Joined: 20 Aug 2004
Location: Portland, Maine, USA
|Posted: Wed Jul 12, 2006 7:48 am Post subject: The Old Geezer Glazer
|He'za Geezer of a Glazer
This week I'm turning to some window work here at my house. Nancy, one of my
former interns, is returning to help me out; and, in the office I'm writing
about windows. As long as I am living and breathing windows, I feel like
diving right into this discussion while I still have a few minutes.
At 05:28 PM 5/3/2003 -0400, Diane wrote:
> >OK, so I thought I'd beat the system by using gloves with the window
> >glazing. Except now that I couldn't feel the mess on my hands, I went
> >and got it all over. Literally 3/4 of this window, wood and glass is
> >Is there a happy medium?
Yes! There *is* a happy medium. I'll tell you a little story about where I
my happy medium and then I will tell you the Singular True and Universal
Secret of Glazing, so you, too, can find your happy medium. I learned The
Singular True and Universal Secret of Glazing from an old geezer of a
glazier who worked at a sash factory over in New Hampshire for 40 years or
more. Join me now, in my own shop out in the barn of my 1899 Victorian
here in Portland, as I prepare to perform the amazing glazing....
First I set the can of putty in the sun for a few hours to
warm up so it is pliable and easy to use. If it is a fresh can (just a few
months since it was manufactured), it is usually consistent from the top to
the bottom of the can, and I just start using it right off the top. If it is
older, say from last year's stock (like you might get if you buy it in the
late fall or winter), or a partially used can left over from last season,
there might be a skin or cake of hardened putty on the top, or oil may have
separated out of the putty. I dig it all out of the can and dump it on a
cut out any skin,
caking, or lumps; and knead the oil back into the mass of putty until it is
smooth and even. Then I put it back in the can and rap the can on the floor
a few times to knock any air out of the bottom of the can. Pre-conditioning
the putty like this seems to loosen it up making it easier to work with and
tool into place. The loosening effect seems to last for several weeks, until
the putty "stiffens up" again.
We might talk a little about the temperature of putty. Cold: off the shelf,
room temperature--good for storage. Hot: heated up by setting the can in the
sun or next to the radiator for a few or several hours--good for re-mixing.
Cool: hot putty that has been mixed and kneaded and is cooling off--ready to
use. Warm: cool putty that has warmed up a little due to handling and
tooling as it is placed in the glazing rabbet.
I make putty easier to spread out and tool by controlling the temperature,
never by adding oil, mineral spirits or terps. The manufacturers have
developed their formulas to give certain service life characteristics.
Changing the formula of the putty by amending it with the addition of
ingredients will change the performance. If you are confident you know more
than the manufacturer's chemists then adding ingredients could be good. If
you glaze a lot of windows and go back in later years to check up on the
results you might know how to make the putty work better. With that said I
must admit I have tested out some of these additives but never discovered
advantages that were worth it. It takes an incredible
amount of time and effort to thoroughly mix anything into a compound as
thick as glazing putty.
When glazing I work with bare hands. I keep my "on-hand" (left-I'm a lefty)
clean for handling the sashes and the putty knife. (this would help you
control your mess) I knead and place the putty with my "off-hand." My
off-hand is stronger and less coordinated, but this works for me because all
of the initial putty placement is done only roughly. I grab a lump of cool
putty (cool putty sticks to your hand less than warm or amended putty) about
the size of a tennis ball or even a little more, and distribute it quickly
and roughly into the glazing rabbet, working the putty into the rabbet
with my thumb, feeding the putty to my thumb with the rest of my fingers. There may
be a few skips, a few lumps, but the putty is generally distributed around
the rabbets for each light and the whole sash.
Not much putty sticks to my hand because it is not in my hand for very long.
As you notice, I don't roll out little snakes of putty. I use the putty
knife which does the same work more efficiently and effectively.
When laying in the bedding putty, I run the putty knife along the rabbet,
spreading the rough putty evenly along the bed of the rabbet. It doesn't
look good, just spread it out continuously along the bed and a little up
onto the side of the rabbet. Then I bed the glass pane into the putty.
Actually the pane beds itself, as I lay my hand flat on the pane I giggle it
sideways a little, which helps the putty flow--jiggle, jiggle, jiggle,
for about a minute. Don't press down, the glass might break. Then I set the
When laying in the top putty, I roughly distribute cool putty as before.
Then I use the putty knife to firmly press the putty into place with short
strokes that are perpendicular to the glazing rabbet. A little sideways
wiggle of the knife during each stroke helps "relax" the putty letting it
flow into all the little nooks and crannies. The purpose is to bring the
putty into intimate contact with the glass and wood deep within the rabbet.
