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  • Making picture frames


    I've always wanted to try making some picture frames, so I've been doing some research on the topic. A lot of sites out there make it seem easy - too easy. Mainly in that they assume all wood is perfectly square, when as experience has taught me, it never is. I have a tendency to jump into projects expecting professional results, without professional tools. To save myself that frustration, I'd like to ask all you woodworking experts out there the following:

    1. Is a thickness planer required for good results?
    2. Is a jointer/planer required for good results?
    3. What's the best way to secure the sides of a frame? Biscuits? What about small frames where a biscuit would be too big?



  • #2
    Re: Making picture frames

    Matrix I would start by getting a good good book on the subject (just an example).
    I would purchase a good miter trimmer and some quality picture framing tools.

    Then I would read about and research the subject to help me decide if I wanted to purchase ready made moldings or make my own...
    Last edited by jbergstrom; 10-13-2007, 06:09 PM.
    Cheers! - Jim
    All truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. - Schopenhauer


    • #3
      Re: Making picture frames

      I have never made picture frames, but I needed a frame for a mirror in a bathroom. I used my miter saw to make the 45 degree cuts, a belt clamp and glue to hold it together. Then once the glue was dried I used my staple gun to reinforce the glue corners.

      Our mirror had a bad spot in the lower 1 inch of the mirror and builder glued the mirror to the wall. We found a place online that would make a custom mirror frame, but it would have cost over $250. I made this one for around $25.
      Attached Files



      • #4
        Re: Making picture frames

        I have yet to make picture frames, but as soon as I get the other big projects on the house renovaton done, I'm planning on doing several frames that will fit the decor.

        However, I've done a few screen frames and similar box-like frames as part of trim. One of the easiest joints that I've used is make splines at the corners. This is relatively simple, in that you fit-up a typical 45 miter at the corners and then cut a deep slot (groove) thru the center of the matching corners. You then place a thin (matching the kerf of the slot you cut) piece of wood in the slot with the grain running across the grain of the frame.

        The miter itself has little to no strength because you're mating endgrain. But adding a thin piece of matching or contrasting wood as a spline adds significant strength to the joint. I've done these with a hand saw, but setting up a simple jig on a table saw is better, IMO.

        You can also use simple lap joints at the corners too. These can look like 45 mitered corners, or use a 90-degree joint with the top and bottom of the frame mating with sides at a 90-degree angle (with the top and bottom pieces lapping across the back, the front edge looks like a fitted cabinet frame. You can do this on a table saw or with a router table.

        Corners can also be pegged when using and overlap, as this adds a bit to the design, especially if you're using a contrasting wood. A drill press is great borring a peg hole, but I think a plunge router might be preferable with the proper setup.

        As mentioned, getting a good book (buy, or check your local library) will provide you with a lot of ideas. If your library has them, check back issues of some of the woodworking magazines.



        • #5
          Re: Making picture frames

          Frames can be easy, depending on what you're trying to do. You need wood that will meet at 45 degree angles, depending on the wood that you're trying to use, you may need a jointer/planer to square it but you don't need it if you're working with already surfaced wood. Splines, as someone said, are a really good way to add both visual interest and strength to the joints but you can also biscuit or staple if you want to. It isn't like a frame really needs a ton of stability, it's not going to take much abuse, it'll just hold a picture and hang on the wall, right?


          • #6
            Re: Making picture frames

            While I don't want to be a full-time framer, I do have a lot of prints from my photography hobby that are just collecting dust.

            I did a lot of research today, both online and in books, went to local stores and looked at tools, and this is what I'm thinking.

            I like the possibilities routing my own edges affords me, and even though I'm new to routing, I can see there are virtually unlimited combinations you can create. I'd like a good router / table. I'm thinking of a Ridgid R2930 router, and I've yet to decide on a table.

            The wood I'd use would be, for now at least, consumer-grade pine/oak/poplar 1x2 and 1x3s from Home Depot.

            After the wood has been cut, what's the best way to cut a slot for a spline on a 45?

            Since 3/4" (aka 1") is the thinnest wood that's widely stocked, would it make sense to invest in a surface planer? A 13" x 19" frame made out of that would be roughly 5.3 linear feet of wood - quite heavy if it were made of oak.




            • #7
              Re: Making picture frames

              tm, i have been making them for my new home with nothing more than a miter saw..or you could use a miter gauge on the table saw would also work..or even hand saw and a miter box. i buy the kraftmaid moldings already finished that matched my cabinets off a ebay seller named "kitchentrim" in 8ft sections..mitered my corners..joined with glue and my kreg pocket screw kit. since these were to hold a mirror i did router i small grove in the back of the trim to hold the mirror recess. hope this helps.


              • #8
                Re: Making picture frames


                I think a router/table would be an excellent tool for making your own frame moldings; although, as mentioned previously, there is a pretty good variety of existing moldings available.

                I recently purchased a Rockler table, with a mounting plate for the R2900, and the accessory kit. I believe the total was around $200, I'd have to look up the reciept to confirm that and also give you the part number for the plate. I built my own leg set, to support the table top.

                A miter saw would be handy of course, but a table saw with a good quality miter gauge would also do the trick. Splines are probably best cut on a table saw, using a 45-degree angle jig along the fence. Certainly other members will offer their opinions and perhaps some detail (I have yet to figure out how to display pictures here).

