Glazing Windows and Bow Ties and Longwood Gardens

One of the joys of blogging is writing about anything I am thinking about, and right now that is re-glazing windows. If you think this is something you will never have to do, be thankful and move on to something else. There is no obscure philosophy here—just messy, unpleasant work that will not look good no matter how hard you try.

Many people think I am being an extreme cheapskate. Just pay $1000 for a modern triple-paned replacement window, they say, and end your window problems forever. I suggest you Google the topic and read all of the problems people have with expensive window replacements, some beginning within just a year or two.

The first step is to remove the old glazing, and the worse the window looks, the easier this will be. The old glazing gets brittle and cracked, and when it really gets bad, it easily chips off in big strips. If it is still adhering well, you will need to struggle with a chisel and probably break a pane or two. From my experience, I would say leave the tight parts alone and just add in new glazing where it came off easily.

But the good news is that glazing putty has improved. Originally, it was the linseed oil stuff that got rock hard and is what you are now chipping off. Then, about 15 years ago, the standard glazing was also based on linseed oil, but stayed flexible. You had to wait weeks to paint it, and it was still messy and difficult to apply. It seemed to stick everywhere—to itself, your hands, the putty knife, your shirt—everywhere better than on the window where you wanted it. Old glazing of that type is easier to remove by lifting one corner, then prying and pulling it off in one long, clean strip.

The latest is now a water-based putty that dries in about a half an hour and can be smoothed out with your wet finger or damp putty knife. You can then wash up everything with water, a big, big advantage. I don’t know how easily it will come off twenty years from now, but I don’t care.

I mention a putty knife, but it is well worth getting a specific glazing tool that has a putty knife on one end and a small smoothing blade bent at the proper angle on the other.

Longwood Gardens window.

Longwood Gardens window.

Now, for the best news of all. For the first time, I noticed how incredibly sloppy the windows at the Peirce-du Pont House at Longwood Gardens were done, no doubt on purpose. If they wanted it neat and tidy, it would be neat and tidy, whatever the cost. But that would not fit in with the age of the house. Like a self-tied bow tie, it should not look perfect.  They probably even did it the old-fashioned way whose purpose was solely to shed water and prevent wood rot.  Looks did not matter. The technique was to roll out a long strand of putty between your hands and simply press it in place with your thumbs, then freely paint over it (without masking tape or later scraping) being sure to cover the putty and a little beyond.

Now, I can take pride in my own glazing. The many imperfections just confirms its hand-done authenticity, worthy of Longwood Gardens.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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