Tabernacle Frame #157 Complete

I always have mixed feelings at the completion of a project.  Seeing what I imagined in my mind progress from pencil and paper to 3D completion is always great but sad in its own way.  Maybe you’ve heard of those postpartum blues, heck; I used to experience those myself after months of preparing for an ultra-race. Finishing always gave me mixed emotions; glad to have completed the challenge but sad that the training and preparation is phase is over.

The last blog detailed the main construction details and forming of the parts.  All that remained was fitting the molding for the frieze.  Seemed straight forward enough but it was important that the vine matched as it returned around the corner.  After making the miter cut it was refined and trimmed using a block plane and miter shooting board.  It took a bit of finagling  to get the vine to match as it returned, one side needed to be cut from the remaining piece.

The purpose of the arrow on the backside is to indicate which side goes up.  These pieces will be oil gilded and glued in place after all of the finish work is complete. After some final planing it was ready for the red burnisher/sealer undercoat.  The frieze area was taped off, wanted to make sure no paint got in that space, the molding will be applied with glue and a few pins.  The final finish is Japan Drop Black by Ronan.  Other than glue-up, the finishing step is the one that causes me the most stress.  Using paints is temperamental, so many variables such as the temperature in the shop, reaction to the undercoat, and thickness of the application.  I’ve developed a way to burnish the Japan Black to give it a low luster which includes wiping back to expose some of the base coat. The goal here is to replicate normal wear and tear the frame would normally go through.  You’ll notice that Julian’s painting has a bit of red in it and my goal was for the frame to also accent that in an understated way.  Here are some images so you can decide for yourself if I succeeded!

The oil gilded frieze was sealed with shellac and then toned with a casein wash.  The final layer on the entire frame is Liberon Black Bison wax.  My mind set during this process is to  add unexpected nuances to the frame finish that are discovered over time.

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Tabernacle Frame Progress Report

Clamped Up

I’m not sure if all artists and woodworkers get as excited about the progress of their projects as I do but my guess is that they do!  It’s just plain exciting to watch something take three dimensional shape after drawing it and “conjuring” it up in your mind.  That’s where I am on the Tabernacle frame # 157.  After some time, things are really starting to come together as this picture shows.  The final top piece won’t be installed until later, I need to miter and fit the embossed piece of molding first.  It’ll be a challenge matching up the pattern so stay tuned for that one!  Pin nailers are great tools but as particular as I am, find that the hole they make still needs to be filled prior to finishing.  They are valuable though to secure the piece in place prior to clamping.  Trying to glue and clamp the piece like the column is crazy — they just move all over!  My technique is to apply the glue, shoot in a couple of pins, and then clamp it and watch the glue ooze out of the joint so I know I’m getting a good bond.

For the stepped molding it was rabbeted so that is used to register the  location so no clamps needed.  For the plinth blocks though I found it necessary to pin it in place before clamping.  Those blocks were chamfered at the tops with a block plane prior to assembly.

Wanting to keep the chamfer on those plinth blocks as angular as possible I decided using a block plane was the best bet.  Only about 1/8″ and an eyeballed 45°.  The columns needed to be sanded to smooth a little bit of tear out left by the beading cutter, tadpole sanders and some 220 grit paper took care of that little detail.

Embossed Molding

Top glued, ready for molding and final piece

The top of the frame will have an embossed molding, this is what it looks like.  The trick will be figuring out how to match the pattern as it miters back towards the sides of the top.  I’ve ripped off the rounded edges as it seemed too tall.  Here’s the bottom/top piece with a chamfer cut which is designed to draw your eye up.  This piece was pre-drilled and is now attached with glue and screws to the top of the tabernacle frame.  Once that embossed molding is fitted I can install the top piece.  The molding will be oil gilded over a red base and then antiqued to add that much needed patina and age — yep, I already  have some thoughts on how to go about that one as well.

That’s it for this update, I’m starting to understand that brushing on the red burnisher base coat and then the Japan black will be yet another challenge since the pieces are going every which way.  There’s a lot of ins and outs and pieces going in opposite directions.


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Tabernacle Frame # 157

I’ve always had the urge build a tabernacle style frame and was able to satisfy that urge not too long ago.  Another artist and friend, Julian Miranda and I had talked about a tabernacle frame as well for one of his pieces.  As we were talking about it I became pretty enthused at the prospect of designing and building another like this; for me it’s more about the challenge of an exciting project than making a bunch of money.  His painting is based on the angel of death sent in Exodus as one of the plagues of Egypt.  That Biblical reference led me to Solomon’s Temple for inspiration.

