I’ve been meaning for a while to post this how-to on fairly easy custom windows. The plans for The Big House called for window openings 3×5. Not knowing that the standard had already become the Houseworks-sized windows, and being new at this, my dad and I cut out all the windows before realizing we should have bought the windows first and cut to fit. We’d also made the dollhouse out of 1/2″ thick wood, not knowing that most windows are for 3/8″ thick walls.
When I started remodeling, I decided to get rid of the windows I’d kind of hacked to fit (plus filled in and covered the side gaps), and start fresh with windows to fit the 3 x 5 openings. The fact that this house has 23 windows daunted me a while!
I did some research and looked over some things I’d done before, and came up with a method for custom windows that can be adapted to any size, any style (sash, double hung, casement, nonopening, working, big, small, wide, narrow), and for any dollhouse wall thickness.
Strip wood (in inches) (and feel free to vary per your window requirements)
1/4 x 1/16 (window sash frames and sills)
1/8 x 1/16 (middle sash and other filler pieces)
1/8 x 1/8 square (sills)
3/8 x 1/16 (outside window trim; can be for inside as well)
1/2 x 1/16 (inside trim; frame out raw window edges)
1/16 x 1/16 (mullions, optional)
Acrylic, micro glass, or whatever you like for the window panes
Stain or paint
Tacky or white glue
An E-Z cutter is very handy, or your tool of choice for making many straight and mitered cuts.
Gluing jig to keep everything perfectly square.
I preferred to finish the walls, inside and out, before putting in the windows.
Note: Click on any of the photos for a larger view.
If staining, stain all pieces before gluing together. If painting, paint all pieces before gluing to the glass or acrylic.
Frame out Raw Edges
Frame out the raw edges of the window opening with wood strips. Cut the top and bottom strips first to fit, fit the left and right strips between them. Stain or paint before gluing the strips into the opening. I used 1/2″ strips here, because my wall thickness is 1/2″–of course use whatever size strips fit your wall thickness.
The following instructions will make a non-working, double-hung looking window that can be varied for different styles and looks. I also made true, working double-hung windows, which I’ll add afterward (they’re simply a variation on the non-working windows).
Window sash frame (1/4 x 1/16 wood strips):
Measure the inside of the window after the raw edges have been covered. The sash will fit inside the strips you used to cover the raw edges, so measure that opening width and height.
If you use the notched sash frame method, measure the exact height and width of the window opening and cut two pieces from 1/4″ x 1/16″ for the width, two for the length.
If you use the butted sash frame method, first measure the width of the window and cut out two pieces from a 1/4″ strip. Then measure the height of the window, and subtract 1/2″ (for the two 1/4″ pieces that will be the top and bottom of the window sash).
Note: If you have openings that are supposed to be squared and are not (e.g, the top is a 1/16″ longer than the bottom), cut the sash frames to fit the smaller measurement. It’s better to have a too-small perfectly square window and shim the gap than to have a crooked window.
Build the Sash Frame
A notched frame makes for a stronger window, but it does take time. A butted frame is faster and can look just as nice. I’ll give instructions for both.
A notched frame:
A butted frame. Note the left and right sides are glued between the top and bottom.
Option A: Making the Notched Frame
Lay out the top and bottom strips. From the corners of each, cut notches, 1/8″ x 1/8″. Lay the top piece over the left piece.
Note that the top piece is over the left side piece at the corner.
Mark where the notch will fall on the left sash piece and cut accordingly. The finished joint will look like this:
Do this for all four sides. The result will look like this:
If staining the wood, stain first before gluing. Glue together at the notches and let dry. Test the window inside the opening. If it fits, go on. If not, trim to adjust and re-glue.
Option B: Building the butted frame
Butt joints are of course easier and quicker. Lay the pieces out with the top and bottom joining the two sides. Stain pieces before gluing. The finished frame will look like this:
Once you have the frame done (notched or butted), move on to the next steps, inserting the sash divider and the mullions.
The sash divider
These non-working windows need a piece in the middle to simulate two sashes. When making working windows, we’ll make two sashes, an upper and lower, and this piece will be omitted.
The sash divider piece will be cut from the 1/8″ x 1/16″ strip wood. The piece will be notched into place in the back of the frame, so cut a strip a little bit wider than the inside width of your window frame.
Measure the length of the window frame. Calculate what will be the exact center of that, which is where the sash piece will fall. Mark. (Below, the sash piece has been cut and simply laid over the frame where it will go.)
Cut small notches in the frame with a sharp X-acto or other craft knife.
Make sure the divider fits into the notches.
Sash divider glued in place.
Once the sash divider is glued and dry, you can put in mullions if desired.
The great thing about these custom windows is that you can use any mullion style you want, or don’t use them at all. I chose to put one set of vertical mullions into these windows, because I liked the Victorian / Edwardian look.
Any style can be done–six over six, two over two . . . Below is an example of twelve over twelve I did for the Colonial house:
To install mullions:
1/16 x 1/16 wood strips. (I used some mullion strips left over from some Houseworks windows I’d used sans mullions in another project.)
The mullions will be notched into the window like the sash divider. Measure and cut wood strips the length you want, making sure they overlap the frame slightly.
Cut notches in the frame to accommodate strips.
The side of the window that shows the notches will be the back.
The front of the window is smooth, notches for mullions hidden.
