Weekends in New England lately have been heaven. Seventy degrees in springtime draws out man, beast and foliage, and instills in us an urge to burst out of the pall of winter to rejoice, regroup, renew. For those of us with old homes, it’s the perfect time to address, and renew, whatever havoc Jack Frost and Father Winter have wrought.
On a recent weekend I decided to tackle some of that havoc. It was a sunny 72 degrees, birds were chirping, bees buzzing – a delightful backdrop to re-nail a clapboard, oil a rusty latch, and get to that kitchen window repair. The day before, I had tapped a little too heavily on a pane of glass and quickly found myself tapping on air. The little 6 by 8 inch glass plunked to the ground. Obviously, it was time for some maintenance.
Old wood windows, with true divided lights and wavy glass, are aesthetically pleasing, but they take a terrific beating in all seasons. The thin bead of putty that holds the glass in and the weather out, goes in pliable but over time will harden and crack. If the paint finish is kept up, it will stay in good shape for years. But left untended, like anything made of wood, it will deteriorate, crack and fail.
It was a warm and perfect day to remove a window. First, all of the impediments had to go – the clutter, the interior storm, the jamb – to get to the 12/8 sash. The original plan was to replace one pane, repair the putty in the rest, lightly sand and repaint. What’s that they say about the best laid plans? Before the robins had chirped thirty three times, I had denied twenty panes of glass, their window glazing.
With just a putty knife and an occasional coaxing with a utility blade, the old putty was scraped out and into a pile beneath my sawhorses. I cleaned the glass, installed new points where needed, oiled the beds with a mix of linseed and turp, and began to re-glaze.
Now, for some folks, this is where heaven ends (no matter how beautiful the day) and hell begins. I remember those frustrating days years ago. Never thought I’d get the knack. I could roll the worms alright, and press them into the bed just fine. But running the knife down along the pane to get that perfectly smooth and angled shape, well, it pulled and cracked and frustrated the hell out of me. Thirty thousand glazed panes later, (we used to make a lot of windows) I had the knack. And although now many years removed, it all came back, just like riding a bike. The exercise can be relaxing and satisfying to see all those tight little panes framed in soft white, refreshed and ready for paint.
Something that could have been an annoying chore was actually a delight. Coaxed by the birds and sunshine, it is rewarding to create a little order out of chaos now and then – if only in eight square feet of house. But it’s a start. With over twenty more sash to go, I figure it’ll take at least twenty more nice weekends. Then again, maybe forty, since I won’t want to use them all up on window repair. Then again, what’s a few more years, and a missing pane of glass now and then?