So how do I make a frame? Part 1

Showing the 3 of the 4 variations of the frame
3 of the 4 variations of the Italian frame

I have been pondering for ages how best to write this post and what I could use to illustrate my points.

Then recently four jobs came in one after the other, nothing too remarkable about that you say and you’d be right. Although in this case all four were for the same type, shape or profile, of frame, again nothing unusual there. Except that for each of the four commissioned frames the moulding had to be altered slightly. Using my sample as a starting point one was wider and deeper, one was deeper and narrower, one was wider and one shallower making in effect 4 different frames although in all cases they would have the same overall shape as the sample. Two will be carved and two will be left as plain moulding.

This is where what I do comes in to its own, you try going into a high street framers and asking them to do that! Precisely for this reason I do not keep vast stocks of mouldings as each frame differs from the sample it is taken from, it is quite rare that someone wants exactly the sample width and depth. As both this particular client and I have the same set of samples, though his are gilded and finished, we both know we are talking about the same thing

The moulding for each frame is made to order using a sample as a starting point allowing infinite variations and even combinations of sample. I can also match shape and size to any frame, drawing or moulding that is brought to me, this includes matching through time as happened not so long ago with a frame that ended up in the recent Zoffany exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. I was asked to make a frame to match a frame my dad had made years earlier as two paintings were being brought together for the first time in 200 years to hang next to each other and they wanted them presented in exactly the same frames. A fabulous coincidence is that not only did I make one frame and my dad the other but the two frames were gilded by a father and son. Anyway I digress.

Another reason for not keeping stocks of mouldings is no matter what size or length of moulding I have it will inevitably be the wrong size for the job! Also the majority of samples that I have are rarely used so in order to keep stocks I’d need a massive warehouse to house them all just in case they were needed.


Once the profile (the shape of the frame when you look at it end on) has been altered on paper and I have worked out how long the lengths of moulding need to be in order to get the size of frame wanted I can cut the wood and get on with the making.

I start with a raw plank of Jelutong wood, this is the best way for me as it allows me to have any size of moulding that I want.


Raw plank of Jelutong wood before work has started
Plank of Jelutong wood in raw state


I plane and cut the wood until it is the length, width and height I need for the moulding. This is where you can plainly see the differences in the width and height of the moulding start to appear, as shown in the photo below.


Planed lengths of Jelutong wood
Planed and cut lengths of Jelutong wood


From this point I cannot work the pieces at the same time due to the differing widths and heights so from now on they are treated as four separate frames. The lengths of wood are shaped until they match the drawn out profile and as you can see although they are different sizes they are all looking the same. They are now known as mouldings.


showing all four moulded profiles
The four different yet the same moulded lengths


Once the lengths have been moulded the next step differs slightly depending on whether the frame is to be carved or left as is. If the frame is to be carved then the moulding is mitred at 45 degrees to the right length for the frame they will be made into (as can be seen on the right in the image below). If the moulding is to be left as is then the moulding is rebated (a channel cut in where the picture will sit) before it is mitred (as can be seen on the left in the image below).


Showing how the frames differ, one is mitred then rebated, the other rebated then mitred
A mitre shown on each type of frame.


There is a very good reason for doing things this way round and also why the rebates are done at different times, I will explain more in Part 2 of this post…….






Jutta M Stiller is a wood carver and sculptor specialising in Netsuke and Couture frames click here to subscribe to her newsletter ‘Tales From the Woodcarving Bench’ .