The Color of Asphalt – Frame #197

An advantage I have when it comes to doing frames for my wife, Diane Eugster is that I get a sneak preview of her work when I go into her studio.  Many times what I see inspires a frame design and that was the case with this painting of hers titled  The Color of Asphalt.

The painting is of a photograph she took on a trip to New York City.  The architecture of the building and then the lines of the crosswalk made me think that the frame for this should feature a linear design, draw the viewer in, and compliment the palette.  The painting is 16″x20″ and the frame is about 3  1/2″ wide.

Resawing pieces for the steps — surfaced to 3/16″

Work started with 1  1/18″ Basswood which I get locally from Peterman Lumber, I really like this material.  After ripping it to width a slight chamfer was cut on the tablesaw.  I wanted the “steps” to be even and found the easiest way to accomplish that was to use metrics.  I know;  as a woodshop teacher who fought the metric phase during the 80’s and 90’s this is shocking!!  However, I must admit now that it’s so much easier and the rip fence on my SawStop shows Imperial and Metric measurements so there was no need to do any conversions.  The first layer only needed a rabbet and the chamfer on the sight edge.  The other pieces were chamfered on all four edges, the plan was to resaw them and rip to the required width to make the steps.

After the frame was assembled (biscuits, glue, overnight clamp) each step was attached one at time.  They were initially cut with a miter saw then I used a shooting board for the final fitting. Lines were drawn to make sure the 23gauge pins would be concealed by the next level.  I don’t feel there’s enough holding power with pins so each step was glued, pinned and then clamped overnight.  I had to use parallel clamps for the last step due to the thickness of the frame, they gave me a little bit of movement.

There are three layers/steps on the frame and I anticipated that glueing them up and keeping the edges perfectly aligned would be a challenge — I was right.  To handle that the first step was to scrap off the glue and then use a Jack Plane to even them.  There was still a visible joint in a few spots that needed to be taken care of so Durhams Rock Hard Water Putty came to the rescue.  I mentioned this on a picture framers group on Facebook and was asked why this product.  If you’ve never used it, it’s my goto for any nail holes or repairs.  Harder than any pre-mixed product plus it will never dry out since you mix up a fresh batch whenever it’s needed.  Nothing more annoying than having to patch something and you open that can or tube of putty only to find it’s hard as a rock!

After all of that work it was time to figure out the finish.  Here’s where all of the work making the frame can be ruined.  Using gold leaf didn’t seem like a good choice for this contemporary painting so the next option is usually black.  It’s my habit to make sample pieces and on one full corner piece I made I tried a semi-gloss black over primed wood.  It was too shiny and the Basswood grain and miters telegraphed through — not acceptable.  Each  layer was sanded after attaching it to the frame and before applying the next layer/step to get them as smooth as possible.  The finish started with 6 coats of hard traditional gesso.  Brushing would have  been a nightmare so flat black spray was my choice.  After doing some sample pieces and liking it the entire frame was done.  Usually I prefer to either wax or use shellac over painted surfaces but for this frame that didn’t look right.  It needs (IMHO) that flat look that is “just like asphalt”!  By the way, Diane decided that would be a good title for her work.




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Frame Talk #3: Ebonizing Basswood

Earlier this year I did a blog post on ebonizing Red Oak for a picture frame.  It brought a lot of responses and comments and while I was doing the process I also tried the solution on a piece of basswood.  Much to my surprise, the Basswood turned shades of grey with a slight greenish/brownish hue!  Keep in mind that the ebonizing process isn’t totally predictable.  I’ve had some Oak turn out black and others a deep shade of brown.  Here’s the results, the painting is by Diane Eugster and it has been accepted into the Oil Painters of America National Show which will be held in Fredericksburg, TX.

The colors Diane used for this painting is why I chose to attempt this technique for the frame.  I feel the frame fulfills its intended function; compliment the art and put it into its own world.  There was one black streak in the frame which I put in the lower left corner, I felt that here it’s minimized by the dark of the painting.  Had it been on the upper corner it would have stuck out like that proverbial sore thumb!

Once the frame was built it was time to do the ebonizing.  To give you a visual I made this video ….. I’ll say in advance that it’s the best I could do! You can actually see in real time how this process works in this  short video.  This is the first coat, I ended up doing three coats several hours apart.  Interesting that when doing a new coat the solution beaded up at first and then began to soak in.

