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How To Make Picture Frames


how to frame pictures

You can learn how to frame pictures and make picture frames just like the professionals do with just a little practice and determination. I am going to show and tell you how you can easily make your own picture frames and put your own pictures together. I am even going to reveal some secrets about putting picture frames together that the pro's don't want you to know. It is easy so lets get started!

picture frame moulding storage binsFirst you need a little back ground information so that you can understand the processes involved. Many people write me about the possibility of buying long length moulding  so that they can make their own frames. What they don't realize is that most of the frame shops around the country don't even do this!

Click here to see a larger image of the
picture frame moulding storage bins

There are too many things wrong with buying molding this way. Let me explain. We buy long length moulding because we deal wholesale in moldings. To do this we order moldings by the box lot full, hundreds of feet of the same style of moulding in each box, and these are shipped to us by tractor trailer.

It certainly does not make sense for the average person order picture frame moulding this way, nor even for most of the picture frame shops operating in this country. For one thing, what frame shop would want to stock hundreds of feet of the same style moulding that may never be sold. Many of these boxes of molding cost upwards of a $1000.00 each. Multiply this by a couple of hundred mouldings or more and you got a big inventory problem.

Another problem many people don't realize is that length moulding ordered this way has a 20 percent waste factor when you go to cut it into picture frames. Sometimes lots more, and unless you have a great deal of experience, moulding brought this way can become very costly. I have seen many ten foot pieces of molding that had only four feet of usable molding in it.  You have got to really know what you are doing to buy moulding this way.

Another problem ordering length moulding is that is has to be shipped by tractor trailer. This is very costly due to the price of fuel for those big trucks.  Length mouldings cannot be shipped by mail or ups. So, what do the majority of picture frame shops in this country do? They order chops and do not have to worry about any of these problems such as truck freight, storage, the waste factor; because with chops, there is no waste factor. Nor do they have to stock moldings which may never sell which is a huge problem.

What is a chop? When you walk into a custom frame shop to have a picture framed, the framer shows you many moulding samples on his wall. Usually, he does not actually have these moldings in stock at his place of business.

picture frame chopsWhen you buy a picture frame from the custom framer, the picture framer orders the "chop" from a wholesale dealer who cuts/chops the molding to the exact size the custom framer wants, and ships it to his shop via UPS and the picture framer then puts the frame together. This is how at least 90 percent or more of the picture frame shops in this country operate.

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Picture Frame Chops

Here on this web site you can do the exact same thing! You can order the exact same "chops" from us that the professional customer framer orders, then just like him, you can put the frame together. It is super simple to order picture frames this way right on this web site!

Picture frame chops as a picture framer receives themThe picture here shows a picture frame chop wrapped up.  This is how a custom frame shop receives them.  It is then up to the custom picture framer to do his best at putting them together, gluing and making the corners fit and nailing them together using either picture framing nails or V-Nails. It is also up to the custom picture framer to fill in any nail holes or dings with nail hole putty and make the frame look the best possible.

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Picture frame chop package

After deciding on the frame you want, you have to know the exact size of the frame you need before ordering it. You must be correct because there are no returns or refunds allowed on cut picture frame molding from any supplier. Even the professional shops cannot return a cut molding. That is why they charge a 50 % deposit. To cover their loss if the customer doesn't pick up the finished picture.

What you have to order is the exact "glass size" you need. If you need a frame that a piece of 16 by 20 glass fits into, then that is what you order, a 16 by 20 frame. We will cut the moulding slightly over size so that this piece of 16 X 20 glass or whatever, will fit into the frame after you put the frame together. This is all done for you automatically by us. You don't have to do any figuring. This is the way all custom frame shops order their frames. You just have to do the same.

You have to be careful with painted canvases. Sometimes these are not square. For example, for a 16 by 20 canvas, you may actually have to order a 16 1/4 by 20 1/8 inch frame, so that the canvas will "drop" into the frame after the frame is put together, because sometimes the canvas corners were not "square". Usually this does not happen, but you must be aware of this fact, because when you put one of our frames together, the corners will be exactly "square". You can order any size of picture frame chop from us that you need.

picture frame chop cutterWhen you order the frame chops from us the pieces of moulding will be cut on a professional picture frame chopper. Then the pieces are carefully wrapped and shipped to you via UPS.

