Windows and Doors by Hand

My entry into the world of woodworking was inspired from several different directions. One was the basic act of making things by hand. Another was my desire to learn about history through furniture, joinery, carpentry, and architecture. Another was to find at least one way out of trap of the consumer culture, and into the maker culture. And another was the desire to be a little greener in how I lived on the planet.

In the desire to be greener, my first major woodworking project, that of re-build my entire kitchen, was an eye opener. It all started with our kitchen windows: a row of seven double hung sash windows that were hard to open & close, with a lot of the surrounding woodwork chewed up, rotted, and crappy looking. They had taken a beating over the years, and weren't helped by the fact that soon after buying the house, we opted to have them painted, as the thought of restoring them, and re-finishing or re-building the woodwork was totally out of our skill set at the time.

But just two+ years ago or so, when I was just getting started woodworking, we were ready to re-do our entire kitchen. Removing the cracked tile floor, getting rid of the cheap home center paper veneer cabinets, etc etc, and building the whole thing. We wanted to return to nice wood trim around the windows, and that meant dealing with the old stuck-prone, drafty, sash windows. We thought "lets get some nice new energy efficient windows!". We followed the conventional wisdom that new vinyl windows were infinitely better than original sash windows. We thought they were more energy efficient, easy to clean, and looked...  Hmmm. The look... they looked... plasticky. That was a tipping point. I really didn't want to spend all that effort to make nice oak craftsman style cabinets, install a hardwood oak floor, oak trim, and still have white plastic windows.

A bit of internet research later, and I came across a local business, Chicago Green Windows who had the simple motto "don't trash that sash!". It started making sense; these old wooden sash windows had been there for 100+ years, and when refurbished and weather proofed, would be every bit as energy efficient as the vinyl ones. But even better, they will last another 100 years, where the vinyl ones will have the handles and other bits break, (usually forcing you to replace the whole thing when, ten years later, that version of window isn't made any more), not to mention the un-green act of throwing out 100 year old windows and using yet more energy and materials to make new vinyl ones.

So thats what we did, with the help of Chicago Green Windows, we stripped the paint off, re-glazed them, did patches and repairs where needed, and I rebuilt every inch of the surrounding woodwork. We stained (insides) and painted (outsides) where needed, and they were re-hung with copper chains for the weights and bronze spring strip weatherstripping and rubber weatherstripping on the bottom edges, etc. The result is that they look perfect, go up and down with ease, and WILL LAST ANOTHER 100 YEARS.

That episode taught me a lot about the value of re-using and restoring your home and things in it, rather than just throwing away and replacing stuff.

But not all the windows in our house are original. There are several on the sides, and on the second floor, that are vinyl replacement windows. Guess what? They all have something broken off of them somewhere, and those parts can't be replaced. Several of them were installed terribly, and are hard to raise, lower, and close. And they all look plastic and cheap. I'd like to replace them.

So, it is with great excitement that I saw the recent Lost Art Press announcement of their upcoming release, Doormaking and Window-making. From the description...

As the Industrial Revolution mechanized the jobs of the joiner – building doors and windows by hand – one anonymous joiner watched the traditional skills disappear and decided to do something about it.

This is great, consider it ordered. I can't wait to learn about this and put it into practice. Although I did tackle a big exterior door project (successfully!), sash windows are another frontier. But with this book in hand, those remaining vinyl windows don't stand a chance!