3 Coats, even the plywood took some color!

After the final coat the finish was quite flat and dull.  After experimenting on my test pieces I discovered that spraying a couple of coats of Platinum Shellac gives the nicest finish.  This is done with an airbrush then rubbed out with wax and a white scrubby. This picture shows the frame after 3 coats or so of the vinegar/steel wool solution had been applied.  The dark piece in the middle is Sapele I wanted to try!

This painting was on a panel so the first thing needed was to glue 1/4″ plywood to the back of the frame so it could be attached to the frame with screws.  On a smaller piece a simple rub joint would be sufficient but this is 20″ x 24″ so decided to play it safe and clamp them in place.  There are oversized holes in the frame so the painting can be centered, I use #6 screws for this process.  I’m a big fan of gimlets to pre-drill the hole in the back of the painting — very little chance of going through to the artwork!

So that’s it, although the process is a  time extensive process it’s not a frame you’ll find on every painting in a gallery or someones home.  That’s the thrill, creating a one of a kind frame to showcase someones art.

Posted in Diane Eugster art, Floater Frame, Frame Talk, Picture Frames, Tutorial, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fun with Chisels and a Stanley 271 Router Plane

In my last blog I went thought the process of making a small, dovetailed box from Red Oak and Chechem — some small pieces of wood from my shop.  I’ve never had a large supply of wood on hand and with the Covid-19 crisis of course I can’t just run down to Woodworkers Source to get more.  The dovetails turned out okay and the box will be added to my inventory at the Store at Mesa Art Center.  Here’s how it looks, the lid design is based on a series of boxes I did quite some time ago and called the A River Runs Through It:

Red Oak has never been one of my favorite to work with, seems as if in the 80’s and 90’s every cabinet job I had was out of that material.  Although good for cabinetry I’ve always found it difficult to work with hand chisels since it tends to be grainy even with the sharpest of tools.  For this little box I could have easily had a lift off lid but decided it would be a great time (socially distanced as we are) to spend the time to install stop hinges from Rockler.  Could have been done rather quickly by making a jig and using a router but enjoy hand tools and the challenge much more.

Scribing on the Masking Tape

Lay out was difficult because of the graininess of the Oak. Scribed lines quickly disappear, especially with older eyes!  I remembered a trick way to lay out dovetails using masking tape and decided to give that a try — it worked so thought I’d share it with you.  It starts by putting down a piece of tape and then locating and scribing the hinge locations directly onto the tape.

Beginning Chisel Cuts


Once they’re on, simply peel back the tape outlining the hinge location and chop it out with your chisel.  I use the same technique here as you read about in the dovetail blog, after severing the fibers of the wood across the grain I take a sliver of wood from the back edge to get a sharp edge for the hinge to reference to.  If you’ve chiseled hinge mortises before you’re probably wondering how did I set the depth?  My technique for this is to use a small router plane, in my case an old Stanley 271.  I set the depth off of the thickness of the hinge and use the edge of the blade to score the depth. Just like cutting a larger mortise, the ends are squared off and a series of shallow chisel cuts are made along the length. First pass is with a chisel to about half the depth. After another series of chisel cuts the router plane is used to remove the waste and the hinge is ready for installation.  The same technique is used on the box.

The lid lift was installed the same way, you can see the mortise for it on the picture above.  Anyway, that’s my trick for the day and hopefully you’ll find it useful in your own work.



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Another Dovetail Tutorial: Social Distanced!

The Covid-19 virus really changes how we go about our daily business I figured another tutorial on hand cut dovetails may be something my followers would be interested in seeing and hopefully sharing with their fellow woodworkers and friends virtually since our normally isolated manner of working is now even more isolated.  I’ve always referred to all of my contacts I have on Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, etc. as my imaginary friends — I hope you’re all well and healthy.

This subject is almost like sharpening tools, ask 10 woodworkers the same question and you’re likely to get 12 different answers!  My clients are unable to complete some orders they have with me because of their work layoffs and artists I have frames for have had their shows cancelled.    Checked my limited supply of wood and found a piece of Chechem and also some Red Oak so decided to make this little box.  Any project is a good one to hone and keep your skills up is my philosophy. This is the way I’ve been cutting dovetails for decades and for sure not the only way but here goes.  For starters, I’m a “tails first” dovetailer.  I won’t get into all of the various ways of  laying them out but these are a bit different in that I’m starting and ending with a half tail.  It’ll be a small, lidded box and I like to see a continuous piece of wood when the box is opened.

