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This instructable is an experiment in using partial/total flame-darkening of wood to make "character" frames for pictures, using new and/or upcycled wood.

This is also an entry in the "Fire" competition! You can also vote if you just happen to like squirrels!

Step 1: Materials and Tools

  • Small blowtorch: I'm using a butane powered Portasol Pro soldering iron, with the blowtorch attachment fitted.
    Anything with a similar small, controllable, blue flame. A full sized blowtorch isn't as controllable for detail, but is much quicker for large areas.
  • Light coloured wood, if you want contrasting colour/patterns, otherwise any wood colour will work.
  • Gummed paper tape
  • Paperclips or small hooks
  • Mitre saw, 90' square and clamps to make the frame.
  • PVA Wood Glue
  • Cyanoacrylate (Crazy/Super) glue
  • A sealant, e.g. varnish, wax, clear lacquer spray, 1 or 2 part poly/acrylic finish to protect the wood.

Step 2: Get a Picture

First, you need something to frame. Today's project is a picture of a grey squirrel, painted in acrylics on fibreboard, although you could use an existing picture or print that just needs a frame.

As this instructable isn't really about the painting process, I'll just say that this was sketched from a photograph, then large areas of colour blocked in. Two more "passes" at the painting added medium level details, and then finer details at the end.

The finished picture is 11" x 9" visible region, plus a small border outside.

Step 3: Cut Up a Wooden Frame

If you already have a new plain, or old worn frame to use, then you can skip this step. But remove any glass or plastic from it, to get down to just the wood.

It's got to be real wood! Plastic frames will just melt, cardboard frames will just catch fire!

Plywood frames might work okay, I don't think MDF will!

As in my watercolour painting framing I used some new pine strips, about 1" wide. You can also use recycled and scrap wood, as you'll see later.

The total length required is: twice the width of the picture visible region, plus twice the height of the picture visible region, plus a little over eight times the WIDTH of the WOOD (to account for length lost in cutting mitres).

The wider the wood, the more length is lost when cutting the mitres.

Cut the strips on a 45' mitre saw, or with a mitre box. You need accurate corners, or there will be gaps.

I cut the left and right pieces together, and cut the top and bottom pieces together, so they definitely matched length. I also saved the little cut-off corners, as this time, I didn't choose to pin the corners together. I've used these spare pieces of wood to bridge the corners, for strength.

Step 4: Glue Up the Frame

This is how the frame should look, when glued. The spare pieces neatly bridge the corners and will act as a "stop" to keep the picture in place. Also they provide a hanging point later. Make sure everything is going to fit BEFORE adding any glue, and have lots of clamps ready. I used a spare piece of melamine board to hold everything flat.

Options for clamps include clothes pegs, bulldog clips, and actual G-clamps, as you can see.

Step 5: Frame Detail

This step is optional, and somewhat experimental. Here I'm using a Minicraft (Dremel style) drill and milling cutter in a guide jig to extend some features and shapes of the painting onto the frame. This texturing will interact with the flame-darkening effect later!

To work out where these features go, align the frame to the picture, and sketch off onto the wood with a pencil.

You could do freehand geometric patterns here, or anything you feel. Just don't cut all the way through the wood! I'm skimming out about 2-3 mm of wood, just to lower the surface. The jig is to keep the depth of cut consistent while free-hand guiding the curves.

If you have any pyrography equipment, I'm sure a similar effect could be obtained, but with less of a 3-D (textured) feel to it.

I also dragged a hacksaw blade across each corner joint to put a neat notch in the joins. Again, don't saw through!

Lastly, I added some finer free-hand detail with the Minicraft drill and a smaller, round burr/cutter.

Step 6: I Am the God of Hellfire ...

... and I bring you ... fire!

Before I teach you to burn, it's probably a good idea to say: Do this outdoors, with a bucket of water near by just in case you overdo it. This will generate a fair bit of smoke, and possibly the odd unexpected flames.

Also, practice first on some offcuts of the SAME piece of wood to get a feel for the timing, and to see what the effect will be like. Woods vary, and it's hard to know exactly how it will turn out.

You might think that putting a flame to wood means instant flames and ash. However, if you keep a hot blue flame moving about, you first darken, then blacken, then set fire to the wood. If the wood catches fire, blow it out straight away, wait, and continue. You are aiming to darken or char the surface, but not burn it up.

The technique is to move the tip of the blue flame to the wood, and move it back and forth, never heating any one part the wood to the point where it catches fire. Charring is good, outright burning is too much! You can always go back over a section and darken it further, later, rather than trying to get to black all in one step.

