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Restoring Functional Window Shutters

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This is one of those projects. Like so many with our whole house remodel. I started it shortly after we purchased the 1880s Farmhouse. When we initially painted the home’s wood siding, we first removed some 24 sets of Antique Wood Shutters.

Antique Wood Window Shutters - Settlement Day

My goal all along – refinish and rehang them.

(While I combed through my pics, I couldn’t find any from the initial step of removing these wood shutters. In fact, at the point of installation – last spring, I was actually in full punch-out mode, so detailed pictures are a little slim throughout. My apologies. I hope what I have speaks for itself.)

Victorian Farmhouse Wood Shutter Removed Painting Wood Siding

Long time readers first heard about this project in 2009. (I know!) The post – Removing Rust from Hardware. I also mentioned it briefly here (from the same series) – Removing Paint: Working with a Professional Refinisher. You see, after pulling those shutters, I took them (plus all saved shutter hardware) to have them dipped. (But more on that to come.)

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The primary focus of this two-part article is the process of refinishing and (re-)hanging those antique operable wood window shutters. As part of my walk-up, I also discuss the History and Architectural Significance of Window Shutters (in the other part of this article – click thru).

For me, the process of restoring (well, at least, repainting) included making (ultra-)minor repairs. Because we kept our wood windows, i.e. our windows hadn’t been replaced, no major modifications to the size of the shutters were required. And because much of the existing window trim was either previously replaced (by me) and/or was otherwise intact (enough), re-hanging the shutters themselves was pretty straight forward. (Read: A lot of the heavy lifting, admittedly, was already done.)

Louvered Shutter 2nd Story Victorian

* I’ll also check in with Carpenter, Lenny Addario of Reputation Builders, working in Coastal Connecticut. He recently completed a shutter restoration job of his own. Lenny’s job was really quite different from mine, though his shutters too fell into the same period. They were around 120 years old. As you’ll learn, a very cool project, for sure.

Editor’s Note: Hurricane Shutters are outside the scope of this article.

Refinishing & Hanging Functional Wood Shutters – Steps

I provide the steps in What I Did to Refinish & Hang my Louvered Wood Shutters. And while they may differ from the steps you might require, mine are as follows: (Click any link below to jump to that section in this article.)

Honestly, this entire process was amazingly time consuming. Mrs. Moxie (my wife and real estate agent), in fact, asked frequently (over a couple-month period), “Why is it taking you soooo long to do the shutters?”

Well, each pair is like a mini set of french doors. (And that’s just hanging them!) I mean – I did mention I had a full 24 sets of them. (Ha!) (And okay, I only ended up doing 10.)

Final Note:  A very satisfying project. And I think the wife would agree, it ultimately helped us sell this old house. While the initial plan was also to install storm windows over these windows, that, at the time of this project, wasn’t completed.

window shutters house before & after

Please Read On. ~jb

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Removing & Labeling Exterior Wood Shutters

Removing window shutters is the simple reverse of hanging shutters. Shutters are swung near open and they are then lifted upwards. (I won’t digress, but great care was required with removing associated hardware – they were unfortunately poorly painted.)

When removing shutters, they should be labeled. For me, I noted there were two unique systems used previously. When I found these, I then drew out a very simple diagram in my little black notebook.

The hinged edge of each shutter 1) Had been stamped with a number 1-24. & 2) Also had a very spartan roman numeral scratched into them. Unlike the stamped number, the roman numerals appeared to identify only increments in size. A few sets of shutters had, say, a marking “III” carved into them. Further, there were corresponding markings located on a few of the window frames around the house.

* Lesson Learned with Labeling Shutters

Steel Stamps for Labeling ShuttersUnfortunately, neither system was reliable. Too many duplicates, too many inaccuracies. (And I sure wish now I had a pic.) Ideally, I should have taken the time to transfer those standard numbers onto the corresponding casings, with a wood stamp punch set (pictured at right).

In the end, none of that really mattered anyway. Many of my shutters didn’t go back to their original locations. (More on this in the section about Hanging Wood Shutters.) While labeling in my case was somewhat futile, I was still thankful to have those stamped numbers. They proved very useful for keeping and making shutter pairs.

How to Refinish Exterior Wood Window Shutters

* How to Remove Paint from Wood Shutters

I have a good bit of experience stripping paint. I’ve used chemical strippers, mechanical means – including both heat guns as well as an infrared heater (File Under: waste of money). I’ve never planed, though I have sanded (but only when absolutely necessary) to remove paint.

shutters stripped painting station

Taking one look at a louvered shutter, I’m sorry – those options were all, just, well, out. Like the paint on the house’s Wood Siding, the paint on the shutters was pretty built-up, but also sadly, in pretty bad shape. It was pitted and peeling, and in general – failing.

Editor’s Note: Here is short video I made that helped me in some cases along the way, with prepping window casings – A Quick Fix for Pitted Paint. (I hope to do some re-work on it soon.)

I knew I needed to strip my shutters, but DIY? – no way. One or two maybe, and probably with a heat gun, but I had 24 sets of them. That’s 48 shutters in all – Umm. Cray-Cray?! No Way.

Working with Professional Refinishers

Enter Baltimore Finishing Works. This is where I had these shutters “dipped”.

In my last house (the one with the vinyl shutters on them), I had a door that failed a lead paint inspection. To remedy, I removed the door and took it to these guys to get it stripped. Such an easy process that I didn’t think twice doing it again, here, with these shutters.

What to Know about Professional Paint Stripping – i.e. Dipping.

Dipped? Dipped in what … Chocolate?!

There are a handful of products and processes that these pro refinishers use. My shutters received a bath in methylene chloride. Immediately after the paint was removed, they were transferred to a wash that removes any lead particles. To finish, they were then rinsed in a neutralizing agent.

* On discussing with Carpenter, Lenny, he credits the longevity of the shutters he worked with to the lead paint that encapsulated them. He said, “After 115 years, all the paint was intact. Likely they have been preserved by that old lead based paint.”  (Probably very true.)

When this part of the project was completed, all associated hardware was also stripped. All shutters, plus all hardware (I could deliver) rang to a total cost of $1003 – 10 years ago. Pretty friggin’ right on! Right?

Note on Cost: On checking today, Baltimore Finishing Works quotes around $100 a set of shutters, to a certain height. By my math, I gotta assume they also slipped me a bulk discount when I had it done.

Tip: These pros recommend sitting stripped items out in the sun immediately after stripping. This is done so that items can sufficiently dry before finishing.

* Lesson Learned on Storing Wood Shutters

Shutters Stored Incorrectly Standing Up

In retrospect, I can say my timing here was poor. Again I do not regret having them professionally stripped, but rather when I had them professionally stripped. The process revealed beautiful fir shutters (I think), which ultimately sat stored for some eight years.

Further, shutters are ideally stored, like doors, flat. I was short on that space, however. They stood upright as they ran along an outside wall of my garage, awaiting their time. Less protected than they would have been if they were still painted.

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* Restoring Shutter Hardware – Prep and Painting

As mentioned in the sister article, my hinges were simple two-part, pin-style hinges. These are separable and allow the shutters to be lifted off easily for maintenance and/or storage. Unfortunately and after years of, well, abuse, these hinges, too, were painted and repainted. (A sin really – but more on that rant in the series: My Own Personal Hell – Removing Paint from Hardware.)

As mentioned above, they too were sent off to the refinisher, and, in the end, they were also stored far too long. While there was little option with the shutters, stripping the hinges by hand was not totally inconceivable. Chemicals, a Heat Gun, a Scraper, Steel Wool were all effective for spot work. For a large batch of hardware like this, however, I’d suggest looking into the technique of removing paint in a crock pot.

When it came time for the project, though, and I pulled out the hinges. 1) I spot stripped with paint remover, sanding them and buffing them with steel wool. 2) I then treated my parted hinges with a rust remover. 3) And in some cases, I primed them also with rust reformer spray. 4) I finished them with cold galvanizing compound (working exceptionally well on bare metal) and 5) Lastly, I clear coated with an exterior-grade lacquer. (While I have heard that common “interior” shellac would work just as well as a clear coat.)