I start by rabbeting the ends, similar to the old Stanley 140 trick.  I used to use the tablesaw but now use a skew rabbet plane for this operation. My preference is to cut both boards at the same time.  For the tail lay-out I use a pencil since the pin board will be cut to what is scribed from the tail.  Regardless of what type of saw you use for this it’s a good practice to wax it.

Think about the chisel bevel, it will tend to force the cutting edge back.  To compensate for that I always cut a little pocket as shown in picture #1.  The first 3/16″ or so of the cut is 90° to the face but after that it’s okay to do a slight undercut.  I don’t use a coping or fret saw to remove the waste between the tails and rarely need to pare the base.  It’s crucial that your cuts are square, adjust them before you lay out the pin board.  I’ve found that a small double square like the one from Lee Valley works great for this.

4.) Bottom Groove

The final step in my process is to plow a groove for the bottom to fit into using a small plow plane.  The rabbet made for that 140 trick is 1/4″ so a 3/16″ deep groove won’t cut into the tail — much easier than a stopped groove.  That takes care of the front and back and the Red Oak was pretty easy to work with.  The Chechem was a different story! This piece has been in my stack for some time so besides its inherent hardness, baking in the Phoenix heat didn’t make it any easier to work.  Here’s a technique I use when I question how well a board will react to dovetailing.  I knew the box would be around 5″ deep and I only had 13″ of the Chechem.  Cut it in half, do the pins on one end and if they fail there’s enough to trim them off and start anew — did that twice on the first piece!

Two tricks here, the first is pretty straight forward and that is to use a piece of chalk in your scribed lines to help you see the piece.  The other is this transfer jig I found years ago on the net from I believe, a British woodworker.  You can see it in better detail in this BLOG.  It’s much more secure than using a block of wood or your plane (traditional way) to support the tail board as you balance it on the pin board. I raise the pin board up in this jig to do the cuts.  It’s a minor issue but flip the board around when sawing so that you always have the cut line in your vision.

In picture #1 you can see the jig in use, everything is securely held while scribing the joint. Be mindful of cutting on the waste side of the line, for this small piece the outer pieces were sawed off.  Same technique to remove waste between the two pins, relief cut for the chisel bevel then chopped out — a mistake many make is trying to take out huge chunks of wood, better to remove smaller ones and have less work cleaning up.

Clamped up till morning, yea; it’s square!

Last of all, it’s time to glue up.  My preference is Old Brown Glue and since it’s a hardwood using softwood cauls covered with packing tape allows the wood to protrude into them.  Sorry, as usual I got a bit long winded but hopefully it was a somewhat enjoyable read and you where able to get something from it.  I do glue ups on a piece of Marlite which is fairly easy to scrap the glue off of afterwards.


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Frame Talk #2: Sherri Profile

Establishing myself as a local “boutique” frame maker means I need to let Phoenix artists know and understand what I can do for them and their art.  Of course I have some prejudice but I look at the frame and the art as a package deal.  There are many reasons an artist doesn’t look for that special frame to compliment their work but the main one is budget. The goal I have is to help them overcome that.

I have several artists that I do work for and have created their own profile.  Sometimes they ask for a one of a kind creation like a tabernacle frame but most times they have an upcoming show or client and just want their works to have a cohesive look that sets them apart from the mass produced, probably imported frames the big box stores and internet have to offer.  In most instances, if I’m asked to make one frame it may be priced at let’s say $85.00 but if I do 3 of them at the same time the price will lower to maybe $65.00 or less.  If you understand the process of making them you’ll see that much of the time is spent setting up my equipment but once it’s set up I can run 30′ of material for several frames in just  slightly more time than it would take to run 6′ for one frame.  Allow me to explain the process without getting too technical as Diane says I tend to get!  Here’s the completed Sherri Profile frame:

The process of frame making is to start with Basswood, in this case 1 1/16″ thick.  The first step is selecting wood that will let me get as many pieces of the required width without a lot of waste.  For this frame we wanted about 3″ wide and the stock I found was slightly less than 6″ but that was fine with my client.  Once in the shop the wood is hand planed to give a straight edge so it can be ripped on the table saw.  I also hand plane the faces to remove all mill marks.

