Why do we woodworkers insist on building things that we can easily pick up for just a couple of bucks at Wal-Mart? It is for the joy we get from making something that is uniquely our own. Building your own picture frame is just one such example of something we tend to enjoy building. I build picture frames not to save a buck or two, but to have something on my wall that is mine. So just how do I build my own picture frames?
It took a little experimentation to figure out just what worked best for me. I encourage you to experiment with building picture frames yourself. You never know just what you will come up with. To get you started, I will explain my method on how to build your own picture frames.
I started by building 4 x 6 picture frames, my wife loves pictures of friends and family and this is a size she frequently prints.
I start by selecting ¾” hardwood of my choosing. I have lots of scraps in my shop from other projects and this is a great way to use those scraps. Any wood you have in your shop will work fine, but it must be ¾” thick to use my method. For best results, I choose a scrap that will let me cut all the frame pieces from one piece of wood.
This allows for a continuous grain pattern which is especially important when using a wood like oak. To make a 4 x 6 frame you will need a piece about 32 – 34 inches long and 1 to 1 1/8 inch wide. This is an eye pleasing width for this size of frame.
Once you have selected your wood, straight line rip each edge on your table saw. This will ensure that your miter joints match up well. I also like to do some surface sanding to 100 grit at this point also. This will make a nice smooth surface when you take the frame to your router table to route a decorative edge.
Its time to get started cutting your frame pieces. At your miter saw, or use a miter box and backsaw if you don’t have a miter saw, cut a 45-degree angle on the end of your wood. Now measure back from the long point of the miter 8 ¾” and make another miter cut in the opposite direction.
Mark each piece as you cut it with a number so you know how to put it together later. Now make another miter cut in the long piece of wood in the same manner you did for your first cut. From here measure as you did before a piece 5 ¾” and cut the second miter. Repeat these steps until you have all four pieces cut.
Now it is time to cut a recess on the inside edge (short edge) of each of the frame pieces. The recess allows for a piece of 1/8″ Plexiglas, the picture and matte and a 1/8″ backer. You can make this recess easily in one of two ways.
You can either cut it on your table saw or use your router mounted in a router table with a straight bit. I prefer to use my router for this since the pieces are small and easier for me to control on the router table. Just be sure to use a small part holder or some type of push block to keep your fingers clear of the router bit.
Set your router up with a straight bit that will make a ¼” wide cut. Mount the router in your router table. It is best to accomplish the depth of cut you will need in 2 or 3 passes. This will make a cleaner cut, is much safer and will make less work for your router and router bit. Make progressively deeper cuts in each piece until it is ultimately 3/8″ to 7/16″ deep. Now it is time to assemble the pieces, we will cut a decorative edge on the frame later.
Move to your work bench and dry fit the pieces together. Use a band clamp to clamp all the pieces together. Make sure all of the miters come together well without any gaps. If you have slight gaps you can correct this with some light sanding and a little patience. Once you are happy with how the miters come together you can glue up the pieces. I like to use a small craft paint brush to apply the glue to the miters. Apply glue to all miters. Assemble the pieces once again and clamp firm with a band clamp.
Set the assembled frame aside to dry for an hour or so. While the glue is drying cut the Plexiglas and backer. Be cautious when working with Plexiglas as it will easily scratch. Leave the protective film in place until the very last minute when you are ready to mount a picture in your frame. There are a couple good methods for cutting Plexiglas. You can use a score and crack technique like when cutting regular glass. I have never been that good at that so I simply cut it on my table saw.
Be sure you have a good, sharp finish blade mounted in your table saw. I recommend that you clamp a strip of plywood to your table saw fence to keep the Plexiglas from catching under the fence. Set your fence to make a rip cut 4 ¼ inches. Rip cut the Plexiglas. Now using your miter gauge crosscut the Plexiglas to 7 ¼ inches. Remember do not use the table saw fence when making crosscuts, your material may bind and kick back causing injury. Now in the same manner that you cut your Plexiglas cut your backer to the same dimensions from 1/8″ hardboard.
Let’s get back to the frame. Once the glue is dry you can remove the clamp from your picture frame. It is lovely just the way it is and you may want to just leave it alone but we can make it even more interesting if we go back to the router. You can cut most any profile you like. I often times use a 3/8″ ogee bit. This makes a lovely decorative edge.
Before you route the ogee you need to sand the frame to remove any glue squeeze out and make a smooth surface for your router bit. Once again you will use your router mounted in your router table. Set up the router with a 3/8″ ogee or whatever profile you like. Turn your frame top side down on the router table. Being careful to keep your fingers clear of the router bit route the edges of the picture frame.
Route the short ends of the frame first and then finish by cutting the long edges of the frame. This technique reduces the chance of tear out and makes a nice continuous profile all the way around the picture frame. That’s pretty much all there is to building your own picture frame except for the finishing.
Do some finish sanding and apply whatever stain or finish you like. Darker woods such as walnut and mahogany do not need any stain. Just use a clear finish for those woods. To finish up I like to use a clear satin spray on polyurethane. Three or four light coats of polyurethane are all that is needed to protect your picture frame.
Give your masterpiece picture frame to someone special and help them mount a photo inside. Remember to remove the protective film from the Plexiglas before mounting a picture. Once the photo is mounted in the frame, put the 1/8″ hardboard backer into place and secure everything with a few 18 gauge brads. Use a tack hammer to drive the brads against the backer and into the frame edges. Install a saw tooth picture hanger on the back and hang your picture in a special place. Now stand back and admire your work. This is so much fun you will be searching for more special pictures so that you can make another frame soon.
If you would like to build other sizes of picture frames you can find the dimensions at my blog, Workin-Wood.