Full Size Drawing

After showing him a 1/2 scale drawing which he approved I stated in the bid that artistic license was needed as I designed and built this frame.  Sometimes what looks good on paper may not transfer to 3D.  I ended up making a full scale drawing to really visualize the project and made some changes.  The painting is 11″  x 14″ and the first design was too “squat” so changes were made to elongate it.  During the design process some of the elements were roughed out to make sure that what I drew could be made.  My preference is to use hand tools as much as possible so the elements of the frame were designed with that in mind.


Columns, face planed prior to cutting beads.


The columns sit on blocks which are referred to as “plinth blocks” and these will wrap around the corner of the frame.  The columns are made with the Veritas small plow plane equipped with a 1/4″ bead cutter.  These are very similar to what was created for the first Tabernacle frame.

An architectural detail that showed up on many of the images of Solomon’s Temple was stepped stonework around the entrance.  I was able to form these with the plow plane and a 1/8″ wide cutter.  This was a challenge since the part is quite small and after making it decided it needed to be even narrower!  Since the steps on this were small the depth stop and the fence had to be adjusted for each one.  Holding stock this small is an issue as well, there’s something called a “sticking board” but I was able to clamp the piece between the bench dogs so didn’t need that.  To separate the two pieces and cut the rabbet I used successive cuts with a rip blade to leave a flat surface.  Finally cutting the piece in two was accomplished with a filler piece so that it wouldn’t fall into the blade as the cut went through.

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The final piece completed was the stairs that form the bottom of the frame.  I’m really taking this literal.  A skewed rabbet plane did the trick and in this instance the depth stop fit on the step cut before so the depth on each tread is the same.  Metrics came in handy here, the piece is 1-1/16″ which isn’t so easy to divide by 3, turned out to be 27 mm and gave a step height of 9mm.  After planing a piece of wood to that dimension it was used to set the depth — hard to get a ruler in there!  Cross the grain cuts done first then the edge — plane worked great!

Parts ready to go!

The main portion of the frame is butt joints reinforced with biscuits.  The top and stair section will provide enough long grain glue surface to long grain surface for strength.  Anxious to see how this project progress along!  The top section of the roof  has a piece of embossed molding that will be oil gilded over red clay then burnished to replicate age.

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Picture Frame Time!

Basic Profiles

The client I recently completed the Tabernacle frame for, Christine Vallieres; contacted me and needs a number of frames for an upcoming show she has in March.  She’s a very good client and her show will be held at The Sagrado in Phoenix.  For this job there are 7 different frames so it’s important for me to organize the work flow to stay efficient.  One starts out with 1 – 1/16″ Basswood, the others are smaller and for panels so were made from 4/4 Basswood.  All are created using a combination of tablesaw, router, and hand work.  Shown above are the profiles for the smaller (4×6 and 5×7) frames which are what I call The Christine Profile. These are 3 1/4″ in width.

I’ve been contacted by several other folks who make picture frames asking about my process.  I buy my Basswood in S2S with one fairly good edge.  After cutting to workable length (depends on frame sizes) the first step is hand planing a perfect edge to guide against the tablesaw rip fence set to the required width.  After cutting, that edge is refined with the hand plane.  The larger frame features a beveled profile so these were cut on the tablesaw first and then refined with a smooth plane.

Fence for dust control with router edge work.

One of the frames had the outer edge formed by using my plow plane with a beading cutter — that I like!  Others required the router which; although it’s essential, isn’t one of my favorite activities.  Why — dust and noise!  To combat the dust this is a fence I made years ago that captures about 90% it.  That works fine for profiling an edge but there are also coves cut into the face of the molding.  All of the dust goes down the bottom and everywhere else.  There are various after market dust buckets you can buy but I really haven’t researched them fully, I did know that if you enclose the entire router there’s the danger of heat build-up and possible tool damage.  My solution was an $8.00 rubbermaid container and a couple of bucks worth of plumbing fittings — captures about 75% of the dust I’d guess so a definite improvement.

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Adjustable stop for small moldings

After all of the molding is profiled it’s time to cut them to length.  There are two critical requirements for a good frame, first the miter has to be exactly 45° and the lengths of opposing pieces have to be exactly the same.  Since these frames are so small, I needed to modify the miter jig and add a new stop to it. After cutting a slot in a piece of plywood a threaded insert was put into the jig.  The stop is slid where needed and then tightened with a thumb screw.  I’ve been asked about making this jig, here’s a LINK to the blogpost of the first one I made.

