Frame #168: Final Work

If you’ve been following the consruction of this Tabernacle style frame you’ll remember that the last BLOG dealt with how the roof was constructed.  That was an interesting challenge that I can now say I’ve conquered; at least for this frame!  I’ve mentioned before how personally, nothing is more satisfying than to conjure up an idea in your mind, then transfer it to paper, and finally execute it to a three dimensional piece.  That’s something I always tried to impress onto my woodshop students during my teaching career.  Here’s the beginning and ending of this frame:

The artist told me she’d take some pictures of her painting installed into the frame.  This particular piece is done on a 1/4″ copper panel.  What you see on the left in the conceptual drawing is a copy made at Office Depot from a cell phone photo — not too bad eh?

Gilding in Progress

After a base coat of red burnisher/sealer from LA Gold Leaf  the frame was oil gilded with 12 karat genuine gold leaf.  Overall the frame measured about 21″ x 25″ and there are several different levels that needed to be gilded.  To avoid having pieces of leaf fall on the area around the sight edge, the process was broken into 2 stages. The first day gilding was done to the outside edges, columns, pilasters, and roof top.  The next day the remaining frame was gilded.  This picture shows how I ended up positioning it to reach all of the crooks and crannies!  This is at the end of the first day.  After allowing the oil size to cure fully the leaf was very lightly rubbed back and the entire frame is protected with two coats of platinum blonde shellac applied with an air brush.  The final step is to apply some Liberon wax with a white scrubby, this evens out and takes that shiny shellac finish down to a nice matte finish.

When my client picked up this frame we began talking about gilding, I mentioned how water gilding would have allowed us to really make the gold shine.  After showing her some samples she really liked that look!  Even after explaining that the water gilding process is much more time consuming she seemed intrigued to see how it would look on her work — maybe a floater frame would be a good place to start.


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Frame #168 Trim and Roof

In the last blog the main part of the frame was constructed along with the base for the pilasters.  The next step is to apply the embossed molding along the bottom and build the roof.  Applying the molding at the bottom seems pretty straight forward but it turned out not to be that way!  Since those inside returns are about an inch long my thought was to use the miter box and Japanese saw I use for my kumiko work.  That’s a very small piece to hold and with the profile hard to keep secure.  Same negative results with my Jorgensen miter box.  I have a guillotine trimmer but it was too short to hold it and as the blade did its trimming the piece moved.  So decided to use the tablesaw at 45° with a backer board so the piece could be pushed completely past the blade.  Then, a block plane and shooting board coaxed the piece to the correct size.  You can see the shim that makes the piece level for the inside cut.  They were attached with glue and 23 gauge pins, nail holes were concealed with Bondo spot putty.

Next up is to build the roof.  Totally new experience so I decided to post a question on the on-line Picture Framers Grumble .  This is a site I’ve used for many years to ask for advice and share my work on.  A couple of people suggested using CNC programs and offered to build the roof for me if I sent details — sorry, I’m old school and hands-on!  One said that unlike a typical mitered corner it’s best to leave the bottom portion square and miter the top to match.  That made sense so the first step was to take my full size drawing and locate the center line, over-all width, and height. Then it was simply a matter of calculating the angles and go from there.

Turned out that the angle needed to be 17° on the miter saw and tilt the blade 73° on the tablesaw and use a tenoning jig that slides on the rip fence.  Lucked out on the setting, only needed  minimal tuning with a block plane to get good fitting corners.  Blocks were cut for support and also to give me something to tack a piece of MDF to which fills the front.  That piece is trimmed out with what’s actually the scrap piece cut out to create a rabbet for a frame.  Angles were drawn in and then trimmed to fit with a chisel.

At this point, the entire frame is assembled and has a coat of red burnisher/sealer that I get from LA Gold, it’s a good product and hopefully one coat will be enough for this frame. It usually is and what I like about it is that it takes a nice burnish with some 4/0, oil free steel wool.  There’s so much that needs to be covered with the 12 karat genuine leaf that I’m probably going to break it down into a two day operation.  Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it came out!