The first area I darkened was the lower frame detail, hoping to get all of the coarser cuts and some of the details blackened into the grooves.

Secondly, I added a patterned, flame-distressed dappled effect to the rest of the frame, by hovering momentarily at each dark patch you can see, and then quickly moving on.

After a *gentle* rub over with sandpaper, to remove loose material, I cleaned up some of the finer details, back to white wood, with the Minicraft drill.

Step 7: Seal It!

This is down to personal choice, but you need to apply something to prevent the dark surface of the wood from rubbing off onto other surfaces, or worse, onto the painting. There are many branded products to protect and seal wood surfaces.

I made a simple sealant by dissolving scrap expanded polystyrene foam in solvents (acetone, cellulose thinners or similar), to create a thick gloopy clear paste.

It should be obvious that now is NOT the time to still be playing with flames, as the solvents used to dissolve polystyrene are usually really quite flammable. It's also a good idea to do this where there is ventilation.

This is brushed onto the wood, with a brush you don't really care about any more (!) and allowed to dry. The brush may not be very cleanable, I found a cheap plastic brush to use.

The sealing process also brings out the darkness of the black/brown charred wood, and pops the anaemic colour of the rest of the wood.

Step 8: Fit the Painting

I cut a small triangle from the corner of the border of the painting to allow it to be locked into place between the wood scraps, having established exactly where it needs to line up. This gives good surrounding support to the picture.

Next, strips of gummed paper were used to retain it in place. The gummed paper is lightly sprayed with water from a pump-spray bottle, and overlapped onto the wood and fibreboard, and smoothed out.

To hang the painting, you can use conventional hooks/loops, or as for my watercolours I used a small piece of paperclip and drilled a couple of small starter holes into the scrap corner blocks. When the paperclip is cut with wire cutters, the ends become VERY sharp and will tap, gently, into the wood. I make sure it stays in by placing a drop of superglue in the hole, and tapping the hook home.

Lastly, add a string to hang it by! Knot it a few times to make sure it stays secure.

Step 9: Final Picture, in the Frame!

Here's the finished, framed picture!

Step 10: Alternate Framing Ideas 1

Although the above frame was made with new pine wood, you can use the same technique to make scrap/upcycled pieces of wood more interesting, and then use them.

The above three frames were made using the technique from this instructable. The source wood was a continuous 6 foot long offcut trimmed from an angled shelf-support beam to remove a wobbly sharp corner. The waste piece would have gone in the bin otherwise.

Question: What use is a 6 foot long, half inch across, triangular piece of wood with slightly wobbly edges?

Answer: A matching set of three "rustic" frames.

After building the frames, instead of a random pattern, I flamed the along the direction of the grain, and the wood decided it would darken into these wonderful stripes. I stopped short of fully blackening it, as the stripe effect looked great!

These have been "sealed" to protect the wood, this time with a spray clear-cellulose lacquer.

It's hard to tell in the picture, but as well as a single-colour paint, these portraits all have a couple of details made in a matching-coloured metal foil. These required the whole painting to be sealed to protect them from peeling, so the pictures were coated with lacquer too.

It had the bonus of making the black fibreboard really contrasty, and dark too!

Step 11: Alternate Framing Ideas 2

Faces, in black, white and red!

These frames were all made from a single, bizarrely shaped offcut of decking materal that was unexpectedly "donated" to our garden by a neighbour. Rather than just viewing it as anti-social behaviour, I set-to with a table saw and push-stick. On the wood, not the neighbour.

The top frame clearly shows the rougher texture of the un-planed wood. There was a wood knot EXACTLY where one of my mitres ended up, and rather than avoiding it (which would be correct woodworking practice), I cut through it and left it in. Yes, it fell out, and yes, I glued it back!

As for the bottom two frames, they are the "rounded corners" part of the decking strip, cut off when squaring up the first frame pieces, to create a "D" shaped moulding. This was then split down the middle to create twice as much wood in a sort-of-quadrant shape moulding.

I went all-out with the flame this time, and as you can see, you can completely blacken (like black-ash effect) the wood, given enough flame time.

These frames are also protected with clear cellulose lacquer spray, as the surface is very charcoal-like, and messy to handle.

Step 12: Go and Try It!

Go out, find some wood, make sure you have enough length to go around the picture(s), and get burning!

<p>That's so cooool!!</p>
<p>Thank you! :)</p>

About This Instructable

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Bio: Software geek, electronics enthusiast, musician, artist ... I enjoy making stuff, and discovering new things!
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