The chopper that we use is a heavy duty built piece of machinery. The head and cutter blades are built from a very heavy piece of metal. The moulding lays along side of the head and the blades come down and slice through the wood like butter. The head and blades are locked at exactly ninety degrees. The heavy head and blades cannot move and the corners are cut exact every time. What you receive will be four pieces of moulding with the corners all cut for you. All you have to do is put the four corners together and you have just completed a picture frame.

When you receive your package of picture frame chops from us, all you need to do is open the package and you will find the four pieces of molding wrapped up in paper. Take these pieces and being very careful not to drop them on the floor, (they always seem to land on their ends damaging the ends) sort the pieces into two long and two short sides.

marking the ends of picture framesThen A professional will use one of the special corner markers we sell, and mark along the ends of all four molding pieces. Only a slight mark along the top cut edge is needed. You should do the same thing, it makes a big difference as to the looks of the finished frame. 

Try to use a marker that closely matches the color of the moulding.  Mark along the top edge and when you put the corner together in a clamp or vise, the cut edges almost disappear.

You will need to have one of our framers corner clamps, or a picture framer vise screwed to your work bench. Without a clamp or corner vise you will find it difficult to put a picture frame together, although using our special wood glue it can be done with just your fingers.  But that is another story. You should also check out the instructions found on most of our product pages such as the clamps, vises, glue pages....

Put the longer piece of moulding on the right side of the vise and lightly clamp it into position. Do the same with the shorter piece in the left side of the clamp allowing the corners to come together. You MUST always put the long pieces on the right side and the shorter pieces on the left side. You must remember to do this ALWAYS so that your picture frame will come together properly. If you mess up, you will find it impossible to put the frame together. You might want to mark the corners of your clamp so that you will remember to do this.  Remember, long piece goes on the right.

putting picture frame corners togetherNow "Work" the pieces of the mouldings until the corners come together in the vise perfectly. The only difference between you and a professional is that a pro knows how to "work" the corners. This is one of those little secrets I told you about. Many times the corners all go together great but sometimes you have to "work" them.

That may mean twisting one side or the other of the frame until it fits perfectly. It may mean putting a piece of paper on the backside of the frame to cause the clamp to put a twist on the frame so that it goes together perfectly. A professional knows how to do this and almost never has to re-cut a frame. You can learn to do the same thing in a short amount of time. A tip: try to get one side of the frame about exact and then try to do most of the "working" on the other piece only. Also be careful not to drop a corner. It happens often on the first few frames you do. A drop may damage the corners making it difficult to put the frame together properly.

When you have the frame corners together exactly, loosened the side of the frame that you worked on the least, pull the frame up or slightly out and put our corner glue on that side and and pushing the corner back into place clamp the frame pieces together and wipe off the excess glue with a paper towel. Let this set up in your vise for at least fifteen minutes, then carefully remove the two glued pieces and lay them down on your work bench. Don't play with them! Now work and glue the other two pieces of your picture frame together, remembering to keep the long piece of molding on the right side of the vise. Remember, the long side always goes on the right! Again allow the glue on these two pieces to set up for at least fifteen minutes.

After removing these second two pieces from the corner vise, you should allow both pieces to set up an extra 20 minutes until you have more experience.   After that time you now put both glued pieces into position on the clamp or vise and glue the third side of the picture frame. You should really let this glued third side sit up for thirty minutes because this is the side that is going to take the largest strain of putting the frame together. Be patient.

Note: After you have done a couple of frames, you can see where the time is spent and you will soon learn to use that time putting other picture frames together on your clamp or vise.  You only need one clamp, or vise.  You never want to attempt to put all four sides of a picture frame together by using four clamps.  It won't work and is not a professional way of putting the picture frames together.  Two clamps might give you an extra bit of time once you know what your doing.  More than two clamps or vises will not give you any extra time at all, unless you are a frame shop doing lots of frames at once.  Even most small picture frame shops can get by with just 2 vises.  There are too many other things to do. 

