How to Make Picture Frames - Book Review
by J. Norman Reid
In my "other" life, I'm a photographer. Over the course of several decades, I've taken thousands of photos, many of them crying out to be hung on my walls. And yet in my file cabinets and on my hard drive they remain. Why? Because as a woodworker I abhor the idea of using cheap store-bought frames or laying out a small fortune on professional framing. And why should I, when I can build my own wooden frames, making them unique and, well, special. So why haven't I done this already? I think it's mainly because there are so many ways to design frames and also many ways to build them badly. And so, my bare walls stare at me, calling out silently for attention.
Along comes How to Make Picture Frames from the folks at Fox Chapel. A compilation of brief but punchy articles by the editors of American Woodworker, this slender (117 page) volume promises 12 picture frame projects ranging from simple to stylish. In spite of this modest claim, in fact the book delivers more—indeed, much more.
The first half of the book is entitled "Techniques." Several articles cover a variety of subjects of help to the picture framer, some basic, others containing information that will benefit even experienced framers. Included are matting and mounting photos and other artwork; how to build your own miter sled, clamping jig and spline slot cutting jig; and many tips to help you get professional results. Highlights are several articles on basic frame making, including cutting a frame entirely on the table saw. My favorite chapters are the two on making moldings with a router. These illustrate specific router bit setups to produce interesting single and two-part frames, settings that can be readily modified by using different router bit profiles, bit depths and stock widths. Yet another article goes a step beyond frame-making to illustrate fluted moldings and bull's-eye blocks using shop-made jigs.
If all that weren't enough, the second half of the book focuses on specific picture frame projects, some using more specialized methods that result in less traditional looks. The first one I'll try is the rustic frame, created by resawing small logs into natural edge boards from which frames can be made once the stock is dry. I have some small American chestnut logs that are crying out for a project like this and I can hardly wait to get into the shop to mill the wood.
Ever want to make round or oval frames? The article on this subject puts it within the grasp of every woodworker, using shop-made jigs that will yield repeatable results for any number of same-sized frames. While the author recommends buying your glass and matte from a supplier, he even provides information about cutting your own.
Some of the projects are simple and quick, like the wooden album covers, which can be made in any size you desire. Or the three "one-day" frames, none of which use miters and one of which employs rare earth magnets to snap the corners into place around the photo and glass. Another is a simple press-together frame easily made from leftover offcuts.
Other projects involve finer techniques that will show off your woodworking talents. These include a Craftsman picture frame with pegged half lap joints and two hall mirror variations.
Finally comes a series of what are best described as "fun" frames that use the router with simple jigs to create interesting patterns in the frames' surfaces. These frames don't require mitered corners, so they require less exacting technique to create unique and exciting looks.
This thin volume packs a great deal of meat into a short space. Clearly and simply written with plenty of informative illustrations, it's full of good ideas for frames that can be made cookbook style right out of the book. But it also offers plenty of inspiration to try out differing combinations of router bit profiles to create your own, personalized frames.
I liked this book a lot and found myself leaping ahead from one article to the next to see what new technique or idea I'd discover. It left me full of plans and inspiration. If I have a quibble, it's with the article on routing oval frames, which neglects to mention the direction in which the handheld router should be rotated around the jigs. This is an important issue, both for safety and the quality of the results, and one the author ought not have neglected.
My recommendation: for the weekend woodworker or those who want to make frames as a sideline or even a full-fledged business, this is a valuable resource. Unless you are well-experienced at making a variety of frame styles, you are sure to find plenty here to increase your woodworking pleasure and expand your technical expertise. As for me, my photos will soon have new homes and my walls will be smiling.
Purchase your own copy of
How to Make Picture Frames
for 33% off for July 2013!
The author is a woodworker, writer and photographer living in Delaplane, Virginia, in the
foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, four cats and a woodshop full of
power and hand tools.
He can be reached by email at