Home Restoration: DIY Wooden Window Repair Guide

Your Victorian home’s original windows are more than just a noteworthy aesthetic feature—they’re also a vulnerable but important part of your home’s defense against inclement weather. Fortunately, unless your wooden windows are severely damaged, you can repair them yourself as part of your home restoration endeavors.

victorian home

(Photo: Thinkstock)


As with any home restoration project, begin by photographing what exists already: photograph each window and note each one’s location, along with the condition of its paint, hardware, frame, sill and sash. Then follow these 10 DIY steps to working windows, adapted from The National Park Service:


  1. Check for water. Water sinks through loose or cracked joints to sit in the gaps between a window’s many pieces and it causes the wood to rot. Look for places where paint has peeled or flaked; paint deterioration can (but doesn’t always) signal water-logged wood.
  2. Check for internal rot. Pierce your wooden window frame with a knife or other sharp object at a right angle. If the wood doesn’t splinter but feels spongy, you’ve struck rot.
  3. Check for structural soundness. For instance, can you open and close the window easily? Are there any parts obviously missing? If your windows have suffered no structural damage, you can repair rot and other minor weather damage yourself by following steps 4-10.
  4. Take the window frame apart. Remove paint from each piece as you go, beginning with the stop, parting bead and sash. Work the pieces apart in gentle increments with two putty knives. If your window is double-hung, remove the upper sash and gently tease out the parting bead.
  5. Remove the glass pane. Remove any putty from the insides of the frame; then sand, patch and prime the sash. Let the primer on the sash dry for three days.
  6. While the primer dries, repair or replace the glass as needed.
  7. Once the sash has dried, reinstall the glass pane. First, cover the rabbet (the ledge on the inside of the frame on which the pane sits when lying flat) with a thin layer of linseed oil putty to cushion the glass. Second, press the glass onto the rabbet. Third, use a light hammer to drive sprigs through the glass and into the frame. Hammer one sprig into each corner, then along the rest of the frame’s edges at about five inches apart. Fourth, cover the edge of the pane and the rest of the rabbet with more putty to secure the pane. Use a putty knife to shape the putty into a bevel, creating a diagonal line from the pane to the top of the rabbet. Leave the putty to harden for three days.
  8. While waiting for the putty to harden, check the jamb and sill for decay, and repair as needed.
  9. Once the putty is hard, cover it with exterior paint. Stroke some paint onto the edge of the pane as well to create a weather-tight seal between the pane, the putty and the wooden frame.
  10. Rebuild the window and reinstall it into its opening.


To learn more about hurricane preparation and historic home restoration, keep reading our victorian blogs


by Elaine K. Phillips

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