Posted in custom profile, Gilding, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, tabernacle picture frame | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frame #168: Tabernacle Style

This will be the third Tabernacle style frame I’ve been commissioned to make and I truly love the challenge of them.  I know there’s a lot of historical background for this style but at this point, I’m making them based on the tools, equipment, and knowledge I have.  I’ll call them a “contemporary” style rather than following a specific historical design.  This one will have a new feature, a roof!  I do like to share my information but Diane tells me I get too “technical” so there’s your warning — truth be told though, for me this blog serves as a memory booster; you can’t imagine how often I refer back to a long ago project to refresh my memory of what the heck I did!  Seven decades will do that do you.

Initial full size drawing

My work generally starts out with a drawing or sketch, in this case full size on craft paper works for me.  The painting is 11″ x 14″ so Office Max enlarged a photo I took with my iPhone.   Being full size allows me to make bits and pieces of the frame and actually see them in place.  The molding at the bottom is an embossed piece from Lowe’s while the dentil mold on top is left over from another project.  This drawing was shown to my client, she liked it and gave me some artistic license so we’re off and running.  My initial plan was to have a 12kt. gold leaf spandrel and then black over red clay for the rest of the frame but she prefers that I do the entire frame in 12kt. gold leaf, it’ll be oil gilded.

The first step  making the main frame.  It’s 5/4 Basswood and about 3 1/2″ wide.  By drawing it out full-sized I get a sense of proportions.  First thought was to use simple biscuit joinery but that just didn’t sit well with my furniture maker frame of mind!  Ended up using haunched mortise/tenon joinery for stability and strength.  More effort but, IMHO, a better quality build.  After being glued and clamped overnight any inconsistencies were taken care of with a block plane.  The sight edge is a 45° chamfer and was formed using a router. That’s followed up with rabbeting the back to accept the painting, also with a router.  This painting is on a copper panel so 1/8″ oversize is sufficient.

Squaring off the radiused corners formed by router bit

Since routers leave round corners they need to be squared off with a chisel. This is easy enough on the back but takes some careful paring on the sight edge.  I’ve found that after extending the outer limit to establish a square corner (pencil) and then marking the diagonal makes it easy to pare with a sharp chisel.  Right side done and left side drawn out.


My design called for a pilaster sitting on a long base.  If you look at the drawing, the base is rather short, the more I looked at it the less I liked it.  To my eye it chopped the painting and frame up too much.  The base itself is actually some left over pieces from a floater frame I made some time ago.  Having it overlap the frame adds another dimension to it.  The pilaster was made using the Lee Valley small plow plane with a 1/4″ bead cutter. Something learned is that if you try to cut the bead too close to the edge it seemed the skate went off track.  After totally messing up the first one decided learned that to get a good, clean bead it’s better to make the piece wider than required so the bead can be cut in a ways from the edge.  Once they’re cut simply rip those edges to the required width.

The next step was attaching the bases to the frame.  There’s a lot of face grain so glue and clamps is all that’s needed.  I do use a pin nailer (23 gauge) to anchor them, they get pretty slippery once the glues applied.  Then a couple of clamps so it’s time to work on something else! If you’ve read through my entire blog, thanks!  As a retired teacher I enjoy sharing what I learn along my woodworking  journey and am willing to answer any questions you have — just use the contact button.

Posted in Design Process, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Mortise and Tenon Joint, Picture Frames, plunge router, Tabernacle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Making Custom Frames Summarized

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.

Starting point; 4/4 Basswood

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.

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New Frames and Cataract Surgery in my Future!

Well, did that title inspire you to read the rest of this blog?  Approaching my seventieth  decade and noticed over the past couple of years that things are becoming more difficult to focus on and see.  Thank God for muscle memory because most times I really can’t see the line when doing joinery work!  According to my research, this surgery is one of the most common ones performed in the US and success is high, like around 95%.  First the left eye this week and then next week we go into the other one.  From what I understand it’ll be several weeks before my vision will settle so my close work will have to be done with cheap reader glasses.  Fingers crossed and prayers that all goes well.

