My First Picture Frame

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Project by Jonathan posted 05-01-2010 05:14 PM 2273 views 2 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Being new to woodworking, everything takes me a loooooong time. This frame was certainly no exception. I spent probably 40+hours on it, from designing it, to getting materials, to replanning, reworking, working, and finishing. I learned quite a few things along the way though, including what did and didn’t work for certain things, as well as new techniques.

I made this picture frame for my friend Brad. His dog Toby grew up with our dog Jax when Brad lived in Colorado. He has since moved to a small town in New York. Over a month ago now, Toby was out walking around and went up a road he’s never been up before. It was snowing and he was possibly tracking a deer. A guy in a pickup truck ended up hitting Toby. He was in really bad shape and had to be put down. Toby was 6-years old (almost 7), so that is why there are 6-paw prints. I measured it all out so that it looks like Toby started his journey before the left side of the frame, and continues his journey off the right side.

If you are a dog person, you can imagine how something unexpected like this might feel. Brad was understandably upset and I felt like I needed to do something for him. So I got an idea that I’d make a picture frame that he could fill with a favorite picture of Toby.

After many different design and construction possibilities (some through trial and error), this is what I decided to make.

The frame itself is a combination of hard maple and walnut. The backing is Spanish Cedar. I used lap joints to join the walnut and maple with Titebond III. The removeable spanish cedar backing is held in place by the frame clips. I used a forstner bit and chisel to countersink the clips into the frame for a cleaner look, plus it helps the clips from spinning around.

I had never used a rabbeting bit before, so it took a little trial and error to get the hang of it, mostly because of the 1/16-inch (or so) elevation difference between the rails and posts of the frame since I did it freehand with the plunge router base. The walnut was 4/4 and the maple was 5/4. I kept the maple thicker to help the frame stand up without any other support needed. This way, he can put it on a table or shelf if he wants to. I also included the little alligator clip and 2-nails if he decides he wants to hang it on the wall.

New techniques or tools used on this project:
-dado blade set on my tablesaw
-rabbeting bit in the router
-woodburning a pattern (definitely a learning experience… see below)
-lap joint
-forstner bit

Things I learned, or things I’d do differently next time:
-I used an ink stamp to spell out TOBY on the wood before I burned it in. The problem here was the ink bled outside of where I wanted it to, so I had to go back and sand it down quite a bit, then reburn most of it
-I learned that the woodburning needs to be the very last thing done, other than applying the finish. If not, you’ll probably have to go back and reburn a good portion of it. I had to reburn some of the paw prints too because of having to resand a bit.
-I was originally going to use pockethole screws to join the frame elements on the back side. Howevever, I sanded the four individual pieces by hand from 80-120-150-220-320. Once I finished, I had slightly rounded edges that would’ve left gaps where the walnut and maple joined. This led to the lap joint construction, as the little bit of an angle at the edges didn’t matter since the wood now overlapped. I like the way this looks better anyway, so it was a happy accident, so to speak.

I was not sure what I was going to use for a backer. I knew I wanted to put a layer or two of acid-free paper behind the glass to protect the picture, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to put behind that to hold it all in place. I knew I didn’t want to use cardboard. I was down in the basement one day and saw an old cigar box. That got me to thinking, so I pulled out my digital caliper and figured out that the bottom of the box was just the thickness I needed to fill in the rest of the rabbet. So I called my friend Bryan that works at a cigar shop and he had a box that was just the right size and thickness.

At first, I cut out the bottom of the box and was going to use that. I cut it to size, gave it a sanding, cleaned it with mineral spirits, signed it and put 2-coats of paste wax on it. It looked too basic and simple, like it was lacking something. So, I cut off the top of the box, sanded it down, burned in the image “In Memory 2003-2010,” then signed it with the woodburner. I then threw a coat of Watco Danish oil on just the back side of it to really pop the grain. The 5th picture shows the differences between the two backs.

The frame body was sanded several times through 80-120-150-220-320. Mineral spirits were used to clean it. I applied 3-coats of Watco Danish Oil and let it cure for 3-days before applying 2-coats of Johnson’s Paste Wax and buffing with 0000 steel wool.

Although this project took me a very long time (for the size and scope of the project), I was happily satisfied with the way it turned out, as well as learning a few things along the way too. If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this extemely lengthy posting, thanks for hanging in there and reading about the details of this project!

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

5 comments so far

View Jason's profile


659 posts in 3707 days

#1 posted 05-01-2010 05:25 PM

Thanks for the story. It makes the project that much better. Thanks for sharing what you learned along the way too.

-- Jason - Colorado Springs

View Kate's profile


400 posts in 4073 days

#2 posted 05-01-2010 05:30 PM

you’re a good friend. I’m sure your buddy will appreciate it.

-- Kate,

View Popsnsons's profile


387 posts in 3180 days

#3 posted 05-01-2010 05:59 PM

Great project to try out your new techniques. It’s gratifying when you create your own plan and it turns out in your favor.

-- Pops ~ In So Cal...

View stefang's profile


16123 posts in 3533 days

#4 posted 05-01-2010 06:29 PM

A very nice, well done and suitable gesture to your friend Jonathan. With your project description including the learning points it is clear to me that you are certainly a woodworker now and well on your way to a lot of other woodworking adventures. Your story is very easy to relate to because this is what happens to every woodworker despite their skill level. Keep up the good work.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jonathan's profile


2609 posts in 3249 days

#5 posted 05-02-2010 04:21 PM

Mike, thank you for such kind words. I feel like woodworking has really pulled me in lately (in a good way). I feel that the ideas and encouragements of others on this site are inspiring and certainly helpful.

I wanted to post this project as soon as I got it finished because I was so happy with it, but had to wait for it to get to him via the USPS… didn’t want to spoil the surprise, as he occassionally pokes around on here.

I hope to have many more woodworking adventures to share with friends and family and look forward to what you all will post next.

Happy Woodworking!

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

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