Introduction: 12 Month Picture Frame

A 12 month picture frame typically holds one photo for each month for a child's first year.  However, some frames that aren't overtly “baby”, can be used for other things that happen in groups of 12, like 12 years of school photos.  I liked the idea but I couldn't find the frame I wanted.  So, I simply built this one.  It's a simple frame, and it's small enough to sit on a desk or table. 

This project takes more time than your normal picture frame, but then again, it holds 12 pictures.  It's a good project if you want to practice your joinery or if you can't find something off the shelf you like.  Another nice things is that it doesn't take much material.  Many people will have enough scrap material to make most, if not all of it, with scrap you have lying around your house.  But, even if you have to buy materials new, it shouldn't break the bank.  So, this can be a nice hand made gift for mom, dad, grandma, grandpa for those on a budget but with access to a shop. 

The difficulty of this project depends on how you plan to finish it.  If you want to paint it, I'd say it's of medium difficulty.  If you want to stain it, it's going to be harder because you have to make every joint perfect.  I was matching black plastic frames I already own, so I went with the painted option. 


- Wood board
- Material for the "glass" (Cellophane, Plexiglass, actual glass, or anything clear)
- Solid ridged material for the back (Cardboard, plexiglass, etc...)
- A easel back or picture frame hanger, depending on how you will display it.
- Paint / Shellac / Stain / polyacrylic / or something else to finish the wood with
- Something to hold the backing in the frame (probably sheet metal or wood)
- Glue

I used a scrap of 4/4 board of popular I had lying around.  I also used the thinnest Plexiglass I could find for both the “glass” and the backing, and I bought a cardboard easel back off the internet (although you could make one from cardboard if you wanted).  To hold the backing in, I cut small “leafs” out of some scrap metal flashing. 

Modifications, Notes, and Warnings:

First, the pieces in this project are small, so you need to take extra safety precautions.  If you're used to building decks and furniture, you'll find you have a lot less wood between the spinning blades / bits on this project than you normally have.  It also makes the pieces harder to hold on to, and more likely to blow apart while being cut.  Use proper push blocks, feather boards, zero clearance fences, and other safety equipment.  Keep your fingers away from the blades. 

As for the materials, I'd recommend that you find / buy them all ahead of time.  That way, if you have to make the frame thicker, or change any other dimension, you can do so before you make any cuts.  The glass and the backing will be the biggest wild card.  You might find it difficult to find glass and backing material that will fit in the 1/8” insert into this frame.  If I were to do this again, I'd make my frame 1/2” thick instead of 3/8” to give myself more room.

I'm providing instructions as to how I built my frame.  As I said earlier, I painted my frame, so having perfectly fit lap joints wasn't critical.  If I was going to stain the piece, I would have changed my technique to cut and dry fit each joint separately.  That way, I would have had the tightest joints possible which is much more critical with a stained piece than a painted one.  However, if your advanced enough to try to make 24 perfectly fit lap joints, I'm assuming you'll know how to adjust the building techniques yourself.  

Necessary Tools:

- Table Saw
- Tape measure
- Chisel
- Clamps
- Router

I find those are pretty common tools in most wood shops.  Now, while that's all that needed, I would recommend, and used, a few more. 

Additional tools I used:

- Joiner
- Planer
- Calipers
- Dado Blade
- Router Table

Step 1: Step 1, Dimension Your Wood and Cut to Length and Width

My frame pieces are 3/8 and ¼ of an inch thick.  You might be able to buy wood that thin at a hobby store or  you could have a lumber yard (not a big box home improvement store, a real hardwood lumber yard) dimension it down for you.  However, I used some scrap 4/4 rough lumber and dimensioned it myself.

Dimension Lumber

- Find a rough 4/4 board that's at least 5 inches wide.  Cut a length from the board of at least 1 foot.  It also has to be longer than the minimum required length for your jointer / planner, that could be 1.5 feet or longer.
- User your jointer and join one face and one side. 
- Plane the board down to 3/8 of an inch thick. 
- Rip a 2.5” wide length of board out.
- Plane the rest of the board down to ¼ of an inch.
- Rip a 2” wide length from the remaining board. 

Cut to length 

- Cross cut the 2.5” wide, 3/8 of inch thick strip into to 8.25” long
- Cross cut the 2” wide ¼ of inch thick strip into one 8.25” long strip and one 1.25” long strip.

Step 2: Step 2, Cut Lap Joints

The frame was designed so that there are 12 different pieces, but only three unique types.  There are 4 identical outer frame pieces, the longer inner frame pieces, and the short inner frame pieces.  If you are painting the piece, you can cut the lap joints for all identical pieces at once, from the 2.5” / 2” strips you just cut to length, and then rip them to final length at the end. 

When cutting the joints, error on the side of making the cuts too small / tight.  You can always remove wood with a chisel when you dry fit, you can't add it back in.  I used a dado blade to cut the lap joints.  You could use a normal saw blade and make multiple passes, a router, a chisel, or many other technique you like.   

Outside Frame Pieces

- Take the 2.5” x 8.25” x 3/8” strip, and cut the lap joints as shown in the diagram
- The end lap joints are 3/8” wide by 3/16 of an inch deep. 
- The cross lap joins (ones in the center) are 5/16” wide, and 3/16” of an inch deep.
- Take note of which side the lap joints are cut from.  One of the end joints is cut from the underside on the underside of the strip. 
- Ignore the Rabbet you see on the diagram, that will be cut later.  

