Wood Pallet Projects: Make Your Own Picture Frame

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Finished wood pallet picture frame.
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Get inspired to build with pallet wood using the ideas in “Wood Pallet Projects."
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Frame Diagram
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Step 1: Select the wood.
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Step 2: Cut the materials to size.
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Step 3: Understand the layering.
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Step 4: Choose the molding style.
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Step 5: Assemble the frame sides.
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Step 6: Miter one end.
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Step 7: Measure and mark the other end of one board.
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Step 8: Cut the marked frame board and use it to cut a second board to size.
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Step 9: Check the fit.
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Step 10: Add shellac.
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Step 11: Assemble the frame.
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Step 12: Secure the mirror.
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Use plastic fasteners for a cleaner look.
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Step 13: Attach a hanger.

In Wood Pallet Projects (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2013), author Chris Gleason offers up projects for rescuing and repurposing wood pallets, from indoor and outdoor furniture to useful items such as a birdhouse, toolbox and more. In this excerpt from  the section“Easy Home Accessories,” learn how to make your own picture frame.

You can purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store:Wood Pallet Projects.

Making your own mirror or picture frames can save you a lot of money; the 13″ x 13″ (330 x 330mm) mirror I used for the project was cut from a scrap piece at my local home center, and it cost just $2. Factor in the free pallet materials and light labor, and I ended up with a one-of-a-kind piece for an unbeatable price. As you’ve probably realized, because the process for making picture frames is the same for making mirror frames, the instructions that follow can easily be used to make both. Professional picture framing is usually pretty expensive, so this is another great way to save money on home decor or gift items. Everybody likes a handmade frame.

There are many ways to make your own picture frame, and this section won’t even try to detail them all—that could easily fill a whole book on its own! What I will do is detail the construction of a couple of types of frames and present some good starting points for making them yourself.

1. Select the wood. The process begins by harvesting a whole bunch of pallet wood. You’ll want to make sure you have enough—it never hurts to err on the side of having extra—and that the pieces are all long enough to be of use.

2. Cut the materials to size. My next step was to rip the wood into the three different widths specified on the materials list (1″, 1 1/4″, and 2 1/4″ [25mm, 32mm, and 57mm]). Then, I sent the wood through my planer to be skip-planed. Skip-planing will result in boards that do not have an entirely uniform thickness or surface. The process should get all of the frame pieces close enough to the proper size to work with—any discrepancies in thickness can quickly be removed by sanding. My boards for this project were about 3/4″ (19mm) thick.

3. Understand the layering. I ripped the stock into three different widths, essentially creating a layered molding that had a distinct groove up the middle and overhang on one edge. In this case, the groove is purely decorative, but the overhang serves to cover and secure the edge of the mirror. This built-up molding technique is pretty low-tech and user-friendly, which is why I like it. Other methods require a router to cut away a recess, which can be dangerous if you’re not fully trained. This approach keeps it safe and simple.

4. Choose the molding style. After playing with a few different molding profiles, I settled on this one.

5. Assemble the frame sides. The strips were assembled as a stack with glue in between the layers and nails to hold them together while the glue dried. For each stack, I glued a 1″ (25mm)- wide piece (C) to the bottom of a 2 1/4″ (57mm)-wide piece (B), and a 1 1/4″ (32)-wide piece (A) to the top (See Frame Diagram in the Image Gallery).

6. Miter one end. A power miter box, or chop saw, is the fastest way to precisely cut miters on the ends of your frame boards, although you can also use a handsaw and miter box. Cut miters at one end of all four boards.

7. Measure and mark the other end of one board. I used a tape measure to mark the opposite end of one of the frame boards for the second miter cut. See the sidebar opposite to calculate the exact sizes of the framing stock.

8. Cut the marked frame board and use it to cut a second board to size. Most frames are made of two pairs of sides, and to keep everything lined up nicely, I made sure to mark the length of the second side piece in each pair directly from the first. Then, I cut the miter in the second piece. For me, this helps eliminate any potential measuring errors.

9. Check the fit. Here’s a dry fit of the frame with all the joinery cut, prior to adding glue. This is the time to adjust your mitered corners as necessary before gluing.

10. Add shellac. To add some depth and drama to the finish, I applied a layer of orange shellac to the edges of the frame boards and the entire exposed surface of the middle piece (B) in each board. This was easy for me to do prior to assembly.

11. Assemble the frame. Glue and nails will provide plenty of strength for these corners.

12. Secure the mirror. I flipped the frame on its face and inserted the mirror from the back. At first, I used a couple of screws to temporarily hold the mirror in place. After I had the chance to run to the hardware store, I picked up a few plastic fasteners that I used to replace the screws because they looked a little nicer. The one pictured on the right is the one I ended up using.

13. Attach a hanger. If you’re looking for a secure way to mount your mirror, consider using picture frame wire. It attaches to two small eye screws in the frame boards and is quite sturdy.

Sizing your frame

For me, this mirror project was pretty casual: I worked with the materials I had on hand and let them dictate the size of the finished piece. You, however, may have some particular dimensions in mind for your frame. To make your frame a specific size, the recess at the back of the frame will be your starting point. In this case, let’s imagine you’re framing an 11″ x 14″ (279 x 356mm) item, and you’re making a molding that will be 2″ (51mm) wide. This means you’ll need stock measuring at least 16″ x 19″ (406 x 483mm). How did I get these numbers? Multiply the width of the molding (2″ or 51mm) by two, and add it to the dimensions of the object you’re framing. Remember, the frame will have molding on all sides, so you’ll want to add the width of the molding twice. Then, add an inch (25mm) to give you some wiggle room. So 11+2+2+1=16, and 14+2+2+1=19. After you cut a miter on one end of each frame board, you can then measure out 11″ (279mm) along the inside of the rabbet on two boards, and 14″ (356mm) on the remaining two. I suggest adding 1/4″ (6mm) to your desired final measurements to accommodate for any discrepancies in either the frame or the object being framed. You can then cut the miters on the opposing ends of the boards.

Mirror safety

Be careful when handling unframed mirrors. Unless you specify, most glass shops leave the edges of mirrors raw, which means they’re extremely sharp. For an extra dollar or two, you can ask to have the edges swiped, or buffed down to the point where the mirror can easily be handled without fear of injury. I usually get mirrors cut at my local home improvement store because I can have it done on the spot at a great price, but the store doesn’t have the ability to swipe the edges. Buyer beware!

Reprinted with permission from Wood Pallet Projects by Chris Gleason and published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Wood Pallet Projects.

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