Several ideas have been spinning around my head due to a particular job this year. A job of patience, intricacy, detail, more patience, thought, analysis, change of technique, more patience, evolution of technique....

Patience and Detail - needed with cast iron lattice windows.

Those of you who know me know I'm a pretty patient chap. Earlier in my working life I was a care worker for adults with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour - that needed oodles of patience, and empathy too. I've also spent many years as a professional wildlife conservationist in several countries - again, patience, and this time determination was also needed.

Attention to detail has always come naturally - there's a strong perfectionist streak in me. At school I used to draw detailed pencil sketches of trees, or portraits of celebrities, and my drawings of dissected plants, earthworms, or fish in biology classes were given top marks. I hated having to give up art to concentrate on the sciences, but those subjects tickled my attention to detail too, past degree level.

It's pretty obvious what this has to do with decorating. To do the best job you can do - within the constraints of budget (i.e. time) that the customer is willing to pay, you have to look, and look again - think and think again. And again.

Sometimes you'll look at a wall, and think 'that needs filling, all of it, every inch, then sanding'. So that's what you propose, and if it's within the budget you go for it and get it as smooth as possible. Sometimes you think 'every single spindle in that hall, stairs and landing has uneven paint, drips, chips - every single spindle needs sanding back to smooth'; I did that on a job recently. It took me 15 minutes per spindle - those spindles (Victorian, as old as the house, I'd say) probably never looked as good as they did when I'd done with them. And I could have gone further, but time... budget....

Back to the beginning. This job that prompted my thoughts - Victorian cast iron lattice windows, definitely of the 'they don't make them like that anymore' mould (so to speak). So they're well over a hundred years old, and they should last many more lifetimes if they're not replaced. But over time the window and frame warp slightly - so they don't close totally flush - even if you take all the paint off them. And they are some of the worst windows for energy efficiency you could possibly design - unless you designed a hole in a wall with nowt in it. But they are beautiful. I love them. I shouldn't do, I should hate them. I should despise them, rue the day I first saw them. But I don't. 

An old Victorian Schoolhouse - 11 cast iron lattice windows in need of love.

The job's not yet finished at the time of writing, but nearly. I've been posting photos of this job throughout the year, and many of my decorating colleagues around the country have commented that they wouldn't have had the patience to take the job on. And they wouldn't have used the techniques that I'd have done (although most of them have come around when I've explained the reasoning behind my decisions.) 

I've done several properties in and near Stratford upon Avon which have these types of windows, and as I intimated at the beginning of this blog, my techniques for tackling them have changed - in some ways drastically, in other ways through a gentle evolution as I worked. To begin with I had a plan of how to tackle them. I knew which materials I'd use. I'd estimated how long each one would take. I've adjusted the coatings I use. I've changed the tools I use. I've drastically changed the overall approach. I did them well at the start, but now I do them really well - more thoroughly. Not quicker overall - because I'm being more thorough - but I'm doing each part of the process quicker.

This is one I did earlier. Lovely, but time-consuming.

The finials on the above property were rotten - some creative Repair Care resin sculpting by myself renewed them.

To begin with, these windows were in a bad state. The underlying ironwork was sound - very sound. No deep rust has been found. But they were covered with surface rust - nearly everywhere. The putty was cracking in nearly every pane. The paint was cracking everywhere. They were a mess. Whoever had last painted them had obviously taken as much care as they could without significant preparation work - but it wasn't enough to treat the underlying issues.

Nearly all the paint and putty needs to come off.

Step one was to remove nearly all the putty. This was done with 18mm Japanese Olfa snap off blades. Lots of them. Even these blades, which are some of the best in the world, blunt fairly quickly when scraping against metal. The only putty left was solid, it would have taken a hammer and chisel to remove - and on metal windows with fragile glass, that was a 'no'.

A similar window on another property - there's a lot of old paint and putty to scrape off.

Step two was to sand every single glazing bar. On this property with 11 windows of this type to repair and decorate there are well over 1,000 glazing bars. I counted them once, I can't be bothered to do so again! Every single one was scraped and sanded, then cleaned down with methylated spirits. A few panes which were cracked or badly scratched were replaced. I made paper templates of each pane to be replaced and had them cut in 3mm glass at a local glazing company. The price was reasonable - between £2 and £4 per pane. Mind you, I replaced over 50 panes on this one property, so it adds up - it's still worth it though.

Glass to be replaced was covered with masking tape, so fragments wouldn't ping all over the place.

Templates were prepared and taken to Stratford Glass to have precisely shaped panes cut.

Checking that each pane fits before being bedded in with Dryseal glazing sealant.

Personal protective clothing while taking out glass: goggles for eyes, hat for the July sun and adequate chin protection.

Step three was priming the metal and remaining putty. I've experimented here with Rustoleum rust inhibiting primer, Owatrol oil and Hydrate-80. All are superb, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. That would be another blog in itself.

