Windows with a (New) View: Part 1 (Cleaning Old Frames for Restoration)

Do you ever see old barn or house doors, windows, hardware, et cetera in an antique store and have take yourself by the hand out of said store before you spend money you don’t have? I (Karen) had to do that pretty much all of 2014 and 2015. Something about my husband working on an authentic 1900’s farm kick-started it, and then I’m pretty sure my regular nesting tendencies were amplified by being pregnant, so that all I could think about was hanging a massive barn door, peeling paint with questionable levels of lead and all, on the walls of our rented home. Either that or a restored shutter, or a gigantic and very heavy old four-pane window… Something to display a revolving cycle of photos of our growing family. Nothing was in our price range of $0.00 though, and my pocket money kept disappearing on things like French fries and milkshakes. Eventually I wrote off the idea as something for the far off future, since we were about to move yet again for another step in the get-husband-a-national-park-job process, and we genuinely did not have the funds for something that was massive yet fragile and irreplaceable, and probably shouldn’t be hung where it could do permanent damage to something that wasn’t ours.

God is a God of wonders, though, Who takes interest even in our silly wishes, if we’ve given them up to Him. We returned to the family farm in 2016 for my grandmother’s 100th birthday (I hadn’t been there in 13 years), and my grandmother gave us permission to rummage in the barn for anything we might like to take home. Now, the barn looks like this (photo by Daniel Pryde, taken April 2016 and used by permission):

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I had little hope of actually finding anything, and at first was considering the outer windows that had endured more North Dakota winters and summers than were good for them, but my heart sank at the idea of trying to restore them when I had zero idea how to do that. Off the ladies in the family went to a Mother/Daughter dinner at church, and into the bowels of the death-trap barn went the men in the family. Many treasures were found (a good number of them sitting in a box in my sun room begging for attention), but top among them were three frames and several pieces of spare glass that fit, found by my husband. This one below was the worst of the lot, with mildew, a missing pane, and a board that I wasn’t sure would survive the necessary deep cleaning.

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As we were moving in a month, these sat in a couple locations until we were moved and unpacked enough that I could begin to process where to even properly begin. I started with directions on how to turn a window into a picture frame, since that was my desired end result, but paused in that process because I knew sanding would not be sufficient for cleaning the frames. That is when I found excellent directions for removing mold from wood.

Supplies Used:
plastic sheeting
-work gloves (for handling the rough wood of the frames prior to cleaning)
-rubber gloves
-protective mask
-vacuum with HEPA
-air cleaner with HEPA
-soft bristled brush
-old toothbrush
-bleach
-dish soap
-disposable container, like a 32 ounce yogurt container
-sandpaper of different grits

I learned in the very first round that I was not going to be able to vacuum the frames during nap time like I had planned (so hard to hear my screaming child who was woken up over the roar of the vacuum), but I didn’t want Little One in the room when I vacuumed either, so vacuuming had to be done in the evenings when my husband was home to keep him occupied. I also had to get inventive with creating and then reinforcing over time a barricade of packing boxes and suitcases to keep Little One out of the dangerous work zone. While I worked, and then for a few hours after, I would run our air cleaner as well.

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My process was vacuum each side and end twice, and scrub each side and end at least twice. I mixed equal parts bleach and warm water in an old yogurt container, adding a few drops of dish detergent as well. I scrubbed with the grain using the soft bristled brush and a toothbrush for the corners/smaller areas, and allowed the wood to dry before flipping and scrubbing the other side. As the wood was filthy and I was scrubbing at least twice for each side and working only during nap times, this process took me about four days per frame. I was very pleased with the end result for each frame.

(Wood still wet from scrubbing on left; wood after drying from second cleaning on right.)

I sanded, following the grain, and only needed to sand a little bit before the wood was smooth enough to be safe to touch.

Coming up Next: How to Replace a Pane of Glass

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