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Build a Two-Sided Picture Frame
Tools and Materials
By Christian Becksvoort
I have a black-and-white woodcut print and a piece of needlepoint that are dear to me. Since wall space is limited in my house, I decided to make a free-standing frame to display them. Both pieces of art fit in the same frame, one on each side facing out, and the frame can be placed on a tabletop, shelf, desk, dresser, anywhere you have free, flat space—at home or in the office. The frame also makes a great gift.
Because both sides are visible, I knew this frame would be a bit trickier to design than a typical, wall-hung picture frame. I also needed a way to take apart the frame, should the artwork ever need to be replaced.
The frame required a relatively wide base to stand on. Playing around with several designs, I settled on a wide base, a narrower top, and through-tenons on the uprights to allow for disassembly. Although the frame dimensions will vary depending on what it is to hold, the building process can be adapted to any size.
This project originally appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Fine Woodworking (FWW #212).
How to Make
Rough cut the base, top and side pieces: Once you’ve measured both pieces of art, added a proportional border/mat, and come up with an overall dimension, you can rough out the frame parts for the base, the top, and the two sides.
Cut the mortises: Start on the drill press. Use it to rough out the mortises in the top and the base. Drill through the top and bottom, centering the mortise holes in the stock.
Cut the through-grooves: With a straight bit on the router table, run through-grooves on the two side pieces.
Cut the stopped grooves: Then move on to the stopped grooves in the top and bottom pieces. With two stop blocks clamped to the router fence so that the bit lines up in the mortise holes at each end, pivot down into the first hole with the router running, run the groove, and lift the workpiece out of the second hole.
Square up the mortises: Square up all four mortise holes in the bottom and top. They go all the way through. Both the top and bottom now have a groove centered on the wide faces, ending at the square mortises.
Cut the tenons: Cutting tenons on the sides of the frame is the last structural operation. With only one height setting, I cut the tenons on the tablesaw using a wide dado blade. Use a miter gauge with the rip fence as a stop. Small bevels on the tops of the tenons make the frame easier to assemble.
Prep for wedged tenons: The lower tenons are wedged. Saw a diagonal kerf in the bottom tenons. When the wedges are tapped in, the tenons will spread in all directions.
Bevel the top and bottom of the frame: When I was working out the original design and the artwork and glass panes were in place, everything fit well but looked too clunky. So, to give it a lighter appearance, I ripped a bevel down the sides of the top and bottom.
Add an angle to each end: Then, crosscut an angle on each end. With the tablesaw blade still tilted from the bevel, use a miter sled and cut angles on the ends of the top and bottom.
Assemble the frame and wedge the tenons: Once you’ve completed the joinery and beveling, sand all the parts to P220-grit and glue the sides to the bottom. Set the top in place for clamping, glue the wedges, and tap them into place. Saw the tenons and wedges flush, and then smooth the bottom with a block plane.
Prep for dowels: With the frame fully assembled, but without the artwork or glass, take a knife and mark the spot where each tenon protrudes through the top. Then remove the top and drill holes through the tenons, using shims so the tenons lie flat and are supported on the drill-press table. I make sure the hole overlaps the knife marks by about 1/32 in. By offsetting the holes like this, the dowels with a flat sanded on one side are then forced into the space, pulling everything tight. Using a dowel plate, make two dowels out of any very hard, tight-grained wood such as apple, rock maple, dogwood, or hornbeam. Begin with square stock and use a knife to cut a series of bevels around the end. Rounding the ends helps start the stock in the dowel plate. Then simply hammer the stock through the dowel plate.
Flatten the dowels: Flatten the dowels to create a perfect fit. Sand a flat into each dowel and then insert it, flat side against the top of the frame, until hand tight.
Cut the dowels to length: Fit the dowels and cut them to length, flush with the sides of the frame. The dowels are removable with hand pressure, although if you insert them in January and then want to open the frame in August, it helps to have a small block to push the dowels out.
Apply a finish: Finally, I applied two coats of Tried & True Danish Oil, polishing the first coat with 0000 steel wool after it dried.