Creating Custom Profile Picture Frame Moldings

Remember I once referred to myself as wanting to be known as a “boutique framer”?  Maybe a bit overly ambitious but it’s something that has evolved as much out of necessity and as a challenge to see what I can accomplish.  There are few places that carry or mill custom profiles, here in the west Foster Planing Mills comes to mind.  I’ve used them several times and they once created a custom profile for Diane and I.  Also visited them in Los Angeles to check out their seconds area where they have a selection of moldings that are discontinued or left over from other production runs — great prices!  You can order any length you need but at $2.00 – $10.00+ per foot plus shipping it can get to be a bit much!  Here in Phoenix there is Barger Molding  that has milled a hundred feet of another custom profile but they don’t stock moldings like Fosters does.

So, what’s all this leading up to?  A commission for two more frames that I thought I’d share with you.  You may recall that for me it’s all about the process.  The profile for one of the frames is similar to the Christine Profile but thicker to accommodate the painting which is on 1/2″ thick Gatorboard.  What I really enjoy is knowing that a project started with what you see at the left picture and, after a number of hours culminated with what you see on the right.

Flattening One Face

Unfortunately no one carries any 6/4 Basswood here in town so buying the 8/4 meant a lot of waste.  I do need that thickness for the other frame so not a total waste.  The lumber was purchased at Timbers in Mesa and I ask them to sweeten one edge since I don’t have a power jointer — my #7 Stanley works well though; yes. I could do the whole process with it but sometimes it’s worth a couple of bucks to have them start it. The edge they gave was fairly square but nowhere as smooth as a hand plane will get it.   As you can see in this picture, the board needed to be flatten which was done with my shop made scrub plane and winding sticks.  Now they could be run through the power planer to the required thicknesses.  I won’t bore you with the step by step details of milling this profile but basically after the stock was brought to thickness it was first ripped to width.  Then the sight edge is cut on the router table followed by the two passes to route the grooves.  There is also a slight chamfer on the outer edge which is initially cut on the tablesaw then planed smooth after assembly.  The frame for my client is only 4″ x 6″ and so not to hide too much of the painting behind the rabbet it’s only about 3/16″ deep.  When routing grooves you’ll find that one side may be rougher than the other which is due to the bit cutting against the grain on one side of it and with the grain on the other.  A tadpole sander is the remedy for that.

While machining the wood for my client I also machined enough in 1 1/2″ thickness for a 20″ x 20″ frame for Diane.  The time factor for much of this type of work is related to machine set up so I like to make more of a molding than what my client needs at the time.  The goal is to eventually have enough custom molding that I’ve made on hand to frame someone else’s work.  My luck I’ll be 8″ short and have to start fresh anyway!

Cutting Miters, large frame in foreground


Now it’s time to miter all of the pieces which is accomplished with the jig I’ve made for the SawStop.  Frames are joined with a glue and a #20 biscuit in each corner for strength.  Although this takes more time than using V-nails pneumatically driven into the bottom I’m convinced my frames will stand the test of time and not separate.


Fine tuning the chamfer


Once the frame is removed from the clamps (overnight) the final step was to smooth out the chamfers and do any touch up sanding.  The last step done today was brushing on a coat of traditional red burnisher/sealer.  This will be burnished and top coated with Japan Black.  The painting for this frame is a nude on a predominantly red background.  The Japan Black will be rubbed back to expose the red clay in a hit or miss fashion to replicate what many years of age and handling would have naturally done to the frame.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Utilitarian Project: Miter Saw Stand


This was one of those projects I’d been meaning to get around to for quite some time but it seems something more interesting always came up!  I don’t use a “chop saw” too often in my work so maybe that’s why it’s been on the back burner.  Years ago I decided that for my work a 10″ or 12″ sliding miter saw just wasn’t needed.  When the 10″ Hitachi I used to have finally gave out it was replaced with this Makita 7 1/2″ model that I really like.  Back in the Las Vegas shop there was a dedicated station for it but since moving here it’s been mounted on a piece of plywood and clamped to the workbench whenever needed — a real pain!  The unit you see on the left will make using it quicker and easier for sure.

