Building Frames Part 1

Building your own wooden frames is not terribly difficult, with some equipment and a modicum of woodworking skills. Frame building is a long term investment, unless you have access to equipment without having to buy it. Nevertheless, it can be done. I became interested in woodworking almost by accident, as a result of renovation/restoration work on a house. Over years I acquired tools and experience, and have developed a workflow for building frames. I wouldn't expect every artist/photographer to run out and buy a shop full of tools, but am including these sections for whatever use they may be.

Power Tools

While most woodworking chat seems to be centered around power tools, many on the market are not very useful. The following is a list of what (and what kind) of power tools are needed, or nice to have, in order to build frames. Any of the can be hazardous if used incorrectly, so read and follow all instructions and safety precautions. Keep in mind dust control as well as noise. Always wear eye and hearing protection when using power tools. Whenever practical, I use hand tools (such as cutting down stock into usable lengths), but in the case of making frames, it seems more reasonable to go the power route, especially when making more than one or two.

Much (too much?) discussion occurs over the qualities of particular power tools. I am not trying to add to those here. If one is looking at getting into the sport, do you research, and get the best you can for what you have to spend. Don't settle for obvious (or suspicious) junk, and don't be taken in by extra so-called features.

Table Saw

The table saw is used to rip wood, which is cutting it along its length, and for creating the molding profile. it can also be used for crosscuts and miters. A portable or jobsite saw is insufficient in both accuracy and power. A contractor style saw, which is stationary, will do nicely. These saws have an open stand, as different from a cabinet saw, and are generally smaller, with a less powerful motor. The also cost much less. A contractor saw will also run on a 110v circuit.

There are any number of good saws out there. Expect to pay between $600 and $1200. Do some research, and see what others think. Personally, I have owned a Rigid 3612 for a long time (15-20 years). It does what I need.

I use a 50-tooth fine kerf combination blade in my saw, with a zero-clearance insert, with a splitter. I check everthing (the blade, the fence) for square a couple of times a year, or just before starting a project.

Miter Saw

A miter saw is not essential, but is nice. A well-tuned miter saw will cut clean, accurate miters with ease. Miters can be cut on a table saw, but a good miter saw is easier and faster.

The main drawback to miters saws is cost. A cheap one will not stay accurate, and a good one will cost $200-$300. I have a 12-inch model, as opposed to a 10-inch. Either will do. One does not need the compound sliding type... The blade I use is a 96-tooth thin-kerf cut-off blade.

An analog saw is available, made by Nobex.

Thickness Planer

Converting rough stock into molding usually involves palning it to a certain thickness. So, the need for a planer. A portable version will be sufficient. Figure $250-$400. The addition of a planer opens up the opportunity to use different woods, as well as creating different moldings. Wood stock sold at lumber companies (as opposed to big-box home centers), is sold as S3S, with three finished sides. The thickness is measured in quarters, with 3/4 being just over 3/4 of an inch. This slight overage allows you to straighten the wood and still get an exact 3/4 inch.


A jointer is really a luxury. It is used in combination with the thickness planer to get wood perfectly flat and straight. The most common is a 6″ wide model. Bench-top models are available (Grizzly's G0725), but most commonly the planer is a floor model. So it also requires more space in the shop. They are also rather fussy in terms of getting the blades set when it comes time to replace/sharpen them. A rotary head instead of the standr blade configuration makes this much easier, but costs more.

Boards can be flattened fairly easily with a hand plane, with much less noise, but that is another discussion. When I build furniture, I use a hand plane. When I'm building ten frames, I use my jointer

Hand Tools

About the only hand tools one needs for this job are clamps. The best I've found (and i've tried just about everything) are made from 1/4-20 threaded rod, and use a speed nut to tighten. You can get a version from Woodcraft, Rockler, or from Lee Valley. I've even made a set, which is pretty easy with off-the-rack hardware. These clamps just work. I have two sets, with extension rods that i use on occasion.

Since moving to more hand planes, I rarely use a sander anymore. The bulk of the fished surface is done with hand planes. Occasionally I will use a sanding block, and just the paper, but I hardly ever pick up a corded sander. When I did, I used a 1/4 sheet palm or finish sander. I've had a Makita for a very long time. Any of them in the $50 range (Makita, Bosch, DeWalt) will do fine. The idea is these are light-duty, and you shouldn't need to do a terrible amount of sanding.