Introduction: Make a Unique Photobox As a Gift or Decoration

This instructable was conceived like many great DIY projects; I wanted to create something I couldn't buy. The idea was to make my own unique picture frame to break up the monotony of empty wall space while at the same time making it deeply personal for my girlfriend and I. That and to give her a few of these as Christmas presents.

The beauty of a project like this is that there are so many different things you can do with it. Heck there are even a bunch of different ways of making it as I myself have done this three different times using three different techniques.

So in the spirit of the holidays, I am going to show you how to create something like this for yourself or a loved one. Now I know that you might not have or have the budget for some of these tools, or maybe you have some that I don't, so throughout, I will list alternatives to what I did since I made my first one with little more than a circular saw.

Step 1: What You Will Need: Materials & Tools

Part of the fun of this project is how many different ways there are to build it. I will outline the materials that I used and the tools that I used, but I will also make suggestions of what I would have liked to have at my disposal and the minimum necessary items.

Must have item:
- Safety goggles or glasses - Saw dust in the eyes is unpleasant enough but when working with certain tools, you could possibly send a piece of wood flying at your face.

- Sheet of 1" (which is actually .656" after planing) laminated pine at least 24" x 24" but preferably  24" x 48" for the extra scrap to practice with. Try and get a board with a 16" x 16" section that is free of knots and warping.
- The straightest piece of 6' x 1" x 2" select pine. Get the "Select" board as it will generally be straighter and have far fewer knots.
- Finishing nails less than 2" in length
- Wood Glue
- Wood putty. Color dependent on wood chosen for project
- A sheet of thin aluminum or copper that can be bent without snapping. I used a sheet of 5" x 8" aluminum purchased at Michaels used for metal stamping. It was hardly thicker than a sheet of paper which made bending it quite easy.
- Two colors of paint. One box was made with Krylon spray paint while the other two were made with acrylic paint. I plan on making yet another with two types of poly stain.
- Some form of letter stencil in the font and size your mock-up dictates. Again there are many different ways of going about this, but two methods I used were laying dye cut vinyl lettering down and then painting over it, and using traceable stencils with a paint brush.
-Picture hook kit. You will need a kit that comes with screw eyes and hanging wire and you can get this at any hardware store, frame shop, crafts store, or a place like Home Depot, Menards, or Lowe's.

Note about Materials: The aforementioned materials were just what I used. Feel free to modify with whatever wood, paint, stencil, or methodology you would like. The limitless combinations could yield some amazing results. Regardless, you can find a lot of these supplies at a local arts and crafts store.

Tools I used:
- Craftsman fixed router/table combo.
- Rockler Lock Miter router bit for 3/4" wood
- Rotozip
- Dewalt 18v Drill
- Black & Decker random orbit palm sander with 120 and 180 grit sanding pads
- Bosch Circular saw with a plywood blade for clean cuts
- Putty knife
- Hammer
- Circular saw guides
- T-Square
- Tape measure

Tools I wished I had used:
- Shop Vac with 2" hose to hook up to the router
- Miter Saw to make clean 45 degree cuts
- Clamps to hold the pieces together when the glue dried

Bare minimum (I have made one with just these tools):
- T-Square
- Tape Measure
- Circular Saw that can cut at a 45 degree angle
- Patience. If you are going to cut straight without guides, you need to go slow
- Sand paper
- Rotozip or Sawzall or even a small saw to cut out a square in the middle of the frame.
- Hammer

Step 2: Measuring and Cutting the Wood for the Initial Construction

Now that you have some of these items assembled, the first step is to measure and cut your wood. The dimensions of the finished photobox in this instructable will be 16" x 16" x 2".

