Picture Frame Building

As an artist, picture frame building can save you a lot of money.

It becomes pretty expensive if you have to keep buying frames or having them made.

Before you start thinking about building frames, though, you should ask yourself several questions:

  • How much woodworking skill do you have?
  • Do you have the tools for frame building?

If you have no skills at all, find someone to help you who has the skills and tools to do the job.

If you think you do, and have the tools, or a friend who has the tools, then you are ready to begin.

Things you Need to Know

  • What is the size of the canvas?
  • Do you want a wide or narrow frame?
  • Does the canvas have to fit completely into the rabbet?
  • Is the frame going to be decorative or plain?

Let’s take a look at each one.

Canvas Size?

You need to know the length, width and depth. You need all three measurements, including the canvas depth, so you get the right thickness of wood to accommodate a rabbet big enough to hold the canvas.

Wide or narrow?

The wider the wood, the longer the length of wood you will need to make the frame.

A canvas 16 x 20 with a 2 in. wide frame requires 2 times 24 in. plus 2 times 20 in. or a minimum of 88 in.



Width and Depth of the Rabbet?

The standard width of the rabbet is ¼ in. This is important to know for when you are putting the frame together.

In the drawing above, I show the wood length and width as 20 x 24. The outside dimensions of the completed frame will actually be approximately 19.5 x 23.5 because the wood framing overlaps the canvas by ¼ in. on all four sides, thus reducing the outside dimensions by ½ in.

You can see that in the drawing below.

You probably want to leave a small space between the frame and the canvas to allow for irregularities. Make those adjustments at the end when you are “fine tuning ” the fit.

The wood must be thick enough to make a rabbet to hold the canvas.

If you want it flush as it is in the illustration immediately above, then the wood will have to be ½ in. thicker than the canvas.

Most standard canvases start at ¾ in. thick, so your wood has to be a minimum of 1 in., if you don’t mind the canvas not being flush in the back.

Generally, it is not a problem having the canvas 1/2 in. out the back. Once hung, you don’t even notice it.

Decorative or Plain?

For Decorative Molding,

    • Buy molding that is used for kitchen remodeling that all ready has a rabbet in it.
    • Buy lengths of molding from art molding supply outlets and then cut your own.
  • Make your own profile by using a router or shaper.

For Narrow Molding,

* Use a plain board 1 x 3 or 1 x 4.

* Turn it sideways to give you the depth for the rabbet.

* For this one, I also rounded the face edges with a quarter round router bit.


The better your tools are, the better the frame will come out.

Here are some examples of the ones I use.

A good miter saw makes the corners precisely 45 or 90 degrees depending on how you want the frame to go together.

If these angles are not exact, when you put the frame together, it will be misshapen and probably won’t fit well around the canvas.

The corners also will not go tightly together and have more of a chance of pulling apart once the canvas is in place and hung.

It is critical that the surfaces of the angle cuts be very smooth and exactly at 90 degrees to the face of the frame.

It is also critical that the length of opposing sides be identical. If they are not, you will not be able to produce 90 degree corners, no matter how precise your miters are.

This miter trimmer make accomplishing both of these criteria very easy and precise. It is a very handy tool to have if you are going to be doing a lot of frame making.

It trims off slivers of the wood making the surface very smooth.

It is also very useful for “fine tuning” the length of the boards to get an exact fit.

A router is necessary for making the rabbet and to shape the molding if you choose to do that yourself.

A Dado blade in your table saw also works very well for the rabbet.

Set it for a quarter inch width and adjust the depth according to canvas dimension.

If you don’t have a router for making the rabbet, you can make one by gluing a flat piece of wood to the back of your molding. Set it back a ¼ inch from the inner edge of the molding to form the rabbet.

There are several ways to join the corners.

The easiest and most effective way I found is to use special hot poly carbonate glue that sets up in 30 seconds.

They also have some that set up in 60 and 120 seconds, but the 30 second one works the best.

Other methods include:

  • Biscuits,
  • Mortise and tenon,
  • Making an over-lap joint if you are not mitering the corner.
  • Gluing with carpenter’s glue and then using brads on either side of the joint.

Devices you can use to put the frame together and achieve the 90 degree corners include:

A rope set up with four plastic corners that move around the rope to align the corners correctly.

This can also be used with many shapes other than a square or rectangle as the packaging illustrates.

These are very useful for small frames.

Metal clamps that form an “X” with adjustable corners for alignment.

These are best used for larger frames.



Well, what do you think? Are you ready to tackle picture frame building?

It is a challenge but worth the effort, time and money savings.

This entry was posted in Tools.

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