Small Custom Picture Frames

Any of you that work at some sort of art or craft know that, for the most part, it’s a labor of love rather then a viable money making endeavor.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many commissions where I’ve made a decent profit but many times, the decision to take on a particular job is also determined by the challenge of the piece. I’m totally fine with that; creative pursuits and activity trump idleness anytime!  Mass producing the same design over and over again doesn’t excite me in the slightest.  Where am I going with this?  At the beginning of the year my wife did an on-line painting challenge where she did a painting a day for 30 days.  It was called The 30 Paintings in 30 Days Challenge.  She decided to use 8″ x 8″ panels, this eliminated one question right from the start, the square format meant she didn’t need to choose whether to go landscape or portrait for the paintings.  She selected photographs she had which came up in random order every morning.  The panels were 1/4″ MDF she gessoed in advance.

Now the stage was set!  Every morning she’d go into her studio and get to work on the day’s image.  They were displayed on the challenges website and offered for sale.  She sold a number of them and continues to do so on her gallery website.  An opportunity has come up for a holiday gift fair which inspired us to collaborate on making some frames for them.  My goal now is to come up with a series of frames that surpass the imported selections at the big box frame shops but still be affordable.  To that end I’ll keep track of my time and material costs to see how this works out.  These will be painted and my goal is to give them some pizzazz not usually found in a frame of this size and price range.  Let’s get this started!

Stock Preparation and Profile

Since these were to be painted and machined the wood chosen is 5/4 Poplar.  The project began with a piece that was surfaced two sides and straight lined ripped at roughly 9″ wide and 48″ long.  To make material handling easier this piece was cut into 4 lengths of 12″.  The process began by first planing the an edge, marking it with an X, ripping on the tablesaw to 7/8″, planing the edge again —- repeat, repeat, repeat!

Profile for 8" x 8" Frames

Profile for 8″ x 8″ Frames

Next up was profiling the stock, this is the final profile.  This began by using a round over bit on the two edges and ended with the core box bit, roughly centered in the piece.  When the boards were ripped and planed, the planed (working edge) was marked with an X so I was careful to use that as a reference to guide against the fence for both profiling and; later on, cutting the rabbet.  I realized a couple of things on this mass production project, there’s a lot of repetitiveness and stacking the material from one place to another.  Kind of like I imagine working in an office and shuffling paperwork would be!

The final step to creating the profile was to cut the rabbet on the inside of the piece.  I suppose I could have used a dado head to complete it in one pass but imagined it would take more time to install and set up that blade then it would to cut it in two passes.  When the second cut was almost complete, I used my finger to keep the cut off piece from flying back at me.  I’m wondering if they can be used to weave some sort of lattice work for a box lid or insert?

Now that all of the stock is prepared it’s time to cut the miters to the correct length.  Rule of thumb is to make the inside measurement 1/8″ more then the painting,  8 1/8″ for these frames.  The absolute requirement for a square frame is that opposing sides be exactly the same length and the miter is perfect.  Other than a professional set up or double miter saw this sled has proven to work well for me.  Here is a LINK to a recent blog where I explained how to construct it.  I’ll apologize for it in advance because the lighting isn’t the greatest but I made this video to help illustrate how this sled works.  I focused the camera where the cutting action is so it does begin out in the dark, don’t we all?  The life-long teacher in me is open to answering any questions should you have them.


Now that the pieces are ready for assembly that’s the obvious next step.  Since these are very small moldings I chose to simply glue and pin nail them together.  Most of my frames are joined with biscuits and glue, clamped overnight — a small frame like this doesn’t require that technique.  As you know, if you’re doing repetitive work it’s worth the effort to make some type of jig to make it more efficient.  A simple square of plywood with the corners knocked off to avoid glue build up worked well.  There is a “foot” screwed to the bottom of it to raise it above the workbench.  I like to keep a wet paper towel handy to wipe off excess glue and my fingers as needed.  I’m using Lee Valley’s Cabinetmakers glue and 23 gauge, 1″ long pin nails.  Since I did one video thought, what the heck — let’s make another!


Twelve frames, 8" x 8" each

Twelve frames, 8″ x 8″ each

As they lay drying it was time to assess the process.  At this point I have 2 hours and 20 minutes invested in them and less then $20.00 in materials.  Barring any unforeseen problems this investment has given me 12 picture frames.  The finish on them will be “rattle can” and the goal is to make it look somewhat aged and certainly more expensive than what Diane plans to sell them for.  The next blog will go into the finish — sure hope it turns out the way I’m planning for it to!


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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4 Responses to Small Custom Picture Frames

  1. Randall says:

    Interesting. I’ll be looking forward to the next instalment

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful! With your clear guidance, I would be able to make my first frame. Thanks!


  3. Fantastic method! I’ve been on the hunt for a better way of assembly and I think this may be the ticket. Love the idea of the jig seated into the rebate. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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