How to Build a DIY Picture Frame
My sister and I have a deal. Each Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Christmas and birthday she buys Mom’s gifts and I buy Dad’s gifts. It makes it easier on both of us and it allows us to buy them both nice gifts without having to pay each other back. It all evens out and works out well.
The only issue is that Dad is SO HARD TO BUY FOR. First of all, he’s a man. So that’s alone makes him hard enough to buy for haha. But he also has a really bad habit of buying whatever he wants whenever he wants it instead of waiting to let someone get it for him as a gift.
Oh, Dad…always making things difficult.
So this year, instead of buying him something I’m not sure he would like, I made him something a little sentimental instead.
When someone in his family passed away, he got this eagle print that he really liked from him. Dad kept it in a spare bedroom for a while (so long that I think he kind of forgot about doing anything with it). So one day after I got off work, I drove over to Mom and Dad’s while Dad was out working and picked it up. Me and Mom figured he wouldn’t notice it was gone.
Getting old and forgetting things can sometimes be beneficial, I suppose haha.
And I had JUST enough of his favorite species of wood (Kentucky coffee wood) left in storage to make the frame. More on that later…
So I hurried and got started on it because I only had a week to get it finished before Christmas! (I was really slacking at the Christmas gift thing this year…extreme procrastination.)
And, now I’m finally getting around to sharing the how-to with you guys 🙂
You can build a picture frame a million ways, but for this one, I used mitered corners and wood dowels. But you could also use pocket holes and screws, too. Or tenons, or whatever. But for making one with dowels, this is what you need and how to do it 🙂 The video is below and so is the tutorial.
For this build, you will need:
1x board(s) (amount and width depends on the size you are making)
1/4″ plywood or cardboard
1. Determine the Size of Your Picture Frame
Your frame size will depend on the size of the picture you are framing and the size of the mat that you want. I’ll share the formula to figure it out. First, you need the dimensions of the picture you want to frame, then the width of the mat you want around the picture, and lastly, the width you want your frame to be. Then the formula for your board lengths is:
Width=width of picture + (2 x width of mat) + (2 x width of frame) – 3/4″
Height= height of picture + (2 x height of mat) + (2 x width of frame) – 3/4″
For reference, I made my mat 3″ wide on each side of the picture and my frame was 2 3/4″ wide on all sides. I used some hardwood I had from the local hardwood store and ripped it to my own size, but you could also just use standard 1×3 or 1×4 (or wider if desired) for your frame instead.
To determine how much lumber you need for the frame, take 2 x height from above + 2 x width from above.
2. Cut DIY Picture Frame Pieces
I used rough sawn Kentucky Coffee Wood for this frame, so I had to first plane it and mill it down. Once it was planed, I used the miter saw to cut down my board to slightly over the height and width lengths above.
Then, I used the table saw to square off one edge, then ripped the board in half to make two 2 3/4″ wide strips.
If you are using standard 1x material, you can skip those steps and just start with the following.
Using the miter saw, I adjusted the miter angle to 45 degrees and cut 2 pieces with miters NOT parallel so that the total length equaled the width you calculated from step 1. Then I cut 2 pieces the same way, but with length equal to the height from step 1.
Step 3: Drill Dowel Holes
Next, I sanded all the boards well (this is easier to do now, before you start assembling), and used a 3/8″ dowel jig to drill dowel holes 3/4″ deep into each corner. As always, with dowels, make sure that your holes CORRESPOND when you drill them. They need to align perfectly or your frame will be crooked or unsquare.
I lined the edge of my dowel jig on the INSIDE corner of the miter on each piece and clamped in place while I drilled the holes.
Just make sure that you always line up the jig in the same location on each piece. Once all your holes are drilled on each end of each piece, it’s time to glue up.
Step 4: Glue Frame Together
Glue ups are always a little stressful. So it is handy to have a second set of hands for this if possible. I applied glue to one corner at a time to give me time to get everything together. I applied glue to each miter, and into the holes and inserted the dowels. Then squeezed together the best I could. You can see in the video that I started on one corner and worked my way around.
Once all the dowels are started into their holes, I used long pipe clamps to help me push everything together really tight and to help make it nice and square.
ACTUALLY, if you want to know the REAL story, it goes like this. I figured up my frame measurements from step 1 on a Friday afternoon after I got home from work. But I didn’t feel like starting this project after a long day, so I wrote them down and decided to start on it Saturday morning.
So I wake up on Saturday, full of ambition and energy and get started…NEVER LOOKING AT WHAT I WROTE DOWN. Because I’m awesome and I can totally remember two numbers, right? (Spoiler alert: that is not right…) So, when I get to step 2 to cut my miters, I cut my width to 39″ instead of the 36″ that I wrote down. (Side note: I am just VERY relieved that I cut it too long instead of too short because the lumber yard was sold out of coffee wood and this was the last board I had left of it and I had JUST ENOUGH to make the frame.)
