Updated: Nov 24
“Ideas from Ed” (July 2020)
Ed is a do-it-yourselfer who is happy to share some of his ideas and experiences in this monthly column.
This month: Screen scene
Truly historic homes sometimes have real wooden-framed window screens, often with copper screening nicely sandwiched between layers of finished wood. Many of us at some time or another have had “storm windows” or something similar installed, with more modern metal frames. Perhaps at some point I’ll demonstrate replacing the former, but this month, I show how to replace screening on the newer type.
First, let’s look at a typical issue. This picture shows how the screen has been pushed (or torn) out of its retainer in the frame. I guess you could patch this with every man’s go-to material (duct tape!) but that would be a last-resort kind of thing. You want to do it right, don’t you?
The screen is held in place by a rubbery string spline, pressed into a channel around the frame. Find the end, and pry it up with a screwdriver, and begin to pull it out. It helps to be working on a large flat area. I’m working on a mat in my driveway.
Once it’s all out, simply pull the screen out of the groove.
You’ll obviously be replacing the screen, but whether or not you can-reuse the retaining splining depends on its condition. If it’s already in pieces, or you damage it getting it out, you can buy new at most home/hardware stores without breaking the bank. It comes in different diameters, though, so if you’re buying new, and putting a similar thickness of screen back in, get some that matches your original material. With a heavier screen, you might need to use a smaller diameter retainer.
I mention the heavier screen, because that’s pretty much all I use now. Re-screening is not on my list of most favorite things to do, so I want to end up with something that will last a long time. I use “pet resistant” screening material. It’s much heavier and stronger, and made to keep light scrapes from dog claws, for example, from ripping it. However, it may NOT keep a child from pushing through it, so don’t be lulled into that sense of security. In my case, although the screening was heavier, I was able to use the original retainer spline by pressing it in with quite a bit of pressure. Here’s a picture of the screen material wrapping:
If you don’t have a splining tool, get one! It’s inexpensive and will make the work so much easier. My only recommendation is to get one that has the “wheel” suspended in a “fork” so there’s strength there, as opposed to one that’s attached to a single arm of the main tool body. Sometimes a lot of “down pressure” is needed, and you don’t want the tool failing or being incapable of handling the task. Some have press wheels with grooves of different sizes, to accommodate using different diameters of spline. Here’s the tool I use:
You’ll need a piece of screen about 2 inches wider and longer than the frame. Take note if your screening is “directional” with small rectangles rather than squares. If so, you’ll want to place things so that all windows you’re working on will have the same screening orientation.
Start in a corner, either with the end of the spine or in mid-spline, and CAREFULLY press the spline down into the groove with a flat-bladed screwdriver. You’d never be able to get the press wheel exactly into the corner, so the screwdriver does the trick. While pet-resistant, the screening is not screwdriver-resistant, so go slowly or you’ll puncture the brand-new screen.
It’s impossible to be 100% accurate in the alignment, but getting the screening to sit as perfectly straight in the frame is what makes the difference between the job looking like it was done professionally or by an amateur. I find it helpful to carefully lay the screen in place, aligned as best that can be, and then to lay the spline over the groove. With one hand keeping the screen and spline in place, I roll the press wheel in one direction away from the corner. Once it’s packed down, you can run the wheel in both directions if needed to embed things a bit deeper.
As you go around the frame, tucking the corners in carefully with the screwdriver, you should keep the screen taut, but not pulled extremely tight. If you pull too tightly, you’ll distort the frame, especially with larger ones, and the end result will be a frame that no longer fits the window very well.
When the entire screening has been pressed into place, use your razor knife and cut any remaining spline. Then CAREFULLY run a new blade around the edge between the spline and the frame, cutting off the “hung over” material. Don’t rush this, or you’ll risk cutting the spline or slipping and cutting the new screen.
When it’s all over, congratulate yourself on a job well done, install the screen, and have a beer or a lemonade.
Here’s the completed project:
I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!