Are you looking for an easy way to build a picture frame you can hang today? Are you constantly being reminded by your empty walls that all those family pictures still in their envelopes are quickly becoming outdated?
If you’re like me and my family, then you probably have more pictures that never saw a frame then you care to admit. And to buy picture frames new is not cheap.
Unless you get the cheap ones, and they always break!
So today I’m going to show you how to build this picture frame:
I’ll cover the following:
- What types of wood to use for different purposes
- What tools you’ll need
- The process of measuring, marking, and cutting
- Joinery using a quick and easy technique
- Options on how to finish to really make it your own
Other articles you may be interested in:
To Build A Picture Frame Starts With Wood Selection
You don’t need much wood for building a simple frame, so I can’t say you’ll save a ton of money using 1 type of wood over another. However, if you’re building several, and you want to do this on the cheap, then I would suggest using Pine, SPF, or Poplar.
Basic dimensional lumber you can get from any home store will work just fine, and it’s usually pine or SPF (spruce/pine/fur).
If you want to paint the frame, use Poplar or SPF. Poplar sands really good and gets nice and smooth. It’s ugly by itself, so you’ll definitely want to cover it with paint.
If you want a cheap frame with a rustic look, get SPF or Pine and stain once it’s built. This wood tends to be blotchy when stained, so you may also want to use a pre-stain wood conditioner or a gel stain.
If you don’t mind spending a few extra bucks and want a nice wood finish, buy a hardwood of your choice. Home stores will usually have at least some choices of Red Oak, which is what I used for this project. If you can get some cherry, walnut, or mahogany, these would make beautiful picture frames.
A recap based on wood type:
- Pine or SPF – cheap, needs to be conditioned and stained, creates a rustic looking wood finish
- Poplar – also pretty cheap, sands well, use this if you want to paint the final product
- Any hardwood – not cheap, price varies depending on your region, use if you want a nice wood finish, can stain if you want to adjust color
Tools and Material Needed To Build A Picture Frame
I’ll be using these tools for cutting the pieces:
- Miter saw
- Table saw
You can even do without the table saw if you must, which I’ll cover as we go.
For this project, I’ll be using a Craftsman sliding miter saw, although any miter saw will work.
If you’re just using a table saw, you’ll probably want to build a miter sled.
I’ll be using my Grizzly table saw.
Joinery – The Easy DIY Way
For the joinery, you’ll need a pocket hole jig. I prefer the Kreg jig, as it’s priced alright, found locally and on Amazon, and it works really well.
You’ll use Kreg screws that are self-tapping to reduce the chance of splitting the board.
Plus they’re pan-head style screws so they seat in the pocket hole just right.
Parts – Tools – Materials Recap
- Miter Saw
- Table Saw (recommended, not required)
- Pocket Hole Jig with included drill bit and 1-1/4″screws
- Wood Glue
- Wood of your choice – 3/4″ thick
The Build Process
A Few Initial Calculations
The overall size of your frame will determine how much wood you’ll need, and ultimately how long to make each piece.
I’ll be making a frame for a 5 by 7 photo.
My frame width will be 2-1/2″. The wider you make the frame, the easier it is to build.
The inside edge of the frame covers 1/4″ of the picture all the way around. With that in mind, I can determine that my frame width will go out 2-1/4″ past my 5×7 picture all the way around.
So my final frame will be 9-1/2″ wide, by 11-1/2″ tall. To come up with the total length needed, just add up the outside perimeter of the final dimensions, then add a few inches for slop.
So I need a piece 46″ long, by 2-1/2″ wide. This leaves me 4 extra inches in case I mess up a cut. I can also cut 2 pieces 23″ long each. I’ll end up with enough to cut 1 short side and 1 long side on each of the 2 pieces.
Ripping Your Board to Width
I’ve got some scrap oak I’ll be using, which happen to be 2 – 23″ pieces. First I’ll take each piece to the table saw and rip them down to 2-1/2″ width.
Pro Tip >> First I like to trim off just a bit from one side to make it flat and smooth, then flip it over and make the final cut to the proper width.
If you don’t have a table saw, you can buy the wood pre-cut to certain widths from places like Lowes or Home Depot. This means you’ll be at the mercy of what they offer when it comes to wood type and frame width. For example, I can get red oak from Lowes, 3/4″ thick, pre-cut to 2″ wide. This would work fine for a picture frame.
However, if you’re use anything less than 2-1/2″ wide, you’ll only be able to fit in 1 pocket hole for each joint. I prefer having 2, so I keep my frames above 2-1/2″.
Cutting Your Miters
To build a picture frame you need a total of 4 miter joints. We’ll be cutting the miters on the miter saw. To make sure each corner ends up square, make a few test cuts on some scrap wood, put the pieces together, and check that they make a perfect 90 with a square. If they do not, make adjustments to your miter saw until you get this as close to perfect as you can.
Then you just have to measure out each cut based on the calculations you made already, and make the cuts.
Be sure to wear safety glasses when using your power tools!
For each pair of opposing sides, make sure they are EXACTLY the same length. I do this by making the initial cuts a bit long. Then stacking them together to make the final cuts. This gets both pieces as close to perfect as I can get them.
If you prefer to cut miters on the table saw, here’s a good article > Cutting Perfect Miters Every Time
Dry Fit The Frame
Here are the 4 pieces mitered.
And here I’ve pushed them together to make sure I don’t have gaps.
If you made sure to fine-tune your miter saw’s 45-degree adjustment until you came out with 2 pieces making a perfect 90, and then also cut the opposing sides exactly the same length, you’ll too have a nice frame that fits together very well.
If there is a small gap at one corner after pushing the other 3 corners together tight, then using pocket hole joinery can likely pull that in and close the gap for you. This works best with soft woods, like Pine and SPF.
