Why we Love Old Sash Windows
As sash window specialists, something we really appreciate is finding sash windows from previous centuries that need a little repair work. In fact, the oldest known sash window, at Palace House in Newmarket, Suffolk, is estimated to have been originally installed in 1671. While it needed some care and attention when rediscovered in 1996, the fact that it retains its original glass and was able to be restored is testament to the incredible quality of timber from eras gone by. Unfortunately, modern timber doesn’t tend to measure up to the timber of old, and this is a real shame. It’s simply a product of the evolution of the industry and here at sash windows Kent we’re going to look at the reasons why.
In the early days of the timber industry, before it was mass produced on an industrial scale, most of the timber used was naturally and slowly grown in vast virgin forests. A classic example being Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). Scots pine can live for up to 700 years, and while it’d be rare to find such a tree, it wasn’t atypical for wood to be harvested from trees as much as 300 years old. For craftsman, joiners, and anyone who used timber in their industry, this was a luxury and incredible quality furniture, doors and even sash windows could be built! Unfortunately, the depletion of these resources and the push to find cheaper ways to mass produce timber products meant that by the early 20th century, trees artificially planted and cultivated on tree farms became more important sources of timber. Trees with little competition and an abundance of sunlight and space would grow very quickly, meaning they could be harvested incredibly quickly, in 10-20 years.
Why is old so much better?
1. Stronger – Simply, it’s much stronger. Old-growth wood would become much denser over time, meaning that by the time these were harvested, you had incredibly strong timber with which to work. Wood continues to get weaker over time, as the sheer demand means it becomes less about quality and more about getting trees from planting to harvest in the shortest time possible. If you can, go for better quality, older growth wood for things in your home when you have the chance.
2. Less susceptible to warping – Like many materials, woods are sensitive to heat and, particularly in the case of an absorbent material like wood, it can suffer from moisture damage. Wet wood tends to expand, and dry wood tends to contract. This contraction and expansion over time will create cracks at joints, cause paint to crack and fall off, among other things. If you cut into a piece of old-growth wood, you’ll notice how compact the rings are compared with new-growth wood. As a result, it is much less subject to changing size and shape from interaction with the elements, meaning everything stays exactly as it should be for much longer.
3. Resistance to rot – Old-growth wood is much more resistance to rot. The fact that it doesn’t absorb moisture well and is incredibly hard makes it a poor material for fungi to grow and ultimately eat into your window frame. Of course, we have modern coatings and paints to create a barrier that keeps the wood waterproof and guarded from the elements but as with anything, this will wear eventually. Exposed softer woods won’t last long at all.
Because of the relative lack of quality old-growth wood, global timber theft has even become a recent issue. More and more ancient trees around the world are being illegally cut down and sold on the black market. This is an unfortunate side effect of modern supply having to fulfil the demand, leaving very little quality wood available on the market. We hope this problem lessens in the coming years – what little old-growth wood we have left needs to be treated with the respect it deserves and protected from criminals.
This article gives you a brief snapshot as to why we love working with old sash windows. Now with modern technology, very often we can repair superficial damage without even removing the sash window from its housing. Resins, for example, can fill in cracks and return frames to their original shape, before coatings and paints add that necessary layer of protection. Restoring your old sash windows to their former glory is not only satisfying for you, but also for us. It’s a joy to appreciate this rich aspect of history, where the emphasis on quality creates something absolutely timeless. You can find us on checkatrade or you can check us out on the following social media channels listed below.
Until next time
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