Carving of this frame was another great challenge, something I strive for!  Always want whatever project I’m currently working on to be better than the one before.  Honestly, I know that’s not possible, as a hardcore distance runner I know your times can only improve to a certain level.  I believe though that setting goals and accepting new challenges will keep a person from growing complacent and stagnant.  Here’s a photo montage of the process for this frame, it started out with the custom profile Barger Moulding here in Phoenix milled for me:

Transitioning from the curved surface of the molding to the details of the leaves is the challenging area.  Not only is there a curve and a cove but as anyone who’s ever carved knows, the grain direction may also change.  It’s the design that determines the direction you have to cut (towards the leaf) so if that’s against the grain you need to deal with it!  After reading Joel’s blog from Tools for Working Wood I decided to order a piece of Horse Butt from him to use as a strop and achieve the sharpest possible edge — seems to do the trick!

“Here Comes the Sun” by Diane Eugster

In any case, the frame is complete and the painting by Diane Eugster has been installed.  The finish is a thinned Japan Drop Black over a red burnisher sealer that has been tinted to match the palette of the painting.  The frame should isolate the painting from the rest of the world and draw the viewer in.  Between the profile and the way the leaves wind around the molding we think that’s been accomplished.  I know photographs rarely do justice but I wanted to rub back just enough of the black from the leaves and edges to warm up the black of the frame.

Not knowing how my vision will be for the next couple of weeks I wanted to get this other frame done before the cataract surgery too.  This frame is a custom profile, about 3 1/4″ wide and 9″ x 12″.  Black seems to be the “new gold” as far as the galleries go and this frame has the same theme.  This time though to warm up the gold the black was rubbed through and slightly abraded randomly to pick up the color palette of this painting.

Well, that’s it for now — if I can read them I wouldn’t mind hearing a story or two from anyone who’s had cataract surgery.  Seems like everyone I’ve talked to has positive stories so hope to keep it that way!

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Beaded Frame & Water Gilding Experiments

23 Karat gold leaf

Definitely keeping busy, how in the world did I ever find time to work a “regular” job?  Our house has a bigger yard which requires more maintenance than we’d planned on but having a separate studio for Diane and a free standing shop for me more than makes up for that.  Continuing to experiment and try to hone my water gilding skills after taking the workshop from Charles Douglas.  These two sample pieces feature 23kt. gold leaf with slightly thinned Japan Black to offset the gold.  The carving is a sample piece for a client.  The molding is the profile made for me by Barger Moulding here in Phoenix, just re-0rdered from them.  That design allows space for carving and is pretty traditional, I really enjoy creating my own profiles whenever possible.

Molding sample, Veritas small plow plane, and Flamed Oak box.

This is one of the more interesting profiles I’ve created.  It’s a two piece design and the beads are formed using a Veritas small plow plane with beading cutters installed .  When I posted this picture on Facebook, it got lots of response.  Probably as many asked about the plane and box as did about the moldings!  If you’d like to know more about the plane and the box here’s a LINK to the creation of it.  To make this profile I used 1-1/16″ Basswood that I get from Peterman Lumber.  The outer piece has two, 1/4″ beads plowed into it and then the groove is cut for the spline.  The groove for the panel is cut at the same setting on the tablesaw.  The panel has one bead which is set back a bit from the edge, it’s trimmed at an angle later.  The critical part is to locate and cut the angle on the outer piece so that it aligns perfectly with the thickness of the panel.  Trial and error with a protractor is how that’s figured out — no CNC or computerized gizmos for me!  Forgot to mention that the panel is finished with a smooth plane prior to cutting the bead.  The rabbet is cut after the pieces are joined to leave a lot of surface so they can be clamped sight edge to sight edge as shown below.  The size of this frame is 16″ x 20″.  The spline is MDF to eliminate any concerns about movement as there would be using wood.

