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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From Gilt to Black; Frame Do-over

Song of the Sparrow
Diane Eugster

Diane has a life philosophy that I really like. Basically when we look back on things or situations we may find that there could have been a better choice or path than what was done then.   She simply resolves it with: ” we did the best we could with what we knew at the time”!  I like it, no sense complaining about whatever it was that happened just move on and learn from it.  That being said, this frame that was re-done was okay for her original painting for it but really didn’t go with the palette of this new one.  The title of this painting is “Song of the Sparrow” and you can see the palette is rather dark; a gold gilded frame just wasn’t appropriate.

Corner Detail with Song of the Sparrow

The carving on the frame though fit the foliage behind the models head, I blogged about the creation and carving process on this frame in detail here, they are olive leaves and olives.  If you follow the link to see the original painting and frame and then compare that to this detail of the do-over frame and new painting I think you’ll agree with the changes.  I feel that the purpose of a frame is to isolate the painting and put it into its own world.  Then it should complement the palette and brush strokes of the artist.  Notice the undertones of red, a gilded frame didn’t work with that at all!

The process was pretty straight forward, after using steel wool (4/0) to remove wax and clean the frame, a coat of red burnisher/sealer is brushed on.  Once dry that was burnished to prepare it for the Japan Black.  After brushing that on some is wiped back to reveal the clay underneath.  Once I’m satisfied with the over-all look that finish cures completely and is waxed once again to achieve the amount of sheen desired.  Japan Black is a very flat finish which we felt was needed for this painting.

Speaking of frame finishing — I’m super excited about taking a 3 day, intensive water gilding workshop from Charles Douglas next month in Seattle.  I’ve done water gilding many years ago but haven’t  offered it to my clients as of yet.  The process is quite involved and I want to feel more proficient in it first.  Charles Douglas teaches classes all over and is a well respected and known gilder.  The workshop will only have 4 students so I’m looking forward to submerging myself into it and getting all I can from the experience.  It’s an expensive process but many galleries will not accept frames from artists that have composition gold gilding on them.  The market for this type of work is limited but Diane will benefit and for me, it’s just one more challenge to add to my “bag of tricks”!

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Tabernacle Frame Done, final details


Very happy to share the final results of the large, tabernacle frame I’ve been working on lately.  It was commissioned by Christine Vallieres and our goal was to design a frame that combined the traditional style of a tabernacle without an excess of ornamentation.  One concern was the weight of it but this weighs less than 30 pounds which is no problem considering that it’s almost 5′ tall!

Tabernacle Frame with painting by Christine Vallieres

Christine and another artist will be having a show at The Sagrado Galleria which is located in South Phoenix.  The show will be in March, I’ve given a link to their Facebook page so you can get full details.  If you recall from my earlier post about this frame the design evolved (obviously) around the painting and the shape and placement of the spandrel.  The spandrel is the gold leafed portion around the painting itself.  Once that was decided work went on as described in this blog post.  To save weight and allow for the mortise and tenon construction the frame was rabbeted out to a depth equal to the thickness of the painting plus the spandrel.  Actually, it was engineered for the painting to stand a little proud so that the final piece of hardboard; which is screwed screwed to the  back of the frame, holds it securely in place.

As usual, it’s pretty difficult to photograph the true finish of a frame or piece of furniture on the internet but here’s a couple of photos to give you an idea.  The frame was first sealed with red burnisher/sealer.  After burnishing that, Japan paint (black) was brushed on and rubbed back slightly to replicate age and handling.  This is always subjective but my client preferred to not have a lot of that “age” showing.  Multiple coats of amber shellac were applied after that to add a warmth to the finish.  This is followed by a coat of wax which in addition to a layer of protection settles into some of the recesses and looks like a few years accumulation of dust!

It’s always a great feeling when your work is well received by your client and this was.  Here’s a parting shot showing the artist and painting and the frame and the framer.


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