All this only applies if you are using our wood glue -its super strong, and sets up fast. Hardware store glue won't work but again, it would take another story to explain. Just remember, after the frames have dried in the vise for 15 minutes, those corners can be taken out of the vise and laid down flat on a bench to continue drying.

After letting the third glued side sit up long enough, take the frame pieces out of the corner vise and try to put the forth side together. Hopefully this will go well as it almost always does. Because this is the forth side, all mistakes in putting the frame together so far will be compounded in this corner. Just be patient and work the frame. Remember, a professional will almost never have to re-cut a frame. They make the corner go together almost every time. Hopefully your first frames will go together well and you will see sweet success right off the bat!

a bad fitting picture frame cornerThere are cases though where after all best efforts are given, a corner won't go together. It happens to even the best of us. Remember, even a professional frame shop cannot return a chop to the distributor, so what to do? He will re-cut the corner. I will show you how to do this. (It is easier to do if you haven't glued the corner yet. If you have I would advise letting the glue in the corner dry first.)

Picture frame mouldings are cut on a chopper or saw.  They are held tightly in placed while the moulding is cut. Sometimes the moulding may have a bend or twist that cannot be seen and this is what causes a corner cut to go bad.  These bends or twist are cut out of the mouldings and tossed away but once in a while a small one gets through.  It doesn't happen often and a professional picture framer knows how to handle this problem easily.

We are going to say that your corner is in the corner vise and there is a gap showing that you don't like after all attempts to fix it have failed. Tighten the vise so that both sides of the frame are tightened down securely. Then take a common hack saw and starting on top of the frame cut down into the corner of the frame exactly on the corner. Follow the joint line as best as you can trying to cut the same amount off both sides of the frame. After this process, you must loosen the vise and remark the corners of the frame with the corner markers again, then proceed to put the corners back together.

how to tighten picture frame cornersThe corner should now fit correctly, although once in a long while I have had to cut a frame corner this way twice. Glue the corner, let set up for thirty minutes before removing. You should be able to put together a frame this way in a little over an hours time.

With two vises you can only shorten the time by just fifteen minutes. The reason pros have lots of vises is so that they can work on more frames at once. Hopefully you will end up with a frame with glued corners with little trouble. I usually can put together one hundred to two hundred frames with out ever having to re-cut one.

picture frame corner viseKeep in mind I just put the above information here so that you will have it if necessary. The chops you receive will be very accurate, you just need to learn how to "work" the corners. Practice makes perfect and you will find putting frames together lots of fun.

The professional vise that we sell is much easier to put picture frames together with but you can do it with the smaller vise easy enough, as has been shown. The pro vise shown here is made for putting together picture frames and is almost useless for putting other kinds of moldings together.

Your not done yet! Your nice glued frame needs to be nailed together. I know a number of professional frame shops that still use regular picture framing nails to nail the frames together. This is done while the mouldings are locked in the professional vise. You glue the corners in the vise, then nail them using the picture frame nails while the mouldings are locked into the vise.

Most frame shops today use V-Nails to nail the frames together. We do the same thing in our shop. V nails hold really good and produce a very sturdy frame.

To use V-Nails, the picture frames are glued together first in the vise or clamp just as I have told you above. All four corners are glued and not nailed. When the last corner is glued the frame is taken out of the vise, laid on a bench or hung on a wall rack and allowed to dry a couple of hours or overnight.

Then they are v-nailed together using a v- nailing machine. The cheaper common frames you see in department stores are usually put together without even using glue! (the time factor). That is the reason these frames usually don't have good corners.

Using a V nailing machine to put picture frames togetherV-nailing machines are expensive costing many thousands of dollars. There are people making smaller machines for home framers. These cost a few hundred dollars.

Now I am going to tell you a little known secret that all these company's don't want you to know. You don't need Them!

That is right, I am going to show you how to V-Nail a frame together without the use of any of these machines!

