Framing up: How to restore old beat up frames
I went to Hobby Lobby 2 weeks ago to look for a frame for a particular art piece. I just wanted a simple wood frame, dark stain, but wasn’t feeling very particular about style or shade. I could only find plastic. Unless I custom ordered a frame – which significantly upped the price.
Discouraged I looked up how to build my own frames and decided it was within my skill set to do. It was a little bit intimidating, but I figured that as long as I stuck to my measure 4 times, then make a cut, I should do okay. I dug around in my garage a bit, trying to clear things out so I could make said frame when I found:
How exciting! Could I use them? They are in pretty bad shape.
- Loose corners.
- Bad finish.
Sure I can!
Sourcing vintage wood frames and repairing them and finishing them costs under $10. Plus, there’s the added bonus that I love of using something that might end up in the trash AND of making it better than it was when I found it.
Restoring a Vintage Wood Frame
- old wood frame
- Sandpaper – Assorted, make sure to have a couple pieces of really fine gritt, like 220 for finishing
- Wood Glue
- Wood Filler
Step One: Sanding
This is THE most important step. You want to sand off everything, and keep it even. Start with a corser gritt and work your way down to 220. Use cheese cloth or a scrap clean cotton fabric to wipe off the sanded surface regularly so you can see how you are progressing.
When sanding corners, be careful not to round them out.
And of course, always sand with the grain, not against it.
Step Two: Repair
All my frames were really wobbly from, well, old age. The nails had worked themselves loose and a little gap had formed at the mitered corners. You could just shove putty in there and call it good, but I think that looks really sloppy.
First, put a generous amount of wood glue on your q-tip and apply as much as possible into the corner joins. Immediately wipe off the surface of the wood with the damp paper towel. Move quickly from one corner to the next until all four are done and wiped up.
Second, place in the belt clamp and ratchet it as tight as possible. Because of the mitered corners, the frame should be able to take more stress than you might think. If the wood it really thin, take it a little easier.
More glue will ooze out of the crack, wipe that off right away. Let the frame sit like that for as long as your wood glue states – I believe mine was about 4 hours to “cure”.
Fill in any little spots with putty and let dry some more.
Step Three: Fixes
If like you me, you dribbled wood glue (or putty) all over the place, sand it off all the way to the grain of the wood. Anywhere you can see wood glue, the stain will not properly absorb. That will make your frame look a little tacky.
Step Four: Finishes
I chose an all in one stain/finisher in Ebony.
First, Brush on the stain in a nice even coat all around, then wipe it off with a clean cloth in the order it was applied. This is so the stain sits for equal time before being removed. Work clockwise so you can keep track of what side you should be on.
Second, Let dry for 24 hours.
Third, Buff with that extra fine sandpaper and wipe clean with a dry cotton cloth.
Repeat as many times as you want to get the desired finish.
Step Five: Glass
One of the issue with many vintage frames is that they are missing their glass. That’s easier fixed than you may think.
- For cheap, go to a hardware store and get them to cut some window glass down to size.
- For art and uv protection, go to a frame shop (even hobby lobby sells it) and have them cut it down to size. It usually runs about $8 for an 8×10″ piece.
And that’s it.
Now, one thing I do have to say, this is not a one day project, but it’s not a time intensive project either. Just set up a little area in the garage or on the porch where it won’t be kicked around and expect to spend about 10 minutes a day for 4 days to get it done.
Next week I’ll show you how to size up and cut a mat for your new frame. It will really make your work shine.