Introduction: Pallet Wood Power Carved Picture Frame

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

A picture frame made from pallet wood... surprised? You shouldn't be. Picture frames are the perfect woodworking project, it's the kind of project that can get someone into woodworking with a simple 4 sided frame, and from there the possibilities are infinite. I wanted to push this idea to the limit and figured the best way was to create an organic and flowy shape through power carving. My goal was to create a final piece with a kind of "Dr. Seuss" feel to it if that makes any sense. The layers allowed me to play with layers like he did with colors. Also, whenever you see a strange shape like this it tends to be mirrored or symmetrical but I wanted to do the opposite of that. Each of the 4 sides is the same shape, but because of that, the sides rotate 90 degrees making it non-symmetrical and really fun for your eyes to look at. I always like to make objects that you can't understand just in passing, but take some time to look at and figure out. Instead of the picture frame being an afterthought, this time it's part of the art! Thanks for taking the time to figure it out.

Step 1: Notable Tools & Materials


– Pallet wood

– Wood glue

– Tung oil finish


– Bluetooth hearing protection

– Table saw

– Jointing table saw sled

– Finger board

– Thickness planer

– Miter saw

– Screw clamps

– Circular saw

– X-Carve CNC

– Compass

– Angle grinder

– Arbotech TURBO Plane attachment

– Arbortech Ball Gouge attachment

– Arbortech Mini Grinder

– Arbortech Contour Sander

Step 2: Gathering Materials

The process starts with gluing up the frame, this can be as simple or complicated as you want. I decided on the more complicated route just because it wouldn’t be a true Jackman project otherwise. Start by gathering your pallet wood, or other material if you prefer making your life easier.

Step 3: Cutting the Slats to Width

I run all of my boards through the thickness planer until both faces are smooth. To cut the boards to width, I start by using my jointing sled on my table saw to cut one edge of each slat straight.

Then I rip them all down to width putting the jointed edge against the table saw fence. This give me 2 parallel edges and the width of the slats is simply just equal to whatever the thinnest slat in the bunch is.

Step 4: Organizing and Finish Shaping the Slats

For the faux box joint, the 4 pieces in each layer have to be the same thickness. Each layer has a different thickness in order to maximize the materials that I’m working with, but I organize them simply by ordering them from thinnest to thickest and then separate and label them in groups of 4.

These are then sent through the planer so the 4 slats in each of the groups is the same thickness.

Last step to get the boards to their final shape is to cut them to length. Since my frame is square, the length of the boards equals the width of the frame for half of the boards and the other half of the boards are cut down to a length equal to the width of the frame minus 2x the width of the slats. I split the slats into 2 groups with 2 pieces from each set of 4 and gang cut them at the same time to ensure that each group is the exact same length.

Step 5: Glue-up

Now we can do the lamination. You can see now why I labeled these pieces previously, this helps me to keep things organized during the glue-up because it’s a lot of glue surface and you have to work fairly quickly. And if you are smarter than me, you’ll have everything set up including your clamps before you start applying the glue. But glue is applied to one face of each board and also on the ends of the shorter boards so you have glue between the edges of the boards in each layer too. To create the faux finger joint at the corner, I rotate each layer by 90 degrees so that the slats alternate at the corners.

Because of all of the layers, I leave this to dry for the night to be safe, although you could probably pop it out of the clamps after just a couple hours. The next day I remove all of the clamps and by the time I’m done with that, it’s already the afternoon but at this point I can move on to cleaning up the edges of the frame.

Step 6: Cleaning Up the Glue-up

I draw straight and square lines on the top and cut those with my circular saw. This isn’t entirely necessary since we’ll just be power carving these surfaces later anyway, but this just makes things easier for when I do the layout later.

I also go ahead and cut the rabbet out of the back inside edge of the frame now to give myself a place for the glass and photo since it will be much harder to do this after it’s carved into a curvy shape. This can be done with a rabbeting bit in the router, but I ended up using my CNC since it allowed me to cut a little bit deeper than the router bits I had on hand would allow.

Step 7: Preparing for Power Carving

And after all that, it’s finally power carving time. Although this is future Paul Jackman speaking and those layers were total worth it.

The power carving starts by laying out the shape I want to cut in the frame. Power carving for me is really just about giving myself some rough guidelines to give the shape some structure and then just let the feeling of the tool and the visual of the wood take it in the direction that it wants.

A lot of ribbon like shapes that you see are pretty symmetrical or at least mirrored so I decided to play with that a little and make it look kinda sorta like sound waves or water waves where the radius of the curves I draw tighten as you move from left to right along the edge of the frame. Each side is the same shape, but it rotates 90 degrees so it’s not symmetrical.

Step 8: Power Carving

Ok, NOW we get to begin power carving. I start by dishing out the contours in the top surface of the frame with the Turbo Plane and work my way around the perimeter. The layers of the frame actually help a lot because they give me some more guidelines to tell you how deep you have carved into the frame so I now where to stop carving once I hit a certain layer.

