Build an angled picture frame
This picture frame can be custom sized to fit any artwork or photograph. An attractive frame like this can accentuate a piece of art without overpowering it.
My general approach to making furniture is especially important when making a picture frame: keep it simple. We’ve all seen ornately carved and gilded frames, but I think these frames take away from the art in my house. Having said that, I know everyone has their own unique taste. However, if you’re a “simple is best” kind of person like me, this might be the perfect mix of simple, but not too simple.
These two pieces were cut from a single piece of lumber, then had their inner faces both dressed lightly. Next, Brown removed material from their undersides to bring them to 3/4" thick. Brown also marked their ends and faces so he knew how their grain related to each other
Adding angled lines on the end grain of the workpiece and drawing in the rabbet will allow you to more accurately set up the table saw properly.
Cut to the Lines
This is what the same end grain looks like after the parts have been machined.
At an Angle
A strip of wood needs to be cut to the right size and attached to your miter sled securely in order to support the workpieces at a 20° angle while they’re being mitered. Brown sized the strip to fit into the rabbet in each piece.
Mark the Length
The frame parts will have to be marked carefully, then cut to length. Keep in mind the size of the artwork the frame will house, and the fact that the artwork will fit into the rabbets surrounding the inner edge of the frame.
Test It Out
After using masking tape to hold the first three corners tight, Brown wraps the four frame pieces together and tapes the final corner. If any gaps are showing, trimming one or more of the parts is necessary.
Cut Kerfs for Strength
After testing to make sure the piece of veneer would fit the saw kerf nicely, Brown cut four kerfs into the corners of the frame and added veneer to them.
Brown bored 1/2" diameter holes to accept the retaining clips he used to secure the piece of art in the frame. These clips come in different depths, and are also easy to cut down if needed.
The four angled parts of this frame provide a unique look without going overboard. Though it’s possible to make each frame piece out of thicker stock, then cut an angle onto the outer front face of each piece, that would require fairly thick stock. This method also keeps the grain continuous around the frame. Although it can be made with pieces as thin as about 1/2″, I opted for a thicker frame and used 3/4″ thick pieces.
There’s a breakout technique to obtain continuous grain through the four corners of a frame or box. To start with, using quarter cut material will help keep the grain even straighter. For this frame I broke out one piece of lumber that was long enough to get one side and one top or bottom (along with some extra just in case), and wide enough to be able to resaw the part and get two blanks out of it. My blank was about 2-1/4″ wide and 2″ thick.
Keep in mind the side frame pieces will have to be longer than the height of the art or photo you’re framing, as the miters extend well past the art. Same with the top and bottom pieces. Add at least double the distance that the frame pieces are wide to the length of the artwork when determining the length of the wood parts. Making your blank 6″ longer than needed is good insurance when laying out and cutting the miter joints.
Next, rip it down its center. Those two freshly bandsawn faces will be the outer faces of the four frame parts. Mark them so you don’t lose track of how they relate to one another.
Dress the two lengths to final thickness, being careful not to remove much wood from the two faces. The more wood you remove from these two faces, the less the grain will match. Next, joint an edge of each of these two workpieces and rip them to width. Mark the outer face and inner edge of the blanks so you can clearly see where the two side parts and the top or bottom parts are going to be cut from these two blanks. When marking the blanks keep in mind that for the grain to be continuous, the four corners of the parts have to be made up of parts that were close to each other in the initial piece of lumber.
Lay the two blanks on your bench face up and with the inner edges facing each other. From there, work your way around the two blanks in a circular direction, marking “top,” “right side,” “bottom” and finally “left side” where the parts will be cut from the two blanks.
Draw the angles
Although you can use different angles to set the four parts, I chose 20°. Keeping in mind which is the inner edge of the blank, mark the end grain of one of the parts to show the inner and outer edge of the blank cut at 20°. I added a 1/4″ × 1/4″ rabbet, also set to 20°, to the end grain drawing as well. The rabbet you add can vary in size, depending on the needs of your artwork. Ensure the rabbet is far enough from the outer face of the frame members so that the inner edge of the frame isn’t weakened too much. Be as accurate as possible with this diagram, as you’ll be working from it to set up the next few cuts.
Cut the angles
The next step is to machine the rabbets and cut the two edges of each workpiece on a 20° angle.
Using the end grain drawing as a guide, set up the rabbet joint and machine it. With a rip blade, cut angles on both sides of the two workpieces. If you set up the rip fence so the first cut leaves a 1/16″ wide flat on the edge of the workpiece, you can just rotate the workpiece and cut the other side without adjusting the rip fence.
