Build a Custom Picture Frame

Introduction: Build a Custom Picture Frame

About: I am a perpetual student, researcher, and hopelessly dedicated skill collector. I hope that you can find something inspiring or useful in the instructables I publish.
It seems like if you want to frame a picture of piece of art, you're stuck with three courses of action:
  1. Hope that the picture is a "standard size" and buy an off-the-shelf frame, or, frame sections...
  2. Get someone - whether a shop or a bored relative - to frame it for you...
  3. Build your own frame *exactly* how you want it
Hmmmm - I'll go with # 3 .....

I recently acquired a signed print from one of my favorite artists (Chris Sanders) and decided to build a custom frame for it.  Over the years, I've built quite a few frames and have adopted my own design elements that, for me, have resulted in strong, light, clean frames that usually have an element of the framed piece incorporated into them.  Granted, these design elements add a little bit of time to the construction of the frames, but for me, the extra time is worth it.

So let's get to it.

Supplies you will need:

Acrylic sheet
Wood of your choice (in this case some Poplar I had lying around)
Finish of your choice (in this case I used rattle-can paint (Krylon brand) and acrylic airbrush paints)
Glue (wood glue, polyurethane, or epoxy)
Small screws (preferably shorter than 1/2" and smaller than or equal to #6)
A suitable mounting substrate (like foam-core or Gatorboard)
Spray Adhesive (I used 3M #45 General Purpose Adhesive)
Blue Painter's Tape

Cost is actually pretty low assuming you have some of these supplies already lying around.  The wood probably cost around $8, the spray paints about $8, the acrylic  and Gatorboard were scraps.  Overall, I'd say that you should expect to spend around $30-$40 for something this size (13" x 23") and more for something larger.

Step 1: Mount the Art

I'm going to say right off that if the piece to be framed is much larger than this print (13"x23"), or, is printed on thinner stock, it's smart to have a service bureau or sign company do the dry-mount since they have all the equipment and expertise.  It's pretty easy to wrinkle the print when mounting it, so I *usually* have someone else do this for me.  However, if the piece is printed on heavier stock paper and isn't too big, it's fairly simple to mount it yourself. 

When mounting the print, you have two options:

1) Spray the adhesive and while it's still tacky, apply it to the general center of your backing material - and then trim to size once it's dry, or
2) Figure out your layout, cut your backing to size, set up registration points (tape strips), spray the adhesive and while it's still tacky, very carefully place the print.

Either way will work - there's just more waste in the first method and more risk of possibly damaging the print when you get to the "trim to size" step - but it's a lot more forgiving should your placement be less than ideal.  I'm demonstrating one possible way to achieve the second method.

Step 2: Stock Preparation

When making frames, it's critical to have flat, straight, stock to work with.  It's also helpful to have wood with a straight, even grain, but that's not a requirement (but it will be harder to work with if it's not).  Soft woods are easier to machine, but can be accidentally damaged more easily as well.  If you plan to paint your frame, poplar is an excellent choice - it machines well, sands well, and takes finish well.

If you don't have a jointer and planer, you can either be really picky when you're picking through the lumber pile, or have a cabinet shop or lumber yard dress out the wood for you.

Step 3: Building the Frame

There are several ways to build a frame - but most of them involve some kind of mitering for the corners.  Tools for accurate miters range from old-school miter boxes to shooting boards (used for truing up miters with a hand plane), guillotines, table saw sleds, and chop saws.  I find that a carefully set up chop saw will do a great job if the blade is sharp, and the saw is set up *very* accurately.  The easiest way to check your saw for accuracy is to set it to 45 degrees and cut two pieces of stock - then put the pieces together to make a 90 degree corner.  If they don't make a *perfect* 90 degree corner, you'll want to adjust your saw until they do.  Any error will be multiplied 4 times around the perimeter of your frame, and you'll be hatin' life when you try to get your frame put together.

It could be argued that all you really need to do with a miter joint on a picture frame is glue it since it's not like the frame is going to take a beating ..... but it would be a weak argument as end-grain to end-grain joints are the weakest kind, and if the wood were to move (swell and shrink) with humidity changes, you might end up with a self-destructing frame.  Frame shops use "angle nails" and a special press to reinforce their corners, and they work pretty well.  For me, if the frame is wide enough, I'll use a biscuit joiner - but if it's less than 3", I use a spline to reinforce the corners.

Step 4: Painting the Frame

One thing I like about painting frames is that I can control color ... as well as use "less than beautiful" wood (read: inexpensive).  The main downside to painting is that you have to be a little more meticulous about your preparation work - but then you can cover up flaws more easily .... so I guess it about evens out in the long run (vs. clear-coating nicely figured wood).

Step 5: Final Assembly

The fun part :) - although it can feel like surgery because you're trying to keep everything from getting scratched, and keeping everything super-clean.... but it's worth it to see it all come together.

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    3 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Great looking frame. My only suggestion would be to recommend using an acid free adhesive. This is especially important when mounting a photograph and should reduce the chance of any valuable, sentimental or one of a kind item degrading over time.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Very detail, the best of the picture frame making tutorial, as this looks like a very easy project, but you have put in a lot of detail, including finish, just make it the best tutorial. Many thanks