Floating Mirror Frame

This project was a nightmare, and took two attempts. Fortunately for you, I'm going to share what I learned, so you can avoid some of the bad or incomplete advice that is already out there.

We had our bathroom remodeled in the spring. We left the "builder mirror", rather than purchasing a new solution.

My wife found some suggestions on Pinterest about making a frame around the mirror to dress it up.

Unfortunately the examples she found on Pinterest were either lacking in details, or just had bad advice. My least favorite was to use molding/paneling glue… press for two minutes, blah blah blah, as it falls off the mirror and leaves glue everywhere. This DID NOT work for me... Video suggesting molding adhesive. The link my wife found on Pinterest suggesting Liquid Nails would in fact adhere to the mirror surface (didn't work on my mirror).

The correct way is to probably build the frame, and route an inlet to install the mirror into the frame. I contend that is the correct way to do it. However, that's a lot of work, and I didn't have a router table at the time. Our mirror IS NOT glued in place. The only thing holding it up is four tiny mirror clips. My solution involves replacing the mirror clips with bear claw screws (double headed screws), and attaching the new frame using keyhole slots. The mirror stays in place, and the frame is secured.

Needed Parts:

  • Several lengths of (crown) molding
  • (4) Bear claws
  • (4) plastic spacers (peg board spacers)
  • Scrap wood
  • (4) washers or cable clips

Needed Tools:

  • Miter box or Radial Arm Saw
  • Strap clamp
  • Wood glue
  • Stain (or paint)
  • Polyurethane (or other clear finish)
  • Router and cutout attachment
  • Key hole bit
  • Drill and drill bit
  • Carpenter Knife (or other blade)
  • Screw driver
  • Drill and drill bit
  • Sanding block

Step 1: Select (Crown) Molding

For my first attempt, my wife chose some overly ornate molding. It was flared in the back. The poor instructions I followed left it at the dimensions of the mirror, not long enough to utilize keyholes (though I may have solution to still salvage it).

For my second attempt, she chose something more modest. I made the requirement that the outer edge be flat, and not flared. Make sure you buy longer lengths than the dimension of your mirror, about one foot for each side. Our mirror is 4'x3' (actually 35 15/16" tall by 48" wide) so I purchased two 5' and two 4' pieces. When you are picking out pieces of molding, make sure they are flat (not warped). Our first set came from Home Depot, the second set from a lumber yard. Cost was between $40 and $60.

My mirror has mirror clips on the left and right hand side of the mirror. I was trying to reuse the holes (mounting points). I made sure to make the frame wide enough so that they keyhole slots would slide over those mounting points, so I added 2" to the length (50").

Step 2: Cut the Molding

You could use a miter box and hand saw, or a radial arm saw. (I'm currently not a fan of my cheap plastic miter box). Using the radial arm (chop) saw is much quicker, and my recommendation.

The first 45 degree angle cut is not a big deal, just make sure you have it oriented correctly so the longer edge will be on the outside of the frame. You'll want to carefully measure, and mark, the second cut to ensure you cut the molding to the correct length. (I highly suggest testing on scrap wood, so you can account for the thickness of the blade).

It's very important that the top and bottom pieces be exactly the same length, same with the left and right side pieces. Otherwise when you connect them as a rectangular frame, it could be bowed (or warped). Ask me how I know… I'm kidding, don’t ask, it's still a sore subject.

Step 3: Install the Bear Claws

My plan (after the failed wood paneling glue) was to use double headed bear claw screws to replace the existing screws and plastic mirror frame clips.

I used little black peg board spacers, cut to the desired depth, as risers for the bear claws. For my solution I cut the peg board spacers in half (so they were the same height from the drywall to the depth of the mirror). I did this so the bear claws would be positioned correctly for the frame would fit over and slide onto the bear claws; and into the key hole slots.

I also used some plastic I cut off from cable clips, to use to hold the mirror in place. This worked out great, but I had also considered using some large metal washers to accomplish the same thing. The advantage of the washer would be them not accidentally getting rotated out of position.

Carefully remove one mirror clip at a time, replacing it with a bear claw screw, the riser, and a plastic clip (or washer) to push against the mirror. This will keep the mirror in place.

Step 4: Cut the Keyholes

Now you need to make some "keyholes" for the screw heads to slide into, which will hold the frame in place on the mirror.

I was planning on using the rotary tool's plunge router to make the keyholes, but found some good advice advising against that. (Inconsistent depths). I used the cut out attachment instead (fixed depth). This method requires you to drill a hole first (not all the way through the wood) for the keyhole bit to fit into.

You'll want to practice with adjusting the depth of the key hole bit on some scrap wood. You want it deep enough so that the bear claw screw will hold firmly (so the frame will sit flat and firmly against the mirror).

I made a little jig for my rotary tool and its cut out attachment. Four scrap pieces of wood attached as a square to create boundaries for the rotary tool. This ensured a clean, straight cut. (A router table is nice too, but I didn't have one yet). This method, along with the jig being clamped in place, made for very straight and consistent depth keyholes.

Measure the distance of the mirror mounting points from the edges of the mirror, so you can get the keyholes positioned correctly on the frame. I made the keyhole entry about a 1" lower (so when installing the frame it will start 1" higher, be placed onto the screws, and then lowered into position).

This is a good time to do a test fit. Make sure the key holes fit over the bear claws. (The top and bottom pieces are just balanced in place in the attached photo). If the four pieces don't fit flush to one another you may have to trim them. Otherwise, after it is glued and put in place there may be some "bowing".

Step 5: Glue the Frame Together

On my first attempt, I used pocket hole joinery to create the frame, and utilized corner clamps to ensure they were lined up correctly. On the second attempt the molding was much thinner in spots, I opted instead to use wood glue and a strap clamp.

Sand or remove any excess glue before staining. The glue will prevent the wood from staining correctly. (On my first attempt I did attempt to stain before connecting the pieces of the frame. I don't think this is correct, but it didn't cause any issues at the time. For the second attempt, I didn't want the stain to interfere with the wood glue; so I applied the stain AFTER the gluing step).

Practice getting the four pieces lined up with the strap clamp, and ensure they are on a completely flat surface. When you are ready apply wood glue to the 45 degree mating surfaces. Line the pieces up while tightening the strap's ratchet. Adjust the pieces if/as necessary. Allow the glue to dry at least 20 minute (or as the glue instructions specify) BEFORE releasing the strap.

Step 6: Stain (or Paint) the Frame

Sand or remove any excess glue before staining. The glue will prevent the wood from staining correctly.

Stain the outer surface of the frame, following the directions applicable to the stain. I used miniwax (as I've had good experience, and a bunch left). Get the front, the inner, and outer edges. I suggest staining the back as well; at least the part closest to the interior of the frame. When installed, this part will be reflecting slightly in the mirror. Apply additional coat as desired.

When the stain is fully dried, apply a coat or two of polyurethane clear coat. This should help protect it from any splashed water.

(These are pictures of the first attempt. My second attempt the frame was glued BEFORE the staining, but I can't find photos of that step)

Step 7: Install the Mirror Frame

If you measured the keyhole slots correctly, you should be able to get all four screws through their entry holes, and lower the frame into place. (I had to adjust my light fixture to clear the frame).

Now your wife will stop asking "Where's my mirror frame?", and everyone is happy. . . Sort of, she wants another one in the guest bathroom. . .

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