Tabernacle Frame Commission

I/4 Scale Concept

A Tabernacle style picture frame has been on my “want to do” list for a long time and although I’ve had artists occasionally express interest in having one made, up until now it has just been talk.  One of my clients was picking up some frames and casually asked if I was interested in designing one for her — my response was a quick “YES”!  If you’re not familiar with the style, here is a LINK to a page of images.  They can be quite complex and ornate, many are designed to sit on a mantle or shelf, and others hang on the wall.  At 29″ x 43″ this one is rather large and will be wall hung.  My client prefers to keep it somewhat contemporary rather than the super carved and ornate.  The finish will be black over red clay with the black brought back to replicate wear and add patina to the piece.  So far it’s been quite a process designing it but that’s fun!  I’m pretty much given free artistic license and some of the elements will be created in the shop and others will be store bought.  It took quite some time to come up with the 1/4 scale drawing that you see at the left but let me share the process taken to get there.

Full Size Mock-Up

I’ve found that with a piece of this size and complexity it’s very difficult to scale out, unlike a furniture piece there are many little details that will make up the frame.  It was easier to find some crown molding and also a dentil detail at Barger Molding then it would be for me to make such a small amount of it.  They’re the company that mills the molding I designed for my frames too.  Once I had those elements it was time to lay them out and get a full visual of the future frame.  Over-all the frame will measure approximately 36″ wide by 55″ long.  A piece of butcher paper became the painting and a newspaper taped together became the spandrel.  Cardboard of varying widths was cut to get an over-all look at the ratio of frame to spandrel to painting.  There is virtually nothing to be found on the web about how these frames are put together so using my years of experience at building furniture decided that’s the best route to take.  Sizing the spandrel is important as well as the shape of the arch on top.  I bought some gold paper and cut a couple of different shapes for the artist to choose from:

Her preference was #2 so the next step was to make a full sized one, take it to the painting to see where it should be located.  This is a vital step, she had some brush work around the head that she wanted to highlight.  Now it’s time to make the actual spandrel and the frame will be built around it.  This one is made of 1/4″ MDF and will be gold leafed.  It’s quite fragile since the sides only measure 1 3/8″.  A small plunge router with a 1/8″ bit was attached to an arm (compass style) for the first cut at the top.  After that, the bottom and sides were cut out the same way with an edge guide mounted to the router.  The final cuts to connect the arch to the sides was saved until last.  These cuts will be square up by hand, chamfered and smoothed prior to gilding.

Boy, that MDF puts out a bunch of fine dust — yech!  Next up is making the frame itself.


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.
This entry was posted in custom profile, Design Process, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, Tutorial and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Tabernacle Frame Commission

  1. Bill Patten says:

    Hey John, this came in while we were talking, As usual a great job and impressive work.
    Thanks for sharing,



  2. Pingback: Tabernacle Frame # 148 | Woodworks by John

  3. Pingback: Tabernacle Frame Done, final details | Woodworks by John

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