December 9, 2011

Making Your Own Antique Picture Frame

SPOILER ALERT: If you are one of my family members and you don't want to know about something you might allegedly be getting for Christmas, stop reading now.

I think it's appropriate to start with the idea that got this ball rolling. Since we just had Campbell in October, and were waiting on some fancy prints from her first professional photo shoot, I got it in my mind that it would be an original and affordable idea to make my own 5"x7" frames to put them in and give to family as gifts. This was a mistake on several levels, one being that it served as a gateway drug for my new hobby and two that it didn't end up being as cheap as I originally thought/hoped. The second concern has now been alleviated for the most part, because once you have some of the supplies, the frames are fairly cheap to make. Look, this can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it. In my case, apparently I enjoyed making it harder. I could've bought some basic 1" thick pine and made a decent looking frame with a faux antique or weathered barn wood look, but I opted for moulding instead, so it would include a carved design and look more authentically aged.

This is one of the several moulding designs I chose. In hindsight, it is best to find one that lays flat when you lay it design-side-down, which will make assembling the frame MUCH easier.

Here is what the piece ended up looking like. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. Below is the step-by-step process of how I got there. I will try to include this on as many pieces as I can, but, be warned, I can get a little carried away with description.

1) Decide the frame size you want. I went 5"x7" so you can just apply the same steps to end up with whatever frame size you want. Starting with 5"x7", subtract 1" from each to allow for a base in which the photo will sit. So, now, we're at 4"x6". I measured the width of my moulding (in this case, 3"), doubled that, and added the resulting 6" to my original 4"x6". Still with me? So, your outer frame measurements will be 10"x12".

2) Make your standard cuts. You will need (2) moulding pieces cut to 12" and (2) cut to 10".

3) Make your miter cuts. I used a miter box and hand saw, which you can get at a discount tool place like Harbor Freight (If anyone from Harbor Freight, Lowe's or Home Depot is reading this, I am now accepting sponsorships in the form of gift cards and tools) for less than $10. Place a piece of trim in the miter box, with your outer edge farthest away from you, face up, and use the 45 degree angle cut, cutting from the outside in towards the center. Repeat, so that you have 4 pieces that dry-fit together to form your picture frame. If you're like me, you might need to practice on some scrap boards before cutting into your (surprisingly expensive) moulding.

4) Assemble the frame. This can vary, but I found that using strong wood glue is easiest and should last, assuming the frame is not dropped repeatedly. Glue your edges, press or clamp together and let dry. Make sure your frame lines up and is square before letting dry.

5) Pick your finish and colors. For this one, I combined two techniques into one: a crackle finish and distressing. First, pick you base color. Make sure you pick something darker than your top color since it will be visible. I went with black. Once that dries, apply your crackle medium. Apply this in random brush strokes across the whole piece and let dry for 45 minutes to an hour. be sure to use an old crappy brush because it will be ruined. Now comes the somewhat hard part. Apply your top coat (red), but make sure you have enough paint on the brush to where you can do one full brush stroke without overpainting with additional strokes. If you need to, do one section at a time. If you overpaint, you will cover up the crackling effect.

6) Distressing. There really is no one way to do this, so it just depends on the extent to which you want it to be distressed. Once your top coat dries completely, beat the crap out of the piece. I mean, carefully though. Use 120 grit sandpaper in random spots to get down to the base coat and then on others to go all the way through to the raw wood and pay special attention to places like corners and edges that would naturally see more wear. Use the face of the hammer to randomly dent it. You can also knick it randomly with a nail punch or the corner of a flathead screwdriver, etc. Anywhere you reach raw wood will be accented once you put the stain on. I actually did this step before applying my base coat, which I recommend.

7) Stain and seal. Create a faux antique and distressed look for the picture frame by topping the whole piece off with a dark stain. I use MinWax Dark Walnut, but there are a variety of colors. Wipe it across the entire piece generously, being sure to get it on all of the raw wood spots, then come back over quickly with a rag and wiping off all of the excess stain from the entire piece. This penetrates the raw wood in spots where you knicked and sanded and also darkens the paint to create faux age. Once you let this sit a bit, come back over it with a clear coat of protectant to preserve your piece. I used polyurethane, applied by brush.

8) If you want to get fancier and create more work for yourself, you can create a back frame in which the picture, glass and picture backer will sit. I bought some cheap ($1.95/ea) frames from Walmart and stole the glass and backer pieces from those. Basically, you just want to measure the glass dimensions, then create an open frame on the back of your frame in which they will sit. Cut them to the glass size, allowing about 1/16" on all sides for wiggle room and glue them in place with your wood glue. Finally, I used the screws and brackets from the cheap frames I bought to secure the glass and backer in place.

So, there you go. While it may seem like I did, I didn't include EVERY step, and tried to hit the highlights and more complicated steps, so if you want more details about how I did something, email me or leave a comment and I will be happy to answer your question.

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