How To Make Custom Picture Frames
Typical Cheap Frame
For this project, the subject was student-art pictures, oil on paper. Not meant for display, these were art class projects the art student would use as reference material, reminders of lessons and techniques learned earlier. Watching the student drag the paintings out of flat storage to flip through the pictures, watching the student carefully put them away for later reference, made me want to display them. I decided to use some decent but cheapo frames to hang the pictures on the wall as a set, in a place where the artist could easily study them.
The Hard Way
Hunting for Frames
Finding just the right frame for a picture can be challenging. Cheap ones look cheap and oversize ones need matting to fill in the gaps. My concern was having good-looking frames that fit the picture properly. I wanted to find appropriate frames for the pictures they would display. I searched and gave up and decided to make my own frames.
For the first frame, I did it the hard way. I bought an eight foot length of edge trim, dense pine suitable for staining. I paid fourteen bucks for the piece of wood and was able to make one frame for a 14 x 21 inch painting. I wore a dust mask and nitrite gloves. I cut the corner angels carefully, sanded and glued, applied stain. Let the stain dry for a day, added a coating of sealer. Waited another day, applied another coat of sealer and let it dry. Five days after the final coat, which was eight days after beginning the project, I brought the frame inside the house. Within minutes, my eyes burned from the chemicals used to stain and seal the frame. I set it back outside to air out for another week.
Cellulose Pre-Finished Trim
Cellulose to the Rescue
The time-consuming use of natural wood and chemical wood treatments was not practical. I just wanted some simple frames for a beginning art student’s reference material. I decided to pick up some pre-treated cellulose trim. Eight foot sections cost only five bucks, so I purchased three of them, enough to make three more frames. The cellulose material was made from corn cobs, so the saw dust was not a threat to my good health. I didn't need to wear a dust mask or gloves. After I finished the project I took a break before sweeping up the sawdust. Before I could sweep, birds came and ate the sawdust as a delicious snack and there were no splinters in my fingers, a fact that made me happy.
Trim pieces and moldings come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are intended as home interior finish trim, particularly as baseboards at the bottoms of walls where they meet the floor.
Wood is an excellent material for baseboard moldings and has been in use for centuries. However, newer products are available today, many of them lighter, more durable and easier to work with.
Cut Once and Re-check
Cellulose is easier to work with than wood. However, it does mean working more gently. Its brittleness requires slower, less forceful cutting. Also, the pre-treatment of the material meant I had to be more mindful of scratching the finished surface. The finished surface was durable and hard to scratch, but still, a scratch would be un-repairable so I had to keep that in mind.
In addition to baseboard moldings, strips of trim are available. Outside corners, inside corners, and edge trim are easily obtainable at home improvement and lumber stores. Edge trim pieces are ideal for making basic picture frames because they have a ledge on the back side. That ledge provides a recessed area in which to place the picture.
During my fruitless quest for a perfect frame I did find an inexpensive miter box and saw set, and I bought it. Lightweight and plastic, the miter box I bought was unsuitable for heavier jobs but perfect for the fine interior finish carpentry of picture frame construction.
Cellulose is also much lighter and more flexible than wood. This meant clamping it securely to achieve proper cuts. It took me a while to figure out how to get the clamps in place so that they didn't interfere with the strokes of the saw or mar the surface of the trim pieces, or damage the miter box. I put a block under the trim piece to press against the inside of the ledge and put the clamp against the wood block. But not too tight, to avoid breaking the plastic miter box.
I sanded the ends of the cut pieces of cellulose trim to remove the rough outer edge and provide a flat surface for the glue. I used high-quality wood glue and it adhered to the material as though it were soft, open-grained pine. After an hour, it was dry enough for me to flip the frame over and put a staple in each corner to add strength.
High Quality Glue
I found an area in my living room to hang the pictures without them being a distraction: on the wall right above the back of the sofa. The display area was effective, large enough to hold all four pictures and away from view when watching television. The selected display wall was dimly lit, which helps retard the effect of fading that light has on oil paintings over time.
The paintings themselves are the stars of the show and they are beautiful and well-done. I was happy to add to their appeal by properly framing and displaying them. Now they no longer look like art-student practice assignments. Now they look like serious art.