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Picture Perfect Frame

After making a couple of frames and trying to remember the order in which to do things, I wrote down a sequence which helps me do them right every time. A repeatable process - sounds like something I strive for in software.

I first start out with a formula to calculate the raw sizes of the boards that I will use. I start with planed boards that are sized to the final width. I also use boards of the same thickness and width - it's easier. A small note about slop: Sometimes I use 1/16" as slop, but most of the time I use 1/8" as slop. Some precut glass is about 1/8" oversize. Sometime 1/8" seems like too much slop. I have built a frame with no slop before. I then had to take a chisel and widen each side of the rabbet after the frame was built because the glass would not fit. You decide.

length = picture - rabbet - rabbet + board width + board width + slop

Picture: 16" x 20"
rabbet: 3/8"
board width: 3"
slop: 1/8"

top and bottom = 16 - 3/8 - 3/8 + 3 + 3 + 1/8 = 21 3/8"
sides = 20 - 3/8 - 3/8 + 3 + 3 + 1/8 = 25 3/8"

  1. Cut boards to length.
  2. Cut rabbets. If you use a table saw (I do), don't forget to adjust fence for blade width. Test cut a sample board and measure with dial calipers. We will use the scrap pieces as risers for the drying frame.
  3. Cut 45 degree angles on each corner.
  4. Grain match boards, and dry fit. Label corners (A - A, B - B, C - C, D - D) so that we can match them up again.
  5. Label the mid-point of the corner. Cut biscuit joints into each corner. You could also do splines. I prefer biscuits.
  6. Dry fit upside down (front of frame down).
  7. Glue and clamp. I use a band clamp, which I got at an autoparts store. It is a ratchet tie down which makes a loop.
  8. Lay the clamped and glued frame on two scrap rabbet pieces (about 1/4" x 1/4" and the exact length of the frame - how about that!) so that it is elevated and level. I also check the fit of the front joints, and move them as necessary to get a decent flush front. Sanding will fix any imperfections.
  9. After the frame is dry, rough sand. I use 80 grit on my Porter Cable random orbital palm sander (one of the best $60 I have spent). I really only go after the front and back joints.
  10. Route the outside edge. I have used roundover and roman ogee. Use a bit that has a bearing, or you will have more sanding to do. Sometimes the bit will burn the wood - you can sand or stain it away.
  11. Final sand. I use 120 grit, and then 220 grit with my random orbital sander.
  12. Clean with a damp cloth. Finish with you choice of finish. My favorite is Tung Oil, followed by paste wax. You can make use of the 45 degree scrap blocks by driving a same size screw or nail through them and using them to prop the frame up while finishing.

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