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DON’T DO IT: stripping double-hung windows.

window strip 2

Here’s a fun story about doing everything wrong. I’m very happy with the job I did of stripping all the door frames in our hallway, but I never told you about the botch job I did in the master bedroom, did I? It all got fixed up in the end, but this was a hard lesson to learn from.

master bedroom - before
mb 9:14 1
mb 9:14 3

So yeah, here’s the setting: the master bedroom. We refinished the floorboards and painted the walls navy (Dulux Signature) before moving in and… that’s about it.

The room is a bit squeezy thanks to the built-in wardrobes, but the only time that’s ever an issue is when I’m trying to get a photo of the space. (Like I’m going to complain about wardrobe space!) I’m a big fan of the dark colour in a small, low-lit, south-facing room like this one. It’s soothing, especially at night. Sure, I’d like to make our room cuter, but that’ll all happen in time.

window strip 1

The windows needed work, though — either repainting, or stripping them back. We thought they’d look nice if they were stripped and varnished, since all of our other windows and trims are unpainted timber. So I set forth on the messy, tedious, completely un-fun path with no guarantee of good results, because of course, and this is my blog so I get to be a big whiny baby about it.

I started working on this, oh, LAST YEAR. Last September/October, actually. My goal was to fully strip the window before moving in, which was a smart plan because it was messy. I didn’t even think to use a heat gun, and I really wish I had. (Many heat guns max out below the vaporisation point of lead.) Citristrip citrus stripper worked well on the most recent paint layers, but I really had to glop it on for the older layers. I’d scrape it off while it was still wet, 20-30 minutes after application. Even the old enamel paint softened enough to scrape down with a putty knife.

window strip 3

This is what questioning life decisions looks like. I was really, really regretting this.

window strip 5

After the paint was laboriously scraped away, I washed off any remaining stripper residue with a sponge and sugar soap. Then I gave everything a quick once-over with a power sander. For the inner surfaces, I used the sanding attachment on our multi-tool — a triangular, mouse-shaped pad that nicely cleared out the fiddly bits in the mouldings and crevices. (I had on my respirator for this.)

I thought I was on track, but here’s where I made yet another mistake: I picked up a cheap stain/varnish in cedar. So I slapped it on and gasped in horror pretty much right away. (No, I hadn’t tested it, because that would have been the prudent thing to do.) The window frame was RED. And not only was the window frame RED, it felt rough to the touch and there were obviously bits of underlying paint that hadn’t been sanded or scraped off. Whoops.

I didn’t take any pictures because looking at it sent me into a shame spiral, but the colour scheme of the wall as a whole made me think of something like this.


Nothing wrong with the colours themselves, but the overall picture was appalling. It wasn’t good.

I’d just gone through all that effort in stripping the window frames, and I’d have to do it all over again??? UGH. NO. So I drew the blinds on that mess, and told myself I’d get around to it soon. “Soon.” Summer passed, autumn passed, winter passed. “Soon,” I thought, again and again.

finished mb window

Which brings us to today.

It took until August, a full ten months after that disaster, but I fixed it up, dammit. It took three days. Jamie was out of town, and I slept on the couch while the stink dissipated. (This was a big reason why I kept postponing it.)

finished mb window sill

How I fixed my window screw-up:

  1. I sanded the whole window frame by hand with 120 pads. I sanded it GOOD. Got into all the mouldings and everything.
  2. I wiped off the dust with turps. It took a lot of the RED along with it. Hooray!
  3. I applied a new stain on top  — not a stain/varnish, just stain. Cabots ‘Acorn’, a walnut tone with a mild grey undertone. I needed something that could counter the warmth of the red.
  4. I applied touch-ups of off-the-shelf brown enamel paint to cover up the existing bits of white paint. It had a mild gloss, but it was dulled down by the varnish topcoat.
  5. I applied a new varnish, the same satin British Paints clear coating I used on the door frames.

Lessons I learned from this experience:

  1. Don’t be afraid to use a combination of methods if one isn’t working well.
  2. Be thorough with sanding.
  3. Test stains first.
  4. Don’t cheap out on stain and varnish.
  5. Don’t use combined stain/varnish.
  6. Don’t strip double-hung windows ever again.

finished mb window 1

finished mb window blinds

I can finally say it: I’m proud of my results. Hello, handsomes.

I don’t know if this was really worth all that effort, but they turned out all right and I’m real glad that window botch job isn’t hanging over my head any more. There’s a stack of blinds and curtains in the corner, waiting to be attached. It’s going to look really good, really soon.

Another nice thing is that I’ve broken out of my grumpy, cold-ridden, complainey winter slump, as this inspired me to knock out a few more projects that I’ll be posting about soon — customising blinds and curtains, new garden plants, even making a quilt (!!). Feels good.


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6 thoughts on “DON’T DO IT: stripping double-hung windows.”

  1. Laughed so hard at the “inspiration” sweater. You’re right, though, some jobs are just not worth it. Live and learn. Jo @ Let’s Face the Music

  2. Ha! Reminds me of a half-finished job I started years ago. Old walls, windows, etc can have many, many, many layers, each one requiring a different removal method! Your staying power is superior to mine. I love your wall colour and can’t wait to see everything you’ve been up to. I expect you will have used that cardigan as inspiration for your quilt!

    1. Cheers, I’m glad you like the wall colour! I’ll use that cardigan and some of this fabric, what do you reckon?! (The Americana theme is incidental… I’m just recalling some of the outstandingly ugly fabrics I’ve seen!)

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