The putty still looks rather rough and uneven on the exterior. I move on to
do this to the rest of the lights in the sash. This gives the putty several
minutes to "bond" to the surfaces. During this time a little of the oil in
putty seeps out from between the particles of calcium carbonate and wets the
primed wood and glass surfaces helping the mass of the putty adhere to them. This prevents the
putty from lifting out during final tooling. The old geezer glazier
I knew in New Hampshire didn't bother with this extra step of
perpendicular strokes. He said this step would slow him down too much. In
the sash factory they carefully control the temperature of their putty and tune its
formulation for best adhesion and workability. (But, wait.
Don't get excited just yet. You are not quite prepared to
accept the fundamental meaning of The Singular True and Universal Secret of
After wiping putty residue off my hand with a cloth rag, I am ready to give
the putty its final tooling. This is easy to do because I can concentrate on
The putty is adhering well and not lifting away from the glass and
side of the rabbet, to distract me.
I am not fiddling with scooping putty out of the can and onto the sash, or
fussing with putty on my hands--all that is done. I clean
off my putty knife with mineral spirits, and leave a drop of mineral spirits
on the knife. I hold the putty knife perpendicular to the line of putty.
I set the end-edge of the knife just touching the glass.
The end-edge of the knife is parallel with the line of putty, the
the flat of the knife is just touching the arris at the top of the glazing
rabbet. I stroke the whole length of the rabbet three times, keeping the
whole end-edge of the knife on the glass, and keeping the flat of the knife
on the arris. Each stroke
further compresses the putty and refines its shape into a single flat plane:
first stroke, compress the putty and trim away most of the extra; second
the knife a tiny bit to bring the edge of the putty in line with the edge of
the rabbet on the other side of the glass; third and final stroke, smooths
the final surface; and
at the end of that stroke, I smooth out the corner of the glazing by lifting
one point of the blade off the glass and then trailing the other point up
the corner of the putty. (Well, perhaps some things are easier shown in
Repeat for each line of putty around the light, and each light of the sash.
To remove any scraps of putty from the glass or the face of the sash I mop
them up with a little lump of warm putty. Then I'm ready to glaze the next
I like to have a certain rounded and slightly worn shape
at the very corners of my putty knife--I'll have to take a look at that on
this coming round of window work to see exactly what it is and why it works
So, there you have a few of the little details and subtle nuances of the
work. We are splitting really fine hairs here. Is it worth it? My motto is:
Always Do Best Work. For me, this means every time I do any task I must
remember what I have done, and then do
it a little better. Window after window, each pane of glass is glazed in
little better than the last. To keep getting improvements I must pay
attention to finer and finer details. Over the years it has paid off for me.
Is paying attention to all these little details worth it to you? You will
know the answer to that when I tell you The Singular True and Universal
Secret of Glazing, which I am just about to do. Are you ready to actually
receive The Singular True and Universal Secret of Glazing? I think you need
have to have at least a little putty under your finger nails, to be truly
ready. I can wait if you have to go back out to the shop to dig into that
can of putty...
OK, OK, here it is: The Singular True and Universal Secret of Glazing. The
glazing geezer told me this after everyone had left the glazing shop for the
day. The shop was dark except for a spot of light that encompassed the glazing bench and the two of us. I watched him glaze a few more sash. Finally I broke the silence to ask, "How do you do it, bedding panes of glass in perfect lines of putty day
after day, year after year, decade after decade?" He stepped up to me and held his putty
knife by it's rosewood handle, pointing the blade up to the heavens,
slowly turning its steely edge between us, as it glinted in the glare of the bare light
bulb hanging above.
He looked me straight in the eyes,
and said, "I will tell you The Singular True and
Universal Secret of Glazing, but you must promise to only tell those who
will become truly good glaziers." I cupped both my hands around his putty
glazed hand that held this time worn tool, and solemnly promised,
"I swear it." Then he whispered, his
words slipping past the thin blade of the knife like all the putty
had done over these past decades, "The Secret is in the
details that you can't see or feel. I like to work after hours late into the
when the shop is still and quite. I listen to the putty and it tells me by a
certain 'squisssssssshhh...ah...ssshhiishh' when it is content to be
perfectly wedded to the wood and the glass.Ó
žAnd besides, if it is not so perfect, I just scoop it outta there
and do it over. Who's around to tell the diff?"
Ha! We both grinned as he finished up the sash. We walked over to the door. He put out the light, and, as we stepped out into the frosty evening, he locked up
the shop, securing The Singular True and Universal Secret of Glazing into
the darkness of the glazing shop for one more night.
If you have any glazing secrets you want to share, leave a reply here.
John (with no strain, he sets the pane) Leeke
by hammer and hand great works do stand
by pen and thought best words are wrought
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