Custom-Made Picture Frames
Robert Anthony Robinson
[Choosing Stock] [Ripping
Stock] [Edge Profiles]
[Miter Cutting Frame Members] [Gluing
Up] [Decorative Options] [Finish
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.
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.
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 impression.
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.
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
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 Roman Ogee, 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 corners.
The Back, Outside Edge (Optional)
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.
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 stock
up your frame using a good web clamp or frame clamp. Instead of standard yellow glue, a good epoxy
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
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 with a 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.
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
crafted by" branding iron because you'll be creating a
high-quality family heirloom that will be cherished for