Storming the storm windows

image of storm window

Today’s Manly Project was an attempt to focus with laser-like intensity on storm windows. It was not a job anywhere near as fun as it might have been were I to have somehow employed actual lasers, a tool which I must sadly admit I have not yet included in my work shop. Some Manly Projects, however, make no use of power tools at all and yet remain very manly. It seems contradictory, but it’s true, I promise.

Our Humble O’Bode is an old house, so we still have a few storm windows. Three, to be exact. Two of them flank the picture window, and one takes the place of the screen door in the front entrance. They disappear into a slot beside the water heater in the basement during the summer and somehow, when I pull them out in the fall, I forget they’re entangled in a cocoon of spider webs until I’m tangled up in them myself and back away from them spitting and windmilling at the air around me.

The storm window that fits into the door scares the hell out of me. Consisting of a piece of plate glass six feet tall and two feet wide, I’m absolutely certain it would cut me to ribbons if I were to drop it while hauling it up the stairs from the basement. I climb the stairs so very slowly and deliberately when I’m carrying it that I might appear to the untrained eye to have suffered paralytic stroke, but I’m okay, really. Don’t worry about me.

It takes just a few minutes to pop the screen out and, because a long, thin strip of plastic flash is all that holds it in place, it should take no more than a few more minutes to pop the storm window in. The plastic strip locks in place by friction; it’s got a foot that slides into a groove at just enough of an angle that it doesn’t easily come out. And although I appreciate the simplicity of the design, getting it to slide in is frankly a bigger pain in the ass than trying to get the mismatched teeth of a zipper to open. It’s a good thing I have to do this only twice a year.

Swapping out the other two screens for storm windows is a piece of cake. They hang from the old-fashioned storm window hinges and lock into place on a short metal arm at the bottom of the window, so it should have been no big deal at all. I spent about an hour, though, trying to seal up the one closest to the door because it leaks like a sieve. Sometimes when I sit next to it and there’s a stiff wind it almost feels as if the window’s open. This season I decided it was time to fill in the cracks around the edges with weatherstripping, the kind that comes in a big roll and has adhesive backing. You’d think that would be quick and easy, wouldn’t you? Not.

I got two rolls of the stuff, one that was wide and thick and looked like it could stop a Canadian cold front, and the other a little thinner, just in case the thick one was too thick. Turned out they were both too thick. I patched things up as best as I could, but if I want to keep the Merry Little Breezes out this winter I’ll have to stop by the hardware store again and try something else. Another day, though.

Hot Hot Hot

I retreated to the cool, cool comfort of the basement lair this evening, once Tim went back to his apartment after dinner, because it was just too freaking muggy upstairs. Humidity had surpassed the ability of certified official weather personnel to measure it in the way they’re used to, so according to the local weather web source the humidity this evening was so heavy and damp that it had a dangerous undertow that would drag you way out beyond the dropoff and drown you.

I was pouring sweat just from the mild exertion of chewing my dinner. When I stopped doing that and I could sit absolutely still I was still pouring sweat, but I felt only almost as miserable as when I had to move my jaw up and down and continued sitting stock still right up until the time I had to get up out of my seat to say good-bye to Tim. That was agony.

Things weren’t quite so bad this afternoon while I was trying to do a little more work framing up the windows I installed by the back door yesterday. I was pouring sweat again, but once I’m already basting in my own juices I can just keep on chugging away and it doesn’t make much difference how much hotter I feel. At that point, hot is hot and doesn’t feel any hotter until right before I collapse in a puddle of my own juices and go sliding down the tunnel with the bright, shining light at the end.

It was so hot that a Porsche in the parking lot at the hardware store burst into flames and every fire truck in Dane County came to put it out. Seriously, there were almost as many emergency vehicles in the parking lot as there were cars that belonged to customers. With that many blinking lights I expected to see quite a show, but by the time I came out and saw what was going on the car was barely smoldering as its owner poked dejectedly through the interior as a couple dozen firemen stood by, ready to douse him in foam if the fire should somehow spring back to life.

