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This year for Father's Day, I wanted to do something special for both my dad and my grandfather. After a bit of brainstorming, I came up with the idea of making picture frames. They couldn't just be any kind of picture frame, though. They would need to be unique, almost like leaving my signature on the picture. I figured that building the picture frames out of shop materials would be perfect for this. I even added a bit of Steampunk flair with the brass accents to add more of my personality to the frames. The picture frames are built to hold an 8"x10" photo, but they could be scaled to fit pretty much any size.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Tools:

-Coping saw or hacksaw 
-Ruler
-Drill/drill press with 9/64" bit

Materials:

2 Acrylic sheets 8"x10" 
2 Aluminum angles 1/16"x1/2"x3/4"x36"
1 Flat aluminum bar 1/16"x1/2"x36"
2 Brass strips .016"x1/4"x6"
9 Machine screws 6-32x1/2" with matching nuts
Clear nail polish

I got two 3' sections of the aluminum angle because the waste created from the cuts prevents the frame pieces from fitting in one section. Also, I built the frames around the acrylic sheets to avoid sanding/cutting the acrylic, so I needed the extra material to account for the slightly larger dimensions of the acrylic sheet.

In all, each frame came out to roughly $10-$15.

Step 2: The Cuts

For the frame, I decided to put the aluminum sections that go horizontally on top of the vertical sections. This allowed me to add the brass to the sides without having it stick out too far. I also wanted to have all of the aluminum sections flush with each other in the corners. As a result, I had to cut the horizontal sections slightly longer than 10 inches to account for the sides of the vertical sections.

I ended up cutting two sections that were 10 3/16" long and two sections that were 8" long. For the longer sections, 10" is for the picture, 1/8" is for the two walls of the vertical aluminum sections, and 1/16" is for the excess acrylic I did not want to tamper with. Fortunately, the acrylic was reasonably close to 8" tall.

An important thing to remember is to measure the exact dimensions of the acrylic if you are building around it. I did not initially, and I ended up cutting a section of aluminum to short because I did not account for the extra acrylic. Luckily, it was a longer section, so I was still able to salvage it for a shorter section. 

Step 3: Drilling the Holes

There are nine holes; one for each of the machine screws. There is one hole in each of the four corners, one hole at each end of the brass strips, and one hole in the middle of the top for the support leg. 

Before drilling the holes, do a dry fit with the aluminum sections to see if they are all cut properly. It would be better to realize that you need to cut a new section now than to find that out when you start drilling the holes in the acrylic. Also remember to keep the scratch protectors on the acrylic as long as possible. It is remarkably easy to scratch the acrylic while building the picture frame. 

When drilling the holes, I clamped the sections of aluminum to the two sheets of acrylic that I would be using. I also clamped a scrap 2x4 on the back side of the acrylic . This is crucial because is prevents the acrylic from fracturing when the drill bit is putting pressure on the sheet. This is another thing that I learned from trial and error during this project...

As you drill, put the machine screws in and softly tighten them up. This helps keep all of the parts together as you work. 

For the brass strips, position them how you want them, and clamp them down in the middle. This allows drilling holes on both ends of the brass without needing to move the clamp. Again, remember to have the wood on the other side of the acrylic to prevent it from cracking during the drilling process. 

Step 4: Call in the Support!

The support arm is the simplest part of the project. Drill a hole in the end of the flat aluminum bar, bolt it on, bend it to the desired shape, and trim off the excess. This support arm was about 10 inches long with about a 40 degree bend or so after 2 inches. I also folded the end of the arm to create a smooth surface there.

For the folds, start the folds, cut the excess off, and finish the fold with pliers. 

Step 5: Picking the Right Picture

Find a photo that has significance behind it. It may be a photo of an epic time fishing or an epic camping trip. It could even be a random picture that brings back good memories. In my case, I chose graduation pictures. This was the last Father's Day that I spent living at home before I go off to college. It marks an extremely important and significant time in both my life and my father's life, so it is perfect for the frame. 

Step 6: Final Assembly

Now is the time to clean the frame and peel the protective plastic off of the acrylic. Disassemble the frame, and keep the pieces close to where they were on the frame. This will prevent the headache of trying to fit mismatched pieces together later. Once the frame is clean, make sure the picture is cut to size. Replace the screws and flip the frame over. Putting the nuts on loosely will help with flipping the frame over. Put the picture in and cut little parts out from around the screws to help it fit all the way. Once that is done, you can put the second sheet of acrylic on and screw it all together. To keep the nuts tight for a while, you can hit the threads of the screws with a dab of clear nail polish. Clear nail polish holds pretty well, and you do not need to apply an extremely large amount to force to unscrew the nuts for replacing the picture later. (WARNING: ask before borrowing it from siblings...)

For this frame, I decided not to scrub it perfectly clean. I felt that the small scuffs and smudges on the aluminum gave it more character. It gives the frame more of a DIY feel, and no two frames would have the same scuffs and smudges.

In all, this was a fun project, and my family loved the frames. They were perfect for Father's Day this year, and I plan on making more in the future.

-Zach

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Bio: I enjoy working on all sorts of projects. Whether it is creating something with my forge or building the biggest thing I can think of ... More »
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