Screen Test


Are there holes in your window or door screens? With just a few tools, you can replace them

May 31, 2008|By ROB KASPER

This is the time of year when screens come out of hibernation. They emerge from winter storage in the basement or simply change places with a glass panel that kept out the cold.

A window screen with a hole in it is like a shirt with a missing button. It is wounded but not dead. It can be revived, placed in a window to welcome breezes and keep bugs at bay.

There are disadvantages to screens. Noise travels easily through them; anything from the clamor from the neighbor that loves to play with power tools to your family's vocal squabbles sails through a screen into the public listening domain. When he was much younger, one of our sons referred to the kitchen portal of our home as the "scream door" because of my habit of hollering through it at him and his brother.

Screens are old-fashioned and for a time were pushed aside by air conditioning. But recently, as the cost of electricity has jumped, low-tech methods of cooling a house, such as putting a screen in a window, are looking more inviting.

On a recent spring day, when the breezes were sweet and the air cool, I watched Maurice Jackson, manager of Belle Paint and Hardware, repair a screen panel pulled from customer Sheila Evans' front door. Evans watched the process for a few minutes, chatting with Jackson as he worked.

The old screen had several holes in it, put there by Evans' dogs. Pets and children, Jackson said, are the nemesis of screens, the opposite of "screen savers."

Jackson is one of a crew of three at the hardware store who repairs screens. He and Mickey Fried and Jonathon Wolfe engage in a friendly competition to see who can install the tightest screen. Repairing screens is one of the ritual services that neighborhood hardware stores perform. But if someone had the tools, the time and inclination, he could, Jackson said, repair the screen himself.

Indeed, Jackson said he began repairing screens as a boy growing up in Cherry Hill. Now 61, he has been mending screens for decades.

Jackson fixed the screen in about five minutes. Laying the screen door flat on a large table, he removed the old screen. He wore work gloves because, he said, "wire can bite you."

He checked the condition of the frame. Most screen frames are metal or vinyl, he said. But the techniques to replace the screen on either frame are largely the same, he said. This frame was intact. Some metal frames that have pulled apart at the corners need to mended, Jackson said, pointing to a box of small metal joiners he uses for that task.

He pulled the spline - the ropelike coil that fastened the screen to the frame - away from the screen. He pinched it, testing it for flexibility. The spline passed inspection, meaning that he would use it again, to hold the new screen in place. Those that fail are replaced with a piece from the coil kept in the back of the store.

Jackson said there are three types of screen material - metal, fiberglass and so-called pet screening. Fiberglass and metal cost about the same - $1.50 to $2.50 a foot, depending on the width. Pet screen, which is a heavier fiberglass composition, costs double. He gave a quick summary of each. Metal screens are tough but do dent, he said. Fiberglass is flexible but can be cut easily. The pet screening is the stronger, but it is also dark.

Evans, the dog owner, requested fiberglass in her replacement screen, rather than the pet screening, because the pet screen blocked too much light, Jackson said.

He unrolled a large coil of fiberglass screen, positioned it over the empty frame, then trimmed it with a utility knife. You want a little excess, about 2 inches, to hang over the edge of the frame, he said.

Holding the frame down with one hand, he grabbed a screening tool that resembles a pizza cutter. It consists of two metal wheels, one convex and one concave, mounted on a wood handle. Using the convex wheel, the one with an edge, he rolled it over the screen, pushing it into a narrow channel that ringed the frame.

When he got to a corner, he picked up the scissors and made "corner cuts" on the screen. These, he said, relieved tension in the screen and prevented "crinkles."

Next came the spline, which he rolled into the channel first using the concave end of the tool to position the spline over the channel. Then, he flipped the tool and used the convex end to push the spline into the channel. At the corner, where the tool would not reach, he used a flathead screwdriver to do the pushing.

He repeated these steps on each side of the screen. He did not cut the spline until he was finished with all four sides. Using one continuous piece of spline when replacing a fiberglass screen is, he said, a mark of an accomplished screener.

During the Vietnam era, Jackson served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in Germany. He made sergeant, he said. Among the skills he learned in the Army, he said, was how to make his bed so that the sheets and covers were exceptionally taut.

When Jackson finished repairing this screen, I grabbed a dime from my pocket and dropped it on the screen. It bounced high.

Jackson smiled. The repaired screen was, he said proudly, "tight as a military bed."


1. Remove the old screen and spline; test the spline for flexibility. Position the new screen over the frame and trim, leaving a 2- to 3-inch overhang on edges.

2. Use scissors to make corner cuts on a diagonal to prevent the screen from crinkling.

3. Using a screening tool or a flathead screwdriver, push the screen into the channel on the edge of the frame.

4. Force the spline into the channel, securing the screen. Trim the excess screen material with a utility knife.

Tools needed for the job

Screening tool with convex and concave wheels (about $3.79)

Spile, about 20 cents a foot

Screening, fiberglass or metal, about $1.50 to $2.50 a linear foot, depending on width

Flathead screwdriver

Utility knife


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