It’s always an honor to know that there are quite a number of you that follow my blog, that makes me feel good about what I’m doing. I enjoy sharing what I do and learn — suppose that’s a carry over from 31+ years of teaching! Over the last few weeks I’ve had a number of contacts via my blog asking about the process I use to create custom moldings so thought this would be a good opportunity to summarize and share it with you.
Generally, frames that are to be carved, gilded, or painted begin with Basswood. Thickness will depend on the profile and whether the frame is for a panel or stretched canvas. The other option is to use an exotic hardwood for the frame which would be clear coated only. You can see a recent example of this in this POST. The method of woodworking I follow is what’s sometimes referred to as hybrid woodworking. In other words, although I prefer using hand tools I use my power tools to do the grunt work and processes that are too time consuming to do completely by hand. Since I don’t have a jointer I generally spend the extra money to have the wood straight line ripped at the lumber yard. Then it’s a simple matter of sweetening that edge with my trusty #7 Stanley, corrugated jointer plane. It’s best to cut long lengths to workable length first. My “workable length” is determined by the frame size and I’ve found that anything up to 50″ or so is easy enough for me to work by hand. After ripping the boards to the required width the opposite edge is made smooth and square before running through the thickness planer. Not having (or wanting) a power jointer any flattening of the board is done with my shop made scrub plane. As long as one face is flat and doesn’t rock, the surface planer will thickness the board evenly. Next up is the profiling. This may begin with beveled cuts on the tablesaw which are cleaned up with a smooth plane. Other times beads are formed with a Lee Valley small plow plane. This frame though has two coves, they were made with a core box bit and a router. The rabbet was cut by making two passes on the tablesaw after forming the sight edge with another router bit.
One step I didn’t mention is that prior to the profiling process every board is hand planed with a smooth plane to remove those inevitable chatter marks left by the planer. I’m pretty particular, even my helix head Powermatic planer leaves marks that will show through the finished piece. After mitering, each frame is joined with #20 biscuits and glued/clamped overnight. A closed corner frame is one that is finished after assembly and the goal is to not have that miter visible. No matter how accurately the pieces are cut, mitered and joined there can always be some discrepancy. I begin the smoothing out process with a low angle block plane, it has radiused corners so it you take a super light cut the blade won’t dig in. This is one of the few times I’ll sand since the glued joint was wiped down with a damp rag the grain is raised a bit. To ensure an almost invisible joint a pencil line is scribbled across the miter and then sanded with 220 grit until it’s gone. These frames have a black finish which was rubbed back with wax and steel wool to expose some of the wood below.
This particular profile is called “Christine Profile” after the client it was designed for. It can be modified by carving in the field, gilding either the entire profile or just the sight edge. These came from 4/4 stock since they were for panels but thicker stock can be used for stretched canvas. I’m often asked: “how long does it take”? To do these 8 frames took me about 15 hours. If you plan your work process and think it through I hope that you, like me; will find it enjoyable. It’s rewarding to go to an art show or gallery opening and hear people comment about these frames. Even the lay person notices the difference between a custom, closed corner frame and a production, stapled together one assembled from moldings.