Introduction: Birch Frame With Floating Photos

I love heading out into the mountains, going for a good hike, and enjoying the views. I've also wondered several times if there was anything I could do with birch since it's such a beautiful wood with all the paper-like peeling bark, and this weekend I messed around a bit with one idea. A way to put a frame together for holding photos, but where the photos really end up suspended in mid air with (from afar) no connection to the frame itself.

In reality, there is fishing wire (basically a strong transparent nylon thread) strung between the branches, the photos a stuck to a cardboard backing with tape, and the cardboard is attached to the fishing wire with hot glue. If you're standing a couple of feet away the effect is pretty cool. It really looks like the photos are suspended in mid air.

This project is more of an experiment, and there are several things I would do differently next time, but it's an idea worth sharing. If you end up expanding on this, please let me know!

Step 1: Materials

The materials are pretty straight forward. Just get a few thick branches, and ensure they're straight and solid. Make sure you are NOT breaking them off of the tree; if you're in the woods, there should be plenty of them on the ground; you might just have to stray from the path a little to find them.

For my project, I went for ones that were about 1" thick, but that's because I was originally thinking of making a frame for an individual photo. The project later on grew into making it for a large 10x11, and then again when I decided to take a larger photo, cut it into quarters, and hang the quarters next to each other. With the photos I ended up using I would have probably had better visual results had I used branches that were at least 2" in diameter. Oh well; lesson learned.

The next thing you need is the twine for the corner lashings, fishing line (I got a spool of about 60feet, rated for 40lbs fish [so pretty strong stuff], for about $4), hot glue, small screws (to attach the fishing line to the back of the frame), a drill and small diameter drill bit (enough to pass the fishing line through it), a coping saw (to cut the notches where the corners of the frame meet), scissors and a screwdriver.

Step 2: Layout and Frame Assembly

Laying the frame out is the first thing you need to do in order to get an idea of how big it will have to be. And here is where I made my first mistake. I knew I wanted to have four 8x10 photos in the frame, but didn't print them out. Instead, I used four regular sheets of paper to estimate the whole thing. When I finally printed the large photo in four parts, they did not take up the full height of each sheet and so there where several inches of margin to cut off, which meant that the frame had to be made a little smaller. At this point I had already done the lashing and the fishing line, so there was some snipping, cutting, muttering and a couple of swear words thrown around. This is why it's best to have the real photo to use in the layout.

The lashings are very simple to make, and the instructions I followed came from a very well explained YouTube video by Gene Lonergan (the result of a random search for poles and lashings).

I didn't follow the video exactly, however. Instead of making butterfly cuts for the poles to remain a bit more secure in their 90 degree position, I chose to make deeper notches like the ones used when making log cabins. This would help make the frame a bit flatter.

To make the notches, I laid the branches out, picked the horizontal ones to be the branches that lay on the bottom, and then traced the notch into which the upper branches would slide. At this point I also decided to lay the fishing lines in vertical lines only, which meant that I needed the thicker branches to run horizontally as these would be the ones that the fishing line would attach to.

The coping saw came in extremely handy here. If you have one where the angle of the blade can be changed then cutting the notches is a real breeze. Cut them out, test fit the vertical branches to ensure they're sit snugly, and then apply the lashings.

Step 3: Adding the Fishing Line

I wondered for a while about how to attach the line while making it supportive for the photos but as invisible as possible. One way was to tie it around the branches, but I was afraid the line would eventually loosen up a bit, which would cause the knot to no longer remain right next to the branch, move away from it, and become more visible.

I settled for drilling a hole through the branch, passing the line through that hole, and then tying it around a screw in the back on the frame. This made the knot invisible to the viewer and kept the amount of visible fishing line in general to a minimum.

To start, I laid out the photos in the center of the frame to figure out where the lines would go, and just marked their positions on horizontal branches. There would be two lines per photo, laid out about an inch or so away from the edge of each photo.

Drill the holes through the branches, flip the frame over, and attach a small screw right behind that hole. When done, thread the fishing line through both holes, tie it around the screws, and you're done.

Step 4: Attaching the Photos and Backing

Now that the frame is ready, it's time to attach the photos. On their own, however, they're too flimsy so I add a backer made out of cardboard. Just get a sheet of flat cardboard, trace the photo on to it, reduce the trace by about 0.5" on each side (so that the backing does not show when looking at the photo), and cut it out. Trace the cut-out three more times and cut those out too.

Using either double sided tape or regular scotch tape wrapped in a loop, attach the photos to the backers. I did this by laying the photo face down and then placing the backing on to it in order to ensure the backing is perfectly centred.

When you have all the photos attached to their backings, lay them face down in the arrangement you want, put the frame (upside down) over it, and use hot glue to attach the fishing lines to the cardboard.

Finally, attach a couple of screws and some hanging wire to the top branch, and voila: a birch frame with "floating" photos. Enjoy, and as always - if you have any ideas on modifications, comments, etc - leave me a line!