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On shaving

As some may know, I’m a huge fan of old-fashioned safety razors for shaving. I’m not sufficiently crazy to use a straight razor, and modern cartridge razors are a) quite expensive, b) quite wasteful, and c) not nearly as effective as older technology.

Gasp. What, companies figured out how to sell us something that they made money off of and we didn’t really need? An arrangement that benefits them but not us? Never!

Okay, sarcasm aside. It’s been a while since my Livejournal reviews of shaving gear, so I thought I would move some of it here – along with some tips and tricks. I’m not a serious shaving type, my beard is relatively light, and I shave every day; so these are focused on getting me out of the bathroom rather than providing the True Shaving Experience ™.

First: the razor. One of the advantages of a safety razor is that you can try different blades, and trust me – they’re all different. I suggest a sampler pack if you are just starting out. I prefer the so-called “Israeli” Personna blades (and it has nothing to do with being Jewish, actually). I will also use a Feather blade if I need the closest possible shave, but the Feathers are scarily sharp. My wife uses pretty much anything she can get her hands on (did I mention? Women can use safety razors too.)

Second: the soap. Many people enjoy shaving cream (in a tube, not the Godawful spray stuff) but I use a cake of soap. I have a little mug Jenn gave me as a gift to hold it. The cake never fits properly in the mug, but it melts (the soap, not the mug) in the microwave and solidifies as it cools. So tip number one: melt your soap and pour it into your container of choice.

Third: the brush. Get a real badger-hair brush, not a cheap knockoff. It’s worth it.

Finally, two technique tips that I’ve found really useful. I can’t take credit for these, and I’ve forgotten where I heard them, but it works.

To soap up your face, soak your brush for a few minutes in hot water. I normally fill the sink and plop in my brush, then shower. After your brush has soaked, squeeze it out. That’s right, squeeze it out. You’re trying to hydrate the bristles, not soak the whole thing. Don’t use a death grip or anything, but get most of the water out. Now swirl the brush over the soap until you get a thick buildup of a really small-grained foam. Dip this foam in hot water and build up foam on your face. It sounds complicated, but works much better than any other approach I’ve used.

The second tip: alcohol. When you are done shaving and have rinsed your razor, it will be wet, which will cause corrosion that decreases the edge on the blade. I have a small container of denatured alcohol (get it by the gallon at your local hardware store!) and dip the razor in before hanging it to dry. Again, it’s simple and works.

… okay, I remembered a third tip. I use one blade per week, and alternate which side I use each day so that I don’t dull one side before the other. I keep an eye on which side based on the name engraved in my razor :)

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Windows 2.0 – and not by Microsoft

I own an older house, built in 1906, in a time when materials were expensive, labor was cheap, and energy was not cheap but less of a focus than it is now. Since I’m a bad combination of a poor grad student and a “sure, I can do that” woodworker, I am steadily working on updating said house. This is the first post in a (hopefully long) series of “what I learned and what I did”. We’ll start with the windows and how I fake-modernized them. A lot of this I will include by reference because there’s a lot of material out there.

First: accessing the window guts. I’m fortunate to have a workshop and enjoy woodworking, which means that for a lot of this I’m planning on “tear out and replace”. One nice thing about older windows is they’re made up of rectangular pieces of wood without a lot of mechanism. So, without further ado:

1) Tear off the inside trim and throw it away. I have “craftsman on the cheap” trim (picture coming soon), which is a simple 1×4 or 1×6 board with decorative smaller boards at the corners. Simple, painted five billion times, and each to replace – rip ‘er out.

2) Tear off the inside stops, which are the pieces of molding trapping the lower sash in the window. As with the interior molding they were painted over too many times, and in many cases they were splintering anyway.

3) Remove the lower sashes and take ‘em out to the garage.

4) Pull the parting stop, which is the strip between the lower and upper pane. As with the rest of the molding, this tends to destroy the wood; that’s okay.

5) Pull the upper sashes and take ‘em away.

So now I have access to what is effectively the window carcass; the sashes are out of the way and I can see the weight pockets to each side as well. I used a heat gun to strip any cracked and peeling paint, especially along the bottom of the window where water collects.

Now things get clever. This is a lot of effort to go through to simply repaint the windows; I’m planning on weatherstripping the heck out of them as well. So once I have the frames stripped, primed, and painted, here’s the plan:

1) Cut new parting stops. It’s a simple 1/2″ x 3/4″ profile, which is trivial to do on the table saw. Instead of weatherstripping the sash sides (which would be tough), I’m installing nylon pile on the stops. I’ll cut a groove in the front of the stop the height of the lower sash (from the bottom), and on the back of the stop the height of the upper sash; these grooves will hold the pile weatherstripping and seal tightly to the sashes. With this, I don’t need to worry about side-to-side slop and clearance. We’ll see if it works.

2) Cut new inside stops; I’m resawing ‘em out of 8/4 poplar because I’m cheap. Now that I think about it, I could find and use 3/8 MDF for the painted windows. Ah, well, I had the poplar.

3) Groove the sashes for weatherstripping. While the sides are taken care of by the parting stops, I still need to do the top, bottom, and meeting rail (where the two sashes overlap). I’m planning to do this on the tablesaw with a vertical fence, and use tube weatherstripping to seal.

4) Insulate the weight pockets. They’re bare to the outside wall, which means completely uninsulated. I think I have room to install 1″ foam board panels inside while still having room for the weights; if so, I’ll then seal the edges with spray foam. 1″ is not as good as densepack cellulose, but it’s better than nothing.

5) Reinstall the sashes and stops. All hail the air nailer.

6) Cut, paint, and install the inner molding. For cost efficiency, I plan to use MDF on anything that’s low wear and painted, which means “anything except the sill”. MDF is like recycled paper, so it’s even somewhat environmentally conscious!

Pictures and diagrams to come!

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Under construction

Don’t you love that? “Under construction”. It brings back memories of the ’90s and the blink tag.

Okay, not so much.

While I get this working again, here are some links:




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