How to refinish window frames

Written by sam orr
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How to refinish window frames
Refinishing a window frame extends the window's life. (old house window image by Kathy Burns from

Window maintenance and refinishing is a time-consuming, but important home-maintenance task. Due to weather damage and wear from frequent opening and closing, windows need attention more frequently than the rest of the home. Refinishing wood windows is usually required every five to seven years, but it is time well-spent. Preventive maintenance can postpone costly replacement, while simple caulking and weatherizing contributes to overall home-energy savings.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Scrub brush
  • Putty knife
  • Wood filler
  • Sandpaper, 100-grit or finer
  • Hand sander or palm sander
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Auto-body or two-part epoxy filler compound
  • Epoxy wood hardener
  • Elastomeric caulk
  • Glazing compound
  • Oil-based primer
  • Exterior acrylic paint or wood stain
  • Paintbrushes
  • Dust sheets
  • Ladder

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  1. 1

    Wash the painted or stained wood surface with a cleaning product such as TSP (trisodium phosphate) and a scrub brush. TSP removes surface dirt and dulls the paint or varnish to help the new finish adhere.

  2. 2

    Repair minor surface damage, such as holes, small cracks and seams or gouges. Apply latex patching and filling compounds to painted wood surfaces. Repair stained wood window frames with a filler compound tinted to match the stain you plan to use. Apply filler products with a putty knife. Remove any excess compound. Allow the filler to dry, then sand it lightly with fine-grit sandpaper.

  3. 3

    Remove loose and chipping paint with a putty knife. Sand the surface lightly with a hand sander or electric palm sander to remove surface gloss and promote adhesion of the new paint or stain to the old window frame. Remove all of the previous finish to expose bare wood, if desired. Wipe off the sanding dust with a damp, clean cloth. Allow the window frame to dry.

  4. 4

    Restore small rotting sections of the wood frame by carefully removing crumbling wood with a putty knife. Saturate the damaged area with an epoxy wood hardener. Allow it to dry, following the manufacturer's instructions. Overfill the exposed area with an auto-body filler or two-part epoxy filler and allow it to dry according to the label directions.Sand the filled area to match the existing surface.

  5. 5

    Prime all exposed wood areas, including the repaired areas, with a quick-drying, oil-based primer. Paint the entire frame and sash with this primer only if any paint or varnish remaining on the wood is oil-based and the window frame will be painted with an oil or acrylic paint.

  6. 6

    Apply caulk and glazing compounds as needed after the oil-based primer has completely dried. Fill all gaps with an elastomeric caulk. Replace missing glazing compound around the window glass, following the product instructions. Allow the caulk and glazing to dry for 24 hours.

  1. 1

    Choose an oil-based or acrylic paint for exterior surfaces. Remove the window sash if possible to expose the entire frame and make painting easier.

  2. 2

    Paint double-hung sash windows by coating the inner sashes first. Open and partially overlap both sashes. Paint the exposed inner sash and the entire face of the outer sash. Allow the paint to dry. Reverse the sashes to expose the unpainted inner sash area. Paint the inner sash. Paint the outer frame in two sections. Lower both sashes and paint the upper section and jamb; then raise both sashes and paint the lower frame section.

  3. 3

    Open casement windows. Paint the top and bottom edges of the window sash first. Allow the paint to dry. Close the window and paint the frame.

Tips and warnings

  • After a general cleaning with TSP, use a bleach solution -- 1 part bleach to 3 parts water -- to destroy mould on window frames. Allow the bleach solution to remain on the surface for several minutes and rinse thoroughly.
  • Wood hardeners are available in one- or two-part formulations. Formulations with higher epoxy content are more expensive, but also are more effective.
  • Small power sanders and palm sanders are preferred for sanding large areas or multiple windows as they save time and work effectively. Reserve hand sanding for small jobs, such as corners and edge areas meeting the glass surface.
  • Use rubbing alcohol to remove paint or varnish dust from exposed wood before applying new stain or varnish. Rubbing alcohol dries quickly and does not saturate the wood or raise and soften the wood grain.
  • Overlap primer and paint slightly onto the window glass to form a seal. Remove the dried paint with a single-edge razor blade. Apply a thin strip of clear caulk along the seam between the window glass and wooden frame.
  • Lead-based paints pose severe health hazards when sanding or stripping surfaces that contain these paints. Treat any surface painted before 1978 as potentially lead-based and have it tested.
  • Dispose of paint, solvents and waste materials properly. Contact local city or county offices for approved disposal methods and sites in your area.

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