It’s mounted on Harbor Freight urethane wheels which roll quite nicely.  The two in front lock.  Construction was pretty straight forward using leftover Alder from other projects.  Honestly, it was a challenge taking the random width and thickness stock I had and mill it to somewhat uniform dimensions to make the framework.  Basically it’s panel and frame construction with 1/4″ Douglas Fir plywood from Home Depot. There wasn’t enough material to make a separate unit for the front so assembly was kind of tricky, those crossmember are lap joints and glued/clamped together while the plywood is held in place by grooves.  The finish is also some left over General Finishes EnduroVar in a satin, 3 coats.  That was from the laundry sink project so should be more than adequate for this shop cabinet.  In keeping with my “whole world is my spray booth” philosophy the finish was sprayed outside.  It’s been in the mid to upper 90’s here so drying time was short!

The final step was to figure out an easy way to make extension wings.  The top of the stand is that 3/4″ coated Baltic Birch plywood so using that for the wings made sense.  They are simply hinged to the sides which extend from the plywood about 1/4″ less than the table height of the saw.  To support them the remaining scrap of the plywood is used, you’ll notice a cleat screwed onto the bottom of the wing.  By clamping a straight edge to the saw table and then clamping the wing to that all I needed to do was measure how long the support needed to be.  The support sits on the horizontal member of the side and under the cleat on the wing — picture’s worth a thousand words:

Storage capabilty

Besides needing a stand for the miter saw another thing needed was a place to store the boxes I have on my Etsy Store.  No sense leaving them in the garage and the extreme temperature variations we have.  Now they, and much of the packing can be kept in boxes in this unit.  It’s all good now — next projects are to make some more boxes as my inventory is pretty low.  Hopefully that’ll be done before the hoped for and anticipated Christmas season.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christine Profile Frames Completed!

If you recall from the last POST about this particular series of frames I was getting down to the finish line.  Many steps required to complete this series of 15, 4″ x 6″ frames.  In that post the process of making the molding was talked about and I’ve received several questions on my blog asking what I use to create the profiles.  When you look at picture frame molding they are basically a series of coves, outside curves, and angles arranged in a pleasing way.  If the work requires a number of frames like this job I tend to use more of power tools like the tablesaw, router table, or cutters in my antique Rockwell Shaper.  My personal preference though is to go “hybrid” and use power tools for the roughing out but hand tools for the finish work.  I’d rather work with the quietness of a beading plane than the noise and dust of a router anytime! This POST illustrates that process.

Christine Profile

This picture shows the Christine Profile, you can see that there are a couple of coves, a chamfered outside edge, a decorative sight edge, and a rabbet.  Whenever a job like this is taken on it’s best to come up with a systematic approach — discussed that in the first blog.  Prior to assembly everything was laid out and ready to go.

My favorite clamp is the Merle band clamp.  I’ve had one of these forever but knew that if I could only glue up one frame at a time it would take a long time to complete this job.  Luckily, found 2 of these used from one seller on eBay for less than $50.00 including shipping — nice!  All of my frames are assembled with biscuits/glue and clamped for at least 4-6 hours.  That way 3 were clamped in the morning and the other 3 late afternoon.  I’ve only had one joint like this fail and that was on a frame (for my daughter no less) that went from the dry desert up to Spokane, Washington!  The frames were then finished, five at a time.

The finish process on these was with spray paint.  The technique for them was to apply a red primer followed by a satin black.  Timing is everything and unfortunately, paint manufacturers are constantly changing their formulas which means timing is everything.  Can’t stress enough to make test pieces.  The goal is to create a finish that looks as if it’s been around for some time, if you want a new looking frame buy the plastic ones at your local big store box!  I was given artistic license on this job and wanted to rub back some of the black to reveal the undercoat.  This is accomplished with wax and a white scotch pad.  Very difficult to photograph that but I’ve tried here.  This process is one of the few times I’ll wear gloves, that black gets into my pores and is hard to remove.

