If you’re a beginning woodworker, picture framing is an ideal project — it requires only simple tools and inexpensive materials, but it gives you quick results. It’s a skill you can practice, too, and maybe even screw up at first, without any great loss of time or money.
If you’re a seasoned woodworker or DIYer, picture framing is a handy skill just because of the savings. You can save up to 50 percent on the cost of professional framing — even more if you make your own moldings (see section below). For me, that savings often makes the difference between leaving some sentimental treasure tucked away in a drawer and getting it framed and hung on the wall.
So get out your tools, collect a few pieces of art, and set up your family frame shop.
The tools you’ll need
Making a picture frame requires only a few basic and inexpensive tools. You’ll need:
- tape measure
- pair of pliers
- nail set
You’ll also need a clamp for gluing the pieces of molding together at the corners. I recommend using a small band clamp (Photo 2), which is the least expensive option ($17 or so). and gives excellent results. You can also use miter clamps (the kind that grip two pieces of wood together at a right angle), but these clamps are more expensive and a little trickier to use. Experts use them, though, because they’re faster.
Finally, you’ll need a miter box and a fine-tooth saw to cut 45-degree corners on the frame pieces. They are super cheap. If you own a miter saw, or a table saw, go ahead and use it instead.
First, prepare the artwork
Before you even think about cutting and assembling a frame, the artwork must be properly backed and matted.
The backer is a piece of stiff corrugated cardboard, foam core, or similar material that goes behind the artwork to keep it flat (see below). The mat serves as a border for the artwork.
Have your local frame shop or art supply store cut the mat and backing for your artwork. They’ll help you choose appropriate materials, they’ll do it right, and the cost is only slightly more than what you’d pay for the materials alone (around $20 to $30).
Choose the molding
You can buy picture frame moldings in 6- to 1O—ft. lengths, either finished or unfinished. Shop for them at art supply stores, home centers, through the internet, or from your local frame shop.
The cost will vary depending on the type of wood, the molding size, and the intricacy of the molded profile. You can generally expect to pay $3 to $9 a foot. Buy a bit more than you need in case you cut a piece too short.
Cut the pieces to length
You should do all your measuring, marking and cutting on the outside edge of the molding.
Start by measuring how wide your molding is, not including the rabbet (Fig. A). The rabbet is the notched area in the back of the molding where the artwork is placed.
Then measure the width and length of your prepared artwork, and add two times the molding width (not counting the rabbet) to each dimension.
Finally, add an extra 1⁄8 in. to each dimension so the backed and matted artwork fits easily inside the frame.
Mark the lengths on the outside edges of the moldings and cut the 45-degree corners in a miter box (Photo 1).
When all four pieces are cut, check to be sure the sides are exactly the same length and the top and bottom pieces are exactly the same. too. This guarantees that the frame will be square when it’s assembled.
Glue the frame together
First, test-fit your mitered joints by clamping them together with a band clamp (Photo 2).
If the joints fit well, loosen the clamp, apply yellow carpenter’s glue to the joints, then clamp the frame together again. Apply enough clamping pressure to close the mitered corners. If the joints aren’t tight, file them carefully for a good fit.
Allow the glue to cure overnight, then remove the clamp. Drill pilot holes (Photo 3). then hammer 3⁄4-in. brads through the sides and into the mitered joints. Use a nail set to sink the brad heads slightly below the surface of the wood.
If your frame is unfinished, go ahead and finish it now. When the finish is dry (or if you‘ve used prefinished molding), fill the holes with colored soft putty made for finished wood.
Purchase the glass
I had a hardware store cut single-strength window glass for these picture frames. It’s cheap, distortion-free and suitable for most artwork.
Special types of non-glare glass and ultraviolet light filtering glass (known as conservation clear glass) can be cut to fit your frame at glass supply stores and picture frame supply stores, for about 50 percent more than window glass.
Take your frame to the store and have them cut the glass to fit the frame.
Mount the artwork in the frame
Start by cleaning the glass twice on each side. Use a glass cleaning solution and wipe the glass dry with crumpled newspaper. I know it sounds strange, but it really works!
Lay the matted and backed artwork face up on a table. Place the glass on top of the artwork Carefully remove any dust from the glass and artwork with a clean paint brush.
Place the frame over the glass and artwork, then reach under the frame and lift everything up into the frame. Reexamine the pieces for any remaining dust and clean again if necessary. Then flip the frame over and secure the artwork in the frame by inserting 3⁄4-in. brads fight against the backer and into the frame, using a pair of arc-joint (Channellock-type) pliers (Photo 5).
Cover the back and attach the hanging wire
You should glue a piece of brown kraft paper over the frame’s back to keep dust from getting in.
Start by cutting a piece of kraft paper slightly larger than the frame. Place a small head of white or yellow glue around the back edge of the frame, then press the kraft paper onto it (Photo 6). Let the glue dry, and then cut away the overhanging paper with a sharp utility knife. Cut about 1⁄8 in. in from the frame’s outside edge.
Purchase screw eyes and picture frame hanging wire and hooks appropriate to the weight of your framed artwork. Drill pilot holes and insert the screw eyes, 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 of the way down the sides. Attach the wire as shown below.
Place felt or plastic stick-on bumpers (available at hardamre stores) at the bottom corners of the frame to protect the wall the frame hangs on, then hang the frame. A small level will help you get the frame straight on the wall.
Steps for making picture frames
- Cut 45-degree corners on your molding using a fine-tooth saw and a miter box. Make all measurements on the outside of the molding according to the article.
- Clamp the molding pieces together with a band clamp. Protect the corners with small pieces of cardboard. Use carpenter’s glue to hold the joints.
- Drill pilot holes and insert 3/4-in. brads through the sides and into the miter joints. These help reinforce the glue faint.
- Cut picture frame molding with a router mounted in a router table. (See below.)
- Use 3/4-in. brads to hold the artwork in place. You can insert them with a pair of pliers, but be sure to protect the wood as shown.
- Glue a piece of brown kraft paper to the back of the home to keep dust out. Cut away the excess paper after the glue has dried.
Making your own molding
With a table saw and a router table you can make your own picture frame moldings with an almost infinite number of profiles. It’s a great way to use up extra lumber and save money on framing. See below some examples:
First, decide what size rabbet you will need. For thin artwork, like photographs and posters, a rabbet that’s 1⁄2 in. deep x 3⁄16 in. wide works fine. For convex or uneven artwork, the rabbet must be deeper and wider.
Cut the wood pieces to width and thickness, leaving them as long as possible. Cut the rabbets on a table saw. Use finger boards or other hold-down devices to keep the moldings flat on the saw’s table, and use your saw guards.
Use the router table to put decorative edges on the rabbeted strips (Photo 4). Test your setup with scrap wood before you begin, and cut extra molding to allow for waste. You can use several bits in succession to make a wide variety of profiles.