Building Historic Windows
by Bill Rainford, North Bennet Street School of Preservation Carpentry, class of 2011.
Period appropriate windows often allow you to peer into the soul of a classical house. When working with historic properties, especially earlier homes, it’s rare to come across original windows. Windows take a lot of abuse from day to day use, exposure to the elements and changes in style and building materials over time. As time marches on, old windows are often ripped out wholesale and replaced, all too often with inferior aluminum or vinyl replacement windows.
Occasionally we get lucky and find an original window in the back of a house, up in an attic, enclosed in a wall or documented in another manner – say through historical photographs, diaries or documents. Historical documentation and evidence at the 1804 Anna Clapp Harris Smith House have led us to the decision to restore the front windows back to the 12 over 12 divided light window sashes.
In our modern world we often take for granted windows as just something you buy in a store and have installed. But if you’ve ever looked closely at an historical window that has survived the test of time you’ll see a lot of what helped it last so long. Good materials, solid joinery, good quality glass, glazing points, quality glazing applied well, paint that was maintained are all the hallmarks of a quality window.
In order to reproduce a window that lives up to or exceeds historical precedent, much work goes into a window sash made with period appropriate tools, techniques and materials. Machines can help with some of the stock preparation and running some molding profiles, but there is no replacement for a skilled hand and a sharp tool.
• It all starts with good planning. Deciding what can be saved, what needs to be replaced.
• Make a detailed drafted plan and/or story stick
• Purchase Quality Heartwood
• Mill your stock and plane it by hand
• Run your molding profile(s)
• Cope your joints and test fit
• Cut your muntin bars and cope and fit them as well
• Make your pin stock
• Draw bore your through joints
• Glaze the window
• Paint the window
• Install the window
And now enjoy the window with a view and longevity similar to what the original occupants of this home would have seen.