Custom Picture Frame Molding: Part 1

My last post had to do with the process of carving and gilding the first picture frame I’ve made for my wife in several years.  That frame used a custom, basswood molding we had ordered from Foster Planing Mill several years ago and modified to accommodate the fig leaf carve at the corners.  I received a number of positive comments for the frame and the tutorial on how to use Dutch gold to leaf a frame.  Here’s a LINK to that post if you missed it and would like to see it.

Diane and I really enjoy working in our perspective spaces/studios and that seems to be where we seem to spend the bulk of our time.  Walking past her open door one day,  I spied this really cool painting of two nuns at a fountain in front of the Pantheon which was taken on our recent vacation to Italy.  It really caught my eye so I immediately asked if she’d like a frame for that —- predictable answer was “yes”!  In my opinion, this painting needed a quiet, dark frame to contain the subject rather than a gilded one.  I decided to make some custom molding out of Walnut.  Although not as easy as ordering molding on-line, it is possible to make your own from raw materials.  Your challenge is to give the molding depth, not only for visual effect but also to contain the painting.  This painting is on a 1/4″ panel but stretched canvas paintings will have a thickness of almost 1″ so your molding needs to be made from 6/4 or 8/4 material.  The other option is to use this method that I’ll explain here, it’s similar to cutting a crown molding for a cabinet.

First step, routed bead on both outer edges

First step, routed bead on both outer edges

The first step to create this frame was to cut my 4/4 stock to a width of 2 5/8″.  Once the edges were planed smooth and square a single bead cutter was used to form both of the edges.  This is my router table, mounted on the extension table of the tablesaw.  The cut was made in two passes and you can see the pieces of MDF used for set up and trial cuts.




Now, to give the frame depth you need to bring one edge of it away from the wall.  It’ll be tricky to explain but maybe you can visualize it.  Hopefully, these pictures will help.

  •  Picture #1:  The blade is tilted to 15 degrees, more tilt will bring the frame out further.  I drew the line on the end of my MDF trial piece.  To give enough support you’ll want to make a temporary throat plate, set the molding on top of it and adjust the fence to your line.  Lower the blade and clamp the temporary throat plate to your table top.  Start the saw and cut through the temporary throat plate to the required height.
  • Picture #2:  With the beaded edge against the fence, cut the bevel on one side of each piece.  The cut off piece will fall safely to the side, no danger of kick back here.  Even though this is the back of the frame, I plane it to have it blend smoothly and also remove the saw blade marks.
  • LasVegas-CustomWoodworker-PictureFrameMolding-Walnut-Tutorial-WoodworksbyJohn-5Picture #3:  This one is tricky!  The rabbet needs to be 90 degrees to the beveled edge.  You can accomplish this by leaving your blade tilted and run your molding so that the flat side is on the table.  It would be unsafe to set the blade back to 90 degrees and hold guide the wood on the angled piece.  You’ll need to make two cuts and adjust the depth as you go.  To smooth that rabbet out I have an old Stanley #78 rabbet plane that works for this operation.  Since this is where the painting will sit a perfect edge probably isn’t too critical.
Setting up for the cove cut

Setting up for the cove cut

Now comes the fun part! Cutting coves on the tablesaw.  If you’ve never done this it’s an interesting process.  The premise is that you attach a fence diagonal to the blade to guide your boards at an angle which results in a cove.  In furniture work this is used so that you can make crown moldings out of the same material that your furniture is made of.  For large work you can use your regular table saw blade.  I’ve found that using two, 6″ diameter dado blades give a smaller radius.  In the picture you see a bevel, a parallel contraption, and the board used for the fence.  In practice you first draw your profile on the end of your board.  Then, set the blade for the depth of that cove you drew in.  Here’s where the parallel contraption comes in to play.  It is adjusted to the width of the cove, the screws on the arms are tightened to hold that distance.  Next, you play around with this by angling it until a tooth on the blade comes up at one leg and down at the other.  Once you’ve found that angle, set a sliding bevel to it.  This will give you the proper angle to clamp down the fence.  Slide your molding towards the blade to position the cove and clamp down the fence.  I think the technical term is “fiddle fart around” but it’ll take some trial and error to dial it in just right.  Here’s where to use the MDF rather than your good material.  The key is to raise the blade a very small amount for each pass and use a push stick to keep the wood firm against the blade.  Just like using a router or shaper, a light cut and slow feed will yield the best possible cut.  At the end to the day, here’s what I came up with:

Beaded, Coved, and ready for Final Work

Beaded, Coved, and ready for Final Work

I’ll follow up with how to finish and assemble this frame in my next post.


About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my currently available work, boxes, carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
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1 Response to Custom Picture Frame Molding: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Custom Picture Frame Molding: Part 2 — Finished | Woodworks by John

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