At the same time, I also carve in the edge of the frame since the shape that I chose bows in at the center relative to the corners of the frame. So I just connect the line that I drew on the top surface with the layer that I want at the bottom of the contour and rinse and repeat on all 4 sides all just with the Turbo Plane.

Now the inside edge gets the same treatment, but these edges are harder to reach so I mount the frame vertically in my bench vise to help reach the areas easier while I dish out the contours. This helps to both reach the inside face and the inside edges that has a slight convex shape to it as well.

Step 9: Adding Back-cut Detail

Now I draw lines on the back of my frame. This again is to give myself some rough guidelines. I draw ¾” in from both the inside and outside edges, this will give me a reference line for the back cut that I’m carving now.

The front edge stays the way that it is while I cut at an angle to connect the corner on the front surface to the line I just drew on the back. This is what gives the frame it’s cool 3D shape, introducing some more shadows to the already curvy shape. Without the back-cut, the frame looks a lot more blocky, but with the back-cut it makes a surprising difference to give the frame a more organic and flowing shape that we’re after.

Step 10: Dishing Out the Corners

With the shaping of the ribbon complete, I switch over to the ball gouge to dish out the corners of the frame. I decided to play with the layers and colors a little more by using a circular shape in the corners instead of continuing the ribbon because the bowl creates a cool visual that plays with the layers to create circles of decreasing size as I carve deeper into the frame.

Step 11: Cleaning Up Final Details

With my shaping of the bowls and the ribbon, this left an awkward little area between these 2 shapes but I was able to handle that perfectly with the Mini Grinder. I colored the remaining face that I hadn’t carved yet with a marker to be able to see it more easily with some contrast between that and the rest of the wood.

Then I carved that surface down into a natural transition between the two shapes.

Step 12: Sanding...

Now with the shape of the frame established, I switch out the carbide cutter wheel in the Mini Grinder for a sanding disk and begin with the rough sanding. This disk just does rotary sanding so it takes away the materials quickly and helps to even out any of the lumps or inconsistencies left behind by the hand shaping done with the power carving tools. The surface in the larger contours are already in good shape because of the clean cut left behind by the carbide cutters on the Turbo Plane. But the end grain and anywhere there are tighter areas and transitional surfaces, these need a bit more work which is where the Mini Grinder sanding attachment really shines, much like myself.

And the final power carving tool that I need to complete the frame is the Contour Sander which I use for all of the finish sanding. This tool has a random orbital motion so it’s less aggressive, but this means that it leaves behind a really smooth surface since I can sand through the grits up to 320. This little tool doesn’t get the glory it deserves because everyone hates sanding including myself. Heck, I just try to forget that sanding is even a thing that exists until I get to this point in the project when I realize I have almost a full day of sanding into this thing.

Step 13: ...More Sanding

Now I’ve left the sharp edges alone up until this stage in the project. I want to leave them at as much of a point as possible to give the eye that clear transition between one side of the ribbon and the other, but it inevitably gets really thin in areas where it’s just not strong enough so it splinters off. With hand sanding I’m able to smooth out all of those inconsistencies by softening that corner all the way around the frame. It’s all about tricking the eye into believing that it’s looking at a perfect line – if that corner was sharp then your eye could pick up on all of the inconsistencies, but when it’s rounded slightly and smoothed out that tricks the eye into thinking that the edge is perfect. The sanding stage of a piece with such an organic shape like this is pretty extensive, but that just leaves you with more satisfaction when you’re done, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Step 14: Applying Finish

And now, all that’s left is to apply the finish. I decided to go with a resin modified tung oil to give it a natural look along with a bit of shine. I build up 4 coats over a few days until I have the right amount of sheen that I like and then hit it with steel wool to remove any little bits of dust that snuck their way into the finish.

Step 15: Adding Hardware and Keyhole

For holding the picture in place, I actually installed some screen door hardware because I wanted to make the picture easily removeable since this frame is going to be traveling around and living in a lot of different locations so it needs to be adaptable. Regular picture frame pins would be perfectly fine. I cut these pockets out using my CNC router.

And while I’m at it I also cut out the keyhole so this will be able to be hung on the wall as well if it ever needs to be. Of course, all of this could be done with a hand held palm router as well if you don’t have access to a CNC router.

Step 16: Installing the Artwork

Then last step, and maybe the best step in making a picture frame is to install your artwork. I figured it was only appropriate to have a frame that I just made display the artwork that is the frame… and it kind of just goes on from there.

It’s fun when the project is adaptable to any shape that you envision and the best part is that it’s easy to change your mind part way through the project if you want to change direction a bit because you aren’t set by those rigid lines like you are in a traditional woodworking project when you’re not power carving.

Step 17: Glamour Shots

Thank you for checking out this build, I hope you learned a little something about my power carving process and how you can apply this to a picture frame or really any power carving project that you can envision. Be sure to checkout the build video on YouTube for the full Jackman Experience™. I’ll see you over there!


Thirsty for more? You can also find me in other places on the interwebs!

My Website: Essentially my entire life

YouTube: Me, in moving picture form

Instagram: Preview my projects as they progress #nofilter

Twitter: Riveting thoughts, in very small doses


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