                It sounds like you are well on your way to "framing happiness", keep posting!



                • #9
                  Re: Making picture frames

                  WOOD Magazine had a letter and quick overview of exactly the kind of joint you'd probably love to have in a picture frame for your own work. It's probably a tad bit of overkill (in terms of strength) but I thought it was fascinating. I've considered pulling out my tenoning jig to try to make it.

                  I think it was called a double bridled half lap miter, or some such.

                  Imagine a bridled, mitered, mortise and tenon joint. You essentially are using a mitered tenon in lieu of a spline. It apparently provides a lot of glue surface on the long grain.

                  It looked slick as snot, but tricky to make. I'll see if I can find the page number tonight and/or a link for it online.


                  • #10
                    Re: Making picture frames

                    I've made one frame so far. A friend let me in on a big secret, which is to make your inside rabbet 1/8" larger than the item you're framing. That is 1/8" on width and 1/8" on height/length. It's really made a difference!

                    I rabbet first, then cut. Don't know if that's how it's supposed to be done, but it is just easier for me to cut the rabbet on the long piece and then start making the frame. To cut the miters, I use the table saw with an Incra Miter gauge. To join the pieces, I use small "0" biscuits on the miters, holding the biscuit cuts up above the rabbet. I also use a Picture Frame clamp I got from Woodcraft ($19.99 + tax), . It works very well, although it is a bit tricky the first time to set it up and clamp all the corners in all at once! It just takes time and patience.

                    So far, the frame has held together very well. I've had no trouble with the corners separating. It's been hanging up for about three months now (and I even dropped it once before I put the picture in it!!).
                    I put it all back together better than before. There\'s lots of leftover parts.


                    • #11
                      Re: Making picture frames

                      I have made a lot of picture frames, as well as a dozen or so mirror frames. I started by taking a course from Lee Valley on picture frame making - it was great.

                      I have made frames in a few ways, experiencing success with both. For smaller frames (1" wide or so), I often rip a long peice of stock on the TS and then rabbet the whole thing at once. Sort of like making a 4 foot "picture frame blank" with the profile and rabbet (space for your art) ready to go. Then you can mitre the stiles and rails to whatever dimensions you require, sneaking up on a nice tight joint with your MS.

                      The other way is to cut your stiles and rails a few inches longer than you require, and machine them one at a time on the router table.

                      I keep common size matts on hand, so that when i make a frame i can use the matt to ensure everything fits well. Making picture frames is relatively fast, and good results are attainable.

                      Tools which will make your life a lot easier (and more enjoyable) are definately a good Table Saw, a power miter saw, and a router in a table. Of course you'll need clamps and a power sander as well.

                      To secure the mitred edges together I use a really neat tool I picked up at (surprise) Lee Valley. It drives "V-Nails" to secure the mitred joints, as glue alone is not sufficient to support an end grain-to-end grain joint.

                      Here is a link


                      There are TONS of variations to making frames. So be creative and have fun!


                      • #12
                        Re: Making picture frames

                        Originally posted by VASandy View Post
                        I rabbet first, then cut. Don't know if that's how it's supposed to be done, but it is just easier for me to cut the rabbet on the long piece and then start making the frame.
                        That's a good tip, not only will it be easier to make the cut but it'll be more consistent as well, rather than trying to make a separate rabbet in four different pieces.


                        • #13
                          Re: Making picture frames

                          Hey Matrix, I've made lots of picture frames and it's not that difficult. I use my miter gauge on the table saw to cut the angles and I've just used Titebond III glue on the corners and everything holds great. I've also used the Miller dowels on the edges of the frame corners in a contrasting wood color for strength and design. As mentioned in other replies, splines, also of contrasting color, add strength and looks. The toughest part are making tight 45 degree cuts for the corners. I will take some photos of the latest and post them so you can see. I use the router with a straight bit for cutting the rabbits. It's not absolutley necessary to use a planner or jointer but they sure do make everything consistant. Also mentioned was to let your imagination go, I agree with that 100%. Best of luck and have fun...
                          If at first you don't succeed, try reading the owners manual.


                          • #14
                            Re: Making picture frames

                            I'm the dissenter I guess. I make and assemble the frame in full, then use a rabbet bit with a bearing to cut the rabbet for the picture / matte / glass. Then I use a corner chisel and regular chisels to clean up the rounded corners.

                            I just find it easier to assemble and glue without a chunk of the flat portion of the workpiece missing.

                            Franklin_Pug, I use that same V-nail driving tool! It's good and it's easy to use. I've also made frame using pocket holes to secure the miters. But unless the front of the frame is mostly flat (like a Craftsmen style frame) you can't align the edges to drive the screw...


                            • #15
                              Re: Making picture frames

                              I started making picture frames a couple years ago & I use a miter saw . I also bought a framing kit from The Frame Co. It had a pushmaster v-nailer, v-nails, the frame clamp ( which I use on lots of different projects ). I also purchased a couple of picture frame router bits from Grizzly. You can make hundreds of different profiles with these bits just by changing the width of wood or flipping them over etc. I have since even picked up a mat cutter & you would not believe how simple it is to make professional frame & mat jobs in your own shop. Good Luck