Custom-Made Picture Frames
By Robert Anthony Robinson
[Choosing Stock] [Ripping
Stock] [Edge Profiles]
[Miter Cutting Frame Members]
[Gluing Up] [Decorative
Options] [Finish Work]
Everyone Likes a Picture
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.
Ripping to Width
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
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
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
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
The Back, Outside Edge
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.
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
web clamp or
frame clamp. Instead of standard yellow glue, a
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
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
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.
that your beautiful, hand crafted frame is complete
you may have trouble giving it away. If so, you'll
need to make another.