Frame Building
September 21, 2005 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Framing: I'd like to build my own frames - clean lines, nice wood, etc - for matted photographs. I'm not entirely unhandy, but I don't know much about construction or carpentry. What's the best way to learn? What are the essential tools I should consider buying? Are there books or other resources that will help me with this?

A quick google turns up lots about making a digital picture frame and a number of links to carpentry sites. Neither of these is particularly useful. I don't want to learn how to build cabinets or bookshelves, just some very nice frames.
posted by aladfar to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
Lee Valley Tools has a section of frame-making tools and books.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:05 AM on September 21, 2005

You'll likely want a miter box and picture frame clamps. I tried my hand at frames, and never got very satisfactory results, though; the level of precision needed to make clean corners was too much for me.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:11 AM on September 21, 2005

here are two sites with tutorials, though i don't know if i'd understand them without former woodworking experience.

and here is a site with advice on putting it together (it assumes you already have the wooden parts -
posted by mirileh at 11:29 AM on September 21, 2005

I have this book and it's good for beginners. There will be a few people here who can offer you plenty of advice on the finer points. Wetcanvas is a great site and the members are always super helpful.
posted by fire&wings at 11:42 AM on September 21, 2005

mitering joints for frames is absurdly frustrating without using professional framing tools. These aren't expensive, necessarily, but they're single purpose jigs that can take up space in your shop.

on preview, the sites mirileh listed give you a good overview of framing. Be warned that you'll spend a couple bills on tools, though. Don't try to skimp on them, especially the miter gauge.
posted by boo_radley at 11:49 AM on September 21, 2005

I'd consider what you're trying to accomplish. Although I'd done a lot of woodworking with my dad as a kid and young man, I had never done frames. I had to teach myself how to in order to start my current project and I can tell you I consumed a lot of wood in the experimenting.

As others mentioned, clean corners are hard. What makes it difficult is that you almost certainly want to join the 4 planks with 45 degree cuts and getting 4 perfect 45 degree cuts is HARD. For my project I only have to get the outer corners perfect because all the rest is covered by molding and tiles. You won't have that luxury. The error increases with the width of the plank so you'll have more luck with 1x2 and 1x3 than 1x4. I did some 1x6es and it was a nightmare.

The best way to get the perfect angle cut is with a tool that is essentially a guillotine for wood. You make your imprecise cut with a miter saw and then shave the imperfection with this thing which can do fractions of angles. Unfortunately they're well over $100 on a good day. Second best is a joiner. Again, bucks. More likely you will end up using a duck plane and a sandpaper block to even things out and it can be infuriating.

That said, woodworking is one of the most enjoyable diseases one can contract. I am at best a piker and I love every second of it. It also makes one of the most pleasantly scented messes in the world. The basement where I live now will probably smell like fresh cut wood forever and in a perfect world that would drive resale price through the roof.

If you're determined to move forward you should get a cuppa joe at your local bookstore and look through this book on joinery. You'll probably also need to learn the proper use of a router to do the glass insets.
posted by phearlez at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2005

Well depending on how involved you want to get and how much $ you want to spend you have 3 options for wood and 3 levels of tools needed.
Wood options:
1) Rough wood. Good point the limits of possibilies is up to you. Bad point need lots of tools.
2) Standard lumber. Good points fewer tools needed and some flexibility in what you make. Bad point warps and curves depending on where you get the wood.
3) Premade wood for frames. Good point just cut to length and assemble. Bad point most limited in what you build.

How to:
Rough wood. Find a wood supplier, home depot and such will not have the wood. Need a planer to clean up and straighten up wood. If using recycled/reclaim wood need a metal detector to remove anything that can damage blades. Need jointer to get a good 90-degree side. (for standard lumber start here) Need tablesaw to rip wood into strips and then cut strips into L-shape. L-shape is made with 2 passes on tablesaw, shallow cut first and then deep cut. Save "scrap pieces" from making L-shape to use in later assembly. (for premade wood start here) Need a miter saw to cut 45's and L-shape to length. A 45-degree gauge (nonadjustable) is very handy to check cuts. Spend the time with old scrap wood cutting 45's dead on, a litle bit off will mean a gap when assembling. Now assembly-either glue and clamp or glue and nailer. For high volume use glue and nailer. Apply glue, square up in corner clamp, shoot nails/brads. You will need to putty later. Glue and clamp if puttying nail/brad holes is not an option. Use an adustable frame clamp, basically plastic corners with one threaded hole to attach all-thread and a second hole for another all-thread to pass through. Use paper in plastic corners so glue will stick paper to frame and not frame clamp to frame. After dried and puttied (or not) use orbital sander to cleanup. Beyond that wood finish is up to you (for premade wood stop here). Now those scraps from making the L-shapes can be ripped down and cut to length to hold in glass/plexi,matting,piece,and backing in that order. The scraps are attached using brads driven through predrilled holes in the scraps into the "inside" of the L-shape, pretty much where it came from.

Standard lumber. Home depot or such will work for this. Buy either 1x2 or 1x3 be very selective with how curved/warped wood is. Follow instructions above from notation.

Premade wood for frames. Know it exists do not know where to find a supplier or what selection would be like. It is already an L-shape follow instructions above from notation.

I used to do the rough wood method when I was in school with access to all the machinery, now I am on the standard lumber method.
posted by sailormouth at 12:07 PM on September 21, 2005

a thought: you don't have to start with a frame joined at a 45 degree angle. i made myself 2 cherry picture frames just as i make frames in frame and panel furniture.
posted by mirileh at 12:30 PM on September 21, 2005

You can get some interesting varieties of wood, as well as all the tools, clamps and finishing supplies your credit card will hold at Rockler.

As others have said, getting four perfect 45 degree angle cuts can be hard to master. Until you become a miter-joint ninja, wood filler and paint will be your bestest friends.
posted by spilon at 1:26 PM on September 21, 2005

if you're just looking for an alternative to custom framing and not trying to learn a new craft, daniel smith art supply stores sell framing kits. basically, you buy pieces of wood in packets of two (say you're framing a 24x17 work, you'd buy a pack of two 24 inch pieces and one pack of two 17 inch pieces which are "precision-routed for assembly"!) and stick them together. they are very clean and very simple and--although not cheap--cheaper than custom framing. no glass, however.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:47 PM on September 21, 2005

What the others said is true, especially about the difficulty of getting clean sharp corners. Excellent advice.

But what the hell! Give the low tech way a try. Buy some frame molding like Sailormouth mentions, picking up a mitre box and a backsaw at the same time, and have at it. Join the corners with glue and predrilled finishing nails. If you are going to paint the frames, you can put wood putty in the gaps first and make a pretty decent looking frame. You can get pieces of glass cut to fit pretty damn cheap, and precut matting in standard sizes at a hobby shop. If the frames still look crude you could go all Martha on them and glue on some seashells on the frames for ocean pictures, or whatever. If you are still not satisfied, put up the miter box and saw and go buy some premade frames. At least you tried.
posted by LarryC at 1:57 PM on September 21, 2005

and don't discount the possibility of other jointing options; half lap joints and mortise & tenon joints can be attractive, too.
posted by boo_radley at 4:28 PM on September 21, 2005

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