Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to make wooden window screens 5: Construction

Now we come to the heart of the matter. Making replacement wooden window screens. If you haven't been following along, you can catch up by looking at the previous posts on this thread (the first two are here and here), where I covered the materials needed, how to measure, the design of our original model and some alternates.

In this post, I will demonstrate the first half of the process we used to make our replacement screens. I will try to keep the text to a minimum and the photos to a maximum, but I think this might be a long and tedious post, if you're not actually looking to make wooden screens.

However, since my most popular posts seem to be the long and technical ones that show step-by-step instructions, let's soldier on ...

Okay. After we measured and made sketches, we toted up the amount of each kind of lumber we needed and went to the lumber store. As I mentioned in my post on materials, we used poplar. These first screens we've made are sheltered under the front porch, so I'm not too worried. But in subsequent digging around and research, I've learned that poplar, while an excellent wood for interior, painted trim, does not last long in exterior uses. So, don't use poplar! High grade of pine or cedar seems to be the consensus, from my reading.

That brings up the question of print resources, and I will do a post next on the books I've consulted.

Anyway. After we went to several lumber stores, ordered things that were not in stock, etc. etc., finally one day we went down to the basement and started sawing.

Here is the basic order we followed:

  1. Miter cut four pieces of lumber to the right lengths for each frame
  2. Rabbet out the inner front edge of each piece of frame lumber
  3. Glue the frames together
  4. Check each frame to make sure it fits its intended window
  5. Fasten the corners with dowel rods
  6. Cut and add the "projection" to the back, on the top
  7. Put the frame in the window and mark and drill holes for fasteners (if using)
  8. Fill, sand, prime and paint the frames
  9. Cut and prime and paint the trim pieces to cover the screening on the front
10. Put the screening in
11. Nail the trim over the screening
12. Put in the fasteners and install the screens

First and foremost -- take your measurements, then figure out the measurements for each cut you're making. Check and double-check. Write it down. Sketch it out if you need to. Here are two examples of our rough sketches:

1. Miter cut four pieces of lumber to the right lengths for each frame

Okay, if you  have a snazzy power miter saw, this will be easy. If not (like us), buy the cheap, plastic miter box and saw at your local hardware store and do some practice cuts on spare lumber.

Then double check all your measurements and cut four pieces for the frame of each screen.

If, like us, you're making more than one screen, here's your chance to get all factory-floor efficient. Make all your mitre cuts at once, write what each piece is with pencil on its side, rubber band them together and get this step out of the way before moving on.

2. Rabbet out the inner front edge of each piece of frame lumber

If you don't know what a rabbet is, wikipedia has a decent basic explanation. I had no idea what rabbet meant when we started, so never fear.

When we were in one of the lumber stores, we fell into conversation with a contractor. We thought we would have to buy a router and order a specialized router bit to rabbet out this piece. We were trying to figure out which kind of router bit. And the clerk said to someone standing there, "Tom's a contractor. Ask him." Tom asked if we had a table saw.

"Yes," we said, tentatively ... it was sitting unused in the basement and we'd never even tried plugging it in.

"If it was me," he said, "I'd throw it on the table saw and ..." I can't remember the phrase he used, some contractor-y language that means cutting out that bit.

What could it hurt to try? we thought. Then it turned out to work. Well, that is easier said than done. Lots of practice and repeated measurement and a lot of not too overly heated conversation between the two of us was involved, let me tell you. But, in the end, we had a system.

We cut one edge of the rabbet with one pass. Here you can see four pieces for one frame:

And here, all the pieces for several screens (six, to be exact):

Then we re-set the table saw and made another pass, from the other side, and voila, a rabbet:

Bunch of rabbets. Herd of rabbets. Pack of rabbets.

I will point out that we checked after the FIRST one, with the trim, as you see below, to make sure we were at least in the ballpark. We did pretty good. We also checked them all, as we went, and sometimes they'd go out of true or the table saw would push a piece of wood up and we'd have to go back and do it over, or do several over, if we got on a roll and got several wrong at once ...

So, that was fun. Sometimes Capel just got out the hammer and chisel and chiseled them down. But in the end, we had a bunch of rabbets.

3. Glue the frames together

So then, we, well -- first we tried to use those corrugated brads. They look so innocent. Fortunately, we tried out this exercise on spare bits we'd practiced on with the mitre saw. Not on any of our so carefully rabbeted bits. Cause this is the havoc that resulted--or, anyway, this is the example we kept to remind ourselves,  ...

Not possible for us to do.

That was when Capel made a uni-lateral decision that we would glue them and then dowel-rod them together. I just shrugged. I was having even less luck than he hammering in brads, so I didn't have a leg to stand on. (Oh, by the way, they're actually called corrugated fasteners, not brads. I don't know why brad sticks in my head. I think my father called them brads.)

So then, glue. It's actually not hard. The important things are to have four of the right clamps, try to get the frame as square as possible in the clamps, and don't use too much glue or wipe off the extra before it hardens:

Here's where the factory-floor process begins to bog down. The glue has to harden overnight. And with only four clamps, we could only make one frame at a time. And then we'd get out of sync and not make them in the middle of the week ... and only get one done a week, so this part took us a few weeks. A month? I can't remember. It went on. And on.

And that was where I evidently stopped taking photos. So, unfortunately, the rest of the step-by-step instructions will have to wait. I think if you've made it this far, you can probably do the rest on your own. Go free, little DIYer, go free.

Or, you can wait until we make our next screen. Should be soon, sometime this spring. Cause we've got a passel more to do. And then I will finish this thread with photos.

For the entire series on making wooden window screens, click on the category "How to Make Wood Window Screens Series", in the Topics list along the right-hand side of the home page. There is also now an index tab at the top of the home page, listing all the posts in sequential order, with a link to each one.


  1. really liking how thorough you're being! been following along so far, looking at every page, and every side-page detour on alternate frame configurations and fasteners and all. so awesome you took the time to blog all this, with the abundant photos and detailed descriptions. very helpful! thank you! i took the method from one of the alternates you found in your basement: butt joints with two dowels (no rabbeting for me b/c i don't have a table saw or router). they've been glued (dried overnight), the dowel spots meticulously marked (incrarule FTW!), and next i insert the dowels w/ glue. i avoided the bottleneck in the gluing (as well as the expense of the clamps) by holding them with masking tape while the glue dried. it doesn't make for as tight of a joint, but in this case i think it's fine, since there will be little stress on the join and the dowels are doing the real work. ok, on to the next page, but just thought i'd stop and comment before i move on. again, thanks for being so thorough!!!

    1. Thank you! It's so nice of you to comment. I completely agree, the joins don't have to be perfect because there is no pressure of any kind on them. I see your other comment and will reply at more length to that one.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This was painful-
    Why you tried mitering them is anyone's guess. You appear to know next to nothing about joinery. Butt joints wih loose tenons are how it's done.

    1. could you go into some detail on this process?

  4. That really was an unkind comment. The profile states that they are feeling their way through this.

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