Tried to be random in the rubbing back process.  Some frames I concentrated on sight edge, outer edge, coves, the face, etc.  I’ve seen commercial frames where the same “rub out” occurs every 6″ or so.  It’s always wise to mold a bit more wood than what you think you need.  Murphy’s Law right? Seems that if I don’t make extra I need it but make the extra and you end up with more.  In this case it worked out just fine, Diane needed a 14″ x 18″ frame for a recently competed painting and also liked this profile.  There was enough left to make her frame, however; gold was on her mind!  For a comparison here is the same profile finished two ways.  For her frame there is a base coat of red burnisher/sealer followed by a brushed on coat of Japan Black.  Between those two processes the sight edge was gilded with composition gold.  This was all rubbed back with oil and rottenstone.  Other than the appearance, the major difference is that her frame took about 3 times as long to finish as the others but wanted to show how the same profile can be finished in different ways.

My client has been pleased with what she’s seen through the blog with her frames and will be picking them up soon — looking forward to seeing her reaction when she sees them in person.




Posted in Artist, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christine Profile Frame Progress

As mentioned, this project falls into the realm of mass production but still is enjoyable to me.  What’s that saying about if you enjoy what you’re doing it really isn’t work?  That’s how I feel about this because you do have to keep on your toes, sometimes repetitious processes lend themselves to mistakes more so than a singular complicated process.  In any case, thought I’d share the progress so far and ……. for those inquiring minds that want to know these things there is approximately 6.45 hours of actual work time into this project.

Here’s the beginning and ending stages of the work so far — Basswood from Woodworkers Source was of great quality.

The first step was to rip those wide boards to 3″ width, they were 6′ long and right around 10″ wide.  Creating the profile required three separate set-ups on the router table plus a dado set up to create the rabbet.  Pieces were then cut to 11″ and 13″ and the outer edge was planed smooth while the coves were sanded by using a tadpole sander.  Here’s a collage to illustrate the process:

After this work was complete the pieces were all mitered to the required size.  This was followed by cutting a slot for a #20 biscuit in each end.  Just curious, do any of you that use a biscuit joiner find that the biscuit is usually too tight?  I end up cutting the slot twice; for the second cut I increase the depth ever so slightly.  This allows for a bit of movement as the clamps are placed on the frame.

It’s always tricky cutting the biscuits on the left side of the frame, good thing I’m somewhat ambidextrous!  Looks like it’s time for glue ups!

Posted in Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Picture Frames & DMT Stones

Over the weekend I was able to install the two large floater frames recently completed, aka The VanDamFloat.  Might as well name them in my clients honor!  The paintings are quite large and this step wouldn’t have been possible without their help.  After laying a protective pad on that beautiful dining table you see in the picture, the frame was placed face up.  Next the painting was inserted into it and spacers located it properly within the frame.  I had pre-drilled holes  in the frame so with the use of a gimlet, the stretchers were then pre-drilled and the frame attached with screws from the back.  The rectangular one measures 3′ x 6′  while the other was approximately 4′ square.  As you can see, the frame itself is minimal and there is a 3/4″ reveal all the way around.  They were very pleased with the frames and it’s difficult to see the slight reveal of red clay on it.  These frames isolate the paintings from the rest of the room and put them into their own world — agree?

Christine Profile

Keeping the frame theme going, there was mention of a possible commission of 15 small frames for a local artists’ upcoming show.  That came through so that’ll be the next project coming out of the shop.  The size of these is 4″ x 6″ and the profile will be milled from Basswood.  There is a good possibility that this job will lead to a furniture commission of creating and building a portable bar.  My client is in the process of buying and renovating a house and I committed to working on this really beautiful Walnut chest of drawers they found.  It’s in the Mid-Century modern style and will be used for a double vanity.  The drawers need to be modified to clear the plumbing so that’ll be my contribution to that project.

