Sunday, May 20, 2012

It was the windows that broke her

In the interests of reducing the embodied energy of our home-building, using second-hand materials wherever possible has always been pretty high on our to-do list. So when, a few years ago, we found 2 sets of windows and a set of french doors on the council clean up near our home, we were pretty stoked. We stored them under our house, and designed them into our little house, and then our lovely friend Niki carted them down to Bega for us. We thought that all we'd need to do was strip off the paint and bung 'em in. Boy were we wrong...
Windows awaiting installation, really hard work mostly all done
I first started wondering if maybe we were in over our heads when I read Milkwood's blog post about their french door debacle. Hmmm... Was it really going to be so hard for us to do up our doors? Nah... With all the hubbub around the move to Bega and the starting the new job and the getting the land ready for building and the strawbale workshop, it was quite some time before I actually even looked closely at the windows and doors. They looked like they needed a bit of work, some re-glazing here and there, but nothing too dramatic. But then I started stripping the paint. And I realised, with no small feeling of alarm, that the dreaded lead paint was actually kind of holding the windows together, and that bits of them were kind of rotten. Then someone informed me that the windows needed frames. Oh dear. I'm not much of a restorer, or a woodworker having not done any variety of wood-craft since year 7, so this was all a bit daunting. But I'm always up for a challenge so dove right in. I'm not going to go into minute detail about the processes involved in this whole operation, but let's just say that, if I was charging myself some kind of reasonable hourly rate, these 'free' windows of ours would end up being pretty bloody expensive. Here are the steps involved in restoring and installing your found-on-the-side-of-the-road frameless windows.

1. Start stripping the paint. I discovered quite late in the piece that, while a Bahco scraper is quite good, an electric plane is HEAPS better. If you suspect the paint is lead-based, wear a mask and clean up after yourself (ie. don't let your kids treat the paint-shavings like a sand pit).
2. Once the paint is off you'll be able to clearly see all the bits that need holding together/filling up with scraps of wood glued together with PVA and builder's bog and about a billion screws. Don't freak out, but get yourself some clamps: you're gonna need 'em.
3. Re-glaze by chipping out all the 100 year old putty that's cracked and falling out and replace with new linseed oil putty.
4. When you're satisfied the windows are no longer going to fall apart if you pick them up, measure them so you can make the window frames. Even if you've never done it before, by the time you finish you'll probably be alright at it. A good plan is to do the out-of-the-way windows (like the one in the non-loft end of the gables) first, so it's less easy for visitors to view your dodgy-brothers practice efforts. Make sure you have a sharp chisel, cuz you're gonna be chopping out a heap of wood.
5. Install the window frames in the window bucks (the bits that make the holes in the strawbale walls), hoping that you did an OK job of measuring. If, like one of ours, you get a pretty tight fit on one of them, the electric plane and a little sledgehammer are going to be your best friend. And if like several of ours, the window buck is way too big, get some expanding foam. You can get non-toxic stuff that's made in Denmark (those Danes are sooo healthy). And make sure you read the instructions - it really does expand. A lot.
6. Chisel out the hinge rebates and fit the hinges. I used solid brass, because it's purdy, but probably wouldn't use brass again - it's soft, so all the holes need to be pre-drilled, which is just one extra step you don't need when you're installing windows by yourself.
The more windows we add, the more it looks like a bothy
Easy peasy. Not really. I didn't really like any of it, but I'm happy now all the windows are in - a lovely set of matching windows and doors on the front (north-north-east) side to catch the sun,
a totally beautiful art deco leadlight on the eastern side for morning sun and views of big trees and the valley,
a teeny-tiny leadlight in the south side, to peek at the duck dam,
a louvre in the sleeping end of the loft for sea-breezes in summer and another at the other end of the loft for the sea-breezes to push all the hot air out of our sleeping spot.

 I'm glad they're all second hand. I would definitely use second-hand again, but I wouldn't just randomly pick them up off the side of the road without a very thorough check-over. And I'd make sure they already had nice, solid, hardwood frames that don't mind being 'persuaded' with a sledgehammer. Woodworking is just one kind of craft I'm probably never going to get into.


  1. Oh Annie, they look simply beautiful! And what an inspiration you are! I'm going to remember this next time I think "I can't do it"!! xxx

  2. They do look beautiful, you should be so proud!

  3. Wow. I really need to come check out your progress! Well done lovelies!

  4. Wow Annie they look lovely but what a massive task, glad to see the Wollongong op shop leadlight found it's you guys xxmm