Build a Canvas Frame for your Masterpiece

| October 31, 2010
Completed canvas floater frame in walnut

Completed canvas floater frame in walnut

My friend Janell in Minneapolis contacted me recently to see if she could acquire one of my pictures to commemorate her anniversary trip to Venice. She wanted me to surprise her so I ended up preparing an 11×14 print on stretched canvas of one of my favorite Venice gondola shots. To round out the presentation, I decided to take some scrap walnut wood from the garage and build a canvas frame for the piece. Whether you are a painter or a photographer, I thought you might like to see the process and the outcome.

The available wood before and after ripping into two pieces

The available wood before and after ripping into two pieces

How to build a canvas frame

The piece of wood you see at the above left was all I had to work with. Fortunately it was long enough to go around the canvas frame. to start, I ripped the piece into two pieces so I could glue up a “L” shape moulding for the frame.

Gluing and clamping the two pieces together

Gluing and clamping the two pieces together

Above, I am applying common wood glue (PVA type) so I can assemble the two pieces into “L” shaped moulding. Use lots of clamps to make sure you get a good bond all along the piece. If you don’t have a ton of clamps, use masking tape to fill in where you can’t clamp. It actually works pretty well when you are in a bind. Leave the clamps on for 30 minutes and wipe any glue that has squeezed out with a damp rag because it will be a bugger to get off when dry. The glue is water soluble so you can just use a damp rag to wipe it off. Once dry, the bond will be stronger than the wood! Like my Crocs?

Cutting the miters and gluing up the frame

Cutting the miters and gluing up the frame

This is where it gets a bit tricky. Cutting the miters and gluing up the frame takes a bit of experience. Basically you need a means to cut accurate 45 degree angles. While cutting, make sure the pieces are exactly the same from side to side and top to bottom. On the right, you can see the mitered pieces glued and clamped. My clamp setup is pretty fancy but other methods can be used to achieve good results. I saw an adjustable strap at the home improvement store once for clamping frames. Ingenious! An important step at this point is to clean off any glue that has squeezed out. Use the tip of a screwdriver to get it out of the corners!

The glue has dried and the frame is sanded

The glue has dried and the frame is sanded

Above, the clamps have been removed and the frame has been sanded. Walnut is a beautiful wood without stain. All I need to do is apply several coats of spray polyurethane to create a nice finish. I usually apply six coats with a light sanding after about three coats with very fine sandpaper. The light sanding allows for a furniture like finish once the top coats are applied.

Frame back detail with canvas mounted

Frame back detail with canvas mounted

Above is the back of the frame with the canvas mounted. To secure the canvas, I just drilled four holes at the inner edge of the frame and put brass screws through the frame into the back of the stretcher bars. To keep the screws flush with the frame, I used a countersink bit (click for detail).

Below is the final piece on my dining room wall. It took a while to make this but it is hard to find a floater frame with this quality of wood and assembly. Next, I have to sign the print and ship it on its merry way! I hope you enjoyed this information on how to build a canvas frame.

The completed canvas floater frame project

The completed canvas floater frame project

Category: Fine Art and Painting, Photography

Comments (2)

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  1. Kate says:

    Wow! Thank you so much for posting these instructions. I’ve purchased a few floater frames before and, even though they say it’ll fit my canvas, the ledge is always just shy of the canvas frame. I’ve been wanting to make my own.

  2. Lee says:

    I am glad you found it useful Kate. Good luck with your project. I have some other floater frame projects I will post soon!