Creating an Antique Look on a Unique Custom Photo Frame

Introduction: Creating an Antique Look on a Unique Custom Photo Frame

About: Geologist by day, tinkerer by night.

This instructable combines a painting technique that I have been wanting to try with a stylish way to display pictures around the house.

About a year ago I saw a DIY show in which a woman painted furniture to look as though it had had years of natural aging. She used several layers of paint and various waxes and varnishes to accomplish the look. I experimented with spray paint, sand paper, and clear coat to get a similar look with much less hassle.

The wire line picture frame idea started when I realized that the pictures in my house have not been changed in many years. I have  oodles of pictures that I would love to put up, but don't ever bother to swap out the frames. There are photo boards and other ways to display and change out multiple pictures, but I have not found one that also complimented the style of my home and didn't look a little tacky.

Hence, the antique finish, wire line picture frame. One more note; there is a TON of room for personalization on this project, I'm just showing you how I made mine. I hope you like it and make one for yourself with your own twists. 

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Step 1: Materials and Tools

I will preface this and the subsequent few steps by saying that you can certainly use a pre-made frame for this project. I found a damaged frame on clearance at a craft store for a previous version that worked nicely with a little cutting. If you want to use a pre-made frame, skip ahead to step 4.

The materials needed to construct the frame can all be found at any home improvement store. There is also a great deal of room for tweaking how you decide to make the frame. The method I used is relatively simple and requires only a few basic tools. I'm not much of a woodworker; I'm sure anyone with some skill in this area certainly knows a more elegant way to do this.



1 8 foot length of molding (I chose a style used for making door and window frames)
1 8 foot length of 1/2 x 3/4" wood called a furring strip
4 Flat corner brackets (and small wood screws if not included)
1 Small box of 5/8 x #18 finishing brads (make sure they are not long enough to go through the molding and the furring strip)
1 Bottle of wood glue
2 Picture hanger loops (for hanging the frame)
1 Package of cork or plastic bumpers to protect the wall on which the frame will hang

Wire Line:
4 Small eye-bolts
1 Package of braided picture frame wire (#2)
4 1/16" Wire clamps (called ferrules)
1 Box of bulldog clips, or other clips of your choice

2 Cans of different color spray paint. I used Krylon Black Primer and Krylon Indoor/Outdoor Burgundy. The primer provides a great background for the top color.
1 Can of matte clear coat.
1 Paper towels or some rags (for wiping off the paint)


Miter saw and miter box (power miter saw if you have one!)
Woodworking clamps (2 is enough, but a few more are always helpful)
Drill bits
Small punch
Needle-nose pliers
Regular pliers
Wire Cutters
Phillips head screw driver
Sander and sandpaper
Safety glasses
Mask for painting

Step 2: Making the Frame - 1

The first step is to figure out the desired inside dimensions of the frame. I chose to allow enough room for two rows of three, 4"x6" pictures. I made the inside of the frame 20" wide by 10" tall to allow for some extra room around the pictures. Make your first 45° cut at one end of the molding, making sure that the cut  is in the proper orientation. From the inside corner of the cut just made, measure out your desired inner length dimension and make the second 45° cut. Continue until all four piece are cut. Ensure that the opposing sides match by using the first to measure the cut for the second. Once cut, lay out the pieces and check the fit. Make any adjustments now.

Cut the 1/2" x 3/4" furring strip into lengths a couple inches longer than each of the four sides. Use wood glue to attach these to the back of each piece of the frame making sure that the furring strip is longer than the frame piece on both ends. Clamp these to the frame and let them dry. Once dry, I further secure them with finishing brads. If using brads, use a small punch to drive them in order to avoid hitting the frame with a hammer. The small holes from the heads can be filled with wood filler if desired. 

Finally, cut the excess furring strip flush with the 45° cut of the frame on all 4 frame pieces.