Now Cut The Rabbets
If you’ve never heard of this before, it’s OK. Don’t worry, we’re not taking a knife to some cute little bunnies.
A rabbet is just a woodworker’s technical term that means a groove cut at the edge of a board, creating a recessed area on that edge.
When you build a picture frame, this rabbet is cut on the back, along the inside perimeter of the frame. This is what makes the area that fits the actual glass (if you want it), the picture, and a stiff backing.
If you do not have a table saw, just skip the rabbets. You can simply tape the photo to the back of the frame. The end product will look a bit deeper than normal frames, but it still looks good.
First set up your saw with a sacrificial fence. This way you can safely run the board through with the blade at the very edge. Here’s my first setup.
I’ve set the blade just over 1/4″ high, and the first pass will only take out a kerf width cut. Here’s a close up of the blade.
And here’s what the board looks like after the first pass. Remember to do this on all 4 pieces, on the back, at the inside edge (the shorter non-mitered edge).
After cutting all 4 pieces like this, I move the fence out another kerf width, and being a 1/8″ thick kerf, this puts me at my desired rabbet depth of 1/4″. Here’s the fence adjusted:
And now I make the final pass with each board. Here is what they look like with the rabbets complete.
So now you can see how this frame comes together. With the rabbets cut, you can dry fit the frame again and as you can see, they line up perfectly to fit your photo:
And now with the picture frame upside down, dry fit together, I can measure the space for the picture to see that it perfectly fits a 5 by 7:
Now For The Pocket Holes
As I mentioned before, I’ll be using a Kreg pocket hole jig. Make sure you understand the directions that come with your jig. You’ll likely have 3 adjustments to make. One on the fence for elevating the pocket hole depending on the width of the board. Then the collar on the pocket drill bit is set so the clearance hole goes just to the edge of the board. And finally, the clamp is adjusted to secure the board in place.
With the width of the boards 2-1/2″, I can just get the close double pockets with the jig:
After I drill these holes, you can see now what I mean when I say this width of 2-1/2″ is just enough. The back of the pocket hole is right near one edge, and the clearance hole for the screw is really close to the rabbet. If my board was anything less than 2-1/2″, I would not have been able to fit these double pockets.
Now repeat this cut for each joint. I chose to put the double pockets on both sides of the short pieces:
Putting It All Together
Once you’ve got to this step, you now need to get your clamps, wood glue, drill, 1-1/4″ pocket screws, and the appropriate driver bit for the screws. To drill these pockets, I’ll be using the Hitachi D10VH corded drill.
You’ll want to work on the edge of your workbench. Take 2 pieces that will be joined to start. The one without the pocket holes will be clamped really well.
When you build a picture frame, you want solid joinery, and I prefer always supplementing pocket joinery with glue to achieve this. So rub some glue on the mating surface of both pieces.
Pro Tip >> If you want to reduce squeeze out on the front side of the frame, rub the glue along that edge really thin, without wiping it completely off.
Now clamp the second piece in place, make sure you have a good flat clamp to hold down right at the joint. I’m using an actual Kreg vice clamp.
Double check that applying the clamp pressure didn’t shift the board, and that the inside and outside corners are still lined up just right.
And now screw in the pocket screws. Do this slowly to reduce the chance of splitting the wood. For this, I’ll be using the Black & Decker LDx120.
And here’s the first joint complete:
Now complete this step 3 more times. Just remember that when joining the 3rd of the 4 corners, you’ll be mating 2 corners at the same time, so apply glue to each one before joining #3.
Here’s my frame once the joints are complete:
Prep For Finishing
There’s not much to say here except sand your picture frame. Since the wood I’m using is already fairly smooth, I just hand-sanded it down with some 180 grit. Be sure to get the inside and outside edges. And don’t neglect the back either.
I also suggest knocking down the corners with 1 or 2 strokes of the sandpaper. This gets rid of the sharp edges.
Yes, that is a Mortal Kombat reference. But anyway, this is where you can really make this frame what you want it to be. Make it your own. Don’t be afraid to try something crazy, like a custom paint job, a heart-warming quote with a magic marker, or maybe you can let your kids paint it.
I personally love the natural look of wood. I’ll be applying an oil finish, using boiled linseed oil which you can get from any home store.
I won’t go into all the details, as this post is not about finishing, and I suspect many of you will be staining or painting, which is not part of this particular process.
But either way here’s a before and after using boiled linseed oil on a red oak picture frame.
It really just gives it a rich look and makes the grain show better.
We’re wrapping up this guide on how to build a picture frame, and really all we have left is to attach some hanging hardware. You can get some cheap sawtooth hangers from any home store. They come with tiny little nails, on which I used a hammer and nail punch.
I’ve also inserted the glass, a stock photo from a previously purchased 5 by 7 frame, and I cut a piece of cardboard as a backer.
Then I bent some paper clips with needle nose pliers and used them with 1/2″ #6 wood screws and small washers. This is what will hold the photo in place. Be sure to pre-drill the holes so the screws don’t split the wood, as that would be detrimental at this step of the process!
And Voila – You’re Done!
Your picture frame is complete and ready to hang. So as I mentioned this is a stock photo, so I’ll have to ask my wife to dig out a 5 by 7 she wants to hang up for our new frame.
If the 2-1/2″ wide frame is too much for your liking, especially on a 4 x 6 or a 5 x 7 frame like mine, then you can go down to 2″ and still have plenty of room to do single pocket holes for the joints.
Or if you’re making a larger frame, the 2-1/2″ may seem more proportional.
But if you’re customizing the frame with phrases, sketches, designs, or anything else, this wider style may fit the bill.
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