Ready for Finishing

All of the frames have been assembled (#20 biscuit, glue, clamped over-night), signed and numbered, and the backs have been sealed with shellac.  Probably an extra step but worth it in my opinion.  Finishing is next although it’s been kind of cold and windy for Phoenix anyway so my “whole world” spray booth conditions aren’t optimum!

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Gallery News and Third Frame

Before sharing the progress of the third frame I’d like to tell you about the Anticus Gallery located in the Kierland Commons area of Scottsdale.  The owner, Phillip Payne; has re-branded his gallery to a fantastic place to visit, browse, and shop.  It was formerly named Desert Mountain Fine Art but Phillip and his staff have created a gallery unlike any other!  Besides the art work, including Phillips’ own sculptures; you’ll find jewelry, furniture, and an eclectic collection of books.  Adding the books invites you to come in, browse, and enjoy the over-all atmosphere of the entire gallery.  Diane and I went there last night for a jewelry trunk show featuring Craig Vandeman who was there to explain his process.  They plan to have “happenings” every Thursday night so contact them to be placed on their email list and stay informed.  Of course, I invite you to see my work there as well — they have a variety of beautiful jewelry that would go great in one of my boxes!

Parts is Parts!

The frame commission currently underway is for three frames.  The first two were covered in my previous blog and are for stretched canvases and feature carved corners.  The other one is for a 1 1/4″ thick stretched canvas so needed a different frame design.  It consists of two pieces; a 3/4″ thick panel plus an outer banding that is 2 1/4″ wide.  I’ve been told that I tend to get long winded when sharing the enjoyment and satisfaction of working with wood but can’t help it.  This picture shows the profile for the two carved frames on the left, the other two profiles make up the third frame.  The expression is: “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I’ll use that approach, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

After milling the Basswood to the required sizes and shape, the pieces for the panel required a beaded sight edge, a rabbet for the painting, plus another rabbet/tongue to attach the outer band.  The outer band required a groove for the tongue on the panel plus beading the edge.  That was accomplished with the Veritas small plow plane fitted with a beading cutter.

The assembly of the frame was in two parts. It began with the panel having  slots cut for biscuits prior to glue up.  Once assembled  the tongues were fine tuned and the outer banding mitered and assembled with glue.  I don’t usually use nails or mechanical fasteners on my frames but in this instance added one 18 gauge brad at the bottom of each corner.

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This frame has a sight size of 12″ x 36″.  Before the finish process any slight variations will be refined, brad holes filled, and entire piece will be sanded.  Time is care and this frame should be a perfect complement to my clients painting.

The next steps are to get the finish applied to all three of them but you know there’s always  that final step, scrutinizing the work and making sure it’s up to my standards.  In the meantime, if you’re in the Phoenix area it would be great if you’d visit the Anticus Gallery at Kierland Commons.  We’ve only begun to explore that area but there are many interesting shops and restaurants to see.



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2019 + Cowgirl Up Show = 3 Frames!

If starting the new year with Charles Douglas’s gilding workshop in Seattle wasn’t wonderful enough, I was also  commissioned by Sheri Farabaugh  to make three frames for her.  She’s an artist that I made a frame for last year.  Three of her paintings have been juried into the Cowgirl Up show which will be held at the Desert Caballeros in Wickenburg, AZ  in March.

Olive Carving

Sheri came to the shop and house to see some examples of the frames and had tentatively decided on one that had a small vine of olive leaves carved in each corner. The original frame had a flat profile so we wanted to see how it would look on a frame with some coves and rounds to it. I carved the motif on the curvier frame molding and you can see how it compares.  After seeing one of Diane’s paintings on the wall with an Art Deco, over-lapping leaf pattern she decided it was preferable so ordered two of those with the black over red clay finish.  Her original intent was to get only one frame but decided that having the same frame on two of the paintings she had juried into that show would make a better presentation — I’d agree!  There is an additional frame of a different style which I’ll talk about in another blog.