For the twelve over twelve windows, I used three vertical 1/16 x 1/16 strips and two horizontal in each sash. Laying the strips out, I measured where they joined, then made small notches in both sets, so they fit together as a grid (much easier than cutting each tiny piece and gluing them together). I then glued the grids into notches in the sides, tops and bottoms of the window frame.
Inserting the Glass
Glass or acrylic in your windows is entirely optional. I like the realism so I added.
Before you proceed with this step, make sure the window frame is stained or painted. This is the last time you can touch up stain or paint without risking it getting on the glass.
I use sheets of very thin acrylic (I think it’s 1mm thick) sold by Hobby Builder’s Supply (and other outlets). I have a razor cutter from MicroMark that cuts well–you score the acrylic than snap it.
Measure the glass so the dimensions are a little bit smaller than your finished sash frame, and cut out.
Put tiny drops of glue on the frame in strategic locations and set the glass on top of it. Let dry.
Note: Make sure you glue the notched side of the frame to the glass, not the smooth side.
The finished front frame with glass fitted inside the window opening.
At this point, you can glue the front frame and glass into the window opening, as I have done here (front side of frame is seen on the outside of your house), or you can put on the back frame first (see next step). I like to fit the front part of the window first, glue in place, and then glue the back part over the glass.
Window Frame Back
Make a second window frame to sandwich around the glass. This makes for a much neater finish inside the house.
Option 1: Duplicate the entire front frame, including mullions.
Option 2: Make a simple outer frame of 1/4 x 1/16 strips and glue it to the back.
This window has a simple glued in back frame.
Now we need to put a frame on the outside of the window, on the house.
The top and sides are simple 3/8″ strips cut to fit. Top fits over the two sides. Two sides go to the bottom of the window frame and no farther. I also moved these to overlap the frame a little, for a more finished look. (I see the 1/2″ scale Cotswold Cottage reflected in the glass here).
You can, of course, use more elaborate moldings or make moldings with layers of wood strips.
The outer windowsill is two pieces.
Piece 1 is a 1/8″ x 1/8″ strip cut to size. Note that it extends past the outer frame on either side about 1/8″ (on each side).
A 1/4″ x 1/16″ strip glued horizontally under the square strip completes the sill.
The finished outer frame and sill.
I’m finishing these on the inside with a simple 1/2″-strip, mitered frame. You could embellish with molding, a more elaborate sill, and other things.
And there you have a completed window.
To finish off the window, I added a cornice across the top (same width as the top outside frame), and shutters.
Shutters were torn off the old house and reused; cornice came from cornices torn out of the old house. I found a product by Americana called “staining and antiquing medium” at the hobby store. Mixed with burnt umber paint, it allowed me to create the look of stain over the old painted shutters and cornice pieces.
Now, you might be thinking…
… why not build the whole window, including the outside frame with sill and slide it into place? That’s certainly an option. I didn’t, because my window openings are not all cut straight or the exact same size. Making the window in pieces and gluing it into place was the best way I could fit the windows as I went. If your window openings are perfectly straight (e.g., from a kit house, or you’re very even-handed with a scroll saw), then building everything as one unit (including the raw opening trim we started with), is certainly doable.
What I like about this method is that it can be lent to so many variations. I didn’t give any window dimensions here because the instructions can be adapted to any size of window opening and any wall thickness. Likewise, the size of your outer frame and sill, the width of the strips you use to make the inner frames–everything–can be done to your taste and needs.
As you can see, for the bay window, I eliminated the shutters and the cornice (though I might add the cornices).
The attic window is much smaller than the main windows, but built by the same method.
By varying the mullion style and outer details, you can make a very different window.
This six over six window, with a more ornate, Victorian inner frame is in the room box I call The Card Room. While I made this window years ago, the method was similar (and inspired me to make all these windows).
Double-hung, working windows are a little more labor, but based on the same idea.
Outside (before trim) double-hung window.
The same window, opening.
Instead of making one large frame, divide your window height measurement in half, then add 1/4″ for the middle sashes, which will overlap each other.
Build an upper frame and a lower frame. (No need for the middle sash). Use the notched or butt-joint method. (Remember that the left and right strips will end up glued between top and bottom strips.)
Put in whatever mullions you choose, notching them into place. Build a second frame for both top and bottom sashes, and sandwich glass/acrylic between them. You’ll end up with two small sash sandwiches.
Installation of Double-Hung Windows
Option 1: Glue both sashes in place–glue the upper sash first, the lower sash behind it. Position them open or closed and glue.
Option 2: Working window. For this type, it’s much easier to build the entire window outside the house and slide into place.
Use 1/8 x 1/8 wood strips or 1/8 x 1/16 the length of your window to make channels in your window opening frame. Glue a set of strips (one right, one left) to the very front of the window opening. When dry, place the upper sash behind them. Glue another set of strips behind the upper sash. When dry place the lower sash behind that. Finish with another set of strips or your inner window frame.
End of Tutorial
I hope this is somewhat helpful. If you have an odd-sized or old house, or want a window look for a kit or a room box that commercial windows don’t offer, this method might work for you.
I’ve made fifteen of these windows so far (working on number 16 today), for The Big House.
I chose to make single-pane, non-working windows for the front opening panels, attic windows, and bay windows. The sides of the house have double-hung working windows.
I will post more pictures when the whole facade is done.