Design & Carving Procedure for Custom Frame

In a recent blog I talked about my process for getting a design onto a picture frame for carving.  Whenever I share the methods I’ve come up with there are two reactions I get.  First of all it’s a thank you (like those!) but the other one is where I’m told I shouldn’t give my methods away, someone will use them.  So I’m stymied, when I first got into the framing there wasn’t a lot written about how to carve and finish them.  Through the many years I’ve been doing this it’s been a lot of trial and error plus gleaning information from various sources like YouTube, workshops at the West Coast Show held in Las Vegas, online courses from Mary May and Chris Pye, and the Picture Framers Grumble.  Very little though focuses primarily on carving picture frames.  Since my career spanned 31 years as a woodshop teacher I suppose sharing what I do is second nature so that’s the path I’ll take.  Always appreciate comments and feedback from those of you that read my blog.  Another aspect of blogging is selfish on my part; having almost 7 decades under my belt I find that being able to refer back to my own blogs refreshes the memory!

Let’s start with the design phase.  Not being super artistic I’ve found that going to any internet image search works for me.  You can copy, grab, and paste them to your desktop and then manipulate the design to fit your size.  For example on this motif the number of leaves needed to be reduced to be able to ground out the design.  I use the plastic from salad containers as a template since they are flexible enough to conform to the molding and easy to flip over for a mirror image.  Simply spray glue your paper on them and cut it out.  The Olive Motif needed two templates, one for the stem and another for the leaves and olive.

As you can see in the second picture the actual gouge used to cut the design is also used to cut and annotated on the pattern for reference.  Now comes the carving of the design.  I’ve learned that although it’s possible to do curves freehand with v-tools or parting chisels having the proper sweep guarantees consistency.  The leaves were cut with a #7 sweep in 10, 14, and 20 mm widths.

Here’s a photo essay of going from a flat molding to a low relief carved one:

The carving was followed by a light sanding, this frame was primed with a yellow clay burnisher/sealer.  Each corner took approximately two hours to carve.  Next up is the gilding process.  For this frame a 1/3 piece of leaf was laid first on the sight edge.  It went from the cove to the inside.  Luckily, my little finger is a perfect size to press the leaf into both coves!  Once the inner edge was complete on one leg, a full sheet of leaf went from the inner cove all the way around the molding.  I only use slow set size as I believe it gives a better bond then the quick set does.  I’ve done a couple of YouTube’s demonstrating my technique, here’s a LINK to one of them.

To end this blog I want to stress that I’m no expert when it comes to carving but rather have learned what I can through lots of trial/error and experimentation. I doubt I’ll ever be as good as I want to be but as long as I’m challenged and see improvement in my work I’ll be satisfied.  Personally, I think the mindset of always wanting to improve on what you did before harbors craftsmanship and artistry.  Diane recently took a workshop where the instructor stated that being self-taught gives most people a set of bad habits!  So, bottom line I hope my journey helps anyone who’s trying to do what I’m doing along the way.  I’ll end with this picture of the “freshly gilded frame”.  I’m fighting a cold but at this stage the brassiness has been knocked down and a very light grey wash applied.  Final step in my toning process is to wax and highlight portions of the frame.  I’ll share that next week.





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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3 Responses to Design & Carving Procedure for Custom Frame

  1. Bob Easton says:

    Beautiful work John!

    I, for one, really appreciate you sharing your techniques (especially about gilding, where I feel deficient). It might have been good in the 18th or 19th century, when guilds were very competitive, to keep one’s techniques secret, but I think the world is a much different place now. The probability of someone actually causing you financial harm by stealing one of your methods is virtually zero. The benefits are “good will,” which always goes on the positive side of the ledger in any business.

    Thanks for sharing!
    BTW, being in that 7th decade, I blog for much the same reason. Erm, ¿How is it that I made such and such? ¿What was the “special trick” that really made it work?

    Keep makin´beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your kind words Bob, much appreciated and I definitely agree with you on sharing what we do with others. Heck, if someone else wants to make less than minimum wage doing what they’re passionate about more power to them! Seventh decade — easier to find what we did on the net than in the collection of binders I have in the shop.


  3. Pingback: From Gilt to Black; Frame Do-over | Woodworks by John

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