Craft, Don’t Blast

By Jerry Rabushka,

  Filed under: Contractor Profile, Features

Steve Quillian Teaches Window Repair

You may or may not be happy to know you’re inadvertently helping someone grow his business, but carpenter Steve Quillian reports that most of his window repair work is due to bad paint jobs. “It’s a contributing factor to the success of my business,” he said.

We know it’s not “you,” it’s the contractor that came before. Steve, who’s got ten years in the window restoration and replication business, gave us some tips on how put him out of work—or at least to do a better job than that “painter before.”

We met Steve through Abatron, a manufacturer of wood repair products (and more!), as the company hosted his Wood Window Makeover seminar in its home town of Kenosha, WI. Steve’s goal is to empower attendees to maintain or makeoever wood windows, including historic panes and frames that can’t easily be replaced.

Steve is opinionated, but he’s formed his opinions through fixing what’s broke…so buckle up. “It not so much a question of if the painter’s skills are bad,” he softened up, “I think it’s just the shift in our culture and the understanding of what a painter is supposed to do to begin with.”

As a protective substance, Quillian compares paint to roofing shingles. “The tar in shingles keeps the water out, and the tar is coated in microscopic gravel to keep it from weathering in the sun. Paint had the same idea, as it protected wood from the damage of the sun.” Years and years (and years) ago, people found that the sun was slowly destroying their wooden structures, and paint as protection came into place. Eventually they put in pigments, and the various colors served as decoration along with the original mission of protect and defend.

Too often, he asserts, painters and their customers think of paint as cosmetic versus its original duty as protective—but don’t sacrifice one for the other! Plus, he added, it’s likely the prepping rather than the painting is what creates the problems with windows.



Power Down?

It’s our love of gas engines that inflicts lot of the injury, he points out, commenting that today’s painter is apt to blast a house with a pressure washer, tape up the windows, then blast again with a sprayer. It’s faster and it looks great! Steve doesn’t consider that as craftsmanship—if you disagree, that’s OK, but this is his article so hang on and find out why.

“They tape up the window, then get a gas motor and hook it up to a five-gallon bucket of paint and spray everything and it looks really good!” We’re coming to a “but,” here, and this is where the problem comes in. “In order to get sharp clean lines, they take their knives to cut around the perimeter and unwittingly cut the paint seal,” Steve said. This break of the seal can allow water under your new paint film, and rather than keep it out, it will trap it in.

“Modern paints are very durable, much more than they were 100 years ago,” he said. “They do a fantastic job of keeping water out, but if water gets in they do a fantastic job of keeping water in.”

Before that, even, your pressure washer may have already set the stage for some mold and mildew and wood rot. [Enter Sarcasm, stage left.] “Historically people used something called skill. Talent. Hard work,” he said. “They didn’t have an allegiance to gas powered motors. If they wanted to clean the house, they got water and a rag and a stick and cleaned it. Pressure washing is fine for sidewalks and stucco and things like that, but for wood houses and windows, no.”

What happens, he explains, is that while your high-pressure stream is taking off gunk and dirt and such, it’s also pushing fungal spores into all the openings of the house, including sills and panes and frames. “They’ll partially inject fungal spores into every place that water can get into,” he said. “Nail heads, the places where wood siding comes together, and windows are notorious for that. Then the contractor seals it it back over with paint and it becomes a petri dish.”

Nobody plans for this to happen, and he partially blames big box stores for promoting gas powered solutions for things that used to be done with muscle and brawn—or a stick.


When He Closes a Window…

At the workshop, Quillan taught how to keep a window doing what it should—open, close, keep stuff out, and not rot. They covered things like safe paint scraping, glass cutting, applying glazing, and making epoxy repairs. If you’re going to paint the window, you might need to do this before-hand, so it can’t hurt to know how.

Abatron was there there to help and provided its Wood Repair Kit to all the attendees. This kit is available in three sizes and packages together equal volumes of three Abatron Products:
• LiquidWood is a deep penetrating wood consolidant that regenerates and waterproofs rotted, dried-out or spongy wood. It restores structural strength and durability to wood fibers.
• WoodEpox is a shrink-free wood replacement compound you can use in any thickness to replace and repair wood. Can be painted, stained, sanded, and worked like wood.
• Abosolv is a solvent for LiquidWood and also used for cleanup.

Lunch was provided as well, but you’re on your own for that.

“Abatron has a big market because when painters paint windows, they seal everything very well but the water entry points,” Quillian said. “Those points get compromised when they cut around with the razor blade to clean everything up real nice. Water runs down a glass when it rains, and instead of shedding off the window it goes behind the paint because they cut the seal. And why? Some don’t know any other way to paint.”

Quillian urges painters to think of painting windows more as a craft than a production line. Time may not always allow that, but perhaps explaining to a customer what a little extra time will mean for their widows, both in appearance and durability, will make them proud to have you show it some love and affection.



Steve started painting windows himself, he said, to make sure they were done right. But he can’t paint them all, so he decided to start teaching others what he’d learned. That’s how he hooked up with Abatron, which, he tells us, is very easy to use with great results.

He found out by coincidence just how easy. “I hurt my knee in a taekwondo tournament,” he said. He limped into the doctor’s office, and it turned out the guy who gave him the MRI had attended one of his workshops. “He got an Abatron door prize and he was telling me how he was so glad he came and that he got the prize because he was able to fix his window sill that had rotted. He put it back together and it looked just like it did when it was built—brand new again! This is a guy who doesn’t have any kind of restoration experience at all.

“Abatron is user friendly enough that even a homomer can get it and be successful with it,” Quillian continued. Give it a shot yourself, and you might not need to contract it out to a carpenter, he suggests.


Work the Shop, Shop the Work

Many of his workshops serve a dual purpose, as he’ll teach folks how to fix windows by choosing a homeowner who really needs the help—someone who’s house was damaged by fire, or who just can’t afford the needed repair. He gets to give a seminar, someone gets free window repair, and a whole bunch of folks learn a craft.

“When you do the work on their house and teach people at the same time it’s a win for everyone,” he said. “I put five people in business last year just doing that. There are not enough of us. It goes back to cultural shift,” he concluded. “I don’t think enough people are there to do it, but they would if there were more of us out there. The craftsperson ethic has gone out the window, and I’m trying to resurrect that.”