Gilles' Outlet

March 25, 2007

Custom framing artwork

Filed under: Woodworking — Gilles @ 2:49 am

A piece of artwork is custom framed. Hanging hardware is added.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: A Couple Of Hours

For most, custom framing is one of the best way to compliment artwork. In my specific case, it was the only option. This piece of art has been designed to fit standard, off the shelf metric frames. None of the off the shelf frames available at my local crafts store worked so I decided to custom frame the artwork myself.

Left: the artwork to frame. It is made out of thick paper, just like most posters readily available in the USA.


Right: A piece of 3/4 wide by 1/2 thick solid hemlock I used for the frame. I purchased this 8ft piece of wood at my local lumberyard for approximately $4.

Left: I setup my router table with a 3/8 straight bit and cut a 3/8 wide rabbet, 1/4 deep.

Note the usage of the two featherboards to keep the stock tight against the fence. I fed the stock from right to left to avoid climb cutting, a potentially dangerous way of using a router.

Router bits are designed to cut when the workpiece is fed against the direction of the rotation of the bit. When the stock is fed in the same direction as the rotation of the bit, the cutting edge can grab the wood and eject it with tremendous force, leaving your hands dangerously close to a spinning bit.

Climb cutting offers some advantages (minimizes wood chipping and provides a smoother cut in certain conditions) but for me, the dangers far outweight the advantages.

You should never attempt to climb cut on a router unless you are a trained professional. 

Right: Close-up of the rabbet. The artwork will rest in the groove on the right.

I used a power miter saw to cut the four pieces of the frame to length. Cutting mitered corners can be quite a brain teaser. It helps to write a sketch on a notepad before cutting. As always, measure twice and cut once.

Also, for mitered corners, I always calculate and measure the longest dimension because it is much easier to hook up the tape measure to the longest border on a mitered corner.

Left: I assembled the frame, applied glue on mitered corners and clamped it in place.

There are special clamps, called "miter clamps" or "corner blocks" designed to maintain mitered corners in place tightly as the glue sets. I do not own such clamps so I made my own out of scrap MDF moldings.

Right: Detail of an home made clamp. It allows me to push both pieces of the frame in place and to face clamp them. It also leaves the mitered corner accessible from the side so I can drive nails in corners with a pneumatic brad nailer.

Left: I left the frame dry overnight. The next day, I removed the clamps and used a pneumatic brad nailer to drive one 18 gauge 1” long brad nails on both sides of each corner.

The brad nailer leaves tiny holes which no one usually notices. It is also possible to fill them with wood putty.


Right: I sanded the whole frame with a finish sander equipped with 400 grit sandpaper. All sides of the frame were sanded to erase all visible defects.

Four coats of clear stain urethane top coat were applied to protect the wood and give a shinner appearance.

This is a 0.093 thick acrylic sheet. I purchased it at the Home Depot for about $8.50. It is stronger and much lighter than glass. It provides a good UV protection. It is also much easier to work with than glass.

Left: I measured the sheet and laid the cut. I then  clamped the sheet and an aluminium straight edge to a table.


Right: Using an utility knife, I repeatedly scorched the acrylic along the straight edge. The idea is to cut a groove deep enough (about 1/16) so the sheet can be snapped clean along this line.


Clamps and straight edge were removed. With a firm movement of the wrist, I snapped the sheet cleanly along the line.

I cut the other side of the sheet to length using the same procedure.

Left: I checked the fit of the acrylic sheet in the frame. I removed the protecting paper, installed the acrylic sheet and the artwork on top of it, facing out.


Right: Using a pair of scissors, I cut a piece of 1/32” thick cardboard to dimension and placed it on top of the artwork. It will ensure that the artwork is maintained tight against the sheet. 

I purchased the cardboard at Aaron Brothers for $2. I like it as backing material because it is stiff yet flexible and very light compared to other candidates (masonite,  1/”4 plywood..).

Left: This is a box of "Framer’s Points" by Fletcher. The point is the small piece of steel at the bottom.

They are designed to permanently secure the backing material to the frame and therefore are very stiff. When these points are installed, it is difficult to change the artwork.

There is also a similar artwork framing fastener called "Flexipoint". It has the same shape and is flexible. It allows to change the artwork by bending the points. Most off the shelf frames use flexible points.

I ordered these points on the internet thinking they were loose (non collated) flexible points. I was surprised to receive collated stiff points. I decided to give them a shot. I paid about $16 for a box of 3000.

Right: These points are designed to be driven with a special tool which looks like a stapler. I do not own such a tool and I do not want to own one so I devised a way to drive these points using only basic shop tools.

I folded two sheets of kitchen paper towel together to build a pad. I placed a point in contact with the frame and drove it using a pair of pliers.

Left: A driven point. I installed it flat on the backing material. It took less than 5 minutes to drive about 15 points equally spread around the perimeter of the frame.

Right: This is a sawtooth hanger with its two nails. I installed it at the center, on the top piece of the frame. It allows the frame to be hung on the wall. I purchased this item at a local hardware store for about $1.50.

This is pretty much all there is to custom artwork framing. I have used many expensive tools because they offer flexibility and save me a lot of time but none of them are really needed.

Instead of routing your own profile, you can purchase pre-made moldings from most stores (home improvement and / or arts and crafts). You can cut pieces to length using a miter box. You do not need a pneumatic nailer: finish nails can be driven with a hammer and counter sunk with a nail set or the tip of a fine screw driver. Sanding can be done without a power sander by securing sandpaper on a piece of scrap wood to make a sanding block.

Tools Used:

  • Router and Router Table
  • Power Miter Saw
  • Pneumatic Brad Nailer
  • Finish Power Sander 
  • Utility Knife  
  • Tape Measure 
  • Clamps
  • Pliers

Materials Used:

  • Solid Hemlock 3/4 x 1/2 (8ft)
  • Premium wood glue 
  • Brad nails (1in, 18 gauge)
  • Acryclic sheet 0.093 thick (20” x 32”)
  • 1/32” thick cardboard (bcking material)
  • 400 grit sand paper
  • Framer’s point
  • Sawtooth hanger
  • Clear urethane top coat


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