* Assembling Hinges

Various markings on the back of hinges, in three different, well, fonts – helped greatly with matching. Shutters hinges as you may find can come in both rights and lefts. While I wasn’t so lucky as to have the original locations marked, I sifted through my pile of hinge parts – aka “leaves”. The bottom “leaf” of each hinge pair was a “male” i.e. had a pin, the tops had a cupped recess.

Pairing Hinges

Once painted, I placed all my lefts in a box of Lefts, and all my rights in a box of Rights. From there, male (pin-half or bottom) and females (top) were picked and matched – using the markings. In some cases, I took a drill driver and run a bit into the female’s hole to clear accumulated paint, debris and/or rust. As hinges were assembled, they each received a drop of 3-in-1 oil to ease operation. (Learn more about Home Maintenance Oils and Lubricants, here.)

I took a similar approach with the hold backs and other shutter hardware. Refinishing them in large batches in the basement over several weekends in the Winter. I placed a large piece of cardboard out on the floor, opened windows and doors, and just sprayed. (Follow directions on all products, especially as timing will be based on these recommendations.)

Of the hold back arms/stays, these too come in lefts and rights. Additionally, my stays came in varying lengths. Pulls came in different styles, and even the “locks”, which are mounted directly to the window sill, showed some variety. (But more on this below in the section – Installing Shutter Hardware.)

Painting Exterior Wood Shutters

Much like the exterior paint on my wood siding, the paint on my shutters was sadly peeling. Some shutters had damage on the louvers themselves. Top or bottom rails on some had completely deteriorated. For these reasons, discussions about finishing shutters sometimes include – capping them in copper. This works to protect the vulnerable top edge. (Spoiler: I didn’t get into this with this project.)

Because I was under a time crunch, I punted on repairs. While certainly repairable, I just didn’t have the time to get into these for listing the house. Instead I had to work more in sizes, my goal to get shutters back on the front-side elevations of the house and on the sides that were most visible from the street.

Tip: Like painting a paneled door, start with the panel (in this case the louvers), then move outward to the rails and stiles.

More on the Anatomy of these Shutters, in the sister article – here.

* Setting up a Paint Station

Grabbing the 2 mil plastic I utilized when stripping paint next to the chimney at the side porch, I set up a painting station at the back of the yard. I had screwed fur strips to the top edge of this plastic (and there is a good article on setting up plastic for dust/spray containment). I took this edge and flipped it just over the top of my fence.

shutters sprayed at paint station

Secured in four locations with old Quick Grip ratcheting bar clamps. At the bottom, I held the sheeting down with a couple of 2x6s and some cinder blocks. This set up allowed me to spray six shutters at at time (3 sets). Because I was targeting initially 12 windows, you can imagine this took me several weekends. Prime, Flip, Paint, Flip. At the end of any one weekend, I simply folded my plastic down – to set up again at the start of any new paint session.

* Painting Exterior Wood Shutters – Spraying the Shutters

One thing that has come to me through the years as a blog owner is paint sprayers. So I had my pick from low cost paint sprayers.

I used a  Wagner Paint Ready Sprayer to spray the shutters. (Spraying, too – a no-brainer.) This lightweight indoor/outdoor sprayer features:

  • Hvlp spraying using air to force material from the spray head at the same time atomizing it into fine particles
  • A patented adjustable I-Spray nozzle for either horizontal or vertical spray patterns
  • Adjustable spray pattern from 1 in. to 10 in. based on your coverage needs.

Its adjustable nozzle was a huge win, transferring from the shutters’ horizontal pieces (rails and louvers) to its vertical pieces (stiles) was a snap.

* Priming First Gave Me a Sorta Show Coat

Because these shutters were stripped down to bare wood, I primed first with a Bare Wood Primer. If I had time – which I did not, I likely would have fine-sanded the shutters before I began painting. (Note: The process of removing paint with dipping often raises the grain of wood.) I sprayed the shutters, with little ceremony, just standing them up and leaning against that fence.

This primer acted in a way also as a “show coat” and especially at the top edge of rails, where marbling in the wood was present. I filled with caulk, tooling with a 2-inch putty knife.

