Framed! – not the usual suspects

Some time ago, my Dad, Joe McCormick, went with my son and me to visit the Shiloh Battlefield Memorial.  Dad is an excellent artist, and shortly after that trip, he presented my wife and me with an incredible pencil drawing of our son. He had taken some photos during that visit to Shiloh, and mixed them with a bit of imagination.

We decided that a shop-made picture frame would be the ideal way to display this treasure. I wanted to make the mat from wood as well, thinking that the grain patterns would be a nice compliment to the black and white drawing.

I asked for advice from my friends at the WoodTalk Online Forum, as several of them had made picture frames in the past. They pointed out that artwork must be treated with care, and not exposed to environments that might cause damage. Pencil drawings are often done on paper, which can become stained if exposed to wood.

I was able to confirm that the medium for this artwork was graphite pencil on mylar film, so my somewhat unusual arrangement should be in no danger of absorbing tanins from the wood.

This is the material, walnut for the frame, and poplar for the ‘mat’, after the initial milling:

The gray pieces in front are some stain color samples for my wife to look at. They gray turned out to be a no-go, but she was still undecided on what to use for the mat. I planned to use Watco Danish oil to enhance the color on the walnut frame parts.

Next is the assembled poplar ‘mat’. It has a rabbet on the inside edge to simulate a double mat. The rabbet was cut at the table saw, with the pieces on edge, held against the fence with feather boards.

The miters were also cut on the table saw, using a miter sled.

The pieces were only 1/4″ thick, so I couldn’t really pull the miters as tight as I wanted with clamps. You may notice the seams are not quite perfect.

I considered a tiny V-groove along each joint to make the fit look more intentional. If you can’t hide it, make it a design feature, right?

So, we decided to keep the frame minimalist to avoid detracting from the artwork. I started turning boards into frame moldings, aimed at something almost as sparse as a typical diploma frame. Here are some pieces cut to size:

Next, I needed to cut a ‘rabbet’ in the moldings, to receive the mat and glass. The saw setup to cut such a inside rabbet can be tricky, and for safety, should keep the stock supported on all sides:

The finished rabbet should look like this:


My next step was to run these past the blade once more, shaving about a 3 degree angle on the inside and outside edges of the front face only. I cut the miters first, to avoid having those non-square edges throw my miter cuts out of kilter.

Anyone notice I made 5 pieces for a 4-sided frame? Have to have at least one to screw up, always a good idea!

Thinking about the finish … we wanted the walnut frame to be really dark. I considered a mineral oil & beeswax finish. This finish makes walnut a deep, rich, coffee brown, with hints of purple. However, it is not protective against UV or anything else. It also dries out in time, and requires renewal.

After more research, I decided to go with walnut Watco danish oil, but didn’t expect it to look quite look the same.

In an effort to improve the strength of the miter joints in the mat, I wound up gluing some scraps of home made ‘veneer’ across the back of the miters, for a little extra support. This part is normally hidden, so I didn’t worry much about appearances.

I also glued up the frame, after cutting a 10 degree bevel on both sides of the front face. The 3 degree angle I originally considered was just too subtle.

My wife is happy with the results. In fact, after seeing it all put together and held up to the wall, she even decided the natural color and grain patterns of the poplar mat look good as-is. In fact, this particular piece of poplar turned a beautiful gold color after a few weeks of exposure to light.


Here’s a rather lousy shot of the thing in its final resting place. Perspective is a little off, since I had to shoot from one side to avoid reflections.

The scene is from the Native-American mound builder site that is part of the Battlefield memorial park. Can you spot the source of the arrow?




Until next time!



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