Tuesday Challenge: Window Screen Repair

26 Jul

spline roller

(This is a Phifer spline roller, available at Lowes.)

If this post had a subtitle it would be: Or, Should You Buy Those Little Tools That Won’t Get Used After This One Project Is Over?

In case you’re wondering, a spline roller is just such a tool. A cheap tool with one use and one use only: To put spline into place as you repair a window screen. Now, I have been alive for 29 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever had use for a spline roller (or a window screen replacement tutorial). If this is the start of a trend, I won’t need a spline roller again until… 2040.

So here’s the story: Casa Glazebrook is on a get-things-done-around-the-house tear. And one of the things that we got done recently was replacing a broken screen on the door of our screened-in porch. And that required spline, a piece of thick rubber string, to be carefully placed. The spline is what holds the screen on the door, using the super-awesome magic of friction. (Also known as “being wedged into place really, really tight.”)

I must admit, I kind of jumped into this screen-fixing problem in a rather random and unplanned manner. We had screen. And spline. I had time to kill between applications of primer and paint. And I had once (a few years ago) read an article about how to replace a screen, and the article said DIY was totally easy. So I just went ahead and got started. Then, after I had disassembled everything, I decided that maybe a refresher course was in order, and stopped to watch a video, and thus learned about the magic of spline rollers.

Now, I had two options: Stop and go buy a spline roller, or just make something lying around the house work.

I decided to start with option B: Make Something Else Work. Thus was born today’s challenge.

 Challenge: Spline Roller

To test the utility of a spline roller, I had to actually replace the screen. To replace a screen is easy, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. First, you take down the door/window screen.

removing the screen door

I absolutely love playing with drills. That's the real reason I tackled this project: Power Drill!

Then you have to pull out the spline. If you need, use a screwdriver or key to pop up the the corner and get it started. Then just pull. Without spline, the screen will just pop right off!

Pulling otu the spline

Remove spline. The screen will follow.

Use the existing screen as a template, and cut out your new piece of screen. Be sure to leave 1” extra screen fabric on all sides – this is very important. I did not do this at first. I came to regret it later. So. 1” extra. You need it.

cutting the screen

After taking this photo, I realized I wasn't leaving any extra screen to work with. Don't make this mistake - leave 1" extra on each side.

(Now we’re at the spline part: To hold a screen in place, the screen frame or door frame will have a thin groove in it. The spline can be wedged tightly into that groove. If you also happen to wedge the screen fabric into the groove, between the spline and the frame, and it’s all done correctly, the screen fabric will not be able to fall out. Magic!)

Lay your new screen in place over the frame. Make sure it’s about centered. Then, start at one corner, and begin to wedge the spline into place, thus pinning down the screen. Use one hand to wedge, and the other hand to pull the screen taught. You don’t have to pull super hard on this – you aren’t trying to stretch it. You just want to avoid any wrinkles in the fabric.

spline and groove

You can see how this works: Spline, screen and groove.

When you get to a corner, don’t break the spline. Just bend it, wedge it, and carry on, pulling the screen taught.

When you have all the edges splined into place, go back with a razor blade or X-acto knife and trim the edge of the screen.

Ta da!

Fixed screen door

All better now! Plus, a grill!

Here are the things I tried to use to put the spline in place:

My thumb

spline and groove

A can of beets

can of beets

A metal hook for hanging small objects from the ceiling.


Time and Cost Comparison

A spline roller can be purchased at a hardware store for somewhere between $2 and $12, depending on how fancy you want to be. Using the roller would have gotten the spline-wedging job done in about 5 minutes.

The metal hook we had just lying around (along with my thumb and a can of beets), so it cost nothing. The multiple attempts to get the spline in place took about 20 minutes.

Effectiveness Comparison

The spline roller works beautifully. Put a little pressure on it, and zip – spline in place!

My thumb was too wide to work. This is not because I have excessively wide thumbs, but rather, a basic fact of human anatomy. Thumbs are not good spline rollers.

A can of beets is preferable to a thumb, as the top edge can really drive the spline into place. However, this takes quite a bit of work, and the angle has to be just so, and you have to put A LOT of pressure on the can of beets, and that makes it hard to hold the screen taught. So, a can of beets is not an ideal spline roller.

At one point, Rob came out to the porch, saw what I was doing, and found a small metal hook. He used the curve of said metal hook to really drive the spline into place. I gave it a go: It hurt like all-get-out (it left a deep groove in my thumb) but it was highly effective. So, then we learned that a piece of metal the width of the spline is really effective, but can cause you pain.

PITA Factor

8. The several failed attempts were frustrating (and, in retrospect, entertaining). Especially because, really, it should have been a 7 minute project, and it ended up being a 27 minute project.

DIY or Buy?

Buy. As much as I hate having dozens of small tools floating around the garage and cluttering the place up, it’s worth the annoyance to just buy the right tool to get the job done right, the first time. There’s often a reason for things like spline rollers, and it’s that they make projects easier. So, save yourself the stress (and save your beets a little shake-up) and buy the spline roller.

And now that I think of it, I’m kind of partial to a few other single-use tools, like our popcorn maker, pizza cutter…and that drill. (It only drills!) What single-use tools can you not live without? Which ones actually aren’t worth the investment? (Garlic cutter, anyone?)


8 Responses to “Tuesday Challenge: Window Screen Repair”

  1. Pamela Stowers Glazebrook 07/26/2011 at 9:21 am #

    Absolutely agree! A spline roller may only have one job, but you will find with pets and kids it can get quite a bit if use and save you time and aggrevation!

  2. nmerket 07/26/2011 at 9:43 am #

    Since you mentioned a pizza cutter, what about using it as a spline roller?

    • Amanda 07/26/2011 at 1:19 pm #

      You know, it never occurred to me to try that! It’d probably work; however, you run the risk of actually cutting the spline. The spline roller has a little groove in the middle of the wheel, so it sort of hugs the spline as it wedges it into place.

  3. Kisså 07/26/2011 at 2:37 pm #

    For my bridal shower, my best friend gave me a melon baller and a lemon zester, insisting that every bride should get at least one perfectly useless kitchen tool. Joke was on her though, as I love melon and frequently cook and make drinks with zest so both of those tools get lots of use. The gadget that I’ve found most useless? A fancy silicone basting brush. I bought it ten years ago and have used it exactly once. Regarding your drill though, you could make a case for that to become a multi-use tool by changing up the type of bit (sander, hole saw, screw driver…)

  4. steve surgeont 01/08/2012 at 7:17 am #

    This article is short on substance and longgg on narative.

    • Bev 07/26/2017 at 2:15 pm #

      Well, if you’re going to be negative about her article (which I found quite useful), I’ll be negative about your comment: it’s NARRATIVE, not narative.

  5. Ana Gauthier 07/07/2014 at 9:01 am #

    The spline tool can be reused for sewers/cosplay hero’s to trace patterns and marking paper onto fabrics!

  6. Joel Peters 11/22/2017 at 8:21 pm #

    Maybe screw the hook into the end of a dowel, or even a stick?

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