Making a custom picture frame seems easy enough for a beginner to want to try, but many can get discouraged when they approach the mitre ends. However tricky these corners can be, they get much easier with practice and understanding the process on how to achieve perfect cuts.
This project is a companion to the free Bevels + Mitres Lesson in my Woodworking Class. There's loads of information in this class aimed at the beginner woodworker looking to get into the hobby. This project, and the entire Woodworking Class, uses common handheld tools that anyone can easily get access to.
Here's what I used for this project:
- Circular Saw
- Rabbet router bit (or as part of a set)
- 1"x8" plank of wood (your choice) at least 10' long
- Small trimming plane
- Hole saw
- Palm sander
I used an 8" board that was the straightest I could find. If you can only find wider boards you can always rip the board lengthwise using the skills learned in Making Perfectly Straight Cuts.
Ready? Let's make!
Step 1: Bevel Length of Wood
For this project I made a frame that had a beveled edge along the interior of the frame. Since this bevel is the same on all sides I found it easier to make a bevel along the entire plank of wood I was making this frame from at once, rather than cutting the pieces to length first and then adding a bevel to each piece individually.
Making a bevel with a circular saw is just as easy. Almost every circular saw has a tilting base plate that allows the angle to be set. The thumb screw or catch to loosen the tilt will be in front or behind the blade and off to the side, usually in line with the trigger.
The base can be tiled with a rough degree of accuracy, which is usually enough as most bevels are used for trim work and not intended for joining where precision would be needed.
After getting the angle right the blade depth will need to be changed to only a little deeper than the thickness of the cut to be made. Blade height can be changed by a catch that will move the baseplate up or down and expose more or less of the blade.
It's important to not extend the entire blade when cutting for safety reasons, any more blade exposed than what you need can be a hazard as the exposed blade will be under the work piece and outside your view - making it very easy to accidentally cut into your workbench, the power cable, or yourself (yikes!).
To cut a straight and even bevel without the aid of a table saw and fence, you'll need to make your own fence. Accounting for the width of the base plate and the blade kerf, a fence can be set up along side the wood to be cut, either by clamping (more stable but longer setup) or with heavy-duty double-sided tape (easier but less stable)
With everything set up the circular saw can be run along the wood to create the bevel. As with other cuts, it's advisable to position your work so that the cut off portion falls away from the wood. In the video example below I was cutting directly on top of my workbench, which has the potential for the blade to cut through the wood and into the bench.
Set the fence for your circular saw, clamp down your plank of wood, and then run the saw to make a uniform bevel along one edge of the plank of wood.
Step 2: Cleaning Bevels
Sometimes, even when you double check everything, bevels can come out irregular. Most of the time the result are thin fins of wood where the saw blade didn't cut, these can be easily resolved with a small trimming plane.
The plane works by having a flat and level bottom with a small notch cut out from which a sharp blade protrudes, it works much like a shaving razor except with this razor you can control how much of the blade is exposed. It's best to start with very little blade, then work your way up exposing more blade as required.
With the base positioned flat against the wood, run the planer in the direction of the wood grain with the blade facing forwards in one smooth motion. If done correctly the wood will curl as it's shaved (planed). Hand planes aren't just for corners, they're also commonly used on relatively flat surfaces to help level any high spots - look for another lesson on planes in a future class.
Step 3: Mitre Cut Frame Ends
Cutting a mitre with a circular saw is almost the same as making a straight cut as learned in Making Perfectly Straight Cuts, only we're cutting at an angle. Measure and then mark your mitre with a pencil on the face of your wood, continue the mark from the face over the edge and onto the side of the piece - this will help keep reference when you're cutting.
If you're cutting a 45° angle the measurement is easy with a speed square, just line the flange edge of the speed square on the side of your wood with the flat side of the square on the face of your materials and scribe the angle with a pencil. If you're doing an angle other the 45° then the speed square has you covered with the markings on it, or you can use a protractor and a straight edge to achieve the angle you want.
Making straight cuts is covered in the free lesson Making Perfectly Straight Cuts. set up a fence along the angled cut line, remembering to offset the distance of your circular saw base plate and blade kerf and to set the fence on the side of the wood you wish to keep so the cut off portion falls away. Then, clamp your wood to a stable workbench and cut your mitre.
When you've got your measurement make a 45° mark at each end of the measurement with the angle going away from your measurement. In the example below the desired measurement is 12", the 45° angle is measured away from this dimension.
Complete the cuts for each side of your frame with mitred ends on each.
Step 4: Rabbet
To make a small slot for the glass to sit behind we'll need to make a rabbet. A rabbet is a woodworking term for a groove cut into the edge of the wood. Here's an example of what a rabbet looks like
A rabbet can easily be cut by a router with a rabbet bit. Referring back to Hand Router Lesson, the router is set up with the bottom bearing router bit resting on the wood as a guide and fed along the opposite side of the bevel we cut earlier.
As with the bevel, the rabbet can be cut along the entire plank in one go before chopping the wood into mitred cuts to make things easier. I find the palm router easy enough to handle and doesn't require a separate fence so chose to cut the mitres first and then cut the rabbet.
Step 5: Truing Up Mitres
Once everything is cut we can lay the pieces on a flat surface and see what our frame will be shaping up to look like. Something you're sure to notice is that the mitres don't line up, even when you're checking with a square and sure you cut everything as precise as possible - this is where an ugly truth emerges about mitres: they're really hard to get right!
The good news is there's some things we can do to try and make the mitres fit better. Clamp your sander into a bench vise so that you're got a sturdy station to sand at, put a 150 grit sandpaper on the sander and gently press the mitre onto the sander making sure the contact is as level as possible.
The idea here to to try and even out any small variations from the mitres and get a better fit. Go slow and check your work for squareness often, using a carpenter's or speed square. Eventually you will get to a place where your frame will be mostly square and the mitres tight (this is a Sisyphean task, as getting perfect mitres can be tough even for seasoned woodworkers).
Try and get as close as you can with your mitres and we'll make up the difference when we join our pieces in the next step.
Step 6: Attach Mitred Corners
With the mitres cleaned up we can join them together. All About Glue covers that gluing end grain is not very effective, which is why more mitred corners have some additional feature to help them stay together, like a lap joint or spline. Joinery is an entire class by itself and a topic best saved for a more advanced woodworking class, for now we just want to make these mitred corners stay together.
To do this we'll use a combination of glue and corrugated fasteners which will hold the frame together.
Glue was applied to the mitred edges then laid down and squared. With the glue still wet securely clamp the frame to the workbench at both sides of the mitre and then hammer in the corrugated fastener across the mitred gap.
Extra care needs to be taken here to ensure the fragile bond between the glued edges doesn't come undone.
Step 7: Filling Mitre Gaps
Flip the frame over so the front is facing upwards. If your frame has any gaps that couldn't be trued up by sanding they should be apparent now with the corrugated fasteners installed.
In a similar way to when we learned that sawdust can be used to clean up excess glue in All About Glue we can also use glue and sawdust to act as a filler for small gaps.
Apply glue on top of the gap and use a toothpick or sheet of stiff card to force glue into the gap, push sawdust from the same same wood as the frame into the gap. Since sawdust is a great at absorbing moisture you can apply another layer of glue on top (if needed) and then another layer of sawdust to fill the gap.
A clamp was used to keep the wood tight, make sure not to over-tighten and force the frame out of square. Allow the glue to dry overnight before sanding.
Step 8: Sanding + Finishing Frame
With the frame structure complete the entire frame can be sanded smooth. From the Sanding Lesson we know to start with a coarse sandpaper of about 100 grit and work the entire frame on all surfaces, paying special attention to the transition between joined pieces and the corners. If sanding reveals any more voids at the mitres then reapply the glue and sawdust trick again, wait until dry and then continue sanding.
Work up the sandpaper to about a 220 grit for your finish sanding. Clean off the frame after sanding to remove any dust or debris with a tack cloth or lint-free rag.
I wanted to keep the natural grain of the white oak wood so I chose an oil as the finish which will seal the wood and give it nice depth.
Step 9: Frame Insert
While the glue is drying the frame insert can be constructed.
The interior dimensions of the frame were taken including the rabbet cut earlier. From these dimensions an insert was cut to fit inside the frame. My frame insert was cut from a scrap piece of thin chipboard, but any cardstock would work.
The rabbet inset was transferred to the frame insert so there was a reference of where I could place my cutout for the artwork.
For my art I wanted three even circle cutouts, so the overall width of the insert was measured and divided into 3 equal sections where the art would be placed.
Step 10: Find Centers and Cut
The horizontal center of the insert was found by drawing diagonal lines from the corners and finding the intersection. From there the center of each divided portion was found using the same diagonal intersection method and marked.
Since I used a chip board for my insert I needed a large hole saw to create the openings.
To prevent tearout and damaging my workbench these holes were drilled on top of a sacrificial piece of wood.
Step 11: Prime and Sand Frame
After the openings were cut the entire insert and edges were sanded with 100 grit sandpaper to clean up any burrs and prepare the surface for priming.
Laying down a protective cover underneath the insert was primed and allowed to dry. Between coats of primer 200 grit sandpaper was used to remove any uneven areas from the primer.
After priming 2 coats of an off white spray paint was applied and allowed to cure completely.
Step 12: Add Art
For this picture I wanted to celebrate where I'm from, where my wife is from, and where we met and live now. I found some maps and cut them down to size to glue behind the cutouts with our cities centered in each window. Simple glue stick was used to attach the maps to the back of the insert.
I thought the insert looked a little plain so I found some scrapbooking stickers to liven things up: cowboy and western things for Texas where my wife is from. Hockey, trees and mountains for Vancouver where I'm from. Then some local icons like the Golden Gate bridge for San Francisco where we live now.
Step 13: Cut Glass
Using the same measurements of the frame insert I went to my local hardware store and had them cut the glass to the exact dimensions.
Step 14: Assemble!
The glass was cleaned and inserted into the frame first and then the insert. To keep the insert securely in place I used flat steel braces as a movable tab. Since oak is very dense I drilled pilot holes at the locations I wanted the tabs, then affixed them gently to the frame with a hand screwdriver.
Adding small eyebolts to hang the frame was done the same way, pilot holes were drilled near the top of the frame on the backside and then the eyebolts were screwed into place by hand.
To hang the frame I used steel wire fed through each eyebolt and pulled taut, the loose ends were double backed and wrapped around the wire to keep things neat.
Step 15: Hang Your Art!
With a project as personal as this you'll want to hang it somewhere prominent, as it shows off your new woodworking skills and a little about who you are.
Have you made your own picture frame inspired by this project?I want to see it!
Share a picture of your build in the comments below and get a free Pro Membership to Instructables!
Happy making :)