Tinted Grey Base Coat

The finish for this frame will play off of the palette used by the artist (Diane Eugster).  The painting is a landscape from the Sonoran Desert which has a deep, blue green hue.  Not being a colorist I get some assistance from Diane.  It began with a grey burnisher sealer which is tinted with Mixol to get the base coat color.  Once this is brushed on and burnished it’s top coated with slightly thinned Japan Drop Black.  Timing is critical and the goal is to just have the base coat ghost through and be exposed more around the sight edge.  There’s a lot of texture in the painting that is a goal of the frame.  There’s a certain time when the paint is at just the right stage of drying where it can be burnished with a 100% cotton rag wrapped tightly around my finger. This will eliminate most of the brush marks and just barely expose the base coat.  It’s a dance of how hard and long to burnish without pulling off all of the black. In my opinion though, this hand worked finish trumps a mass produced, sprayed on finish applied by a robot and probably somewhere off shore!

My current project is another carved frame, again in black.  For this painting the base coat will have a reddish brown base coat.  Ironic that now that I’d like to get into more precious gold gilded frames the market is leaning towards black!

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Ebony Dowels & Sharpening Concerns

Like all of us that work with wood and hand tools, maintaining a sharp edge on our tools is critical.  Through the years I’ve gone from oil stones and no jigs to water stones plus using jigs, and now diamond stones.  On the latest project where I retrofitted shelves into an antique armoire for a client I needed to bring that shelf edging flush with the pre-finished Birch plywood — sharp block plane ideal for that, however; the blade wasn’t quite sharp enough!  I’ve had Lee Valley’s Mk. II honing jig/guide for more years than I can remember and it’s always worked well for me.  Occasionally a plane blade would move a bit but it wasn’t a major issue.  However, it became an issue when sharpening this blade!  No matter how tightly those knobs were the blade shifted and was no longer square in the guide.  I looked at the guide very closely and here’s what I saw — a huge gap!  I was afraid it was time to invest another hundred bucks or so to replace it but decided to see if there was a way to re-align the holder.  After taking a block of wood and fitting it between the studs to protect them I was able to put it into a machinists vise and remove the gap.

So what caused this?  My thoughts are that when putting chisels, especially narrow ones in the guide that bar is bent when you tighten down.  I’d noticed that chisels especially tended to move in the guide no matter how tightly I cramped those knobs.  That’s why in June of 2015 I purchased the Narrow Blade Holder accessory Lee Valley came out with, p/n 05m09.09.  If you experience the Mk.II slipping check the gap!

Banded Shelves for Armoire

Once sharpened the plane worked great to level the banding on these shelves.  This was an interesting job.  Shelves are about 36″ long so did a tongue and groove banding on the front and back for strength.  After notching the corners they will fit into the antique style of sawtooth, adjustable shelf supports.  It was obvious to me that these had been cut by hand since each was slightly different.  Sharp chisel trimmed each support as needed.  My client was told the Armoire came from France.

The latest picture frame to be completed is this one for the painting titled:  When the Rooster Crows by Diane Eugster.   Love the painting, it’s one she did from a recent photo shoot in our backyard.

Australian Lacewood was chosen to not only compliment the over-all palette of the painting but also the texture of her brush work.  Notice that the bottom of the frame has more of those beautiful flecks and rays of the lacewood pattern and diminishes as it goes up which is the same as in the painting.

Creating the Octagon in doweling jig

The pegs are made from some of the Ebony keys reclaimed for a recent box commission.  The process starts by drawing the circle on the end of the key.  This gives me a reference point to begin planing the corners to create an octagon.  The piece is held in what I call a doweling jig.  It’s a simple bench stop design made of MDF with a V cut into it to hold the piece.  There is a piece inlaid at the end that acts as a stop.

After cutting the end with the dowel plate

After planing as closely as possible to the circle drawn on the end, the piece is started into the dowel plate to give an even better guide to plane to.  On smaller diameter dowels you can use a pencil sharpener to point the end of your piece.



Pounding through the L-N dowel plate


Once you get the piece as close as you can it’s time to pound it through the dowel plate.  I use a Lie-Nielsen one that I’ve inlaid into this block.  Just a side note, the block has holes that are slightly larger than the dowel being made.  This helps keep them aligned.  Ebony was a tough wood to turn into dowels this way, kind of wish I had a small lathe!  If you’re interested, I made a video of this process some time ago, here’s a LINK.


Wow, it’s mid-May; keep making sawdust!!

Posted in custom profile, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Picture Frames, Tool Sharpening | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments