Q: I have a collection of miscellaneous nature illustrations from various old books and I want to frame them. I have in mind a collage on a wall near the front door, but I need a lot of different sizes. I’ve tried shopping, but in most stores the frames are way too modern looking and they’re all the wrong size. How hard would it be to make my own frames with some really old boards and shaped trim pieces I found in my garage?
A: Making your own DIY picture frames is a fun way to frame anything exactly the way you want. And reusing old lumber adds plenty of charm and style you can’t get in most stores. Even mass produced vintage-looking frames are limited to just a few common sizes. You could go for custom framing, but that can add up very quickly.
When using any found wood, especially if it’s painted, take precautions before you clean or sand anything. The paint could contain lead, and any old surface dirt or dust could be contaminated with asbestos from insulation, flooring, siding, and roofing products, and much more. If you’re in doubt, use gloves and a respirator when handling or moving old boards. Also, strongly consider having your boards tested or professionally sanded before you start cutting.
To plan your DIY frames and additional inspiration, look around at other old frames in antique shops as well as window trim on old houses, barns, and other buildings. Depending on how skilled you are and the tools you have, keep your frames simple with straight cuts or get a little more creative with cuts at a 45-degree angle. To assemble, use a combination of wood glue and nails placed at an angle. Or go to your local hardware store and ask the staff for ideas. If this is your first time doing carpentry, build some practice frames with wood pieces you don’t care about, to see what works for you. Also, think about a clear coat of a matte finish sealer, wax, or finish to protect the look of the wood.
Sandwich your art between a piece of backing board (thin foam core or acid free mat board) and a glass panel or thin piece of clear plastic film if you want that. Regular cardboard will discolor and the ridges may eventually show through your art. You can also add another mat with a rectangular hole cut out of it in front of the art for a more finished look. Both the glass, the mat (if you’re using one), and backing board should be the same size as your art so things won’t slide out of place. If you’re using straight cut lumber, you might need to add a trim piece or use mirror clips on the back. Without a heavy piece of glass, sturdy art tape or even a staple gun on the back might be adequate to hold everything together.