CarpentryHistoric WindowsJoineryMillworkMiscellaneous

Details, Details, Details: What I look for when examining historic windows.

What details stick out to you?

The more you look the more you see. With a casual glance you will identify general shapes and outlines, but when you look closely all sorts of detail will become apparent. When I look at historic windows I try to identify as many details as possible so I can understand better how old they are, whether they are original to the structure and how they were built. Were they built by hand? Were they built with a machine? What sort of joinery was used? Can I use these features to identify a particular building style? I plan to focus on windows for my next few blog posts and this first post will discuss what I look for when I examine historic windows. This information is important when restoring original windows or building new ones to replace poor, modern replacements.

The first thing I look at is the type of window. Is it a double-hung window (that is, are there two sashes that slide up and down), is it a casement (where the sash pivots), or something else? Double-hung windows are the most common in my part of the Midwest. Is there a parting stop? Parting stop is a strip of wood separating the two sashes. If no parting stop, they could be a plain-rail sashes where the lower sash slide against each upper. How is the window glazed? is it a six-over-six, where the upper sashe has six panes of glass and the lower sash also has six panes? This type was common on Greek Revival homes and many industrial facilities. Two-over-two, four-over-four or nine-over-six are also common. How wide are the muntins, rails and stiles and what sort of molding or sticking is there? Different eras and building styles often had windows with different molding profiles and parts with different dimensions.

How the window was constructed is important as it can tell me if it was made by hand or machine and give some idea of its build date. Through tenons with wood pins suggests a sash that was hand made by a house joiner. It also suggests an earlier build date. Also important are the joints of the rails and stiles. Are they coped or scribed? Are there bridle joints or standard mortises and tenons? Do the tenons have wedges and pegs? Are the pegs uniform and round or are they irregular with facets suggesting they were made by hand? Are there franking holes?

This introduction lists just a few of the many details that I think are important when examining an historic window. I have used a number of terms in this post which may be unfamiliar. In the blog posts that follow I will talk about these terms and window parts in more detail and show how sashes were made by hand using period tools. So, stay tuned and hopefully you too will look at windows with an educated eye and appreciate all the details, details, details.

Leave a Reply