A Window Sash That Won't Budge

"We’ve tried prying, chiseling, and swearing, but nothing makes the window sash budge." —Polly Whitney
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(Illustration: Brett Affrunti)

"My husband and I just moved into a 1916 Foursquare that’s light and airy—but the sash windows in our bedroom have been painted shut. Summer is coming and we’d like to have fresh air and ventilation in that room, especially for sleeping. It’s amazing that paint could be such a pain." —Polly Whitney

Sashes that no longer operate properly are a common problem in older homes. For relief, turn to one of OHJ’s all-time favorite tools: the window zipper. The tool actually goes by various names, depending on the brand, but generally speaking it’s a small tool with a flexible, triangle-shaped head with serrated teeth on either side. The best zippers are stainless steel with wood handles. The tool should cost between $5 and $10 at a good hardware store.

To free the window, start with the bottom sash. Slide one of the serrated sides of the tool along the seam between the sash and the sill. Wiggle it a little as you slip it along the seam. The blade is thin enough to work its way between the window and the frame, and the sawing action cuts through the old layers of paint.

As you cut the paint film in long, moderate strokes, you are essentially “unzipping” the bond between the sash and the adjoining wood. Be careful not to force the tool into the crack or gouge the wood. Use the same technique on all sides of the sash, including the top where it meets the upper unit. Then free the upper sash.

If the sash is still stuck, it may be painted shut on the outside. If the window is accessible (reaching upper storeys may require a ladder), repeat the same procedure on the exterior seams. With luck, you may get a sash window that’s fully operational again. If the sashes move but with great difficulty, the sash cords may be cut or stuck in the weight pockets behind the window jamb.

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