Actually, I was much more interested in knowing why a Porsche was in the parking lot of this particular hardware store. It’s the sort of place where you see lots of pickup trucks and beat-up Econoline vans, but the most expensive car you’re likely to catch sight of would be a late-model Camry or possibly a Lexus. Driving there in your Porsche is practically begging the gods to drop a meteor on it.

And naturally on this hot, hot evening we planned to grill our dinner on the barbecue, a task I’m normally all to happy to do but this evening was thinking up ways to get out of it, like faking a stroke or gnawing off my own leg. My Darling B asked me to grill bison steaks, though, and I love those so I just manned up, lit the fire and grilled away. They were delicious.


image of demolition

I got a bug up my ass after lunch, grabbed a wrecking bar and a hammer, and started tentatively picking apart the framework around one of the windows alongside the back door to see if I could figure out how to take it apart. It’s usually not too hard: I find the first piece I can pry off, then the next piece, then the next, unbuilding the window until eventually I’ve made a hole in the wall. I start off slow, but the momentum builds quickly until eventually I’m tearing off pieces in a shower of splinters.

When I start a project like this I begin by rather carefully picking my way through each step while a little voice inside me says, This is insane! I don’t know the first thing about home construction! How am I ever going to patch this back together? But taking any part of the house to pieces is sort of like archeology: Each little bit I pry off the house tells me how the other guy cut it to fit and nailed it into place, and when I know that, I can see he was not so much different from me, a feeling that gets especially strong when I find evidence, like pieces of scrap wood used to frame an opening, that he was flying by the seat of his pants. What the hell? Did he pick this up off the floor and think: This looks like it’ll fit! In you go! If he could get away with that, I feel a lot more comfortable that I could, too.

I started on the left-hand window just before one o’clock and about two hours after that I finally ended up with a hole in the wall – what the guys who visit Home Depot call the “rough opening.” It was very rough, a ragged hole framed by two by fours just big enough to let the builders slip a factory-made window into it. That would have been a factory back in 1950. Factories these days make windows that are about the same size as the windows they made back then. If I were to be very lucky, the old window would end up being the same size as the new one, or slightly bigger. If I were to be not so lucky, well …

Last summer we bought a truckload of new energy-efficient windows to replace the single-pane windows in the back of the house. I pulled out the dining room window last fall and replaced it, but the two windows beside the back door have been waiting in the garage attic until Tim helped me get them down today. They’re a pair of Anderson casement windows, which means that when you crank on the handle they open to the side like a door. And, as luck would have it, they were almost exactly the same size as the windows I pulled out of the wall.

The first one came out rather easily, once I figured out that the guy before me hadn’t done much to nail it in place. I tore away all the framing on the outside, then did the same on the inside, and it practically fell out. In fact, I had to hold it in place to keep it from falling into the mud room while I was pulling some nails out of it.

That left the hole. It’s a problem having a hole in the wall of your house when you have pets. They want to see what’s outside the hole. I hadn’t thought ahead far enough to put up a barrier that would keep them from jumping through the hole and running off to chase rabbits, so I had to ask My Darling B to watch the hole while I unpacked the window and cut some lumber to frame it up. And she did it. I just love her for stuff like that.

The wood I used to frame up the rough opening was a trifle warped, The new window fit the framed opening just perfectly, although the warped wood made it bind a little bit. The binding was easy enough to overcome with a little brogian motivation: I backed up to the window and kicked it into place with the heel of my shoe, then asked B to hold it there while I tacked it into place with finishing nails in each corner. We had a new, functioning window in place and open to the world at quarter to four in the afternoon.

I decided it would be best if I could get the second window in before dinner so I wouldn’t have to think about it all night, then work up the steam to start the job the next day. Did I have enough time? I didn’t know. The job was not the same: The other window was up against the rail that runs around the back deck and I wasn’t sure how I was going to tear out the molding and sneak the window frame out from behind the rail. As it turned out, brute force prevailed, as it usually does.

image of new windows

Having a sawzall handy helped quite a lot for cutting the molding to itty-bitty pieces. After I cut them up, I worked the pieces out from behind the rail with a pliers, then pried the rest of the molding away with a wrecking bar, same as on the other window. The window itself, though, turned out to be a tremendous pain in the ass. Although the first one practically fell out of the hold, I had to break the frame of the second one to splinters in order to get it out of the rough opening. The first one is sitting beside the deck in the yard, a ready-made cold frame for B to grow veggies in. The second one, though, is a mangled mess. I’m not sure what we’ll do with it if I don’t sneak it into a dumpster at the nearest strip mall.

