In older homes, insect screens in wooden frames often cover window and door openings during the warmer months, and when those screens get torn or worn out, replacing them offers a bit of a challenge. It's possible to take them to a hardware store and have them rescreened, or you can buy a roll of screening and replace the fabric yourself. At one time, window screening was usually a metal fabric, but today it's more common to use screening made of fiberglass mesh, which is more durable and easier to install than metal screening.
Replacing Screen Fabric
Wood-framed window screens are constructed by stretching a piece of screen fabric over the opening, stapling it in place, trimming it to size, then covering the cut edges of the screen with thin pieces of screen molding nailed to the wooden frame. The big challenge is to get the fabric taut and smooth over the opening; unless you do, the fabric will sag and billow.
There are several ways to stretch and attach screening, but the approach described here is sometimes known as the "cleat-and-wedge" method. It uses a 1 x 2 cleat temporarily attached to a work surface. The window frame is laid flat on the work surface next to the cleat, and the screen fabric is loosely laid over the opening and stapled down at one end to the bottom of the window opening and at the other end to the cleat. Then, wedges are driven into the gap between the window frame and the cleat. This pushes the frame away from the cleat, thereby stretching the screen fabric taut. The screen can then be stapled in place onto the window frame for a perfect fit.
If your wood window frame uses retaining spline instead of staples to fasten the screen to the frame, then use the same technique used to repair an aluminum frame screen door.
Equipment / Tools
- Chisel or flat-head screwdriver
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Circular saw
- Utility stapler
- Brad nailer (optional)
- Putty knife
- Nail set
- Replacement screen fabric
- 1x2 lumber
- 1x4 lumber
- Screen molding (if necessary)
- Brads or small finish nails
- Wood putty
Remove Screen Molding and Screen Fabric
Replacing screen material in a wood-framed window and door requires that you first remove trim molding in order to expose the staples or nails that hold the screen fabric.
Using a flat-blade screwdriver or wood chisel, carefully separate the screen molding from around the frame opening. Take care not to break the molding while prying it off. Pull out the brads from the molding if you plan to reuse it.
Use the flat-blade screwdriver to pry the staples up that fasten the screen material to the frame, then remove the old screen material.
Cut the Cleats and Screen Fabric
Cut two pieces of 1x2 lumber about 4 inches longer than the width of the frame. Nail one of these cleats down to a large flat work surface, such as a work bench.
Lay the wooden screen frame onto the work surface next to the cleat, so the top edge is parallel to the cleat, about 3 inches away. Cut a piece of screen fabric about 2 inches wide than the screen opening and about 12 inches longer.
Position the Screen Fabric
Staple the screen fabric along the bottom of the frame opening, spacing the staples every 2 inches. Work from the center outward along the opening, and make sure the screen fabric is stretched tight along the bottom edge.
Extend the other end of the screen fabric over the opening and over the cleat that is nailed to the work surface. Position the second cleat over the first cleat, sandwiching the screen fabric between them. Screw the second cleat to the first cleat in a manner that tightly grips the screen fabric.
Cut Tightening Wedges
Next, make a simple wedges to stretch the screen fabric. Using a piece of 1x4 equal in length to the cleats, draw a diagonal line from corner to corner. Cut along this line, creating two equal wedges.
Insert the wedges into the space between the cleat and the top of the screen frame from both sides.
Stretch the Screen
With the 1x4 wedges positioned in the gap between the top of the frame and the cleat, tap them together from both sides. This will force the frame away from the cleats, stretching and tightening the screen fabric. Tap on the wedges until the screen fabric is smooth and taut, but be wary of applying so much force that the fabric tears away from the staples anchoring it at the bottom.
Fasten and Trim the Screen Fabric
Attach the screen fabric to the frame with staples spaced every 2 inches along the full perimeter of the opening. Use a sharp utility knife to trim away the excess screen material to within 1/2 inch of the staples.
Reattach the screen molding with small finishing nails or brads. If the old molding is in poor condition, this is a good time to cut and install new screen molding. If any screen fabric is extending beyond the molding, you can carefully trim it off with a utility knife.
To prevent rusting of the nails, countersink the nails and putty over them. If desired, you can also repaint the frame at this time.