Faux-Vintage Picture Frames

For the past three years, my wife and I have been attending Fan Expo in Toronto. In the past, I’ve described it to friends as Canadian ComiCon, which is a bit confusing, because there actually is a Toronto ComiCon, but it’s smaller and less well-attended than Fan Expo.

One of the features of Fan Expo is the Artist Alley, where local artists and more well known comic book artists sell prints of their work. Over the past two years, my wife and I have purchased eight large prints at the event, but until now, they’ve been sitting in a pile in our office, because we haven’t had any picture frames large enough to hold them.

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I started out with some clear pine boards, all cut to approximately 22″ in length, jointed, and planed to around 5/8″ thick.

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Next, I ripped the boards into 1.5″ strips, and cut them to length. Four of the prints were 11″ x 17″, while the other four were 12″ x 18″. Since the bezel on each of my frames is 1.5″ wide, I added 3″ to all of those dimensions to determine the final length of the strips.

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With the strips cut to length, I mitred their ends. I also used my box joint blade and a sacrificial fence to cut a dado that would hold the glass along the short edge of each strip. Unfortunately, I neglected to take a picture of that step. Ah well.

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With the cutting done, it was time to glue all of the frames into their final shapes. Since I don’t have enough clamps to secure eight frames all at once, this step took awhile to complete.

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Mitred frames look cool, but glued end grain butt joints aren’t particularly strong, so I wanted to strengthen the corners of each piece. I used a simple jig to run each frame across the blade of my table saw, with its wide sides perpendicular to the table, and its long edges angled 45″ off of the table surface.

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The result of this operation was an 1/8″ wide slot cut into each corner, running directly through the plane perpendicular to the mitre joint.

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I glued a thin slice of pine into each of these slots, ensuring that the grain in the slice ran perpendicular to the mitre joint, strengthening it significantly.

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With the glue dried, I cut away the excess material, added a chamfer around the edge of each frame, and gave them all a good sanding down to 220 grit.

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After hitting each frame with a coat of Minwax pre-stain wood conditioner, I applied a coat of this Classic Black stain and polyurethane combination with a foam brush.

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One coat in, this finish looked awful. The stain component of the product soaked into the wood unevenly, leaving a splotchy finish, and the polyurethane part of the product made it thicker than most of the stains that I’ve worked with, which really only made it harder to work with, and left an overly glossy finish behind.

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In an effort to even out the finish, I sanded with 000 steel wool, and applied a second coat of the stain product. When that dried, I used steel wool to take the gloss off of the frames and wear down the edges, giving the them a sort of faux-worn look. Finally, I hit them with a satin spray polyurethane to seal the exposed wood.

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While this was undoubtedly the long way to accomplish the finish that I ended up with, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. My mitres are tight, my corners are square, and the worn edges look pretty cool with some of the art that we bought.

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To finish the job, I ordered some 1/16″ thick glass panes from a local supplier that does custom cuts. The prints are sandwiched between the glass and a sheet of 3/16″ foam core, which is pinned in place with a few small brad nails.

This job has been taking up space in my shop for a couple months now, so it’s good to finally get it finished, and to get the prints that we bought two years ago up on the wall. They look great, and I’m really happy with the results.