Dockside Classic: Making a window frame

So what do you do when docents come to you and say Pri-Fly is closed because of broken glass. Well I say I will go take a look at those two windows facing aft that had cracked glass. Imagine my surprise when I get up there and see this from the inside with little pieces falling off from the green laminated glass.Of course that wasn’t the end of it. I went to look at it from above and could see the bottom of the frame, the window slopes down, had rotted away over the years due to water getting in behind. I make some measurements and then go talk to Tom about getting metal. He knows a place in Santa Cruz where he can get some fabricated. I call around looking for who migh be able to get green laminated glass. I also look into buying stainless steel fasteners as I don’t like rust. The following week I go up to double check and then see this below. WTH!

How did this happen during the week. Now I have two windows to replace and one frame to construct. Turns out this glass is 3/8″ clear tempered glass. Ok, so now let’s get some guys to help here as the nuts are on the inside and the bolt heads on the outside rusted. Someone inside and me out on top holding the bolts from turning with the nuts are removed for a total of 52.

That was the relatively easy part as the window weighed 85 lbs. and I had to lift it by one hand, step around a corner, and bring it onto the roof, before moving to the far side, roping it up, and then lowering five stories down to the flight deck.

The glass in the door to Pri-Fly was a lot easier and covered with wood because of opportunistic pigeons.

While waiting on the new flat bar and Z-bar I start work on the frame in the door. Just a small section rusted out which I can remove and actually work around. I take this frame home so I can work during the week. The bolts left are countersunk in order to hold the two halves together and then the flush side against the door. Disassembled at home, blasted down on the Hornet, and then sprayed at home before taking to glass store not far from the Hornet but a special trip for me since no weekend hours.

The Saturday that was blasted was also the day to disassemble the large frame in order to remove the glass. Fun time and all the countersunk  5/16″ screws were slots and trying to use a screwdriver to hold them while removing the nuts with a ratchet was tricky. Slots aren’t the greatest for a good grip when you need a GOOD grip. Some just weren’t cooperating so those were cut off as the frame was junk anyway.

Still taking some time to get the metal and then on the next Saturday Tom forgot to bring it up. So I go back up to Pri-Fly to assess the entrance for restoration after getting the frame made and the glass installed. Lots of work. It will look brand new up until I get distracted by something that puts a halt to the very last thing.

Alright then we have steel consisting a 7 flat bars and 7 Z-bars at 7 feet long. A frame will need two bars total as it is 28″x 48″ in size. Why extra bars? Just you wait. So into the machine shop to get to work and the first thing is to cut metal. See that machine in the center. An original piece of equipment circa 1943. Next will be the cutting of the bars, followed by laying them out, checking square, welding the corners, and dressing the welds flat. Believe it or not this was the easy part and took only one Saturday. Can anyone one guess the hard part? I’ll give you 200 chances.


Did anyone guess? The answer is drilling 200 5/16″ holes using the old frame as a template otherwise it won’t go back in correctly. The ship yard wasn’t exactly exact on their spacing. Out of those 200 holes some 48 will need to be countersunk. Oh, and lets make sure I have enough drill bits. To also be prepared I liked Tom’s 1/2″ Milwaukee Magnum hole shooter so I found a used one on Goodwill and bought it. Also found a good Milwaukee 3/8′ drill to add to my list of tools stored on the ship along with two Makita angle grinders. I keep two DeWalt angle grinders at home along with one  Makita 3/8″ drill. I find the stuff used and buy it if made in America only. Now the holes. Last picture spraying two coats of epoxy primer before haze gray color coat and then glass shop.

Now that it is out for glass, for the next two weeks, I have time for other things. Ah, but no as what is missing? Gaskets made out of rubber. So after spending $150 on stainless steel bolts and nuts I spend $95 on two sheets of laminated rubber. The ship paid for the steel and the glass which wasn’t exactly cheap. I cut  1 3/4″  strips out of the sheet on my kitchen floor till a whole sheet is cut and bring that down to the sheet. With the glass back I can separate the two halves so I can lay a strip down and mark the location for the hole puncher. I require eight strips as one layer between the two and one layer between the whole frame and the ship. The very, very old rubber gaskets were tossed. That roll of gasket material goes along the glass inside the frame as a cushion. After it was all said and done the outside needed to be caulk with this product that cost another $134 but was told it would last 50 years. Oh, how many holes do I have to punch? If you guessed 200 you’re right.