Fitting the second window in place would have been easy if it hadn’t been for the mosquitoes. Just as I was getting ready to hoist it into place, the dinner time bell sounded for every mosquito in Dane County, and ninety-five percent of them homed in on me. I’m serious as a heart attack. I would have suffered blood loss serious enough to render me unconscious if B hadn’t come to my rescue with a bottle of insect repellant, spraying it all over my arms and the back of my neck so I could finish framing up the rough opening. Once that was done and the new window was unpacked, it was quick work to fit it into the hole and tack it in place with some finishing nails. The rest was clean-up.

I celebrated with a cold beer and a long, sloppy sit-down on my tired ass, gazing in wonder at what I had wrought. And after I showered off I stood at the door again, gaping in amazement. “It’s still there,” I pointed out to B.

“What’s still there?” she asked.

“The windows,” I clarified.

“Well, of course they’re still there. Where would they be?”

“It’s not that they’d be somewhere else, it’s that it takes me a while for it to soak in that I did that,” I explained.

After dinner I stood in the mud room again, gazing smugly at the windows.

“Are they still there?” B asked from her seat at the table.


No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

image of window

My goal today is simple: Fix this fubar attempt I made to replace a window in the garage two years ago. And to chop that tomato trellis to pieces. Two goals. My two goals today are simple: fix the window and chop up the trellis. And clean the bathroom. Three! My three goals! Okay, among the goals I want to accomplish today … wait, I’ll come in again:

The window was rotten all the way around when we bought the house. Not a great big deal, I thought. It’s just a garage, right? But it was in such awful shape that my do-it-yourself gene kicked in and the next summer I knocked it out and replaced it with the least expensive vinyl window I could find at the local hardware store.

The rough opening for the window isn’t a standard size, though, so I had to knock together a frame from two by fours. It turned out all right, but when I nailed it into the rough opening I didn’t push it back far enough. The way it’s in there now, I can’t put any molding around it. The frame should be sunken into the wall at least an inch or the window will look more like a picture of a window hanging from the garage.

When I fixed the frame in place I used nails big enough to be tent pegs. I don’t know why. Probably because it felt really manly to beat them into the wood with my biggest hammer. Tearing them out would take me a whole afternoon and I’ve never worked up the ambition to do that, until now. In the meantime I mitered some cedar planks and nailed them around the gaps to prevent the Merry Little Breezes from blowing snow into the garage during the winter, and so it didn’t make the garage look like a hillbilly shack. There. That was a big improvement, wasn’t it?

First things first: Let’s chop that tomato trellis into teensy-tiny little bits.

image of a demolished tomato trellis

I made it out of PVC pipe and glued it together with PVC glue, a glue so powerful that it sort of melts the plastic pipes and joins them together molecule by molecule. Once you’ve glued them together, there’s no getting them apart. So, I looked around the garage for something that would quickly and easily slice through PVC pipe and, what do you know, I found an electric reciprocating saw! I think I borrowed this from my uncle Jim last summer when I replaced a couple windows in the back of the house. Guess I should get that back to him now, huh?

The great thing about a reciprocating saw is that it’s like a hyperactive hunting dog: it can’t wait to get to work. When you grab the pistol grip on this bad boy, you can’t help but wrap a finger around the trigger; there just isn’t any room for you to put your index finger anywhere else. Why’s that important to remember? Because if you pick it up by wrapping your hand around the grip, the weight of the thing will force the nose down and you’ll pull the trigger. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. I must’ve picked up this thing half a dozen times and it cranked itself right up. How I still have all my fingers I don’t know, but I do.

If you’re not clear on why I’m cutting a perfectly good tomato trellis to pieces, let’s just say that assembly didn’t exactly go the way I planned.

image of a window

Okay, back to the window.