Lastly, let me talk about the DMT continuous diamond stones.  Always trying to keep organized so decided the best way to safeguard this investment was to make holders for them — heck; they tell me these will last my lifetime and then they can be passed on!  Simple plywood and Alder holders, the small one clamps on to the edge of the carving bench while the larger one clamps into the vise on my main bench.  The holes are to make it easier to remove them and you can see the storage rack for the 3″ x 8″ stones in the background.



Posted in Picture Frames, Tool Sharpening | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Shop Happenings Since Last Post

VanDam Floater Frame

Waiting to go home

I’m in a holding pattern on the two, large floater frames right now.  In the last post they were almost completed.  Thankfully my client is willing to help with the installation of them and the earliest time he’s available is this coming Saturday.  In the meantime they are standing against the wall and I make very sure not to get anything sharp or hard around them.  They have a very large dining table and we will lay the frame on it (on a pad) then insert the painting into the frame.  Next,  3/4″ spacers will be inserted between the frame and painting and then the frame will be attached through the back.  There are pre-drilled, oversized holes for that purpose.  The paintings are already wired quite securely so that will stay, there may need to be a relief cut into the frame for the holders to clear but a coping saw should take care of that without any problem.  In case you’re curious, the picture on the wall is my daughters graduation picture and the MGB I restored for her; 1996!

New Sharpening Stones

Sharpening, one of the skills that’s needed to work wood successfully and another one of those where there are a bizillion opinions on how to achieve it.  Like many of you that have been at this craft for a long time, my first sharpening work was done on an assortment of oil stones.  Then, somewhere around the mid-80’s (I think) the Japanese water stones became the thing to use and wow, did they ever give an edge and shine on our blades!  If you use them you know their downside; somewhat messy, constant flattening required, and prone to cracking which I’m guessing is a result of needing to pre-soak them prior to use which is yet another downside.  The quality stones I’ve had for 5-6 years have developed cracks so I’ve been wrestling with buying another, highly rated water stone or go with something else. One other consideration during this process is that with water stones I didn’t have the ability to sharpen a tool quickly while in use.  My habit would be to work with a tool that needed sharpening until it just didn’t perform at all.  Then eventually, when there were a number of them it would be time for a long sharpening session.

Ceramic and Diamond stones seemed to be the new way to go.  After lots of internet research and asking questions my choice were the DMT Continuous Diamond stones.  Ceramic, notably Shaptons were highly rated and in the running but according to what I found out, they too need to be flattened and their recommended flattening plate is $300.00+!  After talking with Kurt a couple of times at the Woodcraft store in Chandler, I was on my way to purchase the 3″ x 8″ stones in the Fine, Extra Fine, and Extra-Extra Fine grits.  I’ve been using their smaller stones in the fine and extra fine for my carving tools and liked them a lot.  You don’t get the “shine” with these that you do with water stones but a leather strop will let you achieve that.

Thought I’d make a slide show of the progress and eventual results of the first session with these DMT stones.  Do any others of you use that saying: “if you see something, you have nothing” when it comes to sharpening?  Can’t recall who I got that from but basically, if you look at your edge and see something, you’re not sharp.  Using Ron Hock’s definition of a sharp edge being where two planes come together you shouldn’t see anything at all.  That’s what I meant in the second slide.  The plane is an old Stanley block plane that I’ve had for at least 40 years and it’s the original blade.  Kurt suggested making a storage tray for them where they stood on edge to save space and avoid banging together, a piece of scrap plywood and some spiral glue dowels got that accomplished!  After the final work with the extra-extra fine stone it was suggested to remove the wire edge that is formed by the sharpening process on a strop rather than on the stone like you would with a water stone.  That worked and added just a final bit of polish to the blade.  So far – so good!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Work

