Painting Frame

Fine wood­work­ing! Well, my wood­work­ing at about the finest I have got­ten yet, any­way. My wife and I pur­chased a paint­ing from a friend of ours in the late Fall. Our whole fam­i­ly had been want­i­ng to buy one of his pieces for some time1. We final­ly decid­ed on the piece titled “Joy to the Wold”.

Joy to the World - Framed
Joy to the World — Framed

We of course hung it up imme­di­ate­ly but we knew it need­ed a frame. First of all, it would just look nice. But also, the can­vas stretch­er on this par­tic­u­lar paint­ing had a small warp in it and hope­ful­ly a frame would straight­en that out. I decid­ed to use Michael Alm’s approach to a “float” mount frame. This gives the appear­ance of the art­work float­ing freely with­in the frame bor­der. It also has the added ben­e­fit of using a “strain­er”, which is sort of a frame-with­in-the-frame. This would hope­ful­ly give some added strength in order to remove the warp­ing of the stretch­er. Hope­ful­ly

Also, this paint­ing is 40″ x 30″, which is by far the largest frame I’ve ever tried to make. And hon­est­ly, I haven’t made very many. But Michael Alm made it seem pret­ty straight-for­ward so I fig­ured I’d just jump in. First, I need­ed some lum­ber. I found a real­ly nice 4/4 (read as “four quar­ters”, or an inch thick) piece of wal­nut at the local Wood­craft that would be plen­ty of wood. I’ve also nev­er made any­thing out of wal­nut before and was anx­ious to try it. 

Milling Rough Walnut Board
Milling Rough Wal­nut Board

The first thing I need­ed to do was to mill down the wood as it was essen­tial­ly just rough cut (and had a live edge). While I do have a pla­nar now, I don’t have a join­t­er. So I splurged on a nice spr­i­al cut, flush trim router bit from Bits & Bits. This bit cost more than the lum­ber! But it should pret­ty much last a life­time. I was able to off­set one side of the router fence and the bit func­tioned as a per­fect join­t­er in my router table. After that I used the pla­nar to mill down the wood. Hon­est­ly, I should have cut it up some before hand, as prob­a­bly a sol­id 1/3 of the wood end­ed up in my dust col­lec­tion. But it was very flat, square, and even. I then just ripped it into 2 3/4″ strips on the table saw and the cut it to rough lengths on the miter saw. The wal­nut did have a few worm­holes which I filled with black CA glue.

Frame Pieces of Miter Sled
Frame Pieces of Miter Sled

I decid­ed to make two new jigs for this project, both based on Michael Alm’s method. The first was a 45° cut sled for the table saw. Why use this when I have a miter saw that can cut angles? Well, it’s hon­est­ly more pre­cise and repeat­able. It’s also far eas­i­er to slow approach the final length of each frame side. Last­ly, cut­ting miters on a thin, flat piece is real­ly just a pain on my miter saw. Any­way, the sec­ond jig was Michael Alm’s spline jig. I actu­al­ly went ahead and pur­chased his plan set, most­ly just to pay him back some­thing for all the infor­ma­tion I gained from his videos! But it did make adding splines to the cor­ners drop-dead simple. 

What’s a spline? Well, when you try to glue up a 1/2″ thick piece of wood at a 45°, it’s not a very strong joint. Espe­cial­ly not strong enough for a frame this size. A spline is a small sliv­er of wood that is glued into a cut across that joint. A pair of those at each cor­ner great­ly increas­es the strength of the joint. Those sliv­ers of wood were just sand­ed down pieces of left­over wal­nut. I know some wood­work­ers like to use dif­fer­ent species of wood to cre­ate con­trast­ing col­ors, but I want­ed these to be bare­ly noticeable. 

Frame Fit Test
Mak­ing sure that the frame fits before glu­ing it up.

After adding the splines and glu­ing up the out­er frame, I made the stretch­er out of some 3/4″ ply­wood scrap. I also had to make a third jig (though this one real­ly sim­ple) in order to drill some pock­et holes to con­nect the two frames (stretch­er inside the out­er frame). Pro-tip: if you’re going use this method, make sure to drill those holes before you start assem­bling the stretch­er frame. That was real­ly awk­ward to hold on my drill press. I used some water-based “onyx” stain from Gen­er­al Fin­ish­es for the stretch­er. Paint­ing it dark or black basi­cal­ly makes it dis­ap­pear with­in the shad­ow of the art/outer frame.

Staining the Strainer
Stain­ing the Strainer

I used some old­er Varathane Clas­sic wood stain on the wal­nut. The col­or was “spe­cial wal­nut” which was the favorite of sev­er­al stain sam­ples we tried. I real­ly don’t even recall when I bought that stain, but it worked like a charm and is real­ly a beau­ti­ful col­or. I did­n’t do any pro­tec­tive coat or oth­er fin­ish­ing, as this is a frame and not like­ly to get han­dled much.

Staining the Walnut Frame
Stain­ing the Wal­nut Frame — those miters and splines were just about perfect

I have to say, I’m real­ly proud of how this turned out. The frame did­n’t ful­ly take out the warp of the art­work, but it is an improve­ment. But the frame real­ly adds just enough to the piece to real­ly make it feel spe­cial, with­out tak­ing away from the art itself.

Painting, Strainer, and Frame
Paint­ing, Strain­er, and Frame

  1. Seri­ous­ly, the kids were dis­cussing pool­ing their mon­ey to buy a small­er piece a cou­ple of years ago! []

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.

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