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Thread: homemade windows and doors: help!

  1. #1

    homemade windows and doors: help!

    I am building my own small cob home (). it will have the walls are 2' clay/straw/sand mixture. The roof will be set on locust posts on a floating footer. I am currently milling poplar, black locust, wild cherry, maple, oak, cedar and walnut lumber with an alaskan chainsaw mill. I want to make my own window and door frames as well as the doors and windows themselves. I have not been able to find much instructional info or plans for such an endeavor. has anyone built simple drawbored mortise and tenon hinged windows? does anyone know of any good reference books for this type of project? thank you! -nick in va

  2. Doors and Windows

    Nick, sounds cool what you're doing. I built a small cottage (126SF)on a flatbed trailer that my wife and I live in. I made the windows and doors out of recycled cedar. Since we are in a mild climate (CA) so I opted for single pane glass just because of the cost. It it relatively easy to build windows with uninsulated glass, much more difficult to build them with insulated glass, at least if you do it the conventional way.

    Single Pane Windows
    Here's the deal: if you opt for uninsulated glass, then you can buy a cope and stick profile bit set made specifically for traditional sash. I think just about all the major router bit manufacturers have a sash bit set. Mine is by CMT and worked very well. I believe CMT has the instruction manual on their website. The frame can be as simple as 1x stock for the head and side jambs and a sill cut at a 13 degree angle to shed water and applied (or rabbeted jamb stops. You can use butt hinges, casement stays and latches for the hardware. Get a Van Dyke's Restorers catalog. You'll probably want some weatherstripping too.

    Double Pane Windows
    Modern wood windows with insulated glass are made with cope and stick cutters on a shaper. The tooling can be very expensive and you'll need a powerful shaper. I'm thinking this isn't the route you'll take. However there is another way to do this. I've never done it, but have wanted to and have seen custom units done this way. This would work for windows and doors: make a frame, stiles and rails, etc. For insulated glass a sash thickness of 1.5" or greater is recommended. You can mortise and tenon these if you like. Then route a rabbet along the inside edge of one side of the frame about 1" deep by 1/2" wide (depending on the thickness of your glass unit). Use a chisel to square off the corners. Now you have an integral glass stop on the inside (or outside) of the window sash/door. You can route a decorative profile on the integral stop if you like. Place the insulated glass unit in, you can apply a silicone caulk or similar product to the integral stop (back glaze) or on the applied stop or both (there are different techniques for glazing) and cut glass stop pieces and nail to hold the glass in. The idea is that you want an air and water tight seal. In England I saw a lot of windows with applied stops on the exterior cut without miters (alot easier). The bottom stop protruded beyond the face of the sash creating a "drip ledge". This piece might have a top bevel of 13 degrees or so. The side pieces and top fitted with butt joints- very simple and effective. Otherwise you can apply mitered stops to hold in the glass. The primary difference between insulated and uninsulated glass wood windows is that the old fashioned type has a very shallow rabbet. Insulated glass has a frame that spaces the two pieces of glass apart that needs to be covered. This is called the "sight line". Typically this is about 1/2", hence the 1/2" wide rabbet. There are varies ways to build the frames. Just ask if you'd like me to go into detail about that.

    There are many types of doors and many ways to build doors, but here's how I made mine: Frame and panel, 1.75" thick. The stiles and top rail are about 5" wide, bottom rail about 8" wide. The frame is fitted together with through-mortise and tenon, secured with wedges. The bottom rail has two tenons. I applied a bolection mold (saddle stop, panel mold or whatever) and used .75" plywood for the panels and cut simple butt jointed, square stops for the inside. I find this is a very easy way to make a traditional mortise and tenon, frame and panel door.

    Building Doors and Gates by Alan and Gale Bridgewater -This one is a must!
    Windows and Skylights, Best of Fine Homebuilding- Also a must have

    If you have any other questions just ask, I'd like to see pics of both your house and doors/windows when you're done!

    Last edited by Derek Raedeker; 02-14-2008 at 3:21 PM.

  3. Insulated Glass

    One more thing.... I'm interested in strawbale houses so I've been reading The Straw Bale House. They mention something about making insulated glass units. They don't get into specifics, but I would be interested in experimenting with the idea. It might be worth it for you as well as insulated glass unit can be very spendy when custom ordered through a glass shop. And, if you're like me, the whole idea is to build a house for $10-15 a SF. That's probably why you're wanting to build your own windows/doors, no?

    Here's what I'm thinking: take two pieces of double strength class (tempered for doors) cut to the same size, make a frame out of a dense, stable, dried wood out of about 1/2"x1/2" pieces (finely surfaced). Use clear silicone to adhere the pieces to one pieces of glass coating all the joints and edges, etc. Allow to cure. Then apply more silcone and place the other glass on top and place a heavy object on top and allow to cure. Of course making sure the inside of both pieces of glass is clean. Maybe an antifog to product (such as for car windshields) could be used on the inside to prevent fogging?

