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Window Glazing Removal

Timothy Bausack

I started working in earnest on getting the windows fixed up a little bit and the trim repainted. We had been having an Indian Summer and I was caught unprepared, literally. It is unfortunate to have to do your prep work on perfect painting days.

At any rate, I started on the kitchen window in the back of the house so that any mistakes made while learning wouldn't be as noticeable. The first thing I did was start to remove the window glazing that was failing.

My original intention was to scrape out all the glazing and re-glaze from scratch. After doing a little reading into glazing repair, I decided that if some of the putty wouldn't come off it would be better to work with it instead of risking a broken window pane. After all, I already own this domain name and doesn't have the same effect. What will drive me nuts, though, is that the last time the glazing was fixed, somebody sloppily did it with their thumb and the time before that somebody used so much that it went past the edges of the muntin and I will have to duplicate that same too-wide width. Oh well. Like the book I was reading on windows said, if I look back upon my life's achievements and think of perfectly glazed windows I will have lived a boring and unfortunate life.

Before: Not lookin good.

After: A nice cleaned out rabbet. Just try not to gouge the wood like I did at first.

Before I show you my process, I should probably mention that there is a good chance that the window glazing contains a small amount of asbestos and probably some lead thrown in for good measure. After doing a little poking around the web, it seems like glazing frequently has about 2% asbestos content on average. This doesn't seem like much but when you have a couple hundred panes of glass, it all adds up. I haven't had mine tested but I am treating it as if it is ACM, or, Asbestos Containing Material.

As a result, I am using a half-face air-purifying respirator with P100 filter cartridges which are tested to meet the HEPA standard. A typical dust mask won't cut it.. You need an airtight seal around your nose and mouth with nothing less than HEPA filtration between you and the enemy. The masks are not that expensive so get one and make sure it fits. Test the fit by holding your hands over the filters and seeing if you can suck any air in. If you can you need to readjust the straps or shave your beard (outward displays of safety and manliness are apparently incompatible...who knew?).

Oh yeah, I wear one of those Tyvek coverall suits with a hood to keep the dust out of your clothes and hair. Before I got the suit, I had to wash my clothes separately from the rest of the laundry which was a pain and made me nervous the neighbors would see me in various states of undress as I bounded up the stairs to shower and put clean clothes on. I also put on safety glasses. The glazing tends to shoot out sometimes and it doesn't feel good when a chunk hits your eye. Trust me on this.

As an aside, it's funny how far we'll go to limit our exposure to small amounts of a carcinogen like small amounts of asbestos in the window glazing. Then we'll take off our hazmat suits for lunch and scarf down a triple cheeseburger, french fries, and a diet coke, and then put our suits back on so we don't breathe anything dangerous. One mouthful of asbestos is probably more dangerous than a mouthful of salty and greasy fast food I suppose. Serious disclaimer though: do your own safety research before disturbing anything that might contain asbestos. I don't need anyone's lawyer knocking on my door in 30 years trying to blame me for their client's lung cancer.

Once you look like Mr/s. Safety you can go to work on your windows. I mostly have 6 over 1 windows which means that there are 6 small lites separated by muntins over 1 large pane of glass. With 48 windows, there is a lot of real estate to cover and much of my glaze is 91 years old and failing. So that means I have a lot of scraping ahead of me--but hopefully not a lot of window breaking.

Here are some photos in case you're nervous about the process:

1. When the putty is pulling off like this, gently slide your knife in a little ways behind it. If you slide the knife in too far it can get trapped between the edge of the glass and the wood frame.

2. Pry it away from the glass by pushing against the wood of the sash or muntin. If your knife won't budge you went too far and risk breaking the glass. Easy does it!

3. There are usually some holdovers after cleaning the easy stuff off. Slide your knife parallel to the glass being careful not to apply any pressure towards the glass. Avoid pulling out the little metal pieces that look like shrapnel...they are what actually hold the glass in!

The crack sped across the window leaving my pride behind as roadkill.

Removing glazing requires the virtue of patience. In a fit of impatience and aggressive behavior, I cracked a pane of glass by trying to wiggle my knife under some stubborn glazing that I probably should have just left alone. The downward part of the wiggle applied enough force in just the right spot to give it a good crack.

Now I have the joy of cleaning out the entire rabbet, trying to find some scrap wavy glass in the Flint area on Craigslist, getting it cut somewhere, and learning to install it. The window book warned me that glass would eventually break. I was hoping to defy the odds but I need to 'check myself before I wreck myself' I guess.