So how do I make a frame? Part 2

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

So at the end of the last post (if you haven’t read it you might like to otherwise you are coming in here in the middle of the process) we had reached the stage where what happens to the moulded lengths goes in different directions depending on whether they are going to make a plain moulded frame or a carved moulded frame.

The reason for the plain mouldings to be rebated before being mitred (as can be seen on the left in the picture) is that the rebate is much easier to put in when the piece you are putting through the machine has a flat edge to push against than when it is already mitred at 45 degrees. Its mostly about making my life easier.

However with the carved frame you have to consider the carving above all else and the strength of the moulding while you are carving it. Carving puts quite a bit of stress on the wood and once the rebate has been put in the front (or sight edge) of the frame it becomes much thinner, mostly as little as 3mm at the very front and therefore significantly weaker than the more solid bit behind it. So if you were carving a pattern across the front pushing down from the top of the moulding towards the floor, as happens with various patterns, it might well break as you are working on it. By leaving the wood solid until after you have carved it you are retaining as much strength as you can.

The mitres need to be cut before you carve so that you know length of the side of frame and can adjust the pattern so that it fits along and matches nicely in the corners. One of the hallmarks of a hand carved frame is that the corners match together and the pattern flows around the corner. Once the lengths have been carved they can be rebated.

At this point what you do with the lengths is the same again, now that you have a place to put the picture you need to make the lengths into a frame by joining the corners together. I do this by gluing and clamping the corners and then nailing across the corner with the nail going in through the vertical side of the frame. The nails are punched down under the surface of the wood and the holes left by this need to be puttied as if the nail head gets rusty it can push the gesso and gilding off leaving a nice big hole in the finish.

The last thing to be done is to clean up the frame by hand planing the back and sides of the frame and sanding the front edge and any other parts that need it and making sure that the carved bits that touch each other match.

There you have it a completed frame ready to be finished in any way you like.


Two carved, one plain Italian Frame
Two carved, one plain Italian Frame


This is only a snap shot into how I make a frame, how I was taught to make a frame by my dad, the method is adjusted to the frame being made as some have other requirements. Of course there are other ways to make a frame…..

If you have any questions or queries I’d be happy to answer them.






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’ .


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’ .


Carving is sometimes like waiting for a bus….

…. nothing comes along for ages and then 3 come along at once.

I know you’re thinking thats a bit of an odd thing to say, its not that I’m saying that carvingĀ  jobs are rare, more that the same kind job never usually comes along twice in a row.

Ok so I mainly carve picture frames so technically I’m doing the same job time after time but the patterns and sizes are constantly changing. Out of 3 jobs I have completed recently two have been for egg n dart carving, admittedly one was for the edge of an oak table top seen here , the other was lengths for the pediment at the top of a couple of doors for a museum in London.

This image shows the end of the run of egg n dart as it is about to go round the corner so the final egg has a leaf design on it, probably orginally to hide the fact that it was a different size to the others in the length. I worked mainly from photographs and a site visit, but as I am a coward and really don’t like ladders I couldn’t climb the tall ladder to get a good look at the originals as they are deceptively high up!

Egg n Dart carving in Utile
Egg n Dart Carving in Utile

I have never carved in Utile before and it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience ( I have another tale to tell on this subject with another part of this job but it will have to wait until another post).

I had to make sure that my gouges were especially sharp and kept well honed in order to cut throught the wood cleanly (thanks to a helpful hint from a contact on Twitter!). I think that they turned out quite well in the end.

On the plus side my client was very pleased with the job, and so was their client. The lengths also look good with all the rest of the joinery, I can’t wait to see them in situ, I’ll see if I can get some pics once they’re up.


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10 tips for carving in Oak

I have recently completed a job carving an egg and dart pattern into oak moulding for the edge of a table top, you can see this in the photo.

Egg and dart pattern carved into oak moulding
Egg and dart pattern carved into oak moulding to edge a table top

While I was working on this job I thought of some things to think and work through the next time I have an oak carving to do.

Hopefully these tips will help you too.

If this is your first carving project please choose another wood now before you read any further. While I enjoy carving oak it is a little difficult for a first piece, choose something a little easier – Lime or Jelutong if you can get it are excellent starting points. I have spoken to several beginners who have been completely put off carving by using oak their first time out.

Be careful that the design you are carving is fairly bold and not too intricate as you will be fighting the very open grain of the wood which will make for a highly frustrating and unpleasant carving experience.

When you are estimating how long the carving will take you, take your estimate and multiply it by at least twice and then add some more.

Allow for a practice piece so that you can get a feel for the wood and the gouges/chisels you will need before you start on the actual work. It does not need to be a full size piece just a bit to try things out on.

Check the pattern/measurements before you start as mistakes on a carving that will not be gessoed (for gilding or painting) or painted are very hard to disguise.

Secure the work to your bench as well as you can, if the piece moves during a vital cut it could ruin the whole design.

Make sure that your tools are sharp and keep them honed. When you carve it should feel like a hot knife cutting through butter – if you don’t know what that feels like give it go when you eat your dinner (with a cutlery knife not a chisel/gouge!). Cut a hot potato with the knife first then cut some butter or margarine with the same knife, this should give you the right feeling.

Use shallow cuts and build up to the depth you want. It is more time consuming but will make the carving easier.

Try to use a carving mallet as much as you can, it will save your hands and control the cuts.

Do not try to work long hours on the job especially at first. Oak can be very hard on the hands which may over time cause a strain.

These are just 10 tips that I came up with, if you can think of any more please leave them as a comment below, I’d love to hear them.





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’ .