    Just an idea, has anybody actually tried this?????


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Northwestern Connecticut
    Try: Make Your own Handcrafted Doors & Windows by John Birchard, Streling Publishing, out of print but readily available from the used market, watch the prices, got my copy for $12.99, saw some for $75! Its a very good book but not an antique heirloom.

    Also try Modern Pratical Joinery by George Ellis, linden Publishing recently reprinted. Circ. 1900, this book is neither modern nor pratical, but the author was a master jointer (millwork specialist), the book includes lots of great line drawings and some of the best methods of solid wood sash and door construction I have ever seen.

    You might be better off making your own sashes and storm sashes than using double pane glass if cost is an issue. Insulated glass offers only a very marginal increased r-value, costs a fortune to have custom ordered, and is very difficult to create yourself. Good tight storm sashes, applied either interior or exterior come awfully close in performance, are easy to make and look better to my eye.

    I prefer Amana window sash bits myself as they work with a range of stock thicknesses, and they offer a matching stub coping bit for true mortise construction. Shaper cutters for sash construction with true tennons are very expensive and require a very large shaper, probably not practical for one cottage. Of course you can make decent sashes with time, hand tools and skill, no machines neccessary. I'm not sure the drawbored mortise is neccessary in sash construction, but doesn't seem it would do any harm.

    Either way I'd make sure your lumber is well dried (air or kiln) and stable for your environment for any sash/door construction. Black locust is great for sills and threshholds, as is white oak. Walnut makes great doors and windows. Cedar while decay resistant isn't the most stable thing for windows, and poplar is best kept to interior use as it rots quickly exterior. A generous sofit and adequit portico will extend the life of your sashes and doors immeasurably.

  5. #5


    derek and peter,

    thank you for taking the time to send your messages. i'd love to hear more about the rabbeted window construction. i think i understand what u described, but am not sure.

    derek, could u post pictures of your cabin? i'm sure more people than myself would like to see what u have done! i am milling 2" locust for the windows, sills and doors. i'm really fond of the locust; it's strength and ability to resist rot. i have them all over my property so i figure why not. it's a very under apprectiated wood i think. any reasons not to use it or to use another species? cedar is not an option since i have very limited cedar trees and want to use it for interior only. has anyone built a japanese soaking tub?? so, with the 2" stock i will mortise and tenon. is there any reason not to do through mortises? why are most sashes made with stopped mortises? i like seeing the joinery actually. would it be less strong or rot faster with the end grain exposed? i have read your description of the stops several times and am trying to fully understand the design. do u think it would work better to rabbet all the way to one edge and then hold the glass in with applied stops...i was thinking of rabbeting the middle of the stock so that the glass would have integrated stops on both sides. it would need to be inserted at the time the whole frame was put together though. tricky, but possible i think. i was thinking of doing this for the sake of more structurally sound frame, less joinery of thin applied stops that can warp, crack, let moisture behind and look crappy/moldy and blackened with water. u mentioned other ways to build frames...i'd love to hear anything you want to share. u meant sashes right? did i mention that i want to build the frames as well? i was thinking of wide 2" boards M & T'ed with the tenons and rails left many inches too long and sticking out so that they would embed in the cob walls and sturdy up the entire frame. the sill would be angled and wider than the rest. the cob walls would curve into meet the frame...2' wide locust lintel above

    doors: do u have experience with solid T & G doors? i want to keep it simple and i'm not too fond of the look of panel doors. i want massive, solid doors. i have 2" x 10" walnut that was cut over 10 years ago and is stable and dry; the darkest walnut i have ever seen! i'm thinking of approaching it like a workbench table top; good glued T and G joinery with 3 horizontal pieces of all-thread all the way through, plug the 6 holes. bolt huge hinges directly to the door. bolt hinges to the frame. hang. done. am i asking for trouble?

    i have the bridgewater book and will get the others u guys mentioned.

    the overhangs will be 4' past the walls; (2) 2 x 10 locust bolted to notched locust posts, cantilevered past the post with locust braces

    any ideas for sealing the wood. i'd prefer a homemade brew. beeswax or parrafin/mineral spirits, linseed oil...anything cheap that will protect the wood. i have my own bee hives for the wax. as u all can tell i have much more time than money and am going ULTRA-LOW budget. i gave up running my own successful landscaping business in the city to tinker around my land 24/7. the money i do make with a part time job feeds me and my dog and pays the land payment, buys tools.

    thanks again for the ideas and suggestions. i'm all ears if u have any more! -nick in va

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