Home Property Replacing Snapped Sash Cords: Sash Window Restoration Guide

Replacing Snapped Sash Cords: Sash Window Restoration Guide

Georgian elegant houses in London, with sliding sash windows and ornate architectural detail framed by lush trees

Original Sash windows have been an integral part of architecture for centuries. With their characteristic sliding panels, these elegant windows adorn historic homes and buildings across the world. Occasional sash window restoration is essential not only for functionality but for preserving their heritage value.

A common issue that arises in older sash windows is that the sash cords become brittle and snap over time. Replacing the broken cords is an essential part of sash window restoration.

Understanding Sash Cords

Sash cords are strong, durable ropes that run through a pulley system within the window frame. They are attached to the sash on one end and to a counterbalanced weight on the other. When operating properly, the weights and cords enable the sash to move up and down smoothly. The cords bear the tension of the weight to counterbalance the heavy wooden sash.

Types of sash cords:

When it comes time to replace worn-out or broken sash cords, you’ll need to select new cord material suited for the weight and friction requirements of your sash windows. The most common options include:

  • Cotton Sash Cord – Made of twisted natural cotton fibres, cotton cord provides good strength and durability for most single and double-hung sash windows. Cotton resists stretching or deforming over time. It performs well in most climates. Cotton sash cord is an economical choice suitable for many homes.
  • Braided Polyester Sash Cord – For longer life and weather-resistance, braided polyester makes an excellent sash cord. It is stronger than cotton and unaffected by moisture or humidity. Polyester won’t rot or mildew. It also minimizes friction and wear. Polyester is a smart upgrade for historic homes.
  • Stainless Steel Sash Cable – Stainless steel cables are the strongest and most durable option. This extremely long-lasting material is ideal for larger, heavier sashes on grand historic buildings. Though more expensive, stainless steel cables require virtually no maintenance and withstand decades of use.
  • Waxed-Linen Sash Cord – For a more authentic restoration, waxed linen provides traditional natural fibre strength combined with weatherproofing wax. This gives moisture resistance closer to synthetic cords. Waxed linen offers a compromise between modern performance and historical accuracy.

Common Reasons for Sash Cord Snapping

Several factors can cause sash cords to wear out and eventually snap:

  • Age and general wear and tear over decades of use. The cords weaken and deteriorate slowly over many years.
  • Exposure to extreme weather conditions like high winds, storms, and moisture corrode and damage the cords.
  • Poor maintenance and lack of lubrication cause undue friction and strain.

Signs Your Sash Cord Needs Replacement

Some clear signs indicate it’s time to replace worn sash cords:

  • Difficulty sliding the window open or shut. The sash will feel heavy and get stuck frequently.
  • Fraying, stretching, or visible damage on the sash cords.
  • The window will not stay in position when opened or slams shut with force.

Tools and Materials Needed

Replacing sash cords requires just a few basic tools and materials:

  • Hammer, pry bar, chisel – to remove sash and gain access.
  • Tape measure, utility knife – for taking precise measurements.
  • Replacement sash cord of appropriate length and thickness.
  • Sash weights as needed.
  • Lubricating spray or wax sticks.

Step-by-Step Guide to Replacing Snapped Sash Cords

Step 1: Safety Precautions

As with any repair job, safety comes first. Use protective eyewear gloves, and take care when handling old windows with peeling paint. Ensure the workspace is clear and well-lit.

Step 2: Removing the Sash

Carefully pry off the exterior stops with a putty knife or pry bar to remove the bottom sash for the top sash, cut through the cords to loosen the sash for removal. Label the sash and store it safely.

Step 3: Accessing and Removing Old Sash Cords

Once the sashes are out, you can access and remove the broken cords and attached weights. Clean out the pulley channels as needed.

Step 4: Installing the New Sash Cord

Measure and cut the replacement cord to the needed length. Tie securely to the sash and thread through the pulleys. Attach weight on the other end and test for proper hang and balance.

Step 5: Reattaching the Sash

Once the new cords are threaded and weights rehung, simply reinsert the sashes one by one. Reattach, stop moulding and make any adjustments for smooth operation.

Tips for Maintaining Sash Cords

To maximize the lifespan of new sash cords and ensure smooth operation of your sash windows, follow these maintenance tips:

  • Lubricate pulleys annually – Use a wax-based lubricant or silicone spray to lubricate the pulleys and reduce friction on the sash cords. This minimizes wear and strain on the cords. Lubricate any friction points along the pulley channel as well.
  • Inspect cords regularly – Periodically inspect the sash cords for any signs of damage or fraying. Check the entire length of each cord and look for stretching, cracking, or splintering of fibers. Schedule repairs promptly when any wear is detected.
  • Operate sashes gently – When opening and closing the sash, use gentle motion without excessive force. Slamming or forcing the sashes puts intense strain on the cords which causes premature wear and tear.
  • Keep cords clean and dry – Dust buildup and moisture are enemies of sash cords. Keep the pulley channels clean by gently brushing out any debris. Use a paintbrush to apply touch-up paint inside the channels to seal out moisture. Keeping cords clean and dry prevents rot and corrosion.


Snapped sash cords are a common maintenance issue in older sash windows. Thankfully this repair is fairly straightforward for the DIY’er.

Investing in new sash cords and Weights along with proper installation will restore the function and preserve the charm of your sash windows for years to come. With regular upkeep, your updated windows will continue operating smoothly.


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