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How to Build Perfect Picture Frames
Tools and Materials
Learn how to use your custom tablesaw sled to build beautiful 8-in. x 10-in. picture frames
For lots of budding craftsmen and women, learning how to build a picture frame serves as an excellent lesson in basic woodworking principles. In a previous article, I showed you how to build a simple tablesaw sled for the construction of 8x10 picture frames. Now in part two, I'll show you how to put that sled to work as we craft an elegant 8-in. x 10-in. frame of mahogany. But first, a note on special tools and our custom picture frame stock. Below, you'll find a sketch of the basic profile of our frame. Built of 3/4-in. mahogany, our frame incorporates a chamfer and a rabbet (you'll need two router bits) into its design. You'll also see me using a special picture frame clamp in step 7. You can find this clamp for under $30 at Garrett Wade Tools.
How to Make
Step 1: Create Your Picture Frame Stock: I began the process by milling my picture frame stock on the router table. That said, you could use a handheld router as seen in the photograph. I would suggest cutting the bevel on both sides of a wider piece of stock, then ripping it in half on the tablesaw. Routing on wider stock will give your tool's baseplate more real-estate on which to set the router. Don't forget to then rout the rabbets in the back of the long frame stock to accept your frames. If your using a router table, cut the bevel on the front of the frame stock first, then cut the rabbet on the back of your frame stock.
Step 2: Rip your Frame Stock in Half: Rip your workpiece in half at the tablesaw. Afterwards, you can clamp down your long workpieces and rout the rabbet along the back of the frame stock (this will be the recess where your matted photo and glass will rest).
Step 3: Cut Your First Miter: At this point, you should have two pieces of long picture frame stock from which to cut your final four pieces. You'll need two long sides measuring in at 11-7/8-in. each, and two short sides measuring in at 9-7/8-in. each. Begin by making the first miter at the end of a piece of stock (no measurement required).
Step 4: Cut the Opposite Miter: Now, screw in your stop block to either one of the two positions and align the miter you just made with the stop block. Make the second cut. Congratulations, you've just cut your first frame side. Repeat this procedure for this piece's mate.
Step 5: Re-set Your Stop Block: Now readjust your tablesaw sled's stop block to the second position.
Step 6: Cut the Remaining Frame Pieces: Repeat the procedures outlined above for the second pair of sides. You should now have two pairs of frame sides.
Step 7: Assemble Your Clamp: With your four frame pieces cut to final size, you're ready to begin the glue-up process. For smaller frames like this, I've had good luck using a 4-way corner clamp. These clamps use threaded rods, corner pieces and little brass knobs that tighten the assembly together, drawing the frame's miters tight. At under $30, the price is right--especially if you plan on building several frames for gifts. For information on where to find this clamp, see the top of this post.
Step 8: Size Joints and Apply Glue: It's a good idea to "size" your joints before applying the final layer of glue. These almost end-grain (a miter exposes grain that's essentially halfway between edge grain and end grain) surfaces are going to suck up a great deal of glue, and sizing helps make a stronger bond. Simply moisten your finger with a bit of water and wipe on a bit of glue to each miter (photo-left). Allow that to dry for about a minute, then brush on a bit of undiluted glue.
Step 10: Clamp for Flush Surfaces: Use some bar clamps on the corners to draw the two surface faces that mate at each corner flush.
Step 11: Sand Your Frame: Use a sanding block and go over the entire frame with 220-grit, and then 320-grit paper. Be sure to use your sanding block on the chamfered edge as well, this will help to keep your corners crisp. You don't want to inadvertantly round over a detail like this chamfer.
Step 12: Apply Shellac: Dilute some clear shellac with denatured alcohol and use a foam brush to lay on a thin coat. I generally make a mixture containing about 60% shellac and 50% alcohol. Both shellac and denatured alchol are widely available at any hardware store. Allow the finish to dry for 3-4 hours.
Step 13: Sand and Repeat: After the shellac has dried, lightly sand the grain with 320-grit sandpaper (left). You should be left with a super-smooth surface. Next, blow off any sanding dust and use a tack rag (you can find these available at any hardware store) to remove any remaining dust (center). Finally, apply another coat of diluted shellac (right).
Step 14: Steel Wool for a Smooth Surface: After the second coat of finish has been allowed to thoroughly dry, rub the piece down with #0000 steel wool. The steel wool will smooth away any dust nibs and leave you with a very smooth surface. Next, apply another coat of diluted shellac, allow it to dry, and rub the frame down with steel wool once again. Allow the finish to cure for an additional 1-2 days.
Step 15: Apply Paste Wax: Apply brown paste wax with a lint-free cloth and allow it to dry for a minute or so. Next, buff it off with a clean cloth (right). You should be left with wood that seems to give off a warm glow.
Step 16: Attach a Frame Hook: With your frame upside down, mark it's center point (left) and nail on an alligator-style frame hook.
Step 17: Set Your Art into the Frame: After thoroughly cleaning your glass, place your entire art package (glass, matt board, photograph, and backer-board) into the back of the frame. Be careful not to leave any fingerprints on the inside of the glass!
Step 18: Use Glazier's Points to Fix Your Art Package: Glazier's points are used to set panes of glass into windows. They're also a great inexpensive alternative to specialized picture framer's tools that shoot points into the wood automatically. Simply use a putty knife to press the points into the frame. Be sure to apply gentle downward pressure as well, to be sure that your art package is firmly secured to the inside the of the frame. You don't want that glass to rattle!
Step 19: Seal in Your Art: Use paper gummed box tape to seal your art into the frame. This will prevent dust from gettting in behind the glass. Now step back and enjoy your new frame. All that's left is a hook and a wall on which to hang your new project!