1" x 2" board (photobox side):
-We are going to cut this piece into four 16" sections for use as the sides of the photo box. It is important to remember to measure and cut each section before moving onto the next. This is because the circular saw blade will remove at least its own width of material which will make your pieces less than 16" and create sloppy corners for the box.
-Set your circular saw to 45 degrees and make your cuts on the outside of your cutting line. It doesn't matter what your alignment is at this point since after cutting, you will need to make another 45 degree cut on each board so you can align them in a square (see image of rough fitting of boards for further clarification)
-If you will not be using a router, you need to make another 45 degree cut down the length of each 16" section to facilitate the placing of the photo box top into the frame we just cut.

Laminated pine (Photo Box Face):
-Find a portion of the laminated pine that you would like as the face of the photo box.
-Mark a 16" x 16" section to cut using your t-square. In my case I used my saw guide as a straight edge to make sure everything was square and straight.
-Set your circular saw back to 0 degrees and cut on the outside of the lines you marked out.
-If you will not be using a router, leave the circular saw set at 45 degrees and then cut along the lines. This will ensure that once your frame is assembled, you will be able to drop the top on and your seams will be at the edges.

Laminated Pine (Picture Frame Holder):
-Take the scrap you have left over from the face and mark out a 7" x 7" section.
-There isn't a great need to be careful with the straightness of the cut as this piece will be glued on to the back of the photo box later to allow for a recessed mounting of the picture holder.

Rough Fit:
-Take the pieces you cut and quickly check that that they fit together and are square. If the pieces don't quite line up, either carefully take your circular saw back to them or use a sander or sandpaper to get it right.
-This will be a bit more important if you will not be using a router, but rest assured, that is what wood putty is for.

Step 3: Setting Up the Router and Making the Cuts

At this point, if you have access to a router table and lock miter bit, it's time to set up the bit height and fence depth. Now this was the first time I have ever used a router and I spent a bit of time getting used to it. One thing I will suggest is to keep a lot of wood scrap on hand to test your cuts and fitment before making the final cuts. Also, make sure you take note of the feed direction of the router and table as it is very important. I myself had to cut a new board as one I was sending through the router was hurled at high speed.

The first step is understanding the usage and setup of the the lock miter bit. Rockler has a demonstration video detailing the usage of their bit and then I will follow that up with an explanation of how I set the fence to cut the specific pieces of wood used in this project.

Demonstration video showing usage and setup of bit:

Bit Height:
The lock miter bit has a 45 degree slope with a tongue and groove style cut. The first step to cutting the boards properly is to get the bit height set. This is fairly simple as all you need to do is get the widest part of the 45 degree section at the same height as the router table. This particular bit has a flat section that needs to be below the deck of the table, otherwise, you will not get the board edges to line up properly.

Fence Depth (1" x 2"):
The next step is to set up the router and table for the 1" x 2" sections. We are going to lay a cut section of wood down in the orientation shown below and press a straight edge into the router fence (2nd and 3rd images). Now turn your router bit to the position shown in these images. Slide the straight edge over and adjust the fence until the straight edge barely makes contact with the cutting face of the bit. If this is not done, the bit will either cut too far or not enough into the boards.

Now using a feather board or a board guide (image 4 on this page), push the board down the fence while keeping pressure on them.

Fence Depth (16" x 16"):
Now take the photo box frame and stand it up on the router table while pushing it up against the fence. This time, we are going to take the straight edge and lay it down on the router table. With it pushed up against the 16" x 16" board, adjust the fence just like before and make sure the straight edge just barley touches the cutting face at the bottom of the lock miter bit. Now push the board down the router just like before except do it four times as shown in images 7 and 8.

Check the fitment:
After cutting your boards, do a quick fit to make sure everything lines up properly. If not, grab your sander and sand until everything fits snugly.

Step 4: Assemble, Glue, Putty, and Sand

This part is fairly simple. Grab your wood glue and lay a few beads down in the channels and press the 1" x 2" pieces into the 16" x 16" board. If you have wood clamps then I would suggest clamping all of this down for the amount of time recommended on the glue bottle.

