Before I even begin this post, let me offer a disclaimer: THIS IS NOT A GUIDE TO RESTORING STEEL CASEMENT WINDOWS. It is merely a documentation of my repainting of the inside of the window in my kitchen. The photos look like they were taken with a flip phone, for some reason, and any information conveyed will likely be only minimally useful to anyone needing advice on fully restoring their own steel casement windows. That said, at some point in the future, I will write a more comprehensive post on steel casement window restoration. And I’ll take pictures with an actual camera. I’ll even clean the lens first!
I have done a few posts over the years about repairing and restoring old windows, but until now, those windows had all been wood sash windows. One of the things I love the most about this house are the original steel casements. By my estimate, only about 25% of the houses in my neighborhood (which was all developed by the same builder, Allen Stamm) still have their original windows, which is a real shame. I’m not sure if people decide to rip out the casements for aesthetic reasons or because they think they’re drafty (or maybe just because they think that’s what you’re supposed to do when you renovate a house), but compared to wood windows, steel casement windows are REALLY EASY to maintain and refurbish.
That said, over the course of two years, I have only done this “really easy” refurbishment on one window. One. And only the inside, because the outside is…complicated.
(Briefly: At some point, probably in the 1960s—a decade rife with bad renovation decisions—someone decided to use 90,000,000,000 rivets and some sort of adhesive to permanently attach storm windows to the outside of each section of the casements, making it impossible to maintain the glazing or repaint the windows. They also look terrible, and they do virtually nothing to increase the R-value of the windows because they only cover the glass and not where the frame and sash meet, which is where cold air comes in. Also, did I mention they make it impossible to maintain the glazing? And that they were installed without any weep holes, so they trap moisture every time it rains? I hate the storm windows, and at some point I’m going to have to start experimenting with methods for removing the 90,000,000,000 rivets. But I digress.)
Anyway, let’s hear it for the ONE WINDOW I have actually taken the time to repaint on the inside!! Conveniently, it’s in the kitchen, so it’s part of this whole series of kitchen renovation posts. In fact, the thing that propelled me to actually take the time to paint the window was knowing that pristine white countertops were about to be installed directly beneath it, and did I really want to be using black oil paint in such close proximity to those countertops? No, I did not. Plus, doing it beforehand meant I could stand inside of the sinkless/countertopless cabinets while I worked, which made the whole thing much easier.
The most notable immediate difference between working on a steel casement window and a wood sash window is that you can’t really remove the former from the framing like you can with the latter. In other words, everything you do with it really needs to happen while it’s in place. Unless you’re a pro like Seekircher Steel Window, but then you’re operating on a whole other level and not just a regular DIY person like me. (By the way, if you love steel windows as much as I do, follow Seekircher on Instagram. Their work is awe-inspiring.) So the weather needs to be compatible, and you need to be prepared to leave the window open at least a little bit for a few days while stuff dries. Early November was pretty much the latest I could get away with doing this.
After removing the window locks, I scraped any the lumpy, loose, or peeling paint from the steel, and dug out all of the old caulking from around the window frame. The previous paint job was done really quickly and sloppily, with flat paint—probably at the same time the walls were painted to get the house ready for sale. Surprisingly, there seemed to only be one coat of paint under that. I’m not sure if the windows were originally bare steel, because there was no paint at all under the locks. That seems unlikely, but I really couldn’t find any evidence of the original paint color.
Then it was sandpaper time! I used my trusty little Black + Decker Mouse sander, naturally. By the way, you’re only going to buy one power sander, that’s the one to get. I use it ALL the time. You don’t need to get the pricey Black + Decker brand sandpaper, either—you can buy compatible sandpaper multipacks for a fraction of the price, and they fit just fine. Now you know!
After sanding, I got to work on the hardware. The crank mechanisms were a little tricky, because removing them means having to also remove the operator, and the ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone, the shin’s bone connected to the knee bone, and so on. Unless you’re prepared to really take the window apart (something you’d probably only want to do if you needed to repair or replace the operator itself), it’s better to just leave the crank mechanism in place. So I did what any pro would do in this situation, and spent a couple of hours removing the paint with Q-tips and nail polish remover. Hey, whatever works.
Once the whole window had been thoroughly cleaned with TSP substitute and re-caulked around the perimeter, it was ready to paint. This isn’t a secret if you’ve been reading this blog for a long time, but I love Rust-Oleum products (and no, they’ve never paid me to say that). I’ve been using them for years and years, and they’ve never done me wrong. I did a priming coat with their Clean Metal primer (they make a Rusty Metal primer, too, which is what I’ll use when I paint the window exteriors) and let that dry for 24 hours with the windows slightly cracked open. The next day I did a coat of Rust-Oleum Protective Enamel in gloss black, let it dry overnight, and then gave it a final coat on day three. So: One coat of primer, two coats of paint. 24 hours of drying time between coats. Oil paint is time-consuming, yes, but it’s the only thing I’d use to paint a steel window—especially one with rust. Realistically, this paint job should last for many, many years, with only minimal touch-ups needed.
Not bad, right?? I’m really blown away by how much more important this window is now that it’s black instead of white. Windows in Pueblo Revival houses typically don’t have casing, so creating some definition by giving the window itself some contrast makes a massive difference. I’m just in love with the outcome, and I really want to paint the rest of the windows in the house black, too—inside and out.
Next up, adding additional cabinetry where the refrigerator used to be! In the mean time, if you need to get caught up on the kitchen plans and progress…