making simple unfinished wood picture frames - what set up for a newbie?

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27 Feb 2023
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I'm a complete newbie to world of wood working and the only thing iv'e ever used/owned is a scroll saw which I hardly used and sold many years ago.
I'm more of an artist than wood worker but I want to get into basic woodworking starting with some simple projects.

I currently paint artwork onto unfinished wood picture frames sold by a couple of online stores but I have issues with irregular stock levels and sometimes waiting sometime before new frames are manufactured. The frames used are fairly basic wooden structures with 3 pins holding each corner. The most important factor that differentiates them from a standard frame is the thickness of the moulding used around the inner aperture (photo). Craft frames tend to use a thick/wide moulding say 45mm-60mm thick so it gives a nice wide area to paint onto. Some people also use these wide areas for engraving onto.

Many shops don't sell these types of frames and it's quite a niche but in demand area amongst engravers and crafters. If I could make my own it would save me time and hassle. I only need to make small frames to fit say a 6x4"and maybe 7x5" photo/picture.

I already own a framers tab gun, and getting the glass and backing board to fit the size frames is simple enough so just need to make the actual frame. I'd like to know the most suitable type of machine that can cut a nice 45 degree angle and hopefully something that is relatively cheap. Would I also need a specific jig or could I make something up and would there be anything else needed to get me started?

Where would one purchase thick basic wood mouldings that would be in continuous supply.

Maybe it's more difficult than I think so any help and guidance would be greatly appreciated.
I have included the type of moulding i'm looking for. It doesn't have to be the same exact style but I like the angle cut around the paerture area. This particular frame was made by a frame supplier for me to place a mirror into but would be the same moulding could be used for a 6x4" photo for example. All sides on this particular frame measure approx 60mm not including the sight angle. I'm open to using anything from 45mm-60mm.

The 2 unfinished images are the back and the white is the front which I've primed for painting a picture onto

If someone already makes similar things in here then I'd possibly be interested in buying.


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Getting professional results is difficult without the correct tools. A picture framer will typically use a miter cutter and underpinning machine to join perfect miters together. As an amateur I think should achieve good results with a small table saw using a jig for the miters. It would also allow you to machine the wood to actually make the frames.
Underpinning machines to drive those V nails are quite pricey. I bought a pneumatic V nailer which actually works quite well. It's one area of woodworking where there is no substitute for the correct tools.
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I made a few of these by using halving joints as that's what the gallery wanted. You could try mitres but without all the paraphernalia it's not that easy to get perfect. Maybe perfects not needed! This one I made from an ornate architrave. I glued it first the put the splines in


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Would MDF be an option if they are painted? You could cut them out of MDF in one piece then you wouldn't have any of the problems associated with mitres.
We have about 120 paintings up to 120 x 80cm. I've made the majority of the frames and many others for friends and family. I thought about a Morso guillotine on more than one occasion but never bothered. I've rough cut the mitre a few mm over size by hand or on the bandsaw and then used a disc sander to true the mitre. I do not own an under pinner but have used the pins from them once I've glued and strap clamped my frames.
The timber I use I've generally machined to section using poplar, but at times I've used off the shelf mouldings and planted them onto a starting section of PAR softwood.
I have generally finished the frames with acrylic primer undercoat, emulsion to match the rooms walls and then an acrylic varnish.

