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Making Picture Frames Like an Expert

picture framesMaking picture frames seems like an easy job, you set your mitre saw or table saw blades at 45 degrees,  measure 4 pieces of wood ... cut them then fasten them together. Except, often when it comes to fastening them together, the first 3 sides go together fine, but the last one the corners don't line up. You check your saw, yup it's set correctly, so you go about trying to fix that one last corner that is off. After a few attempts you probably have only made it worse.
Sound familiar ... well, that's describes my attempts at making picture frames. Then one day I had an epiphany ... maybe it's my sides being all slightly different lengths that's the problem. So I devised a simple, fool-proof little jig to see if that could be the problem. Sure enough on my very first attempt, guess what ... a perfect cornered picture frame. Like everything, it seems so easy when you know how, and when you try it and it works, it seems like magic.


 Next I needed to figure out an easy way of making picture frames a specific size since my rudimentary form of estimating was eating up more material than I liked ...

Every time I tried to make a picture frame it was guesswork as to what the size of the fame would be. Then I realized the the third secret, the rabbet inset on every picture frame is almost always 1/4" (give or take a tiny bit). The depth of the rabbet is not important, only the width, as far as making picture frames an exact size.

As I closely examined the corners of an existing frame, I saw that in the rabbet where the glass, matting and picture would go, the angle carried over to the adjoining side of the frame and that to figure out how long each side of the frame needed to be, all I had to do was to measure from the inside of the rabbet to where the other inside rabbet needed to be cut. It's pretty simple when you see it, but it had eluded me for years.

So ... the three secrets to making exact size picture frames are

1 - Make sure you are making 45 degree cuts.
Do not rely on the makings of your mitre saw, table saw or mitre gauge. Purchase a 45 degree engineers square at an office supply department or store. Some builders squares are ok, some are not, you need to check them.

2 - Each opposite side of the picture frame needs to be EXACTLY the same length.
Make a simple jig for this as shown in the video. MDF can work for a time, as can some quality plywoods. Natural straight grain woods, laminated together has worked best for me. The stop block can be made of almost anything.

3 - Understand that to make a picture frame of an exact size, you need to measure the inside rabbet edge to edge. MAKE SURE that you leave a tiny bit of extra room to accommodate glass and/or matte. make your sizes 1/16th inch larger than needed to ensure there is room for the glass, matte and picture to go into the finished frame easily and not bind. It is tough work trying to make rabbets wider in a finished picture frame.

One word about saw blades.
To make clean crisp edges you will need a high quality cross-cut saw blade that does not leave frayed edges. Saw blades that come with table saws and mitre saws are not of high enough quality. In my personal experience the Freud thin kerf 90 tooth blade is an excellent choice (and is often priced less than the 80 tooth version). In most cases 60 tooth blades may not give the cleanest edge but I leave this up to you to decide.

If you do all the above, and follow the methodology I used in the video, you will be well on your way to making perfect picture frames

Copyright - Colin Knecht


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