I don’t do windows… anymore

By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 25, 2021
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Who wouldn't want to spend hours working on this one little part of the door in the dead of winter?

It started out with my son and I clearing snow out of the driveway.

With my shovel, I tapped a tree branch that was hanging low, loaded with snow, dumping roughly the entire Arctic Circle down the neck of his coat.

I began to cackle and this infuriated Wesley, who was about 15 at the time. He in turn said he wasn’t going to help me anymore and went back into the house and slammed the door.

When he did, a pane of glass shattered in our side door (or in Maine we could say the primary entrance).

Just like that, we had a home-improvement project to bond over.

Fathers and sons spend a lot of time working together on the house. It is during this important process that young men learn how to properly process their feelings. Or at least how to swear.

The door has numerous little triangular panes of glass. My first step was to cut out a piece of cardboard and duct-tape it over the hole. I was hoping this would also be the last step. Seemed to me that the problem was solved. The pope wasn’t planning a visit for a while, so what was the real harm or foul here?

My wife felt differently.

I went to the first and foremost authority on home repair: YouTube. This column is to be more therapeutic than instructional, so I’ll only include the bits that are interesting and I urge you to be safe in your project, especially dealing with broken glass and consult the professionals on the internet like I did.

Once the glass was out, I was instructed to carefully remove the molding that would hold in the window pane. This was in the form of three brittle, aged pieces of wood around the rim of the opening. They are tacked in place with tiny nails and painted over for good measure. You need to work these loose after getting a box cutter blade into the seams.

This requires patience. I don’t have any patience, so I tried to go too fast and snapped one of these like a twig. Once I had all three of the molding pieces out, I was able to improve the dimensions of my cardboard triangle to more or less exact specifications.

Using a pretty scientific process, I went to a local hardware store and showed the guys there my cardboard triangle.

“I want a piece of glass this big.”

There was more discussion than I hoped for. There is a law that the glass needs to be safety glass, and there was some debate about whether that would cut easily into the proper shape.

One guy said, “I’ve got this.”

When he went out back to do the work for me, the other guy behind the counter said, “You’re lucky he was here. I would have said you were out of luck if it was just me.”


While I was there, I bought a gun that would shoot little tacks into the molding, and bought some wood putty to repair the broken molding.

I don’t believe a house is complete until it has a knobby, unnatural looking blob of apricot-colored wood putty smeared somewhere.

In the house where I grew up, I remember watching my old man apply a generous amount of the stuff to one of the three doors that led to the only bathroom in the house (don’t worry, none of those doors locked). I’m not sure how the door got shattered in the first place, but I do know it never looked quite right again. Dad also taught me at the time that the putty, once dried, would be stronger than the wood around it.

This is how we bond over these projects. This and by running out for burgers or subs for lunch because working men can’t be expected to make themselves something from the fridge.

You are only supposed to use wood putty (or filler) for small superficial fixes, not major repairs. But I decided to ignore that advice because I was too lazy to do whatever it took to find or fabricate a new molding of perfect measurements. I smeared that stuff on, jammed the shattered wood back together and hoped for the best. Whatever didn’t look good, I could sand away, I told myself.

Except, of course, I overestimated my interest in sanding all day and all night with a “light hand” as the experts on the interweb suggested. How come the instructions never say, “When you fix this, you’re going to want to act like an impatient bull in a China shop?”

The tack gun was not like the nail guns you see in "Lethal Weapon" used to dispatch bad guys. It was more along the lines of a stapler, and like a stapler, didn’t work for crap. So, I ended up having to tap in tiny nails next to the new piece of glass that I knew, should it break, I only had a 50/50 chance at getting the guy willing to cut a new one.

Soon, however, the project was done and done so well that when my daughter kicked out one of the panes in the French doors, I was not invited to fix it. My father-in-law, or the big gun, was thus employed.

But I would say the house is safe for that papal visit now. As long as the man in the hat doesn’t look too closely at the wood putty.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Peter Peno | Feb 27, 2021 08:47

I enjoyed this with a few smiles.

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