By 45-60 thick I presume you mean wide. Unless you are making dozens, by hand will be fine. Maybe a good quality fine tooth tenon saw and a plastic or metal mitre guide block, lots about and inexpensive. A deep mitre block will keep the saw blade vertical as well as at 45 degrees. And a set of picture frame corner clamps which are equally inexpensive. They normally have a flat base under the corner so keep it all lined up nicely. To get the stepped effect on the one you showed us you could use a rebate plane on the wood before you clamp it up, or make it up in 2 layers one slightly wider than the other. The key thing is cutting lengths accurately, that needs care but if you want several you could make templates (from cardboard mount leftovers?).
Let's start at the beginning; getting hold of the stock. I think you'll need to find a local business that can machine up sawn timber to your specific width and thickness requirements. This could be a furniture maker or a joinery co. Where in London are you? SL Hardwoods in Croydon will supply planed timber to your needs.
If you're making frames to a few standard sizes you could also get the stock cut to your specified lengths.
On the other hand if you want make up frames in various sizes you'll need some facility to cut stock to length and cut the mitres. Either way the obvious bit of kit to do this is a mitre saw of which there is a vast range available varying in size, quality and price.
Turning to the question of edge mouldings, a small router table would give you a lot of flexibility with the availability of a large range cutter profiles. This machine would also enable you to plane the mitre faces using a mitre fence to control the angle.
Both these machines would enable you to become more adventurous in frame design, ie 5, 6, 7, you name it, number of sides.
You could probably get these 2 machines new for under £400. At that price they won't be top quality but plenty good enough to get underway. If you have time to look around the s/h market you could pick up better quality machines in that budget.
Lion ( and other moulding suppliers do a cut to size ("chop") service, it costs more obviously but that would avoid needing a guillotine for good results (they are bulky and expensive). I use Lion's chop service when I need a frame - balance of convenience for something only needed occasionally for me.

You'd just ideally then need a pneumatic underpinner (can be found pretty cheap SH on Ebay, £100-150 or so) with a compressor for the jointing. You could find a work around for fixing the joints but an underpinner will make it much easier to get them perfect.
The mouldings would be fairly easy to make with a router table, and the mitres either cut with a powered mitre saw and/or by hand and then cleaned up with a hand plane and a shooting board. The problem is that. whilst that kit is not particularly exotic, it would be a fair investment for someone starting with no tools.
Go on Rose and Hollis website and they'll sell you all the plain-wood mouldings you'll ever need -

Next buy a hand mitre saw from Screwfix or Amazon, a hand mitre sander and a few band clamps -

Finally, a bottle of Titebond will finish your work.
Get a mitre trimmer, Morso have best reputation and tend to be more expensive but other makes such as Orteguil and Magnolia can be picked up for not a lot of money, blades can be sharpened by firms advertising on eBay for about £20. This will allow roughly sawn 45 Degree ish pieces of frame to be trimmed perfectly. If you make some jigs that will allow clamping of chosen sizes on a regular basis you can turn them out fairly quickly. Basically a block of wood to hold frame square. V nails can be pressed in with an arbor or a small pillar drill with an upside down drill bit fitted. And if that isn’t an option triangles of hard board or mdf can be glued on back of the frame.
I have had several guillotine/ trimmers the best sorts have vertical blades that move up and down rather than the side ways style. If you hunt around you can often find people selling a trimmer and a pile of mouldings thrown in- that would be a great start
I’ve used a small manually operated underpinner to join frames before.

I’m struggling to attach the link for you but it’s made by Charnwood who do a range of equipment suited but the one I have is similar to model PFK04.

It’s about 12”x12” and boxed so can be stored away easily. After a few practice runs it produced good results for me but you do need to test run it as I found it a little fiddly at first with my sausage fingers.
You will find a powered mitre saw is not accurate enough for picture frames, a Nobex hand mitre saw would be better, but both do not let you fine trim the angle to get an accurate joint, that is where a mitre slice machine come in, Axminster do a reasonable version, joining the frame needs a overhead frame nailer small versions are available, (as above) do have a look on the "Lion picture frame" site for guidance, FYI if you get a frame joiner you don't need band clamps.
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I have no doubt that a shooting plane is capable of making an accurate mitre in the right hands, but the mitre trimmer is easier for someone with arthritis in their hands, added bonus is cuts any depth at right angles to the workpiece being joined too, makes the job much easer.

The overhead V nailers are also very easy to use, unlike the hand operated ones that need a substantial amount of force to penetrated the timber as its always across the grain.
I have no doubt that a shooting plane is capable of making an accurate mitre in the right hands, but the mitre trimmer is easier for someone with arthritis in their hands, added bonus is cuts any depth at right angles to the workpiece being joined too, makes the job much easer.

The overhead V nailers are also very easy to use, unlike the hand operated ones that need a substantial amount of force to penetrated the timber as its always across the grain.
My dad used to use one of those trimmers for making frames and I recall he found it to be very good.

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