Machine a 30″ long strip of wood to the correct thickness so when your workpiece sits with one of its rabbets propped up on that strip, the angle of the piece is 20°. This will take some trial and error. Cut it in half and securely fix each piece to the inner corners of your miter sled. These pieces will act as supports and stops so they need to be fairly solid.
An important safety check is to ensure the inner face of the rabbet is in contact with the support strips secured to the miter gauge. If it isn’t, the workpiece will likely become airborne while cutting the miters, as it may shift backwards. The workpieces need to sit positively against the support strips while mitering the corners.
It’s miter time
Keeping your layout marks on the workpieces in mind, place one edge of the workpiece up on the support piece and cut the first miter on one of the parts.
The simplest way I could determine what length to cut the four parts was to clamp the piece in my vise and mark on the inner edge, directly beside the rabbet, what length I needed. When marking this distance, I kept in mind the piece of art I was framing and measured accordingly. The art would protrude about 3/16″ underneath each rabbet, so this had to be taken into account. The line you draw must be visible while mitering.
Place the workpiece on the miter sled, align the line with the blade and make the cut to trim the first workpiece to length. When in doubt, cut the piece slightly long, then fine-tune the piece to length with additional cuts. I started with the longer piece, as I knew if I made a mistake and cut it too short, I could use it for a shorter frame piece. Repeat these steps to cut all four parts.
Start cutting from the same ends
This is a finer point for keeping the grain as continuous as possible, and it’s one that’s hard to describe with words. Keep in mind that you likely cut the initial blank a good 6″ longer than you needed to at the start of this project. In order to match the grain as best as possible, it’s best to start at the same end of each of the two blanks when cutting the parts from the blank, as the 6″ (or so) of waste will be trimmed off. If you start cutting at one end of one blank, and the other end of the other blank, the grain will not match as closely.
To test the fit, I taped the parts together in order by stretching the tape across each of the corners on the 3/4″ wide edge that was cut to 20°. I then wrapped the four parts together to check for gaps in the miters. If there are gaps, it will likely be because one (or more) of the parts is slightly longer than the part on the opposite side of the frame. Trim it to length and reassemble the frame with masking tape.
I sanded the face of the four parts before assembly, as I thought it would be easier than trying to do it with the frame assembled.
With the parts taped together once again, I applied a light coat of glue to the miter joints and rubbed it in, then added another regular coat of glue to the joints. Wrap the frame together, ensure it’s square and flat, then let it dry.
Miter joints aren’t the strongest joints, so adding a thin veneer key in each corner will add a lot of strength. After testing different pieces of contrasting veneer in a few hand saw kerfs, I settled on a saw and matching veneer sample. I drew a line parallel with the length of the four frame pieces, then added a pencil line 1″ from the ends on each side of the four joints. This gave me something to cut four kerfs to.
Cut four pieces of veneer, add some glue to a kerf, coat a piece of veneer and press it into position, making sure it seats nicely at both corners. After repeating this three more times, allow the glue to dry and trim the waste off with a chisel.
I placed the assembled frame upside down on my drill press table, set the depth and bored four shallow, flat-bottom holes to accept the retaining clips. These clips come in different depths, so getting one that will work likely won’t be hard. You can also follow in my footsteps and trim them with side-cutting pliers if your math is off. The exact location isn’t critical, as long as the arm of the clip extends onto the rear of the art to hold it in place. I then drilled a pilot hole to accept the
#4 × 1/2″ long screw to secure the clip in the frame.
There are many options for picture frame hanging hardware. Most depend on how heavy the frame and artwork are. Routing a keyhole slot or using a pair of eyes with wire strung between them are two options. I opted for an even simpler approach, as this was a light piece of art and a fairly small frame. I drilled two holes to accept small nails that would secure a metal sawtooth hanger to the frame.
Finishing it off
After sanding the frame and breaking the edges, apply a finish of your choice. There’s no need for extreme durability in this situation. A finish for a frame mainly needs to look good, so test out different finishes on the wood you’ve selected and apply the finish to your frame. I sprayed on a few coats of a Watco lacquer. Their aerosol spray cans are easy to use, and provided a nice-looking finish on black walnut.
Attach the hanging hardware, have a piece of glass cut and secure everything in place with the retaining clips. I used a drywall anchor and screw to hang the frame, but finding a stud is the strongest approach. Hang it up and I’m guessing you’ll enjoy the frame even more than the beautiful artwork it showcases.