Sash making

Quite some time ago, my friend Rick DeWolf posted a window he’d made for his barn. I was astounded, wondering “How did he do that?” So I wrote to him & asked “How did you do that?” and he told me he watched Roy Underhill make one. 

I have several windows that have seen better days, long ago. I wanted to tackle making new ones, but never thought I could do it. I have a vague memory of working on some with Michael Burrey – way back in 1994. My tools, and my skills, were not sharp enough for softwood. I dropped it for decades. It seemed so complicated. Roy offered to show me how, but we never found the time…

But 2020 seems to offer me lots of time with nothing to do. So I decided this is it – time to learn how to make these things. I watched Roy’s episode, read Lost Art Press’ reprint of Doormaking & Windowmaking. I even browsed some on the web – there I found a nice video of Ted Ingraham making sash. I used to run into Ted here & there in the tool/museum world.  

So here goes. Lots of pictures again. I can chop mortises – that’s easy. These are 3/8″ wide – the longest is under 2″. For these, a typical mortise chisel seemed like overkill, so I just used a bench chisel. I have a “sash mortise” chisel that I dislike for my oak joinery. Too light. They’d be great here. I don’t have a 3/8″ one…

One thing that Roy did is to intentionally overcut the front cheek of the tenons. This helps when you cope it to meet the molded edge.

I added one step to Roy’s sequence. I scribed a line on the end grain of that front shoulder, that’s where the coping cuts begins. Or ends, depends on how you look at it. But I keep that narrow shoulder square. Roy didn’t need that step because he used a coping plane, I used a gouge. The block on our left is to keep the stock from blasting apart as I pare across it.

And here is the gouge, starting to cut that coped shoulder. It’s more forgiving than I thought…

After coping the shoulders, I ran the molding & rabbet – but didn’t shoot any photos of it. Here is the plane cutting both edges – in this case, after mortising the stiles.

The plane is by J & L Denison, brothers who worked in Saybrook, Connecticut circa 1830s.

After chopping mortises, cutting tenons, running moldings, it’s time for some test-fitting. Once I had the stiles and horizontal rails tested together, I scribed the length of the vertical muntins. Or are they mullions? Whichever they are, I made them more stout than many – decided I didn’t need the extra challenge of thin muntins on my first go-round.

Knocking it together here & there. Some test-fit, some adjustments. Nothing major.

I checked it. Flat & square & 1/8″ oversized. I got right out of there before I messed anything up.

Here’s the links of stuff I mentioned up above.

10 thoughts on “Sash making

  1. cool! can’t tell you how many old windows I painted and re-puttied when I was a kid, helping Gramma maintain old buildings on Long Island. Didn’t start thinking about how they made ’em ’til much later… thanks.

  2. Great post, Peter. Thanks for the links to the resources too. It looks like your molding and rabbet plane is made to purposely cut the rabbet more open than 90 degrees. Is that the case, or is it just a little distortion from the photo? I hadn’t thought of that, but it would make sense for drainage, especially if the glazing putty fails in places along the bottom edge.

    • Hi Dave – I haven’t been able to suss out what’s happening with that. I expect that some of it is me, being sloppy. I’m going to see Michael Burrey on Friday, & he knows sash planes pretty well. This tilted-over rabbet leaves a gap at the rear shoulder. Usually I wouldn’t mind such a thing, but in this case it’s not a good thing. This first window is for the basement bathroom, so a good place to put the learning curve.

      • Thanks, Peter. In the photo of the end-view of the plane it looks to me like it might be built in to the shape of the plane purposely. I’ll be interested to hear what you learn from Michael.

  3. Peter, how do you prepare your wood before starting a project like this. I miss woodworking. Before the virus, I used to go into MIT and use the planer and jointer to get my wood all to an exact and uniform thickness. Then, I’d bring the wood home and work in my basement shop. But, I can no longer go to the MIT hobbyshop to use the planer and jointer, and I dont have one of my own. Joints seem hard, to me, without well prepared wood. What do you do? I sure would like to build again but am having trouble during this quarantine.

  4. You’ll see in many 18C cabinetmaker’s and carpenter’s accounts a sash plane, which I assume makes the double quirked astragal, However, the mitered junctions on a twelve- or sixteen-light sash must have been a colossal pain in the rear. In Peter’s experience, it brings to mind (sort of) the biased shouldered joints on some Hadley chests and Windsor CT chests.

  5. What an eerie coincidence. I ordered Doormaking & Windowmaking and your book Joiner’s Work from Lost Art Press this morning – before seeing this post! I justified the expense thinking of all the free information you’ve provided.
    I’m the guy from Michigan who stalked you at Plimoth and at a class in Connecticut.
    I look forward to stalking your window building!

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