Walnut picture frames.

A project by:

Gabriel B. Soares


May 2016

Build Time:

Two Weekends

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Finished frames

This is a fairly simple project that I decided to tackle after realizing I had a few prints that I thought would look better hanging on the wall than sitting on a shelf. Although I could have easily gone to a store and bought frames for both of these prints, I was not particularly enticed by the cheap, cardboard/MDF, solid color frames that you can buy for less than $20. I wanted these frames to have some character and stand out on the wall. I wanted something that would complement the prints and not look mass-produced. This meant going to the wood store, picking up a slab, and making my own frames.

Since these are the first frames that I've made, I made sure to take my time and applied the "Measure Twice, Cut Once" methodology. Although it took me two full weekends to build these two frames, I feel comfortable enough with the process that I think I could do the same project in a single weekend.

The slab of walnut that I bought was dimensioned for exactly these two frames and I did not have a lot of material to spare. All in all, the total cost of the frames came down to roughly $25 in materials and a couple hours of work.

Building the Frames:

In order to reduce the cost of this project as much as possible, I decided to start with a slab of wood rather than a pre-cut piece. Typically, a slab will be cheaper due to the imperfection of the wood (edges not straight, varying thicknesses, curvatures, etc) which means that there is some work that needs to be done in order to get the slab into a workable state (where the sides are straight and square). Although this adds some time to the build process, with the right tools (i.e. jointer and planer) it can be done easily and quickly. My first step was therefore to buy a slab of Walnut from Woodcraft, and take it to the shop to get a flat workpiece.

Once the slab has been processed into a straight board, it is just a matter of designing your frame and taking it to the table saw & router. The small print is 10 x 8in, and I opted for a 0.75in border with a 1/4in reveal (this means that the final total dimension of the frame is 10.5 x 8.5in). The large print is 12 x 16in, and I opted for a 1.5in border with a 1in reveal (with final dimension: 14 x 18in).

With the dimensions set, I cut the strips to size, and routed a 3/8in deep channel for the prints to sit. I then cut to length on the chop saw. The only real difficulty in all this process is making sure that all the cutting angles were exact and properly set (table saw at exactly 90˚ and chop saw at 45˚). With all the strips cut, I used a band clamp to glue everything together.

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Sanding and Finishing:

The sanding process is tedious but rather straightforward. I started with 120 grit, followed by 220, finishing with 320. At the end, the surface was extremely smooth and ready for finishing. For these frames I wanted to maintain the grain of the wood and so rather than staining the wood I decided to use Danish Oil. This allows the patterns of the wood and grain to really pop.

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Securing the prints:

Conventional frames use clamps or other types of hardware in order to secure the prints to the frame. Although I could have easily gone to the hardware store and bought conventional clamps for these, I decided to experiment with hardware that I had lying around from an old electronics-lab that I had dismantled and scavenged the pieces from. The hardware I have are U-shaped springs from a large breadboard which were used to hold jumper wires from one circuit to the other. I have a bunch of these and realized that if I cut them in half, I end up with two springs which can provide downward pressure against the frame. With this mechanism I could accommodate varying-sized prints and still get a firm grip without damaging the prints.

I then bought some thin plexiglass to protect the prints and give the same reflective surface that you'd get from glass. Lastly, I bought some mounting hardware so that I could hang these on the wall.

All-in-all, this was an enjoyable weekend project, and I've already started getting requests from friends and family to make custom frames for their prints and artwork.

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