Rustic Picture Frame





Introduction: Rustic Picture Frame

About: I'm a husband and father that loves working in the garage. From sewing to welding to wrenching on engines and everything in between.

We had some 'Old Tyme' photos taken on a recent vacation. We purchased a couple prints of our boys to give to grandparents. I decided to make some frames for them. To keep with the 'Wild West' theme, I figured a rustic frame would be appropriate.

The beauty of rustic is that the more beat up and "worn" it looks, the more authentic it is. This also makes it so that you don't have to be real critical with sanding and finishing, because it'll all give the piece more character. For the frames I made, I used some techniques that are only possible with certain tools. There are many methods to achieve the same task, but the basic construction will be the same. I'll show you how I made these and maybe you can pickup on a new-to-you technique that you may use in the future.

If you're more of a video person, you can find it HERE, just make sure you come back here to vote for me if you like what you see.

Step 1: Prepping the Material

I started with a 10' long piece of 5/4 thick rough cut pine that a good friend cut on his turn of the century sawmill. This machine is AMAZING, albeit a bit dangerous. It has a monstrous 52" diameter blade and is driven via a 60 foot long flat belt powered by one of his tractors. I took a video of this thing in action. If you want to see it, CLICK HERE.

Anyway, back to this project. I had this rough cut pine in my shed. Some of the edges were a bit soft, so I cut them off with the table saw. I then raised the blade of the saw as high as it would go used it as a makeshift jointer to remove the rough cut face from the board. I took a couple very thin passes, often shaving off just a bit of wood from the high spots.

Step 2: Adding Some Figure

I wanted to add a cove to the face of the frame. I decided to try this with my table saw. I clamped some boards at an angle on the table saw surface. I left a channel the width of my frame board to act as guides. I started with the blade raised just slightly. I fed the frame board between the guides ensuring that I kept downward pressure on the frame board as it passed over the blade. Feeding the board slowly, I did several light passes, raising the blade each time, until the cove was the desired depth. Once the cove was finished. I raised the blade again and cut the rough faces off the coved face.

Step 3: Cut and Miter the Pieces

I made 8" x 10" frames. I measured and cut the individual pieces to the appropriate size needed so that the frame would overlap the edges of the photo mat by 1/4" on all sides. To calculate the length needed to make a particular size frame, you need to measure the width of your board. Using the following formula, you can determine the length needed for each of the pieces based on the size of the photo, the amount of overlap, and the width of your frame material.

Overall length = Long side of photo - ( frame overlay x 2) + ( frame width/thickness x 2) 
10" - (0.25" x 2) + (2" x 2) = 13.5" 

You'll also need to calculate the inside miter length. This can be achieved by:

Inside miter length = Overall length - (frame width/thickness x 2)  <br>13.5" - (0.25" x 2) = 9.5"

Repeat the calculations using the length of the short side of the picture.

I'd recommend cutting the pieces a bit longer than needed as you will set the final length when you cut the miters.

I used a miter sled for my table saw. You want to first cut a miter on one side of the board. Keeping the same edge against the fence on the miter sled, measure down the fence the appropriate length. It's best to clamp one of the cutoffs as a stop block, but I chose to just mark where the length where the mitered edge met the fence. Cut all your miters.

Step 4: Rabbit...Rabbet...

I cut a relief from the back side of each of the frame pieces. This relief is where the glass, mat, photo, and backing will sit. This relief is called a rabbet (pronounced the same as, but not the same as the fuzzy-tailed woodland creature - rabbit).

I set my table saw fence so that it was 1/4" from the opposite side of the blade. I set the blade height to 1/4". I placed the frame so that the back of the piece was against the fence and made a cut. I then laid the piece on the surface of the saw with the inside edge (short mitered edge) against the fence and made another cut. The result is a 1/4" x 1/4" rabbet. I repeated this for all steps.

Step 5: Getting Sticky

If you're new to woodworking, you'll soon learn that you NEVER have enough clamps...EVER. I had quite a few clamps, but actually had to go buy some 18" clamps to accommodate the 13.5" width of these frames, after failing miserably with using one of the ratchet strap style clamp setups. The ratcheting strap clamp was either too loose on one 'click' and too tight on the very next 'click'. Once you have sufficient clamps, glue the joints, clamp things down and measure corner to corner diagonally on all four corners. If your measurements are the same, your frame is square.

Step 6: Strong Like Bull

This step is completely optional, but I wanted to make sure that these frames wouldn't fall apart after the first week. This process is called splining or spline jointing. Basically, it's cutting a slot in each corner and gluing in a strip of wood to strengthen the miter joint. The splines increase the strength of the joint mainly because of the additional surface area that is bonded by glue. Additionally, it keeps both parts of the joint aligned and provides a stronger joint since face grain glue joints (between the spline faces and the inside of the slot) are stronger than the end grain glue joints of the miters.

I built a simple jig to cut the frame for splines. The jig consists of a base as well as an upright clamping face that is perpendicular to the saw surface. The clamping face is supported by gussets to the base. The jig is used by positioning the fence so that a frame clamped to the jig will be aligned over the top of the blade. The blade height is set to an appropriate height so that an adequate depth is cut to accept a spline.

The material used for the splines is often of contrasting color. This is purely aesthetic. I just ripped splines from some scrap fir dimensional lumber (aka 2x4). The splines were then glued into the frame.

Once the glue dried, I setup a reference block on a simple sled so that the protruding splines could be trimmed off. During this step, I also decided to trim some additional width from the frame.

Step 7: Time for Makeup!!!

I decided to use some stain that I had left over from another project. It's a dark gel stain (Chestnut color). I simply applied it with a foam brush, waited the specified 3 minutes and wiped it off. I let the stain dry and then applied a couple coats of natural colored paste wax. I buffed the wax down by hand.

Step 8: Dual Purpose

I looked online for some of the easel backs for frames. While they were readily available, I didn't want to spend the money on some cheap cardboard with a stamped steel hinge. I'd seen some stands bent up from wire coat hangers, but I wanted the option of hanging the frame on the wall too and didn't want to have to keep track of a separate stand.

My solution was to cut the corner from a wire coat hanger and bend it so the legs are parallel to each other. On the backside of the frame on the bottom rail, I marked and drilled two shallow holes so that when the wire hanger piece was inserted into the holes, it would support the frame in an upright position. To store the stand when not in use, I placed the glass, photo, and backing in the frame and marked the inside edge of the frame. I then removed the glass, etc and drilled shallow holes in the side of the rabbet so that the stand could be placed here if not being used.

I also added a simple frame hanger on the top rail so the frame could be hung on the wall.

Step 9: Final Fitting

I used pre-cut pieces of polycarbonate "safety glass" in lieu of real glass. I added the photo mat, the photo, and a backing. I used the wire stand to hold the backing in place and I drove a small finish nail into each side of the frame to hold the frame contents in place..

Step 10: Details

All in all, I think they turned out FANTASTIC. I'm a bit biased, but really, they're great. I forgot to mention that I used my homemade branding iron on the back of each frame. See how I made the branding iron HERE

Thanks for checking out my instructable and thanks for sticking around to the end. Again, If you like what you see, I'd appreciate your vote in the contests.



    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest

    7 Discussions

    Try rubbing on Burnt Umber oil paint with a rag instead of stain once. I found out, quite by accident, that it's great for giving wood that old and worn look. Putting it on with a rag makes it go on unevenly. I built my daughter a shadowbox, didn't like the stain job that I did, sanded it again, saw a tube of it with some other oil paints and thought, what the heck. Turned out great. :)

    That looks great! How long did it take to build?

    Have a great day! :-)

    1 reply

    Thanks. It could easily be completed in a few hours excluding glue and stain drying times. I did it over a several day span, fitting it in between other obligations.

    si have some failed Hingis stands and your tip will help me. Thanks

    1 reply

    Excellent looking frames, and the trick with the hanger is brilliant. Great stuff, as usual.

    That saw is insane! It looks terrifying, but awesome.

    1 reply

    Thanks man. The sawmill is awesome. He's got one remaining red oak snag (standing dead tree) on his 200 acres that is on the brink of falling into a ravine. I need to make some time to go help him get it down and mill it into lumber before it decays or falls where we can't get to it.