Finally the frame is assembled and time to plan the installation. This will take several people. One person on the O3 Flight deck, two people on O6 Navigation Level to haul it up past the signal box and bring it in so it can on to the O7 Level where another fellow guides it, and then pulled up almost to the O9 Level where Tom is so he can move it laterally for me to catch it on top of Pri-Fly. Tom then comes down so we can lay it down in place. No easy task as it has to be done in one move given the gaskets are held in with contact cement, the window slopes downward, I’m on the edge holding 85 lbs. and I hope it don’t lose it over the side. Of the eight overhead windows this one is in the most difficult position. First picture gives you the general location and height of Pri-Fly. This one is from 1999 when I was up there cleaning the windows with steel wool and a razor blade. I’ll leave out the picture of me on top because a video of the entire process was seen and word of it made it’s way to Florida where our Head of Operations heard about me and no safety harness. Problems was it has a short line and then is no place to clip, one must wrap it around a post, thereby limiting my movement up until the moment the frame was down. At that point I would sit down to insert bolts one by one feet braced against the gutter with no worries. Also note all the deck lights have not been mounted all along the top yet in 1999.


Wait now isn’t there one more piece of glass to install? Yes there is and that is the one in the door. That very messy looking door. Well it wasn’t messy looking anymore. Done in between times.

Door latches needed to be restored as the right side was no longer functional and the left just barely. Bolts needed to be torched out intact and all threads chased for final re-assembly. Back in place with Super Lube and now smoothly functional.

The done view except for the deck being wire wheeled with an angle grinder, epoxy coat, and then color coated with dark gray paint. Half is ground out of the picture and then I got sidetracked.

Here is what distracted me the next week when heading up to finish the deck. Someone took it upon themselves to supposedly prep and then paint the splinter shields below the platform for Pri-Fly. The paint was peeling in four days because of very bad prep and incorrect application of the paint. Irritated me quite a bit because I’ve been up here 19 years for someone unskilled thinking they can just step in unknown to me. So I spent the next four weeks cleaning up the mess on nine panels at roughly 2 1/2 hours per panel. Remove all dead paint down to one solid layer left, sand smooth with 60 grit on an orbital, and then paint with a polyurethane plus hardener thinned with some xylene for the first layer. The second layer without xylene to seal shut the surface from rust forming.

Tons more to do but the Chief Engineer took me aside a week back and asked me to now replace cracked glass in the two windows on the left. Remember those are the ones I thought of originally. Why as they have been cracked since 2000 and now one is getting very bad shedding glass slivers. Apparently the Navy is having some sort of celebration on the Hornet in August for 100 years of Naval Aviation and Naval Flag Officers will be on the ship so he wants it nice and I know how. The frames are fine so just clean up, prime, paint, new glass, and new gaskets probably. That is not the end of it because when replacing that overhead window frame I saw the other seven are also shot and in one is plexiglass. All seven need to be remade, with one needing glass, over the next three summers so I’ll be busy off and on with those.

Now boarded up with plywood from the inside held in by four brackets I made in the machine shop. The plastic sheeting I made to secure against pigeons lasted a whole two days the the 20+ knots winds up there in the late afternoon hours.

Now hard at work on the two below. The countersunk bolts are rusted solid so all 96 need to be cut off to separate the two halves. The cleaning process (no rot like overhead but surface rust), the painting process (automotive 2K epoxy and SS gray urethane), the glass shop (2-3 weeks), the gasket making, assembly and re-installation should be done by July 4th. Since it is summer I will be down on the ship on Saturdays and now Wednesday as I no longer have school pick up duty. So I can get more splinter shields along with the deck outside Pri-Fly painted.