Step 3: Making the Frame - 2

Lay the frame pieces face down with furring strips facing up. Arrange them so they are in the shape of the finished frame. Lay one of the flat corner brackets on the furring strips where they meet at the corners. Use a pencil to mark the location of the holes and drill pilot holes for the wood screws. Attach two frame pieces together at the corner with the screws. Check the fit; if it looks right, remove the screws from one side of the bracket, apply some wood glue, and reattach the pieces. Continue this process until the frame is complete. I use pliers to bend the brackets very slightly which held the frame edges together very tightly.

Step 4: Creating the Antique Finish - Paint

Before I painted the frame, I cut a few strips of extra molding and experimented with various painting techniques. I painted one with a single coat of primer, then applied the top coat and wiped most of it off, leaving a streaky, worn look to the top coat. I experimented with different amounts of the top coat and different layers of each.

I also experimented with the sanding. I found that it is best to use the electric sander only on the inside and outside edges of the frame. Any other sanding should be done by hand, but the result is a nice antique/distressed look.

When you are ready to paint the frame, start with a single, solid coat of primer or whatever your base is. Once dry, ad another coat of primer if desired.

Now, the fun part. The key to the antique look is apply the top coat in small, 4-6 inch sections. Paint the section with just enough paint to cover it, but don't go to heavy; less is more here. With a wrag or paper towel, quickly begin to wipe off the paint. It doesn't take much. Gently drag the towel over the frame until you have a streaky look. Continue until your artistic instincts are satisfied.

If you mess up, remove what you can, let everything dry, and cover it with primer. The goal is to have the frame look like is has suffered years of neglect, so it is pretty difficult to mess this up beyond repair. I messed up a few times.

Step 5: Creating the Antique Finish - Sanding

Once the paint is thoroughly dry, get out the sander. Using a 220+ sand paper, remove some of the paint along the insed and outside edges of the frame. This is obviously very suggestive. Practice first on some painted scraps until you have an idea of what you like. 

The sander work is done. Continue to sand small areas on the surface of the frame by hand. There is no right way to do this, just make sure to keep tabs on your progress so you don't over do it. Once you are happy with the look, brush off the dust and paint with a compressor or towel.

Head back to your painting area and apply one or two coats of clear coat.

Step 6: Installing the Picture Hardware

Begin this part of project by deciding where you want the wires to cross the frame. It is important to allow enough room so that even when hanging from the clips, the pictures don't overlap (unless you want them to...).

The interior height of my frame is 10". I have 2 extra inches with which I will space the wires and leave room for the clips. I installed the first wire 1" below the top inside-edge of the frame. Measure down 1" on opposing sides and place a mark on the inside edge of the furring strip. Screw in an eye bolt at each of these points. The second wire is 5 1/2" down from the inside top edge. Again measure and mark 5 1/2" on the opposing furring strips and attach the eye bolts. Leave the eye-bolts one or two twists short of being all the way in. This will allow you to tension the wire later. These are the anchors for the wire.

Cut two lenghts of picture wire at least 6 inches longer than the width to ensure that you have enough slack to work with. The braided wire kinks easily, so make sure not to bend it. Run your first piece of wire through one side of the wire clamp. Loop it through the eye bolt and then back through the clamp. Use pliers to squeeze it tight on the wire, and cut the excess. Run the other end of the wire through the second clamp and then through the opposing eye bolt. Put the wire though the other side of the clamp, and have someone else hold the wire as tight as possible, while you squeeze the clamp. It is difficult to squeeze these shut, but very very important to get a solid grip on the line.

Repeat this process for the lower wire. I then tightened each of the eye bolts another half-twist to pull the wire taut.

Step 7: Finish, Hang, Fill, Enjoy

On the back of the frame, measure down 1" or so from the top of each of the veritcal furring strips. Make a mark for the location of the frame hangers. Drill pilot holes and attach the hangers with small woodscrews (should be included). I accidentally drilled all the way through the front of the frame and had to put in some wood filler, so be careful.

Apply at least one of the cork or plastic bumbers to the lower corner brackets to prevent them from marking up your wall.

Hang the frame, attach a few clips, and hang some of your favorite pictures. Also, if you would like to add more color, you can spray paint the clips.


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