There’s a potential framing job on the horizon, one that’s currently having a corner sample made up for.  It’s for a run of 10-15 frame that measure 4″ x 6″.  We’re discussing the finish but leaning towards a satin black over red clay and then antiqued/burnished to give a sense of age.  The other thing that I don’t want to share just yet is a wild and crazy carving concept I’ve had in my head for quite some time.  Some of you may recall my carved Carhartt Work Shorts and it’s along that same concept.  If you’re interested in seeing what I’m talking about, here’s a LINK to the shorts.  Tell you the truth, with all of the political and social turmoil/B.S. going on these days I need something which will allow me to escape that.  Nothing like getting engrossed in a carving project to make the time and world go away!

Old Work

Sliding Door, Alder

I finally had the chance to take a picture of the installed, sliding door.  Very difficult to get enough distance in the room but you can see how it looks in place.



Posted in Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames, Tool Sharpening | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

VanDam Float; New Picture Frame Commission

If you saw my last post it had to do with the approach I took to making a floater type frame for Diane’s latest painting.  I gave a definition and explained how it was made, here’s a link if you’d like to check it out.  That must of been a premonition for my next commission because I was asked to replicate a frame for a client.  They have three beautiful paintings by the same artist and only one of them was framed.  These are stretched canvas on 1 1/2″ thick stretcher bars, the edges have been painted so they asked for a wider reveal (3/4″) than what was done on Diane’s frame.  One of the paintings measures 40″ x 45″ and the other is 36″ x 72″.  The frame itself is minimal, only 1/2″ thick x 2″ wide.  For that size of a painting I knew the frame needed to be reinforced.  Oh yes, the name VanDam Float was chosen because that’s the clients name!  After making up a corner sample to show them, they gave me a deposit and we’re off and running.

For the frame itself Basswood will be used and then 3/8″ Baltic Birch plywood will make up the “float” area and serve to reinforce the frame.  I always enjoy the hand planing process, especially when it involves a board of this size.  This project started with an 8/4 thick piece of Basswood that was about 6″ wide and 10′ long.  Not having a power jointer of my own I’ll have the lumber yard sweeten one edge; aka straight line rip.  Then it’s time to put the old Stanley #7 Jointer plane to work.  Watching those shavings come through the throat always makes me feel good so thought I’d try to share it with you, probably should have had the camera a little further out there but you get the idea.  Always reminded of hearing that in shops of old they would nail the longest continuos shaving to the wall and whoever made it could sign it — got one almost 6′ long from this board!

Pretty straight forward process.  After one edge was planed smooth and square the board was ripped to 2 1/4 width, this will make 3 pieces for the frame so the process was repeated to get the rest.  One face was planed before to guide against the bandsaw fence for resawing the required 1/2″.  After resawing off one piece the sawn edge of the board was planed again and then resawn until all 3 pieces were cut.  These were run through the planer to a uniform thickness.  Now that those were ready it was time to rip the plywood down to 3″ wide strips.  Each of the boards have a 1/4″ x 1/4″ groove and the plywood has a corresponding tongue on one edge and end.  After cutting the sides to the required length the plywood and sides were glued together.

Corner Detail

To reinforce this frame and give the 1/2″ sides strength here’s what I came up with.  These joints are staggered around the frame, in other words the plywood goes to the miter on one end but is shy of the miter on the other.  Although you can’t see it in the picture, the plywood on the bottom piece has a tongue cut into it that glues into the groove on the piece.  The miter will be glued as well then have a few brads shot into to secure it while the glue dries.  There is also a masonite gusset that will be glued and clamped on the back over the plywood splice.  Lots of things going on at one time but by the end of the day, both frames have been assembled.  The 72″ one had to have the plywood spliced since Baltic Birch generally comes in 5′ square sheets.

Posted in Picture Frames, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment