Making Frames

Here I am with a mitered corner Walnut Frame on “High Tide“, a 9×12 painting.

When I harvested a black walnut tree in Massachusetts to have a memory of my childhood home, I had no idea of the adventure ahead. Now I have a stack of rough sawn boards here in Soquel. I decided to make some frames for my paintings, but little did I know how complex this adventure would become. I have studied woodworking at Cabrillo in Patrick Stafford’s Saturday Class to develop my skills in this new craft. Here are the steps I have learned, so far, for making my own frames.

mortise and tennon
mortise and tennon joinery
  1. First step is to square the rough sawn boards. You should cut boards to width before squaring in order to reduce waste. You’ll need access to a band saw, joiner, table saw, planer. With proper application of these tools, you’ll finally have a board ready to use for the frame.
  2. Sand any rough edges.
  3. Decide on joinery style:  So far, I’ve learned “mortise and tenon” and “spline/miter.”
  4. A rabbet is the cutout that holds the painting in the frame. Before cutting the rabbet, lay out your frame and decide which boards will be on top, bottom, and sides. The grain of the wood will guide you.  Be aware that the rabbet is cut on the inside edge.
  5. Decide on the rabbet depth and width. Two passes on the table saw will create the rabbet for a mitered corner (45degrees). If doing mortise and tenon joinery, the mortise and tenon need to be cut before the rabbet. The cut for the mortise needs to be made on the table saw with a special blade (raker blade) in place. A router table or hand router can be used to cut the rabbet on a mortise and tennon frame, after it has been assembled. The corners will then need to be chiseled out square.
  6. I like to champher (a slight rounding) the outer edge, using a palm router, to provide less area to get dinged.
  7. Pay careful attention to sanding to smooth the finish. Use shellac or another varnish like minwax clear wipe-on poly, more sanding to smooth the coat and more layers of finish until smooth.
  8. Add a layer of wax to protect the frame.
  9. Cut miter corners and glue up.
  10. Cut splines and slots if needed, and insert into frame.
  11. Clean up corners and fit painting into frame…stand and appreciate your work!
Ranch Cottage, oil, 11x14, walnut frame
Ranch Cottage, oil, 11×14, walnut frame

With Cabrillo’s woodshop closed because of the virus, I am now working in a small shop we’ve set up in my garage.

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