Step four is masking. On the first couple of properties where I tackled these windows I sealed the glass and painted without masking. Not only did I have to clean off the glass after sealing it, it took me up to an hour to paint many of the windows. And it was fiddly, difficult to get paint into some of the awkward angles. Now I mask every pane. It means I can get really sharp lines, and apply the many layers of paint really, really quickly. It's definitely worth it.

I was being closely watched from inside as I masked the panes.

Step five was replacing the putty. I very, very rarely use traditional linseed oil putty - for virtually all glazing I now use Repair Care Dryseal glazing sealant. This is a very strong, flexible glazing sealant which is guaranteed for 10 years. So it won't crack like putty. And another huge advantage is that unlike putty it can be painted within a few hours. The blurb says 'overpaintable in 2 hours' but I find that's a bit optimistic. I usually give it about 6 hours, or overnight. It takes a lot of practice to get it right - at first I made a right pig's ear of it - and each glazing bar was taking an age to get a good finish. But I got quicker and quicker at getting a decent finish. A good caulking gun is essential. And a moistened silicone spreader with a good smooth edge and good point is essential. I usually moisten with wipes (Big Wipes or Repair Care wipes seem to be the best) but some colleagues recommend moistening with water which has a few drops of washing up liquid in it.

Gary, area rep for Repair Care, kindly popped in to give me some glazing tips. 

Step six is picky, picky... picking off any bits of Dryseal that I didn't quite get right. Maybe that's just me being perfectionist again, but half an hour of doing that per window makes a huge difference. And if I've already spent well over a day on a window, prepping and sealing it - another half an hour is nothing.

Step seven is my favourite - PAINT! Now that everything is masked off I can paint each window really quickly - about 15 minutes each per coat, sometimes less. Another advantage of masking is that I can really push the paint into awkward angles, this is difficult to do if you're also trying to cut in a neat line. One coat of Otex primer, with a slug of Owatrol oil conditioner in it to improve paint flow (it's also a rust inhibitor). Once that's dry, which is just a few hours, a quick pick and rub down, even a little more sealant applied in the odd place - continuing the perfectionist theme. Then another coat of Otex.

Step eight is to apply two coats of Tikkurila Valtti Ultra. This is a water-based exterior paint of superb quality. It's made in Finland, where they really know about making durable coatings for exteriors. Tikkurila is a very old paint company, 152 years old to be precise, and they make brilliant paints for interiors and exteriors. (That Otex primer I mentioned is made by Tikkurila too.) As well as being incredibly durable, Tikkurila Ultra has another big bonus point - it can be overcoated after just one hour! This is obviously dependent on some factors such as air temperature, humidity, whether it's in the sun.... (if you really want some bedtime reading, read my fascinating (if you're as much of a paint nerd as me) blog about the Art of Watching Paint Dry on my colleague Martin Guest's website.)

Step nine, at last... remove all the masking tape. This is my second favourite bit of the process. The windows look pretty messy up to this point - there are no clean lines as I've painted over the edge of the tape. But now the clean lines appear. At this point, I notice a few places where the lines are not quite right, so I might scrape off a bit of paint, or I might apply a couple more bits of masking tape and apply a couple of coats of Ultra. I keep going until I'm happy. This can be hours of work even once all the masking tape is off. But if you've spent weeks and weeks on windows like these, spending a few more hours in getting them as close to perfection as you can is a pleasure.

I had already prepped and painted the front door - in Farrow and Ball 'Pigeon' (I know, I know) and 'Pointing'.

Step 10 involves standing back. Enjoying the smiles of your customers. Packing everything away. And texting your friendly scaffolder that he can remove the scaffolding (yes, my scaffolder is very friendly, and bloody good at his job - if a customer wants to use someone else, I resist like a toddler wanting sweeties in the supermarket. His name is Jamie Hamlin from Express Scaffolding in case you want to know.) Anyway, I digress.

These windows took me about three days.... EACH! And I had 11 of them on this property. That's 33 working days, or nearly 7 working weeks. It was less of a chore due to my beloved Radio 4 (and a bit of BBC 6 Music) to keep me relatively sane during some of the more repetitive tasks. And my customers are lovely - access to plenty of tea, coffee and choccy biccies.

Be warned, taking on a job like this does involve huge patience, and attention to detail. I'm lucky that I've got both. But most people would really struggle, they'd get fed up. It would be too tempting to do a half-job on them - as had obviously been done in the past. But half-jobs are rarely durable... and soon you're back to where you were - time again to do another half-job. I'd rather do a proper job, then it'll last for a long time. And once it's all done properly, if you keep on top of it, it'll be much quicker (and cheaper) to give it a spruce up when it begins to weather a little.





Radio 4.

That's me that is.


(And if you've got to the end of this blog, you must be pretty patient too. I take my hat off to you.)