The next step for this particular frame was forming the beads.  I prefer doing this with a hand plane but in this instance I set up a cutter in my “almost antique” Rockwell shaper and then sanded them with tadpole sanders to remove any mill marks.

After mitering the pieces they are joined with glue and clamped overnight.  I cut a slot for what’s referred to as a biscuit.  This reinforces the joinery.  Commercial frames will only be joined with metal fasteners driven in from behind — no glue.  My technique is referred to as a closed corner frame and is much stronger and better appearing than mass produced frames.  The frame will be finished after the mitered joint is planed/sanded as smooth as possible.  This particular frame was finished with a traditional red burnisher/sealer followed with black Japan black paint which is hand burnished.  The sight edge has been oil gilded with composition gold leaf.  The over-all goal is to replicate some aging and patina to the frame which will expose some of the base coat as well as crackling of the gold.  This aspect of frame tends to be somewhat flexible, you can never predict how the gold leaf may crack or fault or how much of the base coat will be exposed during the process — fingers crossed!

At this time the frame is complete and delivered to my client.  She pleased with the final product and now has a custom frame profile named after her!  I look forward to working with her in the future to frame her art.  I believe this frame and her art is destined for an upcoming show in Sedona.

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Frame Talk #1

Picture Frames: The Why’s and Wherefore’s

As a custom framer, whenever I go to an art show, museum, or gallery my eye tends to go first to the frame and then to the painting.  This section of my blog will be dedicated to a short narrative of why a frame was chosen for a particular painting.  Too often frames are  purchased from a big box store and slapped on an artist’s work with very little thought as to the overall effect.  I read an article by an artist who compared putting a cheap frame on a painting to going to a fine steak house and getting instant mashed potatoes and frozen peas as a side for your premium steak!

This is what is referred to as a closed corner frame, meaning it is assembled before it’s finished. This way any discrepancies in the corners can be corrected.  Something not possible with a cut and join type of frame.  The addition of the Walnut splines are not only for design but for strength in the miter joint.  A frame this size (16″ x 22″) was $135.00 and although a bit more than the imported, proverbial big box stores this frame truly elevates the over-all presentation.

The painting is by Julian Miranda and is titled “The Sojourner”.  Follow this link to see it  on his Facebook page.  He did an interesting documentation of his work which is on a         1 1/2″ cradled panel made by Alejandro of TruArt Canvas.  When he approached me to make the frame and mentioned wanting to use hardwood I jumped at the chance.  It allowed me to use my furniture making roots and create this unique frame for him.  By the way, if you’re interested in one for your work it’s been called “The Julian Float”.

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Frame #185 Completed — Clavos!

Alejandro by Diane Eugster. Ebonized Oak frame with Clavos

Here’s a picture of the completed frame I blogged about recently.  One of the things I really enjoy about WordPress is not only can is it a way to share my work but it also opens up conversation from like minded folks — great way to counteract the isolation that seems to be part of all artistic endeavors.  It was fun having so many comments about the ebonizing process, thanks for all the comments and questions and hope many of you decided to try it yourself.  Really pleased with the final project, notice how the grain follows the miters; especially on the top corners.

Lets talk about the clavos, knowing I wanted something special my first place to search was Etsy. There was an interesting store  called Sons Leather so placed my order.  I should have read more carefully but only noticed that “orders ready to ship in in 5-9 days”.  Great I thought, plenty of time to get them installed and ready.  Whoops — they’re located in Jordan so shipping was actually 3-4 weeks but thank goodness they came in time and are perfect and well priced.  They specialize in leather and decorative upholstery nails and answered my emails quickly which is a good thing with internet sales.

Spacing for them is 3/4″ on center seemed to work out and was easily accomplished using graph paper.  Setting a fence on the drill press insured that they were aligned and pre-drilling made the installation easier.  To protect the finish on the clavos I attached a cabinet door bumper to the tack hammer.  They were inserted into the pre-drilled hole with hand pressure then eye-balled to 45° and hammered into the frame.

Before installing the painting I rubbed on a very light coat of the OSMO Polyx oil which had an additional benefit of removing just the slightest bit of the finish on the clavos, exposing the copper or brass metal of the clavo for an additional bit of patina!  All in all, very pleased with the outcome.  The painting size is 12″ x 16″ and it’s oil on panel.  The molding is 4″ wide.


Posted in Artist, custom profile, custom profile, Diane Eugster art, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments