While shutters do offer a measure of privacy, and control the light entering a window, their primary function today is to enhance the beauty of your home. Shutters can be placed on the inside or outside of a building. The simplest shutters are comprised of an arrangement of boards and battens. There are also ‘frame and panel’ shutters; these are essentially panel doors placed over a window. You often see either of these kinds of shutters fixed in place on the outside of a window.
Basic shutter styles
Fixed and rotating louvres
‘Louvre’ shutters consist of a frame with horizontal slats (blades). The blades can be fixed or operable (the blades tilt up and down). You’ll also find ‘café’ style shutters that have operable louvres only in the bottom half of the frame; the top half of the frame is either open or has an insert (often glass). As well, for tall windows you can have ‘tier-on-tier’ shutters; one louvre shutter installed on top of another louvre. This enables you to open either the top or lower shutter independently. Louvre shutters, more often than not, are mounted so that you can swing them open or closed. You’re also more likely to find them on the inside of windows, particularly in living rooms, dining rooms and kitchens.
You can purchase shutters in just about any imaginable colour in a variety of designs, or you can make your own. Commercial shutters (shutterstoronto.com), are usually available in three materials: solid wood, engineered wood (such as high density fiberboard) or synthetic material (usually vinyl). While you can purchase solid wood shutters unfinished, most shutters come prefinished. Expect to pay about $50 per square foot for pre-finished solid wood shutters.
Vinyl shutters are much less expensive, but at the expense of appearance (they look like plastic), and durability (they are difficult, if not impossible to repair).
Traditional style (Colonial) shutters have narrower frames and louvre blades (usually 1-1/4″ wide), while plantation style shutters use wider blades (up to 4-1/2″). Depending on the hardware you select, you can mount shutters on the inside or outside of the window frame. A variety of specialized shutter hardware is available, (stanleyhardware.com, timberlaneshutters.com). Exterior hardware is typically galvanized, enamelled cast iron, or powder coated stainless steel. For exterior shutters the hinges pivot outwards until the shutter rests against the surface of the house. Tie backs (shutter dogs) then hold the shutters in place. On interior shutters conventional hinges are used. The style, size and colour of shutters, and the hardware you choose depends as much on personal preference as it does on the size and depth of the windows and the style of your house – think of shutters as eye makeup for the house.
For the woodworker with beginner skills, the easiest exterior shutters to make are board and batten shutters. You can easily embellish the shutters using a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut decorative designs along the edges of the boards. If you have intermediate level skills, then frame and panel or fixed louvre shutters for exterior windows will be easy enough to make. For interior shutters you really want the flexibility of operable louvre blades. They are somewhat more challenging to make and install, requiring more time and patience.
For a structurally sound frame, use mortise and tenon joinery – either stopped (blind), wedged or floating tenon. For exterior shutters that you intend to leave natural or stain, select a decay resistant wood like redwood, western red or eastern white cedar, white oak or teak. For interior shutters that you’ll leave natural or stain, select a wood that compliments your furniture or trim work. If you plan on painting the shutters, then good choices include basswood, pine, poplar or mahogany.
Traditional shutter blades are wedge shaped; contemporary shutters generally have flat blades with radiused edges. These are easy to make on the router table using a beading bit sized to the thickness of the blade.
The blades for fixed louvre shutters are held in 45º slots milled in the stiles. You’ll need to construct a simple jig to rout these slots, or if you have the Leigh Frame and Mortise Jig (leighjigs.com), you can purchase a template to rout 1/4″ x 1-1/4″ slots. For rotating blades you install pivot pins (cordscanada.com, shuttermedic.com), into the stiles, and into the ends of the blades. A tension screw is installed through a stile into the middle blade. Tightening or loosening the screw affects how smoothly the blades open and close. A tilt rod is attached to each blade, either by eyelet screws or connector staples.
Whether you choose to buy or build your own, shutters offer the perfect combination of practical window covering and home beautification. They add texture and depth to otherwise dull looking facades while adding curb appeal (and resale value) to your home.