HOW TO CONSTRUCT A PICTURE FRAME - BASICS GUIDE

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Choosing your tools


The amount of tools required depends on what results you want to achieve. You can scrape through the very basics with some cheap and cheerful gear, but this often causes frustration.  Adapting tools to jobs they are not specifically designed for often fails to do the job properly.

However the right investment at this stage can leave you with not only very professional results, but tools that will continue to help you make really great frames.

You only need very few tools to get started, but what you purchase is very important. Over the following pages we present a list of tools that will help you get started at whatever level you wish to begin.

Choosing a saw  

Now it is critical that you choose a cutting device that won't let you down. Here we profile three, a simple mitre saw, a mitre trimmer and a professional mitre machine.
 
1 Mitre Saws
 

Choosing a mitre saw is not as easy as you might at first think. To begin with, what features actually make it a good saw? We receive numerous emails from people who have bought cheap mitre saws and have real problems.  Quite often, these saws are designed for cutting skirting board, architrave or coving and not delicate framing mouldings. When buying a saw check that:

    * you are able to attach it firmly to a base to stop it from sliding around;
    * the saw swivels from left to right, to allow you to cut the 45 degree angle.  Make sure the part that swivels locks into place and does not move at all;
    * the blade arm moves backwards and forwards freely, without snagging and that the blade is thick enough not to flex from side to side;
    * you use the correct blade, starting at 18 teeth per inch (tpi) for larger mouldings over 50mm; 24 tpi for medium size 20-50mm mouldings and 32 tpi for smaller delicate mouldings.

2 Mitre Trimmer
 
The Mitre Trimmer is a bladed guillotine that will shave off the moulding until you acquire the correct size. The bladed cut gives a glass like finish to your mitre helping to get those perfect joints time and time again. The mitre trimmer has lever operated cutting action, part of the reason for the tools great accuracy is that it is made of a single massive casting. The blades are honed razor sharp, ready for use. Its 90 and 45 degree positive stops are located on both cutting areas and have been factory set for accuracy.

 

3 Professional Mitre Machine
 
The foot operated mitre guillotine is the machine most used by the professional framer who needs to obtain very high quality time and time again. With its double bladed cutting action, sliding longitudinal stop, measuring scale, adjustable fences (45-90°), and adjustable rebate supports it is the perfect tool for the job. However it comes at a price, but if you are framing on a daily or weekly basis the saving in time and materials is huge.

The next step in frame construction is clamping and the mitred sections of moulding ready for joining.
 
Clamping
 
Clamping is a very important part of the operation. Using poor quality equipment will cause more problems than it is worth. A frame requires the assembly of four or more pieces of moulding that have been mitred. The clamps,  mentioned here, will all perform the task of holding the pieces of moulding together in one go. If each corner is done individually, slight inaccuracies on each corner are multiplied four fold.  By the time you reach the final corner,  you can end up with gaps.

At the very cheap end of the market is the cord clamp. This very simple device has four right angled plastic corners connected by string. The mitred lengths of moulding are assembled, the plastic supports are then placed on each corner, the string is tightened by hand pulling all the pieces together. Finally the string is tied off to a special cleat in one of the plastic corners, which will keep it from slipping. This system works better on smaller frames, mainly because the strength of grip is only as strong as the amount you can pull the cord in by hand. If you are trying to push a v nail in and it is not tightened sufficiently then the join can easily be forced apart if you are not careful.

 

Finally there is the Strap Clamp.
 

This tool is far superior having a metal strap and integral tensioning device.  These are really easy to use on small and large frames alike. Having a rigid steel band to work with makes life so much easier.  Unlike the cord clamp, it doesn't flop around whilst you are trying to gather the four sides of moulding together, and a far greater tension can be achieved using a mechanical tightening mechanism. Once sufficiently tightened, the frame can be picked up, turned over and adjusted so all the mitres are in perfect alignment. We recommend this clamp if you are framing for the first time and intend to make more than 10 frames.  It will save a lot of frustration and time.


Joining tools

Most professional framers join the mitres of frames with V nails which are inserted by a underpinning machine. These are electrically powered, pneumatic or foot operated.

DIYframers have the choice of some simple hand operated underpinners, which we feature on this site.

The simplest  is a hand operated V nail punch. The V nail is attracted to the magnetic tip of the v nailer and positioned across the mitre.  Pressure is then applied and the V nail cuts into the moulding, pulling together the two mitred pieces.

For the a more sophisticated way of joining, try the Pro Joiner or Studio joiner. Each have very well engineered mechanisms: the V nail again sits on a magnetised plunger, which is pushed into the wood as pressure is applied to the handle.


Larger, Foot-operated Joiners
 

If you begin to do any volume of framing, putting the V nails in, one by one, is very time consuming. This is where the foot-operated models move the craft up another level. Whilst holding the mitres together they can be placed into a right angled stop.  The V nails are fired in from underneath, whilst a pressure stop holds the moulding in position. Often there are production stops to allow you to fire the pins into two different positions.


Odds and Ends

As well as the large pieces of kit already mentioned, there is a whole range of hand tools that every framer will have in his/her tool box.  These will include:

    * hammers
    * craft knives tape measures
    * non slip rulers
    * glass cutter
    * pliers
    * screwdrivers
    * bradawl
    * scissors

 

The list can be endless and there's always a new tool on the market that will make things easier.  Often, though, much of what you need can be found in or around the home.


Last, but not least, although it's not a tool, a good solid flat bench makes things so much easier.  Ideally the work surface should be around about your "hip height". Even worse, trying to work on the floor can be back breaking.
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