The first thing to do is cover over all the gaping holes between the window and the rough opening. My window is thirty-six by thirty-six, but the old window was about thirty-nine by forty. I bought the replacement off the shelf, and the shelf didn’t have any that were the right size, so I went with a smaller window, figuring I would fill in around it. Two years later, here I am, filling in.

I just happened to have just enough half-inch plywood to do the job, and a table saw to rip it into custom-made widths. Part of the reason I didn’t do this last year or the year before – a really big part of the reason – was that I would have had to do all this cutting with a hand saw. Ever ripped a length of plywood with a hand saw? If not, here’s something you can compare it to: Put a chair in your yard, grab a broom, sit down and use the broom to row the chair across the yard as if it were a canoe. Go on. I’ll wait.

image of window

Here’s something else I couldn’t do very easily before: Cut the mitered corners on brick molding.

I have a miter box, of course. Every guy does. I think they come strapped to toolbox saws as a bonus. “Buy the saw – get the miter box absolutely free!” I’ve even tried to use it a dozen times in my life, give or take, but they’re such a huge pain in the ass that I avoid it whenever I can.

Then, at an auction about four years ago, I managed to take home an awesome miter saw. It was a hand saw mounted on a miter gauge so it was still powered by my basic issue Mark One Biceps, but it made mitering a whole lot less like being stretched on a rack by the Inquisition. (I’m going to keep working the Inquisition into this post so you’ll remember to go back and watch the video.)

Even better: I stuck paydirt at another auction just two years ago when I put in the winning bid on a powered miter saw. I can set the cut to any angle I want, and the circular saw will slice through a two-inch-thick length of brick molding faster than you can think, “Oh, shit, I’ve cut my damned thumb off!”

Cutting all the miters on four ordinary pieces of brick molding would have ordinarily taken me a couple hours, but with the powered miter saw it takes me … a couple of hours. I’m not sure how that happens, but at least I don’t have to do it with a hand saw any more. And I get to make a lot more noise.

image of window

This looks like almost the same photo as the one before, but it’s not. I’ve cut up some more brick molding, mitered the corners and nailed it into place to fill in the gaps between the window and the outside ring of brick molding.

I’m not sure why it’s called “brick” molding, in case you’re wondering. It’s one of those homebuilding terms that you never stop any of the people at Home Depot and ask them to explain even though you wonder about it every time you go buy some. Brick molding is just pine stock milled so it’s got a fancy shape that makes it look like a picture frame when you use it to frame around your windows. You can get brick molding made out of vinyl, too, but it’s more expensive. I’m only framing a cheap-ass window in a garage so I wasn’t too worried about buying the premium stuff.

image of window

After all the molding was cut and nailed into place, all that remained was to caulk the hell out of it. Used up a whole brand-new tube of caulk to fill up the various gaps and cracks around the molding. Most of them were pretty modest, but a couple were really very wide and drank up all the caulk I could crank out of the tube. Again, I’m not too worried about making it absolutely weatherproof because it’s a garage window, and because it’s been somewhat less than weatherproof for more than a year (see first photo). I have the feeling I’ll be re-caulking this window again fairly soon.

I should paint it, too. Brick molding comes covered in primer but should be painted. I had to buy a strip of unprimed drip cap, that bare strip of wood at the very top of the molding, because the only drip cap they had in stock that was already primed came in twelve-foot lengths. I don’t think my car is twelve feet long from bumper to bumper, and I wasn’t going to drive home with it on the roof, flapping in the breeze. I suppose I could have broken it in half over my knee so I could get it inside, but I didn’t want to and they can’t make me, nyah.

But I’ve been working on this all frigging day now, almost five hours straight under a hot sun, with a forty-minute break for lunch, so what I really feel like doing right now is not picking up a paint brush and mucking around with that. What I really want to do is take a long shower, then maybe sit on my ass with a book, or maybe even take a nap before I have to go pick up My Darling B from work. After I finish up doinking around on the internet so you can read all about my do-it-yourself home improvement adventures.

Don’t forget the Spanish Inquisition. There. I’m done now.