Introduction: How to Stretch a Canvas Painting

Canvas painting and pictures can be great pieces of art but can also be quite expensive. A great way to mitigate the cost of canvas is to buy rolled paintings and stretching them by yourself. The process is quite simple, not too many tools are required and the results look spectacular, all at a fraction of the cost. Professional looking results can be achieved with about 20 minutes of your time.

Step 1: Gather Materials

All of the tools suggested to complete this project are listed below. Items in parentheses are substitute tools that can also be used.

• Canvas Painting/Picture

• 1” x 2” boards

• Quarter Round Moulding

• Tape Measure

• Pencil/Pen

• Stapler with 1/2” Staples

• Hammer

• 1” Panel Nails

• Nail Punch (Not necessary but helpful)

• Paper/Tissue Paper (to protect the face of the painting because it will be upsidedown at times)

• Miter Box and Saw (Miter Saw for quicker results)

• Canvas Pliers (Regular Pliers can also work)

Step 2: Measure the Canvas

To begin, measure the border of the canvas (the white space around the sides). A larger border will be easier to work with and thus will create nicer looking pictures in the end. If the border is larger than 1 1/2”-2” then that will be sufficient to work with. Measure out the inner picture and write down the dimension. If the border is smaller than 1 1/2” then measure the total dimensions of the canvas and subtract 3” from each measurement (1 1/2” for each side of the painting).

Step 3: Cut the Wood

With the measurements from the previous section you can now begin cutting the wood. I find it easier to cut the 1” x 2” strips first and then the molding. To cut them properly use a miter box and saw (or a miter saw) to cut a 45 degree off one end of the wood. Then measure the first length of wood along the long edge of the wood (at the point) and mark with a pencil. Now cut this wood at a 45 degree angle so that the pencil mark stays on the longest side of the wood (creating a trapezoid). Once this is complete you will have another 45 degree angle already cut so simply measure and cut for each of the four pieces.

Next you can cut the molding. For this place the corner of the molding in the miter box so that the rounded edge is facing up and towards you. Then cut a 45 degree angle so that the back edge of the wood is along the long edge. Again, measure the lengths you wrote down along the long edge and mark with a pencil. Then slide the wood down and cut the 45 degree angle so the pencil remains on the long edge. Unfortunately, with the molding it is necessary to cut a new 45 degree angle each time and you can simply flip the wood over like with the 1” x 2” strips. Continue this process for all four sides.

Step 4: Assemble the Pieces

Now that all the pieces are cut you can assemble the frame. Take the strips and place them so that you have a rectangle. If everything lines up, you cut your pieces correctly! Now begin with two pieces and hold them tightly together to ensure a 90 degree angle between them. Next take the staple gun and staple 3 times along the seam of the wood. Then flip the section over and staple 3 times on the other side of the seam. Now add the other two pieces of wood to this in the same manner, making sure to staple both side and keeping them at a right angle. Now you should have a rectangle the size of your painting!

The next step is to nail the molding to the frame you just made. The purpose of the molding is to give a single straight line along the edge of the painting that will give it a nice, tight look. Simply lay the pieces on the strips so that all rounded edges are facing in and then nail the pieces to the frame using 1” nails. At this point I find it nice to countersink the nails into the molding for good measure but this step isn't necessary as long as the nails are below the highest point on the frame. To check this simply line up the front and back edge with your eyes to see if any nails are sticking up.

Step 5: Stretch the Canvas

Now you are finally ready to stretch the canvas. To do this lay a piece of paper down on a clean surface, and then the painting face down. Line up the frame so that the molding is against the canvas. To stretch this pull one side of the canvas up and around and staple it in the center of that side. Next take the canvas pliers, stretch the canvas on the opposite side and staple in the center. Although this can be done alone, a second pair of hands might make this step a little easier. Flip the painting over and make sure that it lines up properly with the frame. If it does you can begin stapling the rest of these sides. On the one side of the sides with a staple in it, place two staples, approximately 2”-3” on either side of the center staple while stretching the canvas. Do the same on the opposite side of the painting. Continue to work your way outwards towards the corners, until there you are about 1” from the corner.

Next repeat this process along the other two sides of the painting, stretching the canvas tight. When you have completed this you can fold the corners of the painting as you would a present and staple them to the strip in the back. It is a matter of preference if you want the folds on the top and bottom or sides of you painting but being consistent will make them look better.

Step 6: Conclusions

Now you're finished! A professional looking canvas at a very low cost. Here's a few notes that might help as well. If you are stretching a lot of paintings at once, it might be easier to cut all the wood at once but just make sure to keep the pieces together. If your painting is especially large then a cross brace or two may be necessary to create a strong frame. It is a matter of preference but generally if the painting is larger than 3 feet across then a cross brace would be a good idea. For this simply use a 1” x 2” strip cut square and staple it (on both sides of the frame) in the center. The should not be used for the brace pieces. Good luck with framing!

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