As with the rest my exterior, I stuck with the Sherwin-Williams A100. The shutters would receive the olive green accent that I used on the Victorian corbels and the “gingerbread” found in the house’s gables. While not necessarily required with the sprayer, I thinned my paint anyway by about 5% with water. While I could have just sprayed and left the work, I felt that back brushing after spraying just turned out a better job. (Note also: I left painting the bottom edge of the shutter, in most cases, until after I hung them.)

Shutters Sprayed at Paint Station

With the sprayer, I did have problems getting into the hidden spaces between the louvers as they met the stiles. There was a specific procedure I then followed. Using a 2 1/2” sash brush, I started by applying paint at the edge of louvers where they met the stiles. I then brushed out the inside edge of the stiles and tipped off the face surfaces. I finished by finally brushing out the louvers.

It took me a couple gallons (around 2 gallons of paint) to finish my 12 sets of shutters.

* Final Prep – Matching Sets

When I installed I was quite opportunistic. I punted on any set that required any more than what caulk and paint could handle. This meant grabbing pairs of shutters that were in better shape and laying them out (around the house) strategically. Ultimately, I was overriding the labeling I mentioned earlier in this post – keying instead on window size.

I had some variance in the hinges and hold backs, and, at minimum, 3 types of shutters – slight differences in shutter construction appeared.  Some had thinner parts, some had a middle rail, etc.

Why the variance? Not sure, but I can only assume that perhaps shutters were added to the house over time and/or some had been replaced at some point – perhaps themselves due to damage, but still – a long time ago.

Another very time consuming aspect of my job, beyond just pairing the shutters was positioning them. I mean – figuring which window they’d go in. When installed, the wide rail of the shutter orients to the bottom. And Important! Louvers face downward when the shutters are closed.

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Through the years, I did substantial work on to the trim on this house. This includes not only stripping and repainting, as well as replacing – removing, routing and reinstalling. Here I installed window cap flashing. Later, there were times even when I had to make repairs to this paint. I really don’t have time to cover here, but I  did ensure trim was thoroughly painted before I began the process of hanging.

* Installing Hinges on the Shutters

Hanging the shutters actually started on a makeshift workbench I set up on my patio. This was where I first installed all of my female hinge parts. In a lot of cases, and especially because I wasn’t able to keep hinges paired to shutters, setting the hinges started with first widening the mortise that was already on the shutter.

installing shutter hinges work bench

In most cases, this was more than just cutting out paint that sagged into the hinge mortise. More frequently it meant actually cutting away some material from the mortise – usually about an ⅛”. I worked on the downhill side of the hinge mainly, because I knew if I’d have to adjust the shutters’ fit later, it’d be easier for me to perform adjustments on the top of the shutter once it was hung.

Which Shutters are the Rights and Which Shutters are the Lefts?

Good question. For me, the Rights were the not the shutter hanging to the right when looking up. Rather, the right shutter was the shutter hung on the right when looking out from inside the windows. The Lefts on the left – from inside the house.

Lessons Learned from an Old House: Especially with anything to do with wood windows. As they were site-built/site-installed, there is always a minor dimensional variation window to window. And the impact on these shutters was no different in this regard.

* Setting the Pintles

To start, I set the pin-side (actually called the pintle) to the inside of a window casing. For me, mortises again were already in place. As with the shutters themselves, I had to expand them with a utility knife and a chisel. (One of the hardest tools to master. Here again is some video on working with a chisel – Installing a Strike Plate for a Door.) In most cases, I just had to cut sags of paint out from bottom of the mortises before I could attach the pintles. In other cases, I had to cut away a small section of replaced window trim.

preparing to hang shutters

Hardest part of this task was finding an appropriate screw to re-hang them with. While I had many of the slotted screws (that were cut out and unscrewed), I opted instead for stainless steel. I originally targeted #9s I found on the internet. But because the existing screw holes were, in some cases, blown out, I had to move up to a #10. For the other related hardware, I alternated between those #9s & #8. (For more on how screws are numbered, please see our Guide to Common Screws.)

