What is a picture frame?
It's not just 4 pieces of wood!

Over the last few years I've taught several basic picture frame making classes at Rockler's and for local woodworking clubs.

One of the most interesting things I learned was that the average person is unaware of how picture frames are measured and what you would need to know before trying to make one yourself.

I quickly added the anatomy of a frame to the classes.

Of course, I was unaware of these things when I started, too. A little embarrassment helped speed up my learning curve...

Needless to say, the class on anatomy would've been helpful to me, before I started!

Picture Frame Anatomy

Knowing how a frame is measured and what to consider before you begin to actually make one, makes it much easier when you're in the shop staring at a piece of wood!

Anatomy of a picture frame

So, before you begin to make your own frame, spend a few minutes getting familiar with this info.

Now, down to business!

A basic picture frame consists of four individual parts:

– The frame itself (made up of 4 wood, metal or plastic rails)

– glass

– a mat (double mat if you'd like)

– the backboard

*** Don't forget the un-mentioned 5th part - the artwork or document to be framed***

The glass, mat board, and backboard are all the same size. Their size is determined by the size of the frame. The confusing part for most people who don't make frames is - what measurement to use?? 

Three ways to measure a picture frame

Over all measurements of a picture frame

A frame can be measured three different ways:

– From outside edge to outside edge (good to know if you have limited space to hang a frame)

– from inside edge to inside edge on the back of the frame

– from inside edge to inside edge on the front of the frame

Each measurement serves its own purpose but the one that everyone generally refers to when talking about frame sizes is the inside edge to inside edge on the back of the frame. So, when people refer to a frame as 12" x 14" that's what they are actually talking about.That's the most important measurement for you to know before you begin making your frame.

Actual picture frame measurement is done from the inside of the back of the frame

We'll talk more about the inside edge a little bit later, and how to create it, but basically it's the "shelf" in the back of the frame that holds the glass, mat, document and backboard in place. Sort of like a frame sandwich (I know, I know, that's a bad one...)

That's the basic anatomy of a frame.

Thinking about all these pieces; how they relate to each other, before you make your frame, will pay off in the end.

What's next:

Standard Picture Frame Sizes

Custom Picture Frames

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Updated August 20, 2014


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