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Old-House Online » Old-House Tips, Restoration Stories, & More » Repairs & How To » How To Repair Sagging Shutters

How To Repair Sagging Shutters

If time and the elements have left your exterior shutters hanging loose, use this step-by-step repair to set them right again.
Story and photos by Ray Tschoepe

    Some old shutters fall into the category of romantic ruin, but most can be repaired and rehung.

    Some old shutters fall into the category of romantic ruin, but most can be repaired and rehung.

    For centuries, exterior wooden shutters protected homes—from Elizabethan cottages to 19th-century plantations—from the elements and added a measure of security. By the late 19th century, though, the arrival of storm windows reduced the role of shutters to architectural ornament. Today, even if you have operating shutters on your house, it’s likely that you don’t use them. But while exterior shutters no longer serve an essential function, they can still be vital to the overall aesthetic of a traditional house, and regular care will help them weather the years to come.

    Wood maintenance is necessary, of course, but old shutters often need hardware repairs, too. Shutter hardware comes in three categories: hinges that hold a shutter to the window jamb or wall, allowing it to open and close; “shutter dogs” (or tie-backs) that hold shutters open; and interior latches that keep shutters closed. Homeowners commonly encounter problems with hardware in the first category—the hinges.

    Shutter hinges often take the form of a strap hinge, made up of a cylindrical opening (or “eye”) and a pintle, a short piece of bar stock that is secured in a fire-welded iron strap and fastened to the jamb. (A variation on this puts the pintle in the hinge and the eye on the jamb mounting.) The pintle can be attached to the jamb either on a back plate, as an L-shaped lag screw that is turned into the woodwork, or, in its most common form, connected to a tapering length of iron (called a “tang”) that is driven into woodwork or masonry joints.

    Even when pintles have been securely installed, they can easily loosen due to wood rot, wear from years of opening and closing, or after banging around on windy days. While repairs can be as simple as adding a small wedge above or below the loosened iron tang and securing it with construction adhesive, this solution is difficult to reverse. The alternative—a Dutchman repair, which adds a new patch of wood into the worn, loose area—requires a few more steps, but is durable and will preserve the integrity of the building for years to come.

    7 Steps to Repairing a Loose Pintle

    1. Remove the shutter and investigate the loose pintle. It may slide out with just a slight tug; if it seems loose but resists removal, you may need to remove the interior window casing, as the tang may have been hammered over upon installation to keep it extra secure. You can try bending the flange back, but it’s easier to simply cut the bent portion using an angle grinder or even the metal cutting wheel of a small rotary tool. (Be sure to wear safety gear and protect the surrounding area while doing this, as cutting the metal will generate sparks.)

    Removing damaged wood

    A

    2. Once the pintle is extracted, remove any large rust flakes with a wire brush and coat the pintle with a rust converter (a special primer applied to rusty surfaces to inhibit oxidation and turn the rust into a durable coating), or use a wire brush followed by coarse steel wool and sandpaper to remove most of the rust from the iron before coating it with a rusty-metal primer. Carefully mark out a rectangle around the center of the enlarged or deteriorated opening in the jamb. If possible, leave at least 1″ on each side of the opening for stability and at least 1 1/2″ above and below. (If the wood is rotted, you’ll need to replace the entire lower portion of the jamb by cutting out the rotted jamb components and splicing in new wood, attaching it with epoxy and/or stainless steel fasteners.)

    3. With a spade bit attached to a drill, remove most of the wood within the rectangle to a depth of about 2″ to 3″. Using a chisel or oscillating multi-tool, pare away the wood along the sides of the rectangle to produce a clean mortise [A].

    Replacing new block of wood

    B

    4. Cut a block of wood from a similar species. Fit the new block tightly into the space, and orient it so the new grain matches up with the old for a more seamless repair. (It’s OK if the patch protrudes from the mortise a bit, since you will plane it later.) Coat the block and the sides of the mortise with epoxy, and tap the block into the mortise. Once the epoxy has cured (typically overnight, but check your epoxy for specific curing times), plane the block so that it’s flush with the surface, and prepare to mark the new position of the tang [B].

    5. Begin by marking a vertical line on the new block that measures the same distance from the inside of the jamb as the upper or remaining pintle. Next, hang the shutter on the remaining hinge and place it in the closed position. Mark the position of the bottom of the hinge where it intersects with the vertical line. This new mark represents the shoulder point at the base of the pintle, which is often the top of the tang. Measure the projection of the remaining pintle to determine how deep to drive the tang, scribing a line on the tang to mark the spot. (Usually, there will be significant paint buildup that clearly indicates the previous depth.) Measure the length and width of the tang, and transfer these measurements to the block.

    Cutting a mortise for the tang

    C

    6. Using a long drill bit that’s the same width as the tang, drill a hole at the cross section of your markings for the tang. Then drill two holes at the top and bottom of the same markings to mimic the angle of the tang. Use the drill and bit to clear away as much wood as possible, then use a small chisel to clean out the remainder of the mortise until it is as wide as the tang but about 1⁄16″ shorter. Shaping the mortise in this way ensures that the wood fibers will hold securely against the top and bottom edge of the tang. The sides merely help the pintle resist rotation; they don’t contribute significantly to the holding power of the hinge, and wedging the tang at the sides could cause the jamb and the new block to split [C].

    Fitting the tang in the new patch

    D

    7. Reinstall the hardware, then hang the shutter and test fit. If there is still a gap between the bottom of one strap hinge and the shoulder of the pintle, it can be bridged with bronze bushings, which are available at hardware stores and some home centers. After it’s been painted, the new Dutchman repair will be virtually invisible and will support the shutter for another century or more [D].

    Published in: Old-House Journal July/August 2009

    { 1 comment }

    Virginia Matthews March 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    How about repairs to interior sagging plantation shutters? How do you repair them? I have tried tightening screws but they were still pretty tight already, thus no change. Windowsill is scraped and unsightly and I can barely get the shutters to close now. They are about 10 years old.



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