From my first exposure to working with wood in junior high school in the early 60’s to this day I doubt that I’ll ever tire of the process.  There’s something magical about being able to take a rough piece of wood and transform it into a thing of beauty or else create a useful item.  It’s a combination of power tools (my apprentices) and hand tools to refine the material.  After selecting the material, in this case 1 1/16 thick Basswood from Peterman Lumber here in Phoenix it is cut to workable and required lengths, jointed by hand planing, then brought to required widths.  The profile is 3″ wide and consists of  a long, angled face, a mitered sight edge, and a rabbet.  After cutting those on the tablesaw, hand planes are used to refine the surface and remove any marks left by the blade.

After I’m satisfied with the profile the next step is to miter the corners, cut a slot for the biscuit to reinforce the corners, then glue and clamp the frame overnight.

Now it’s time for the creative part, the carving!  This carve is much more complicated and time consuming than the first one we looked at, the Olive branch. Each corner takes about an hour to reach a semi-completed stage.  So important to keep track of which gouge is used on each element of the leaves and remembering which way the curvature goes from the corner.  I’ve been known to get so caught up in the pleasures of carving that a mistake can occur which I won’t notice until it’s too late!  I use notes and a piece of the molding with annotations reminding me which chisel is used.

The first frame completed is sized at 18″ x 24″. The other 16″ x 20″ and I’ll wait until it’s  done before starting the finish process.  Here is the finished frame along with a close up corner detail.

There’s always some final scrutiny and quality control before the finish goes on, really hard for me to stop and say “that’s it, quit obsessing!”

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Gilding in Seattle

For quite some time it’s been a desire of mine to add the fine art of traditional water gilding to my framing  repertoire.  Although I feel pretty proficient at using composition metal leaf; aka Dutch Gold, there’s just no comparison to the beauty of using precious gold leaf.  Well I decided to go for it so at the beginning of this year and took a 3 day intensive workshop from Charles Douglas in Seattle, Washington.  I’ve talked with him about 7-8 years ago when visiting there and also subscribe to his newsletter where he shares his experiences about the craft of gilding.  After taking the workshop with him I’m impressed with his knowledge and desire to maintain the traditional methods, he’s on the hunt for that elusive “holy grail” of gilding just as I’m on the hunt for that in my woodwork.  Click on the link I’ve provided for him and check out his work, not only does he gild frames he also does furniture and other art objects.

Like most everything else, final results are based on the preparation you put in before hand.  Think in terms of building a house, if the foundation isn’t level, square, and solid the house won’t be either!  When gilding with precious gold leaf there is a base that needs to be applied first.  For the workshop the item we gilded was a small, papier-mache horse.   The base coats are called gesso and it’s an artful process on it’s own — if it’s not done with the correct ratios it will fail.  Essentially this is a mixture of whiting (chalk), rabbit skin glue, and water.  We spent most of the first morning discussing the different ratios used for either hard or soft gesso and their purpose.  Another part of the morning was spent discussing clay, rabbit skin glue, and gelatin; all of the ingredients need to be carefully measured and prepared using a double boiler and a kitchen scale that measures in grams.  Charles put a sequence of photo’s on his Instagram to illustrate me making the gesso; looks like I’m getting ready to bake a cake!

Gold leaf is applied with what it called a gilders tip.  In the past, I’ve attempted precious gold leaf and taken a workshop but Charles made me realize that I’d picked up many bad habits with my self taught ways!  From how to properly remove the leaf from the book and place it on the pad, cutting the leaf, where to place your tools so you don’t contaminate anything, and the list goes on and on.  Here are some pictures to illustrate what was done in the 3 days:

In addition to gilding the horse, Charles also discussed gilding picture frames since he knew that was my main interest.  We were able to work on a section of French molding, Charles put a sequence of photos on his on his Instagram page.  He took the time to share some techniques used to tone picture frame molding too.  The pictures of that molding after it’s been gilded don’t begin to do it justice — you’ve got to see it!

Speaking of picture frames, I had the chance to meet with Richard Boerth of Antique Frames.  His atelier is also in Seattle and a short distance from where the workshop was held.  We met through social media and I asked if we could get together during my time in Seattle.  So glad he agreed, his shop is astounding!  Check out the link and watch the video’s he’s produced showing how he restores and re-makes the most gorgeous antique picture frames you’ll ever see, this will give you an understanding of the time, skill, and effort required to produce work of this caliber.  Must admit, I was somewhat awe-struck seeing the work in his shop and thinking that’s what I’d like to achieve sometime.

Great experience but glad to be back in Phoenix, missed Diane, the critters, and our desert weather.  Now I need to sit down and order the materials needed to do my own water gilding here — no doubt Diane will have a beautiful painting that could use a fine frame!

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