At this point, I grabbed a few finishing nails, and countersunk them in the corners of the box to tighten up the frame. If you are not using a router, you will need to use a few more finishing nails to ensure the joints are solid. On my first photo box, I used 5 nails per connection of face board to side board.

Once the glue has dried, mark a 5" x 5" square in the center of your newly created photo box and drill some pilot holes in the corners. Now using your rotozip, jigsaw, etc... cut out the 5" x 5" section as this will now be the opening for our picture holder.

At this point, you should have a rough edged photo box a hole cut in it. This is where the sander or sandpaper comes into play since we don't want to give someone a frame that could give them splinters. Now grab you sander and run it up and down every edge of the box at a 45 degree angle: front and back. Now round out these edges.

After sanding, you will notice that there will be some gaps at the edges and this is where the wood putty comes in handy. Squeeze some putty into the gaps and smooth it out with the putty knife. After waiting for a few minutes, you can grab some medium grit sand paper and smooth out you edges again.

Step 5: Making the Picture Holder

The next part is to create the photo holder that will go in the middle of the photo box. The final dimension of the photo is going to be 4" x 4" so we are going to create a holder out of aluminum or whatever metal you would like to use.

The first part of making the holder is to create a guide that you will be able to use later to make the cuts and score lines. As you can see below, the drawing will allow you to lay your aluminum down and place a ruler over it to make the score lines. We will be taking a 5" x 5" piece of aluminum, cutting off the corners, and folding over the resulting flaps to create a 4" by 4" base. The point of folding over the flaps is to reduce sharp edges so you don't cut yourself while putting the photo in place.

Now, as you can see in the 3rd image, you need to make four 1/2" x 2-1/2" strips of aluminum to create the corner tabs that will hold the photo in place. Line the strips up at the corners like in image 4 and then fold them around the frame and then again under the flaps of the 4" x 4" base as in image 5. This part will keep the corner tabs in place.

Now take the 7" x 7" sections you cut earlier and tape a portion of the edge off so you have somewhere for the glue to adhere later. After taping it off grab some flat black paint, spray the wood, peel the tape, and let it dry. Now that you have your picture holder and flat black piece of wood, it is time to attach them together. In my case I punched some pilot holes using a pick and then screwed the holder into the wood.

Set this aside for later.

Step 6: Painting the Frame and Final Assembly

Now that you have your picture frame, it's time to paint it. This can be done many ways and I will highlight a few of those below but this is your time to shine and I certainly suggest experimenting on some extra scraps of wood. One note on my technique though: I did not use wood primer as I wanted the grain to show through the paint.

Spray Paint Method:
Lay down a base coat of paint as shown in the first image. I used a satin paint so die cut vinyl stickers would peel off of it easier, but, unfortunately, even after three weeks of waiting they haven't shipped yet so I can only speculate to the effectiveness of this method but preliminary test have shown promising. After laying down the lettering, spray over the stickers with your top coat and remove the letters when the paint becomes tacky so as to avoid paint running. This is very important as when the topcoat starts to dry, the stickers will remove freshly sprayed paint around the edges making touch up inevitable. To remove the stickers, I suggest using an xacto knife.

Acrylic Paint Method:
The two finalized frames I put images up for are done using this method. First paint the entire box with your base coat. Now using stencils (like those shown below) lay out a mock up of your text and carefully paint each letter on. Make sure to measure your line first before starting as it's very hard to wing it.

After you have painted the face of your frame, it is time to glue the picture holder on to the back of the frame. Lay down a thin bead of wood glue to the unpainted sections of the holder and press it onto the back of the frame taking care not to move it.

After you have done that, mount the picture wire to the frame and you are done.


Craftsman Tools Contest

Participated in the
Craftsman Tools Contest

Holiday Gifts Contest

Participated in the
Holiday Gifts Contest

Krylon Holiday Decorations Contest

Participated in the
Krylon Holiday Decorations Contest