Where holes did not appear, I pre-drilled and stuck in the #9. Both on the shutter, and on the casing, I used 2” long screws. As I hung them, I purposely left the center hole out – at least until I got the shutter initially fitted. I had to be very conscious, of course, that I was not over-driving screws – as this could send shutters out of plumb.

* Hanging the Shutters

In all cases, the shutters should swing freely and not bind. Those maladies are an indication that shutters are either out of plumb or your hinges are over-set. They should close tight and lap at their meeting rails (if present).

Adjustments in fine fit can be a made with a planer or a sander.

Adjustments in swing – typically at the hinge – well, there are many tricks and improvisations. (Perhaps there, another article in and of itself.)

While painting and hardware refinishing was done in a grouped manner, hanging was a very individualize process.

Setting the actual shutter, for me, required angling the shutter just short of open, and some patience. (I could see slight damage on much of the house’s head casings where shutters were hastily removed.)

1) Starting at the bottom, line the shutter-side leaf up over the bottom hinge’s pintle. 2) Then tilt the shutter upward. 3) When both shutter-side leafs are aligned with the pintles, simply let the shutter slide downward into place.

Once installed, check fit.  Inlaid shutters like these should contact at the top with the window stops. At the bottom – the window sill, when they are closed.

* Installing Shutter Hardware

This too was a mix and match process for me. I started but setting the stops/locks first in the sill. Then holding the shutter full open against the house, I sat the stay into the stop. This allowed me to then locate the stay’s base on the shutter’s bottom rail. Trying to stay as level as possible.

These stays/holdbacks had a three-hole configuration. I started with the single hole farthest from the opening. Marked, pre-drilled and then filed with a #8 x 1 1/4″ stainless screw. I then set one more screw, just enough to check operation. Later when I was happy with everything, I installed remaining screws.

louvered shutter antique stays-cropped

These stays were kinda cool in that when the shutter is closed, they swing back and rest in the partnered pull – also mounted to the shutter’s bottom rail.

While set ups could include a rectangular or other surface-mount bolt latch, usually mounted toward the center of the shutters, my installation did not include these. I knew these shutters wouldn’t likely get closed much.

This was however not true of Lenny‘s installation, see Part 2 of this article for his client’s plan.

Note: I admit today, I’m not quite certain if those pulls above are set in the proper orientation. I thought briefly about installing the hook side down, such as they would try to snag those center catches. While I have certainly seen similar, I’m not sure I’ve seen this exact pull in use elsewhere. Most likely – these pulls just weren’t meant to pair with those catches. And maybe I should have held them out. (Could be wrong – and I do welcome constructive input in the Comments section below.)

* Making Repairs & Final Adjustments in Fit

Needless to say, new shutters typically cost more than the time and materials it takes to restore the originals. However, with new shutters, this would have allowed me to be more exacting in fit. (Notes on measuring for shutters, maybe another day.) Further, I could have ordered them already primed, which could have saved me countless hours in prep.

With my shutters, I didn’t size them perfectly or fit them (with planing) in the time allowed. But each shutter set did in fact close.

As with any wood product, you can expect some age on the shutters. Rot or other minor imperfections can be addressed with Abatron – which I have written about several times.

Further, this looks like a decent article on how to fix minor and major damage on wood shutters.

* Lessons Learned with Restoring Exterior Wood Shutters

Yes, it is an absolute sin when you see only the street-side of the house dressed with shutters.

By window, though, I’ll admit – it likely took at least four hours for each. (That right there is a stopper for many.) While still available today in stock sizes, to replace these shutters, costs could have easily climbed over $500 each window. (And probably much more – each set would likely have required a custom fitting.)

Like many of the projects around this house, I completed only a portion what I actually hoped to. While I only finished with the face (and certain highly visible sides), I would have ideally wrapped the shutters all the way around the house. Repairing as I went.

In the end, I was only installed shutters on 10 total windows. While I had all the shutters that came off the house, they were consequently gifted to the new owners. Hopefully, they pick up the torch, and finish what I couldn’t. I did get the most important ones hung (for curb appeal), and hopefully, hopefully – they’ll have the moxie to finish the rest.

Thanks for Reading. ~jb

Next Post – Installing Wallpaper :: A Feature Wall that Also Hides Imperfections in Plaster.