Making Picture Frames:
Pre-Sanding and Assembly

We're almost there! As mentioned earlier though, making picture frames successfully is all about the details. As beautiful as the wood may be, as eye-catching as the finish might look, if you rush through important details like pre-sanding and proper assembly, you'll be disappointed in the end.

So, be sure to spend enough time during this stage to get it right.

A lesson I learned early on, that can save you some time if you think about it now, is the importance of sanding the inside coves BEFORE you assemble the rails.

I used to assemble the picture frame first and then try to sand the coves, but quickly discovered you can't get into the corners once the frame is put together.

So, now's the time to do the initial and final sanding of your inside cove profile.

Using your sanding profiles, or dowels, wrap some 120 grit sandpaper around them and sand each cove smooth.

Repeat that with 150 grit sandpaper and you're done.

Assembling a Picture Frame

Now it's time to put your picture frame together.

Like every picture framing technique, there are many opinions on how to assemble a picture frame. Many framers (and most mass producers) simply v-nail or staple the rails together.

Others use glue, splines, and dowels. 

I prefer to use glue and v-nails. The reason is because I want to make sure my picture frames don't split open as time goes by - which you often see with frames you buy in a store.

Wood movement occurs naturally from humidity in the air, it expands and contracts. So, there's constant pressure on the joints to separate.

If a picture says a thousand words, a picture frame with split corners says even more - about the person who made it!

Reinforcing your joints with both, glue and v-nails nearly eliminates all possibility of splitting open.

Lay your rails on your workbench in the right order; have your wood glue, glue brush and a damp cloth or sponge ready to go.

Working your way around each rail apply a medium amount of glue on each joint. Not enough glue will "starve" the joint and may result in poor bonding.

Too much glue will squeeze out all over the frame and can also affect proper bonding.

A thin line of squeeze out is normal and tells you - you have the right amount of glue on the joints.

Tip – when applying glue stay away from the edge of your cove cut. You don't want glue squeezing into the cove profile - it's very difficult to sand out later.

Once all of the joints have glue on them press them together and clamp them up using framing clamps or a band clamp.

Cleaning up the Glue

Let it sit in the clamp for about 30 minutes then take a sharp chisel and clean-up the glue squeeze out on the front of the frame.

Waiting until the glue becomes a bit rubbery makes the clean up much easier!

The better you clean it up now the less sanding you will have to do later.

Tip - If you're making picture frames in multiple numbers at a time, make sure you take a damp cloth and clean up any glue that may be on your workbench before you start to assemble the next frame.

Glue is the enemy of stain. Stain will not cover glue. Period. Even though most bottles of glue claim the opposite, you will still see a difference.

So make sure you spend time now eliminating the possibility of glue coming in contact with the frame and cleaning up the joints with a chisel - and later by sanding.

Let the glue dry for 45 minutes to an hour and then pop the frame out of the clamp.

Cleaning up the rest of the frame, inserting v-nails (optional) and putting on a decorative outside profile are next.        

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Updated November 18, 2022