Then I proceed to the glue up. Which…it’s worth noting here that I had injured my arm and twisting motions with my elbow (like cranking on pipe clamps) made my arm ache severely. But I powered through and headed inside for a lunch break. And the thought crossed my mind…maybe I should double check the measurements before this glue dries JUST TO MAKE SURE.
And to my absolute horror, it’s 3″ too wide. So I cry. Legit. I cried…and I screamed. Not my finest moment.
So I took my grumpy attitude (it was my fault anyway for not looking at the measurements I wrote down), and my aching arm and took the frame apart, trimmed it down 3″ on the width, and glued it all back together.
And that was only mistake number 1 on this project. Stay tuned for my next incident in step 5.
Step 5: Route Decorative Edge Along Frame (Optional)
Once the glue was dry, I gave the corners a good sanding to get rid of any leftover glue from squeeze out, then put a Roman Ogee router bit into my router and went along the outside edges to give it a little decorative detail.
This is totally optional. You can leave your edges plain and square OR use something else besides the Roman Ogee. It’s purely decorative, so it’s up to you how or if you do it. But side note: when routing edges like this along the outside, go counterclockwise.
Oh yes, and you may be curious to know what my mistake number 2 on this project was. This was also not my proudest moment. First, keep in mind that this is ALL the coffee wood I had and couldn’t find any more. AND also keep in mind that I already had the worst glue up ever (twice) and was in a time crunch. Just trying to give a little perspective, here.
So the router is moving along and suddenly I hear a huge CRACK! From just a few inches away from where I’m routing in the image above, the whole side of the frame cracked ALL the way down to the corner. I mean like, cracked through so that it’s hanging on by a thread. I screamed in the video….but I edited it out ha. It was for the best.
I didn’t have wood to replace it, and I didn’t have time to remake the frame even if I did have the wood. My only option here was to cry….again…and save the day with some wood glue. Luckily, I was able to glue the cracked piece back together and putty it a little with some glue and leftover sawdust. Once it was sanded you couldn’t notice…but that was another hour of my day I shouldn’t have had to spend making this frame.
Lesson learned: make sure your router bits are SHARP and make sure you don’t have any cracks in your wood before routing. My bad.
Step 6: Route the Groove for the Glass and Print
If you think of this print as a sandwich, it would go glass, mat board, print, and backer board. The glass was 1/8″ thick, the mat board and print were negligible (too thin to matter) and the backer board was just 1/4″ plywood I had leftover in the shop. So I needed a groove cut into the back inside of the frame about 3/8″ thick so that everything would set inset into the frame and be flush on the back side.
For this, I used a rabbeting bit in my router. This particular one I used is adjustable to different widths, but I cut mine 3/8″ wide. You can’t cut the full 3/8″ deep at one time, so I just took a little at a time until it was 3/8″ deep.
The thing about rabbeting bits is that it makes rounded corners. So I used a chisel and carefully squared my corners.
Step 7: Cut Mat Board
Now the frame itself is finished (except for actual finishing–paint, stain, poly. I polyed mine with three coats of Polycrylic. While it was drying, I cut the mat board.)
The last thing that needs to be done is cut the mat board. You can buy mats in standard sizes precut at any craft store or even online. But, since my print was so big, the precut mat was like $60 and it wasn’t even really the size I wanted. So, I just bought a $10 mat board at Hobby Lobby and cut out the opening for the print using an exacto-knife. These are really nice to use when you need a custom size that you can’t buy standard.
I traced out and cut the board the overall size the mat board needed to be to fit inside the groove from step 6. Then, measured in 3″ from each side and cut out the opening for the print to fit into. Once the opening was cut, I taped the corners of the print onto the back of the mat so that everything was lined up and it would stay that way.
Step 8: Install the Print and Finish
Now, it’s time to put everything together. I ordered a piece of picture frame glass from my local glass place so that it would fit into the groove cut from step 6. Order it slightly smaller than the exact opening because you can’t cut glass very easily if it’s too big. If it is too big, you will need to chisel out the frame until it fits. And that stinks, so avoid it if possible haha.
Once I had the glass, I placed it into the groove, then placed the mat and print in, then cut a piece of 1/4″ plywood I had in the shop to fit in the groove.
Finally, I attached these (I’m not sure what they are called) “twisy picture frame holder thingies” around the edge of the back side of the frame so that they hold the picture and backer in place.
Now all that’s left is to hang the frame. If I had a keyway router bit, I would have loved to use it here, but I don’t have one. Sad day.
So instead, Dad had two small eye screws and some metal frame hanging twine. We put one eye screw in each side of the frame and tied the twine between the two to hang.
I really like the look of the decorative edge and the mitered corners.
Making picture frames is really a fairly simple project (if you don’t miscalculate your size and crack your already assembled frame with a router bit haha) and it could save you hundreds of dollars vs buying a custom size frame.
The process is the same no matter how thick you choose to make your frame or your mat or the size of your picture, so it’s easy to customize however you want. So if you are ready to get building, or you want to save it for later, don’t forget to pin this post!
Stay tuned for plenty more DIY projects coming your way, soon! Until next time, happy building! 🙂