You will need a perfectly smooth bench top with a sturdy leg under your working corner. This bench top is going to have to be really smooth so that you don't mess up your nice frame. If it is not, purchase a piece of Formica or something like that, about two feet square and place that on the corner of your bench, directly over one of the bench legs. Otherwise, if your bench top is maybe just passable, at least cover it with a few sheets of newspaper. Five sheets work well, too much newspaper pads the frame too much. You need smooth, firm, and sturdy.

Place your now glued frame upside down on your bench top (face side down) with one corner of the frame directly over your bench tops leg. You are now looking at the bottom of your frame. Then using our case hardened - hand drivable V nails, notice that one side of the v- nails have a glued backing and looks darker than the other side. This side of the v- nails have been glued together somewhat, to hold the nails together. This glued side is the "sharp" side. You must Remember that!

v nails to put picture frames togetherSeparate with your finger nails, three or four of these v nails and pull them off the leaf. Using needle nose pliers, hold the sharp edge of the V-Nail against the wood of the frame as shown in the pictures and using our framing hammer just pound them into the frame. See photos below.

You will find this very easy to do. The nails drive good as long as you have the sharp sides down. Tip: if looking down at the V-Nails, and you don't see the "edge" of the nail, your looking at the sharp side and you need to turn it over. The dull side will have a "shine" to it.  You want your hammer to hit the shiny side!  You also want to be using a 7 oz.. picture framers hammer. You will ruin your frame using carpenters hammers or cause other problems.

You should place at least two hand drive able V-Nails into each corner in a any molding, three nails in a 1 1/2 inch moulding and four nails in a two inch moulding. They hold well, that and the glue and you got a nice solid picture frame. Nail all four corners of your picture frame this way and your done. Good picture frames are actually held together by the glue. The nails are only there to hold the corner if the glue comes apart due to dropping or other reasons.

You can see why you need a smooth bench top, so that you don't damage the front side of your picture frame.

When you get your frame glued and dried you later should nail it. But here I want to give you a lesson about glue. Using the proper glue will make your job so much easier. When you come to nail the frame together, if you haven't used the right glue, you might have the frame corner come apart on you. If that happens you will find it quite difficult to remove the V-Nails and redo your frame. The only way to get V-Nails out of a corner is to use and awl and dig in and pry them out. It is a pain in the butt! It is so much nicer to not have to ever re-do a corner. I am not trying to make a sales pitch on using our glue, BUT, it does work great! The common wood glues found in most stores just don't work good on picture frames corners. In fact they fail miserably. Using them you will find many of your frame corners coming apart when nailing them together. The glue we sell is made special for corners and holds very well.. Please read more about our glue on this link.  This glue has many times the solids in it that hardware store glues don't have.  It is these solids that make the glue so strong.  It is also the reason why it costs more.  Hardware store glue is runny. There are so many solids in our glue that it comes out more like soft ice cream.  There is a huge difference! 

nailing picture frames togetherThere are some moldings that are very, very difficult to work with. All the moldings that we sell on this web site have been hand picked by me to be easy to work with, and most are easy to glue and nail. The mouldings that I sell are also hand picked to be easy to repair.

Building your own frames this way is very much fun and mentally rewarding. Even though I have an expensive V-Nailing machine, I have V-Nailed by hand many hundreds of picture frames. Sometimes just for the fun of it, and sometimes because I didn't want to bother with starting the compressor that feeds my machine. I have also V-Nailed by hand every picture frame we sell to test every single moulding that I sell to make sure you can it easily.

It don't cost much in time and materials to try out my system of putting picture frames together. You really should give it a try. You will find it lots of fun! It is no where as difficult as you might think it is. Most frames go together very easily and you will find our chops to be easy to put together. I also know for a fact that you can put your picture frames together faster than the time you have spent reading all this. I have just tried to be very thorough here so that I answer as many questions as possible in this article as I can. You probably have more questions. What you need to do is try this system out a couple of times and if you are at all even a little bit of a builder you will figure out the rest. There are also directions on most of my supplies pages that tell you more about how to use the products and more good stories about how to do picture framing.

Thank You for visiting
Sincerely, Reimond Grignon