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How to Build a Picture Frame in 9 Easy Steps

Working the paint counter at a local hardware store, I’ve made quite a mess of my apron. So after about the 300th customer made comments on how it looked like a piece of art, I decided, hey, why not frame it and see if I can make a quick buck? My hopes were soon dashed after a visit to a framing store. They wanted $80 for a basic framing. I though to hell with this, I’m a handy guy, I work in home improvement, why don’t I make a frame and keep with the hardware store look?

I’ll admit that 80% of the time I start a project it’s something I’ve never attempted. People nowadays are either too busy or intimidated to try a project themselves. But you can save a lot of money, get the precise results you want, and receive a sense of satisfaction when you build something with your own hands. I want to encourage people to take a chance and build something fun and personal.

A picture frame is a great starter project. With the exception of the miter box, you should have most of the supplies already in your tool kit. I’ve provided a list of materials with some recommendations of products I’ve found to perform better than most, as well as detailed step-by-step instructions to build a frame that is as unique as you want to make it.

Supplies Needed:

Picture Frame Making Tools

Tools of the trade

1. The first step is selecting the size and type of material you want to use.

I went with a 1×2 furring strip, as they are readily available and inexpensive, easy to cut, and provide a good size border around your art without dominating the piece. However, you may use any type of material that compliments your art. A distressed piece of wood is great for landscapes and nature pieces, while old metal lends an industrial look to modern or abstract art.  I will focus on using finished grade lumber to make a square frame as this is the most simple to work with for first timers.

Miter Box

Miter Box

2. Determine the dimensions of your project.

The portion of my apron I wanted to display was 20″ x 20″ , so a simple square with 45° cuts was all I needed. Using a tape measure and a speed square, mark off 45° lines going out from your inside dimensions. Then make your cuts using a miter box and saw or, if you have one, an electric miter saw will make quick work of any material. You may not have a miter box, but I strongly suggest adding one to your tool collection if you plan on doing much work where you need precise angled cuts. A miter box is a simple plastic frame with notches for commonly used angles that hold your hand saw firmly in place. Stanley makes an extremely effective and affordable miter box that even comes with a saw. It also has handy pegs and spaced out holes that will secure your lumber in place for cutting.  Picture Frame in Progress

3. After you have your pieces cut, apply a liberal amount of wood glue to the joints, then tack in place with small nails or use framing clamps if you have them.

I use Elmer’s wood glue max because it is non-expanding, sandable, stainable, and is water clean up.   Once you have your frame glued and secured, let it dry.

4. You can then fill in any seams or nail heads with Elmer’s wood filler to give you a smooth clean appearance.

Or leave the joints open for a natural look.

5. Once the glue and wood filler are dry, sand everything down.

I recommend an 80-100 grit to knock off the rough portions followed by 180 grit to give you a smooth finish.  3M makes a great sanding sponge with a medium texture on one side and fine on the other that is easy to hold and can get in tight corners.

Finished Picture Frame

Finished frame with custom “Red Wine” stain

6. Here is where the customization comes into play.

You can prime and paint the frame for a solid color look, or stain it like I did. I used Minwax water-based stain because you can get really deep artificial colors that you can’t get with traditional wood stain, and it dries quickly. Use a pre-stain conditioner to prevent blotchiness, then apply at least 2 coats of stain to your frame, or more for a darker, richer look.

7. If using stain, apply a coat of polyurethane (oil based) or Minwax Polycrylic clear coat (water based) to protect your color and give it your desired level of sheen.

Satin finish will make it look more natural while high gloss will make your frame pop.

8. Next, mount your artwork inside the frame.

If using a picture with a backing I would suggest glazing points on the back side to secure it in place. Since I was framing my paint apron I used push pins to position the fabric,  then used a staple gun to anchor it securely. You could also use glue and clamps for other materials.

9. Finally, use a picture hanging kit so you can place your artwork where you like.

You can use sawtooth hangers so the mounting doesn’t show, or eye rings or D hooks with hanging wire. 3M command hooks allow you to change your mounting method without damaging your frame or your wall.

Now you are ready to hang your masterpiece for the world to see.

Finished Framed Art

My masterpiece