carefully removing only rotten wood and bonding and mechanically fixing new wood in its place.

Rotten Wood… Surgical Removal is Better than Complete Replacement

Does your home have rotten wood? Does the paint feel soft and spongy? Do you suspect the weather is getting into your wood and causing problems? Does the house/cabin smell ‘funny’ when you open the door? Then you might have some rot somewhere…

This window frame and wall was badly damaged because the glazing bars were installed incorrectly decades ago. This allowed water to seep into the window frame and eventually the timber wall itself.

I have spent almost 40 years working on old homes like yours and I am perfecting the art of carefully removing only the rotten parts and replacing them with new wood.

There was little evidence on the outside either. A slight ripple of the paint was all you could see. But under the paint there was hardly any wood left!

Often the damage is only local, you don’t have to tear down the whole wall just to replace a part of it. This repair method is cost-effective and environmentally friendly. No waste by removing perfect wood that can last decades more.

So what causes wood to go rotten?

Basically, when a wall is damp and warm, you have ideal conditions for mould and fungi to grow feeding on the wood fibres. The rotting process begins as nature takes its course.

There are two types of rot, wet and dry. Ironically, both types need moisture. Wet rot has been the most common for me personally, and I’ve only experienced dry rot once or twice in my working life.

Dry rot can continue to spread, whereas wet rot tends to stay localised. Specialist chemicals are needed to properly stop dry rot. It’s not enough to simply cut out the bad areas as the spores will still be present.

In addition to the fungi making a meal out of your wood, insects are also attracted by the prospect of an easy meal. There could be various beetles, ants, or even bees chowing down on your house. This will vary depending on where you live, of course.

In this picture you can see that over the years, insects have eaten the entire frame and exterior cladding. They only stopped at the plastic vapor barrier on the inside, so no damage was evident from the inside.
Like a surgeon, I cut away all the bad areas back to solid wood and then carefully glued and screwed in new “made to measure” pieces.

Ingress points…

So, the first action to take is to find where the water is getting in and fix that first. Examine the rainwater system, the roof, flashings around anything that goes through the roof, and any other ‘holes’ in the walls, such as doors and windows.

Here you can see that unfortunately the bottom of these simple windows were completely rotten. The cost of replacing all the windows would have been prohibitive for this client/ cabin so repair sections were made and let into the existing frames.

Poor design…

Whilst a lack of maintenance is the usual culprit, allowing damp to go where it has no right to be, poor design or even poor material choice can be a contributing factor.

Rain needs managing, i.e., it needs to be directed away from vulnerable areas like windows and doors. Overhangs with drips are your friend here. Good quality sealants in any gaps between different materials are a must too.

The damage in the pictures above was entirely caused by the glazing beads being mitred in the corners instead of the bottom running full width and the vertical ones sitting on top, which naturally makes the water run off. The mitres simply let water into the frame. I do suspect that this work was done by the cabin owner, not a carpenter, to be fair.

So design is something to think about, consider how something could fail, how could you improve it and prevent that failure?

When it is finished and decorated, the area is as good as new.

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance…

Often cited as the three most important things you can do for your house ?

Of course, any repairs need proper ongoing maintenace, simply giving the area a quick coat of paint isn’t going to protect the repair properly. I recommend buying the best paint you can find and following the manufacturers instructions to the letter. Also note how long the paint system is expected to last bearing in mind your particular exposure/ location.

Personally after new wood has been installed I recommend to clean and paint again after just 3 years (with 5 years as a maximum). This helps build up more protection since there is not years of older paints underneath.

Only the bottom of this cladding piece had rotted away, so I was able to just cut the rot out and let a new piece in. Once glued and painted it was as good as new.

I hope the above examples give you an idea of what can be achieved with a little time and effort. Material costs are kept to a minimum as only what is actually rotten is replaced. As I said at the beginning, this makes it not only cheaper but environmentally friendly too!

It is also often much less invasive. As the images above show, I was able to replace parts of the framing without disturbing the inter panels too much. I just repinned them to the new frame afterwards.

Oh, and please ignore anyone who says that “once it starts going rotten, it will all go rotten”. Rot just doesn’t work like that. It is usually localised based on where the moisture is getting into the timber. Areas that are dry will not go rotten.

I’ll end here with don’t be afraid to poke around, pull out the rot to find the extent of it. Unfortunately, it is often like an iceberg, with more hidden under the surface ?

Good luck and stay well.


P.s. forgive any weird formatting, I finished this post on my phone sitting in a cabin in the mountains waiting for it to stop raining ?

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