Custom-Made Picture Frames
Everyone Likes a Picture Frame
Creating custom picture frames for friends and family is a great
gift giving project that's sure to please even those difficult to
shop for gift recipients. Everyone has a special photo or keepsake
they've meant to have framed. Making a custom frame to match may be
the best gift of the season. Best of all, it's a quick and simple
project to complete with the right tools and set up.
Start with Matting
If possible, mat your intended
photography or artwork before cutting any stock. This will help you
determine the final dimensions of your completed frame, and the type
of stock you'll want to use. Although you can purchase pre-cut
matting at your local hobby store, using your own
mat cutting system may be more economical, especially if you
have a lot of family and friends for whom you're making frames.
Next you'll want to choose your stock. Picture frames don't
require a lot so your scrap pile can often yield a treasure of
possibility. Carefully match the color of your lumber to the
artwork or photograph, and mat. It's the mark of a meticulous
craftsperson and it's sure to impress. If your scrap pile
doesn't cooperate, there are dozens of
wood stock types available in all colors and textures. Tip:
If you're really in a hurry, you can use ready-to-cut
picture frame moldings.
Ripping to Width
Now rip your stock to width. Use 3/4" lumber (you can go thicker
but it's not a good idea to go any thinner), and rip it at least
1 1/2" wide because anything less will look pale and weak--like
you skimped. And you wouldn't want to leave a bad Yuletide
Using a good
table saw and fence, rip enough length to account for the
full dimensions of your finished frame, leaving an inch or so
extra at the ends for good measure.
Rabbet the Backside
Cut a rabbet in the backside of your
lengths to accommodate the artwork, matting, and backer board
that will be installed in the finished frame. It helps to
envision the thickness of the stock in thirds, which is why 3/4"
stock works so well. The rabbet should be no shallower than 1/2"
and should remove no more than 2/3rds off the thickness so that
there is at least a 1/4" left to profile an edge on the front
side. (See Illustration 1.) A 1/2"
rabbet or straight router bit will typically take a 3/8"
width of cut. This is a good dimension that will create a 1/2"
by 3/8" rabbet in the backside of your frame. Although your
table saw can be used to cut this rabbet, a
router table may be a safer alternative. Chuck a 1/2" bit in
your router table and rout the backside of your frame members.
The Front, Inside Edge
Choose the style of molding profile you want along the front,
inside edge of your frame. Since there is only 1/4" of stock
thickness left along this edge, you'll want to keep this profile
within a 1/8" tolerance to leave a strong enough edge within which
to hold the frame's contents. Leaving anything less will create a
raggedy looking edge or none at all. The profile you choose here
should remove no more than half the wood fiber from this inside
edge, so it's important to choose the proper type of router bit.
Bisecting the edge with, say a 1/4'' bit will leave just the right
amount of stock and create an attractively dimensioned inside border
for your frame. (See Illustration 2.) A
cove bit or
classic bit, for example, would do nicely. In working with
narrow widths, always use
feather boards on your router table. It saves fingers.
Front, Outside Edge
For aesthetics and eye appeal, a different edge profile works best
along the front, outside edge of your frame. If you've used a bead
on the inside edge, a
Classic Roman, or
Ogee Fillet would look nice on this outside edge. Taking away no
more than half the wood fiber is a good rule for sake of both
appearance and strength. (See Illustration 3.) Tip: this edge can be
profiled after glue-up, which sometimes results in better looking
The Back, Outside Edge
As an option, you may want to also profile the back outside edge
of your frame. To maintain structural integrity and good appearance,
don't remove more than half the remaining amount of stock from this
edge should you choose this option.
Rockler Sure-Loc Miter Gauge
Miter Cut To Dimension
Once the frame members have been
profiled to your liking, you can move on to cutting your
miters. Use this handy formula to get the total length of each
[Length of Mat] - [width of rabbet]x2 + [width of frame]x2
Miters can be cut with a power miter saw, manually with a
hand miter saw, or at your table saw with a
miter gauge or miter jig set to a 45° angle (for square or
Trimming to Fit
Dry fit your frame. If the frame members are cut well, they'll
fit. If not, a little trimming is in order. Don't be tempted to
trim cut your mitered edges, it could end up in disaster.
Instead, lightly sand them to fit with a stationary disk sander
or use a
miter trimming tool. This will give you more control over
Glue up your frame using a good
frame clamp. Instead of standard yellow glue, a good
is best in this situation. It holds firmly against the end grain
of the frame members.
Let the glue-up set until the epoxy cures.
A Decorative Option
As another option, you may want to
spline the corners of your frame. This is a decorative approach
to frame joinery that will be highly appreciated by your
gift-giving recipient. The use of a contrasting wood for corner
splines--a dark wood such as walnut or mahogany--can further
accentuate this attractive element. A router table or table saw
V-jig or Tenoning Jig can be used to cut accommodating slots
for your splines along the outer edge of each corner. A 1/8"
slot works well and leaves enough room on either side for a
balanced look. Most table saw blades cut a kerf of about this
size. Always cut the slots for your splines after you've
profiled the edges with your router, otherwise you risk routing
into your beautiful corner splines when you profile the edges.
Sam Maloof Poly/Oil Finish
There are many good finishing
alternatives for picture frames (which will not normally need to
endure a great deal of wear or stress). A good-quality
oil finish will achieve a nice luster, but
or polyurethane will also do nicely.
Now that your beautiful, hand crafted frame is complete you may
have trouble giving it away. If so, you'll need to make another. But
before you wrap it for Christmas, make sure to brand your signature
on it with your "hand
crafted by" branding iron because you'll be creating a
high-quality family heirloom that will be cherished for generations.