Making a Picture Frame the Hard Way

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by stefang posted 04-18-2013 09:09 PM 2716 reads 1 time favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

After finishing my Chinese Dragon marquetry picture I need a frame to go with it. My first thought was to make very Chinese traditional frame based on a design I found on the net. I soon realized that a highly stylized frame would be appropriate for the picture, but not very compatible with our contemporary style decor. My solution was to design a frame that had a hint of oriental design befitting the picture while still being compatible with the rest of our home.

I finally decided on a design that called for an inner frame connected to an outer frame connected with thin ‘spokes’. Main concerns were strength and appearance. I wanted to connect each spoke with tenons on both ends. A round tenon would be the easiest as I could then drill the mortises. I rejected that option because I thought it would be difficult to make the round tenons. This was mistake no.1 as I guess I forgot that I have a lathe. Further I was worried that the tenons would turn easily resulting in misalignment. That was mistake no. 2. They couldn’t twist after the glue was dry.

So with blinders on my eyes I decided that I needed short spokes a little over 1/4” thick by 1” long (the distance between the inner and outer frames. These spokes also had to have a tenon about 1/16” thick and 3/32” long. With the dimensions worked out I cut and mitered the inner and outer frames. Then I had to figure out a way to make those tiny spokes and even smaller tenons. Below is a pic of what I wanted.

First I tried hand sawing the spokes and then scrollsawing them. Not accurate enough. I realized that the router was my only way out, but I dreaded having to make yet another jig that I hardly used, so I came up with the idea of using some MDF scrap pieces I had laying around and some double sided tape to make a temporary jig. I didn’t cut a single piece to make the jig, I just used what I already had. Here is what it looked like. I used a router bit wide enough so that the proper length tenons would be left after cutting through the routed area with a 2mm miter saw blade. The photos below are the jig I came up with. In principal it works just like a box joint jig, except I don’t have to hang it on the wall when I’m finished with it.

The next job was hand chiseling the mortises. Not beautiful, but they worked very well. This was done with a regular bench chisel.

And finally the glue up. I chose to first glue each side of the outer frame, the spokes and the inner frames separately before the final round. The parts were taped to prevent as much squeeze out as possible with all the different surfaces involved as shown below.

Then came the last glue up to match all 8 mitered corners in one go. The technical term for this type of glue-up is ‘STUPID’ It did work though (luckily).

Please don’t be mad at me for not showing the final result. You can see it in the Projects section. You can see the finished frame and the marquetry on my posted project

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

14 comments so far

View shipwright's profile


7992 posts in 2820 days

#1 posted 04-18-2013 09:24 PM

I love throw away jigs. The fancy “keepers” are in my opinion, mostly fancy for the sake of fancy and seldom out perform the one off, made to order (quickly) throw aways. ..... Sermon over.

This is looking very nice Mike but, if I may ask, why all the clamps and where’s your glue pot?
This is a perfect place for hide glue.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3356 days

#2 posted 04-18-2013 10:03 PM

Sorry Paul. I haven’t done any hide gluing yet. I promise that I will on my next project. I’ve been doing the frame whenever I get a break from gardening and I didn’t want to venture into the unknown given the limited time I’ve had available. This is probably my last project until October unless it rains a lot. We just got our first snow bells poking out of the ground and the lawn is just starting to defrost, so we have a lot to do right now, and later we will be painting the entire house and garage. A busy summer and hopefully a trip to Sweden afterward. I hope you are having a nice Spring in your beautiful area.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View littlecope's profile


3071 posts in 3524 days

#3 posted 04-18-2013 10:36 PM

Great jig idea for cutting the tenons…
Hand-cut mortises? With a chisel?! In this day and age?!!
Nice Work Mike…

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2862 days

#4 posted 04-18-2013 11:27 PM

Looking good Mike. Your design will set of the Dragon that you are going to put in it. The frame to me has a bit of oriental flare to it.
If there is one thing in this world I hate it is making frames. The wife stays on me and I give in.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 2944 days

#5 posted 04-18-2013 11:28 PM

Hi Mike,
You had shared again a wonderful ideas both in design and how to do it. This will help me a lot. Thanks.

-- Bert

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

20587 posts in 3127 days

#6 posted 04-18-2013 11:28 PM

Neato!!!!!!!!!!!! I love that process!!....................Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View SPalm's profile


5320 posts in 3904 days

#7 posted 04-19-2013 12:02 AM

Very nice Mike.
But you are right, it does seem like a lot of work. Hope it was relaxing though.

Keep it up,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View justoneofme's profile


639 posts in 2502 days

#8 posted 04-19-2013 04:50 AM

Holy-Moly Mike!

I do admire your thought processes that carried you through this project. These frames are going to look very unique … I’m sure!! Looking forward to viewing your posted project … but gotta get some shut-eye first. It’s been a long day!

Wait a minute … how did you insert those cute little blurbs onto that one photo showing the whole set-up??!

-- Elaine in Duncan

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2878 days

#9 posted 04-19-2013 09:05 AM

Mike that is a lot of work for a frame
however knowing what it is for makes perfect sense


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3356 days

#10 posted 04-19-2013 09:49 AM

Thanks everyone. My main (unstated) intention of sharing this frame work was really to float the idea of making a temporary routing jig very quickly out of scrap with no gluing or screwing. Shipwright picked up on this right away. I have quite a few labour intensive jig builds that I hardly ever use and they take a lot of wall space. So that was my motivation for sharing this.

Elaine I have a MAC laptop which comes with a program called ‘Preview’. This program has features to add text and different boxes or clouds to pictures from the iPhoto gallery. The iPhoto pic is just dragged onto the Preview icon for editing. I keep the icon in my programs bar at the bottom of my screen. These features are not available in iPhoto itself. The changes appear on your iPhoto copy, but they can be easily removed after the photo has been copied to a website post. There is a different way to do this with a windows operating system if that is what you have. Just search the windows online forum ‘Adding text to photos’. Let me know if you need more help with this and I will try to get more details for you.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Philip's profile


1277 posts in 2561 days

#11 posted 04-19-2013 02:56 PM

Great looking frame Mike!

-- I never finish anyth

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2826 days

#12 posted 04-20-2013 11:52 AM

Nicely detailed how-to Mike.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View DaleM's profile


958 posts in 3406 days

#13 posted 04-20-2013 02:19 PM

Wow! Lots of things that could have gone wrong, but you pulled it off. It looks great. I think if I ever do something like this, I’ll make all the frame pieces longer then needed, then miter the corners after the mortise and tenon joints are all glued up, doing both corners as one board. You really were right when you said this was the hard way.

-- Dale Manning, Carthage, NY

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3356 days

#14 posted 04-20-2013 03:26 PM

Dale Probably a good idea. I’m pretty sure I could have made this frame in a much easier way. I still have to make another one for the other picture. If I decide on the same design I will try to do a smarter build on it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics