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How to Build a Custom Window Screen

Pro2Pro Editor, Chris Ermides, decided to upgrade the tattered window screens that came with his house by building new ones

We recently purchased an old two-family that is in desperate need of repair. On the list are a lot of exterior projects that include residing (to replace the work shown here which was done by a former owner) and a complete top-to-bottom paint job. It’s all too much for us to handle on our own so we are in the process of bidding out contractors to help. In the meantime, I’m chipping away at projects where my experience as a carpenter can be put to good use on the weekends. Given the time of year, on top of the list is getting window screens in as many windows as possible.

Most of the screens that came with the house are torn and tattered. They are all made out of 3/4” stock and include spacers to fill the gap where the locks register to hold them in place. It’s not a good look. On top of that, because the screens were joined using metal corrugated fasteners, they have not held up well. I chose to rebuild them using 5/4” pre-primed finger-jointed stock that’s suitable for exterior use. For the larger windows, which are 48” wide, I went with vertical grain Douglas Fir and a joinery technique that Tom Silva used on this screen door build.

I used the existing screen frames as a reference for size and milled the stock first. I cut the stiles and rails out of 5/4x6, then I ripped the pieces on the table saw. The stiles and top rail are 2” wide, while the bottom rail is 2-3/4” wide. I then cleaned up the edges with 120 Grit sandpaper.

Next, I laid the frame out on my workbench and began marking the location for the floating tenons. I chose to use the Festool Domino system here because of its speed and repeatability. Given the time it takes to make, the repeatability, and the overall strength, this joint is tough to beat. I considered alternative methods including pocket screws but I did not want to mess around with the additional steps of filling the pocket holes.

Once the mortises were cut, I dry-fitted everything first and then proceeded to glue-up. I’m using 8mm x 50mm beach dominos here. Festool offers Sipo Mahogany for outdoor applications. Because these screens will be painted and only exposed to the elements for a few months a year, the exterior-grade tenons did not feel necessary for this application.

I let the assembly dry for about an hour before giving the corners a quick sand to remove any imperfections and then primed any remaining exposed wood. With the assembly primed, I applied two coats of an exterior-grade trim.

A step that I typically do before the finish coat is dry-fit the frame in the window opening and then trim it to fit if necessary. I also add the 7-degree bevel to the bottom of the screen frame to accommodate the pitch of the window sill. I obviously got that step out of order when filming this build.

With the basic frame built, I added the screen. I learned the process in this sequence from non-other than Tom Silva. It consists of setting the ends of the screen on boards about an inch high and then clamping the unit in the middle. This trick is a straight-forward and easy way to ensure that the screen is taught.

While the frame is in this clamped state, I install the screen by stapling it across the top and bottom rails. I used quite a lot of staples here for a couple of reasons. For one, it ensures fewer snares in the screen because each staple is essentially pulling the screen away from its counterpart on the opposite side. And the second reason is that Tom Silva does it this way.

Once the top and bottom rails were stapled, I removed the clamps and moved on to the sides. With the sides stapled I cleaned up the excess screen using a sharp utility knife and then checked the screen tension - for fun - by bouncing a dime off of it.

Next, I added a simple screen molding around the permitted using 3/4” headless pins. I cut the molding using Wiss miter snips and marked the length with a utility knife. I used the scrap as a reference to register from when nailing the first piece in place.

With the molding installed, I hit everything with one more coat of paint and installed screen hardware that I purchased online. I’ll use this same hardware to install the storms in the fall which are, thankfully, in much better condition.