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How to make your own custom wooden frames for your artwork, portraits and photographs by Colette Theriault


    Most of us don't have the professional equipment required to make a wooden picture frame with a custom profile. This is why we buy most frames already made. However, you can achieve surprisingly good results using common tools found in most woodworkers’ shop.  The following article takes you through the process of making such a frame using only a table saw, a router and a combination of different router bits.   

   The frame we used for this example was made from black ash and was for my “moose" drawing that measured 25 1/4" high by 31 1/4" long.  We made the frame larger than the actual drawing because I used double matting to complement the picture.  Consequently, the outside frame dimensions were 29" high by 35" long.  Another point we considered was that the larger is the frame, the wider the side pieces should be.  We chose a width of 2 1/4". 

   Using the table saw, we cut one piece from 3/4" stock of solid wood that measured 5" by 38" and another piece that measured 5" by 32".  Note that we allowed 3 extra inches along the length of each piece to compensate for final adjustments.  When you have decided on the dimensions for your frame, make sure you add a few extra inches to the length.   Also, once you have chosen the width of the frame pieces, you double that measurement and add 1/2".  For example, for my frame, we chose a width of 2 1/4".  We then multiplied by 2 to get 4 1/2".  To compensate for trimming, we added an extra 1/2" to get our cut measurement of 5". 

   Now that we have cut the pieces for the frame height and length, we chose the profile bits we desired (see below).  There are many different styles to choose from to suit individual tastes.  The profile was then achieved using a router mounted on a table.   


Profile bits (left to right; rabbet bit, face molding bit, cove bit) for the "moose" frame.


Step 1:Making the Frame Profile

   To make the face profile, rout on both sides of each piece with the face molding bit (this is the face of the frame i.e. good side). 


Click on the images below to view/purchase the face molding (profile) bit used to make this frame. Face molding bit is 1 3/8" high with 1/2" shank.



Step 2:Making the Rabbet Profile

   Flip the pieces over (back of frame). To make the rabbet profile, rout on both sides of each piece. This is where the glass will sit on the inside of the frame (3/8" rabbet is recommended).


Click on the images below to view/purchase the rabbet bit used to make this frame. Rabbet bit used is 3/8" with 1/2" shank.



Step 3:Ripping the Pieces 

   You can now rip each piece to the desired width measurement (i.e. 2 1/4" for my frame).  You now have the four pieces required for your frame.




Step 4:Making the Cove Edge

   This step involves making the cove edge on the outside of the frame pieces. This is the final pass required to complete the frame profile.

Click on the images below to view/purchase the cove bit used to make this frame. Cove bit used is 3/8" with 1/2" shank.




Step 5:Cutting the Frame

   Once all pieces have the desired profile, we can proceed to cutting the frame. All 45 degree cuts were made using a laser guided miter saw equipped with proper support. You can also use a table saw, using your miter guide.  It is recommended that you test your miter cuts on scrap pieces of wood until you get a good fitting joint.  Mark the exact location on your guide (it may not be exactly 45 degrees).



Using your reference mark, cut a 45 degree angle at one end of each piece. You now have to make a 45 degree angle cut at the other end of each piece so that the frame is to the proper dimension. Starting with one piece that makes up the frame length, make repetitive miter cuts in order to achieve the desired length (measure the length desired inside the rabbet cut). Once the desired length is reached for one piece, use a stop block to measure for the second piece. Now, make the 45 degree cut for the two pieces that make up the height of the frame. 


Fastening the Frame

   The frame has been cut to proper size and we are now ready to fasten the joints. There are various techniques to fastening miter joints.  Using mechanical fasteners like corrugated nails, chevrons or tack plates is probably the simplest way but is only recommended for softwood.  This is because the fasteners tend to crumple when driven into hardwood and can cause the wood or joint to split.   Another method is to use open splines or biscuits.  However, depending on the profile of your frame, you may not be able to use these because the profile would be ruined.  The last method for securing miter joints uses wood plugs.  We chose this method because it is relatively easy to accomplish and also creates a strong and stable joint. 


Click on  images to view/purchase the quick release picture framing clamp.


Step 1:Gluing and Clamping the Frame

   Clamp the frame together using a picture frame clamp, miter clamp or similar device. Apply glue to the joint and clamp the frame for 24 hours to allow the glue to dry. Unclamp the frame before proceeding to step 2.


Step 2:Reinforcing the Joints with Dowel Plugs

   In order to reinforce the miter joint, drill a 1" diameter hole, 1/4" deep in each corner of the frame. Those holes will be covered with plugs that can be made from 1" dowels.  If possible, make the plugs with the same material as the frame. You then apply glue in the holes and cover the holes with the wood plugs.  At this point, clamps are not necessary since the miter joints are already glued together. 




Step 3:Wipe the Glue

   Wipe the excess glue with a clean, humid cloth.  Wait 24 hours for the glue to dry completely and proceed to the finishing process.


Click on  images to view/purchase quality carpentry glue.



Finishing the Frame

 Step 1: Sanding the Frame

   Make sure the wood is sanded nice and smooth and that all trace of dust is removed with a tack cloth.  Remove any residual glue and sand with a fine grit sand paper (150-180 grit).


Step 2:Decide on the Finished “Look" of your Frame

   Decide on the finished look you want for the frame.  You can keep the wood natural, stain it or even paint it.  Below are some examples of the different profiles and finishes used to frame various pieces of my artwork (color may vary depending on type of wood used).  


Minwax Polyshade (stain and varnish combination) Classic Oak#470 on black ash.

Profile bits (left to right; rabbet bit, face molding bit, roman ogee bit) for "fox" frame.



Minwax Wood Finish (stain) Ebony#2718 on red oak (sealed with Flecto water-based varathane).

Profile Bits (left to right; rabbet bit, face molding bit, roman ogee bit) for "horse" frame.


Step 3:Apply the Finish and Seal the Wood

   Apply the finish as per instructed on the can label.  Always sand lightly between coats with the finest sandpaper.  This ensures a smooth finish for subsequent applications.  If applying a stain, you must seal the wood after the stain is dry.   I prefer to use a water-based clear polyurethane finish called Varathane (by Flecto).  It is low odor, water clean-up and doesn't yellow.  If you want natural wood, this is also the perfect finish, however, sanding is a must between coats because water-based finishes lifts the grain is some wood species.  For the “moose" frame shown in this article, I first stained the wood with Minwax Wood Finish Ebony#2718, then applied Flecto Varathane clear satin finish (water based) to seal the wood.


Please do not reproduce, distribute or copy this article without written consent by the author.


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