Long, Inside Frame Pieces

 - Take the 2” x 8.25 x ¼ strip, and cut the lap joints as shown in the diagram
- The end lap joints are 3/8” wide by 1/16” of an inch deep. 
- The cross lap joints center are 5/16” wide by 1/8” of an inch deep.
- Take note of which side the lap joints are cut from.  One of the cross joints is cut from the underside on the underside of the strip. 

Short, Inside Frame Pieces

- Take the 2” x 1.25” strip, and cut the lap joints as shown in the diagram
- One lap joint is 3/8 wide x 1/16 of an inch deep
- The other lap joint is 5/16 wide x 1/8 of an inch deep

Step 3: Step 3, Make Individual Slats and Cut the Rabbit

Cut the Slats Out

The next step is to cut out the individual slats.  I used a table saw for this.  Now, these pieces are very small to cut on the table saw, so appropriate safety measures need to be taken.  Feather boards to hold the piece against the fence and a push block (to push and hold down) are an absolute must.

- The outside frame pieces are 3/8” an inch wide each.
- The inside frame pieces are 5/16 of an inch wide each

Cut the Rabbet on the Outside Pieces

This rabbet is what will hold the backing and glass inside the frame.  First, note this is a stop rabbet.  It doesn't go all the way to one end.  This makes it much more difficult to cut.  You can see the rabbet, and the stop, on the diagram of the underside of the outside pieces.  The rabbet is 1/4” wide by 1/ 8” deep.  Once cut, you're left with a 1/8” x 1/8” outside edge.  This isn't much material so be careful.

When cutting this, I used my router table and a strait bit to cut most the rabbet.  However, I stopped cutting well short of the “stop”.  I finished removing material, and squared up the edges with a chisel.  In the picture, you can see one piece that is just off the router, and another that has been squared up with a chisel.  You could also use a free hand router, but you'd have to make a  jig to guide the router and hold the piece.  Squaring the edge with the chisel would be the same.   One of the pictures above shows a piece right off the router vs a squared off one. 

Safety Note: What ever you do, don't try to hand hold the work piece as you cut it with the router.  The work pieces are so small, and there's so little wood between you and the bit, that's just not safe. I setup a zero clearance fence for the router bit on the table, and used push blocks to guide the work.  As I was making a test cut, a wood strip was ripped from under my push block and thrown across the room.  Had I been hand holding it, there's a good chance my finger would have been dragged into the bit.  Be careful.  If your using a hand held router, make sure your jig holds the pieces tightly. 

If you're into hand tools, or just don't trust yourself with the router, you could also cut the rabbet with most shoulder planes.  Remove the front block of the plane (the new Stanly can't do this), so the plane can cut up to the stop.  Then, use what ever technique works for you.  It's also possible to cut with a chisel, but I wouldn't recommend it.  If you do, no chopping, light paring only.

Step 4: Step 4, Fitting the Joints and Glue Up

Dry Fitting

It's now time to start dry fit.  Decided which pieces will go where, and then label everything.  Then, try to assemble it.  Several of your joints will probably be too small.  Use your chisel to carefully enlarge the joints.  Once all your joints are trimmed out, and the piece dry fits tightly together, you're ready for glue up. 

Glue Up

I can't give a whole lot of advice here besides have a lot of clamps handy.  You might want to use a glue with a long working time, as you'll need to make it perfectly square.  I did glued up in 2 steps, putting the long outside and inside strips together first, and adding the short strips second.  You might be able to do it in three steps, just make sure it's perfectly square each time.

Step 5: Step 5, Finish With Paint / Stain

I sprayed my frame with black paint, and sprayed two coats of water based polyacrylic on top.  Note, you can't (at least I can't) apply water based poly on top of water based paint with a brush.  The solvent the polyacrylic uses will remove the water based paint as you brush, even if it's 100% dry.  That's why I sprayed my finish on, to prevent the paint from being lifted off.

If you decide to stain, use the technique that works best for you.  If you want to be environmentally friendly as possible, you can use shellac with 190 proof grain alcohol (like Everclear) (assuming 190 proof alcohol it's legal in your state / country).

Step 6: Step 6, Glass, Backing, and Leafs

I used plexiglass for both the “glass” and backing.  The backing I just painted the plexi glass black.  If I had a deeper rabbet, I would have used something else … a good reason to make the frame thicker if you can.  I cut the plexiglass to size on my table saw, but you can use a number of different methods depending on what you're comfortable with. 

The backing / glass / pictures are held in place with metal leafs.  I used some left over sheet metal flashing, punched a hole in it, drew a leaf outline with a sharpie, and then cut them out with tin snips (see the picture).  I made one leaf for each of the four sides.  I then used some tack nails (short with big heads) to attach the leafs to the frames.  Ultra small screws would probably be better, but I didn't any.  You could use wood instead of metal, or metal picture frame tabs if you have them. 

Finally, I used a self stick paper easel back that I bought off the internet.  Traditional easel backs are connected to backing already, that was too thick for my frame.  If you make your frame and rabbet deeper, these might be a nice solution.  However, the paper back has worked well for me.  If you're going for a 100% recycled materials, you can make an easel back with some scrap cardboard and a hot glue gun.

Now you should be all done.  Add your pictures and display your frame.
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