HOW TO MAKE PICTURE FRAMES WITH COMMON ROUTER BITS
A lot of woodworkers think they can only cut a complex profile if they have a special bit for it. That's not true by a long shot. We've made a series of videos showing you how to combine common router bits together to make some very complex mouldings. Now, we're going to apply these lessons to something a lot of woodworkers would like to do- make their own picture frames. I'm not talking about routing an ogee on a few edges and mitering them together. We're going to make frames with complex shapes and depth. We'll build three of them in this article, and then you can use the principals you learn to design an endless variety of your own. Plus, I've made detailed drawings of ten of my favorite profiles, which you can download and use to get you going. These include the dimensions you'll need for each layer, and the depth and position of each cut.
First, you have to change the way you look at picture frames. They don't have to be cut from one, solid piece of wood. Many years ago, I saw an eye-opening article in Woodsmith Magazine that illustrated that point. The frames we'll be making today are my own modified versions of those. Not only did I change the steps required to make some of them, but I modified most of the profiles so that they may be made with common 3/4" thick wood, which you can buy in any home center. Let's get started.
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This first frame illustrates how layering can be used to add depth. By standing one layer on edge, and laying the other flat, you create the illusion that your 3/4" stock is much thicker or wider. I start with a 3/8" round-over bit, which I use to create a bull nose profile on the edge of my board. Notice that I'm working with a wide piece of stock. That's much safer than trying to rout a thin strip. Whenever possible, work wide, then trim off the narrow profile after it's routed.
Of course, you can't always work with wide stock. Here I'm using good, pressure sensitive double-sided tape to attach a wider scrap to the edge of my narrow bull-nose profile. This gives me something to hold on to while I route a rabbet on the back edge. I cut the rabbet in two or three passes. It's always better to remove a lot of material incrementally, rather than making one deep cut in a single pass.
Then I cut another rabbet, again working with wide stock when I can. Finally I finish the profile with a 1/4" core box bit before trimming my strip from the wider workpiece.
Before I glued my two layers together I used some stain to add some visual interest. We'll talk more about staining later.
This next frame takes the layering principal a step farther. By stretching the inner layer, we create width in addition to depth. And you may notice a chamfer on the lower left corner. That helps the frame look thinner when viewed on the side, while still looking deep when viewed straight on.
This frame also begins with a bull-nose, I use a 1/4" roundover bit, leaving a flat in between to make the finished profile look a bit blunter. Again, I do as much of the cutting as possible before I trim the moulding from the wider workpiece.
Next, I cut a rabbet with a straight bit, widening it with multiple passes. As I do, I move the fence AWAY from the bit. That is critical! Never widen a groove by moving the fence toward the bit for the second pass. That will cause the bit to cut with its back side, which is a very dangerous climb-cut. Always cut with the side of the bit facing away from the fence.
It's not always practical to use double-sided tape to attach a scrap of wood to help rout a narrow strip safely, as I did with the rabbet cut on frame #1. In this case, I am just using some good push-blocks to keep my hands safe. These Bench Dogs push blocks have really grippy soles, I highly recommend them.
As I cut, I'm raising my router bit a little bit at a time, stretching the cove through several incremental passes. This is a useful technique that a lot of folks don't consider when they design picture frames and other mouldings.
Don't forget to add rabbets to your frame designs to support the glass and backer-boards. I make mine about 3/8" deep with a 1/4" wide over-hang.
This third frame introduces another technique- inlay. For this one I am going to need stock that's thicker than 3/4". I made it myself by gluing two boards together, then ripping them to the final thickness of 15/16" on the table saw. You can see my laminated board, as I cut the first groove for the inlays. I make it 1/8" deep to give the glue some room so it won't squeeze-out on the face of the frame when I put the inlays inside.
This frame illustrates how you must plan the order of your cuts wisely. I cut the second groove deeper to account for a cove that will be on the face of the workpiece. I originally planned to cut the cove first, then cut a 1/8" deep groove. But if I had cut the cove first, I would have removed material that I needed to keep the workpiece stable when I cut the groove. Sometimes you have to change the order of your cuts to make sure there's enough meat on the table for the next one. I always draw my profile on paper, and imagine how I am going to make each cut, and what's going to support the workpiece.
As I use a core box bit to cut an elongated cove over the narrower groove, I have to also be sure I apply pressure near the top of the workpiece, where the flat portion is against the fence. Otherwise I risk rocking the lower half toward the bit, spoiling the cut.
I might have even made the final, small cove cut earlier, right after I cut the two inlay grooves. As it is, there is little support on the bottom of the workpiece. So again, plan ahead for best results.
I chamfer the back on this frame as well. I like a little shadow between the back of the frame and the wall. Finally, I cut the last rabbet for the glass and backer boards.
The two inlays are created with a pair of roundover bits. I needed thinner stock for this, so I ripped a board to about 2" wide, then ran it on edge through the table saw to re-saw the thickness. In the end I created a 1/2" and a 1/4" bull-nose, which I added some color to before I glued them into their slots on the finished frame.
SOME TIPS FOR MAKING YOUR OWN PICTURE FRAMES
I like to add contrasting colors to my frames. This can be done by combining different kinds of wood, or by using stains or dyes. If I go the latter route, I always apply a pre-color conditioner. My favorite, by far, is made by Charles Neil. Best on the market.
Of course, you want to apply stain before you glue your layers together I try to keep my glue surfaces stain-free, but it's not critical. Glue will bond to a stained surface. Just don't apply the final clear finish yet. When it comes time for glue-up, apply it sparingly. You don't want a bunch of squeeze-out. These joints aren't structural, you only need enough glue to hold the layers together. Sometimes it can be difficult to clamp them together. I find that these Bandy-Clamps from Rockler do a good job on a lot of the more complex profiles.
A good blade is important for cutting accurate miters. I have been using Ridge Carbide blades for about a year now, and love them. I think it's every bit as good as a Forrest. Best blade for the money, hands down.
Normally I use my ultimate miter sled for cutting miters. It’s full of features that make it very accurate. If you haven't already seen it, check it out here. For a simpler option, you might try this little plastic sled from Rockler. It's nice because it's so compact. It fits in a drawer. I do find that the runner is a little loose in my SawStop track, but that's a Sawstop thing. I can add a piece of foil tape to fix it. Anyway, I'll link to this in the notes too.
Hopefully the lessons you've just learned in this video will give you the confidence you need to make your own complex picture frames with common router bits. Don't forget about the drawings I mentioned. Happy framing!
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