How To Build Frames Yourself

Create standard or custom frames for your canvas paintings or art at home and save money with these tips and instructions.

Picture frames are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, and types. Metal and plastic frames are reasonably priced, but impersonal. Wood frames, if made properly, will add more personality to your art and will last a very long time. You can create standard and custom sizes or odd shapes to fit any type of art.

You will need a few tools to do the job right:

- Miter box and saw

- C-clamps to secure miter box to workspace

- 4 miter or corner clamps are recommended, but one will work

- Nail set

- Lightweight hammer

- Measuring tape

- Framing or carpenter's square

- Wood or household glue

- Nails, brads, wood putty

- Brushes, wood stain or paint, and sealer

- Fine-grain sandpaper

- Drill with small bit

Before you begin, you should also be aware of some basic framing terms:

Molding, also spelled moulding. Moldings come in many different shapes, including clamshells, deep scoops, wedges, and half rounds.

Liners and fillets: moldings that are inset into the outer molding for extra depth. Used primarily for canvas paintings or art without glass.

Rabbet: the inner edge of the molding that holds the picture and glass in place. It is the measurement between rabbet edges that determines glass and mat size.

Lip: the top side of the rabbet.

To begin, you will need to select your wood. Specialty houses carry all types of molding and can even cut it to size. If you order by mail, make sure the uncut sticks are long enough in case of errors. Woodworking shops and hobby stores may also carry a supply. Examine each piece for imperfections and warping. Many new types of molding are made of resins that resemble wood. Note that these can be difficult to cut and may break easily.

Home improvement stores carry molding, but you will need to build your own backing to create the rabbet. Purchase enough thin strips of lumber to surround the back side of the frame. The rabbet edge that holds the glass and art in place should be 5/16 inch wide. Remember, you will be allowing a 1/8-inch space for the mat, which tends to expand.



Measuring can by tricky, so be sure to double check all your measurements. Glue the strips in place to the back of the molding. Miter cutting will look best, but you can also create a butt-cut by squaring up the straight edges.

How much molding will you need? For the frame, you will be making eight 45-degree cuts, so add these few extra inches accordingly. Allow a little extra for the saw, or kerf, cuts as well. These will be where you use your saw blade to make the initial marks before putting the wood piece in the miter box.

Secure the miter box to your workspace with a clamp. You may want to make some practice cuts before beginning on the actual framing material. If possible, clamp the molding to the miter box to hold it in place while you cut. Do not apply too much pressure as this will bend the blade and make an uneven cut.

After determining the width and height of your frame, begin by cutting the first 45-degree angle at the right-hand end. For the opposite cut, you will measure the distance between the inner edges of the 45-degree marks. Continue with the other three lengths

Next, you should make certain all the corners fit together and are square. If only one is off just a little, it should not be a problem. You can correct one little inconsistency with sandpaper. However, if a second or third corner does not fit you have two choices: use wood filler or re-cut the piece.

Now you can glue the corners together. Use wood glue or plain household white glue for this task. Adjust the corner clamps to hold the frame in place while it dries. If you have decided to purchase only one clamp, then you will assemble the length and width of one side, and then the other. Masking tape is a low-end alternative. Bind the corners together, then add another strip crosswise over the corners and wait for the glue to dry.

Add nails and brads for extra strength and longevity, especially in heavier frames. Staple the brads across the glued joints on the back side. Mark the nail holes and use a small drill first. This will prevent the wood from splitting. Drive the nails in from the top and bottom edges, which will be least noticeable when viewing the art. For large frames, add nails on the sides, but set the location of these off-center from the top and bottom nails. You will use the hammer and nail set to finish and then use wood putty to fill in the small indentations.

If your frame is made of unfinished wood, you can now sand, paint, stain, and varnish it in any color you wish. All that remains is mounting the picture and hanging your masterpiece on the wall.

© High Speed Ventures 2011