DIY Custom Framing—No Power Tools Required!

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Hey all! Mandi here. Custom framing is so great for that oddly-sized piece of artwork or a deep canvas, but man, oh man, is it ever expensive! I have a few canvases around my house that I've been wanting to have framed, but rather than saving up for a custom job, I thought I'd just take an afternoon to frame them myself!

I designed three different styles of canvas frames with three different mounting techniques, and they're all super simple to build. All you need are various pieces of wood and the tools shown below, and guess what? None of them are power tools! So if you're a little leery of wielding a power drill, router, or chop saw, don't worry! You don't need 'em. This low-fuss method will get the job done.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Supplies:
various pieces of wood
-wood glue
-finishing nails or wire brads (size depends on depth of wood)
-paint or wood stain
-sandpaper

Tools:
-miter box saw (can be purchased for $15 on Amazon here)

-band clamp
-various clamps
-hammer
-tape measure
-pencil
-paint brush or rags

To begin, you'll need to decide which style of mount you want for your frame and how thick and detailed the frame will be. For a wider, chunkier frame, you'll need spacer wood for between the canvas stretcher and the edge of your frame. You can bring your art with you to the lumber yard (or just dimensions if you're shy about toting around your art) and try stacking together different pieces of wood, square dowels, and molding to get the look you want. Check out my frame profiles below to get ideas for your own frame, and if you want more detail in yours, don't be shy about adding molding too!

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Mounting Techniques

A recessed mount is a traditional framing technique where the art sits behind the frame and the very edge of the art is covered by the lip of the frame. A float mount, the most difficult to build, is sometimes used in canvas framing to give even more dimension to the piece by creating a decorative gap between the canvas's edge and the frame's edge. Something that you might see more frequently on larger pieces of canvas art is the flush mount, where the frame is simply attached to the edge of the canvas stretcher, with no lip on the front or back.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!

Flush Mount Frame 

The flush mount frame I designed is mounted relatively flush with the surface of the canvas and is nailed directly to the edge of the canvas stretcher, without assembling the frame first. It's the easiest frame to make, in my opinion, and I think it looks nice with larger pieces of artwork.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!

Step One: To begin, I purchased two 8' long pieces of cedar 1x2s, lightly sanded them, and then stained them with my own gray mix of these three stains pictured above: Rustoleum Driftwood, Rustoleum Willow, and Minwax Golden Oak.

Step Two: Rather than measuring the edge of my frame and transferring those measurements to the lumber, I just laid my 1×2 against the frame and marked the length of the canvas directly onto the lumber.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Step Three: I cut each of my pieces of lumber a bit longer than I needed, in case I made a mistake and cut them too short. To cut the pieces, I used this miter box saw which clamps the lumber into place and has guides that ensure you are cutting to the exact 45-degree angle that you need. It's pretty handy, though it does take more elbow grease than an electric miter saw.

After making the cut, you may want to lightly sand down the corners if you have any splintering.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Step Four: Using a band clamp* or a ratchet strap, do a dry fit of the frame to make sure it fits. If any pieces are too long, cut them down appropriately. When the pieces are cut to the right length and the dry fit shows a nice fit, loosen the band clamp around the loose pieces of the frame and dab paint into the corners where the pieces meet. Use your finger to spread the glue around a bit before clamping again. Some glue will ooze out when you clamp the frame together, so be sure to have a rag handy to wipe away any glue immediately.

Step Five: Use finishing nails or wire brads to attach the frame to the canvas stretcher, making sure to also drive nails through the mitered joints in the corner, giving the wood glue some extra strength. Wood glue isn't very strong when applied to end grains of wood, so the nails are a necessary step unless you use a stronger adhesive like Gorilla Glue.

*When using a band clamp on soft wood, be sure to use a piece of scrap wood as a buffer between the clamp and the wood so the clamp doesn't leave an imprint on the wood. Not sure how to use a band clamp? This YouTube video is really helpful!

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Recessed Mount Frame

The traditional recessed mount frame utilizes a rabbet, or inset, for the art to sit nestled in behind the frame. It hides a small border of the art, which works out well if the edges of your canvas aren't finished. This frame is assembled prior to attaching the artwork, as opposed to the flush mount frame which is built directly onto the canvas stretcher.

The materials you need to build this particular frame are as follows:

-outside edge piece: 1/2×3" lumber
-middle piece: 1/2×2" lumber
-inside edge piece: 1/2" lumber
-top edge piece: 3/8×2" lumber

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!I started with stained wood, because it was my goal to have two tones of stain in my finished frame and decided it would be best to stain first. The stain didn't absorb very well on the pine I used, though, so it might not have mattered. You can stain your frame before or after assembling it.

Step One: Glue together the 1/2×3" outside piece with the middle and inside edge piece as listed in the supplies above and shown in the above right image. You'll need to use clamps to hold together the wood as the glue dries. Be sure to wipe away any seeping glue with a damp cloth before it dries.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Step Two: After the edge and bottom pieces have dried, attach the top piece, which should be a bit wider than the wood stacked below it, in order to create a lip which will overlap your art. Spread the glue with your fingers to limit glue seepage. Then clamp together and allow the glue to cure.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Step Three: Measure the size of your artwork and add about 1/8" buffer space/error space.

Step Four: Cut your lengths of wood with the miter box saw according to the measurements from step three. I like to err on the side of longer than necessary, because you can always cut off more than you need! Lay the parallel boards against each other to make sure they are the same length.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Step Five: Arrange a dry fit with the band clamp and your canvas. Make sure everything fits together relatively snugly. If the canvas is too loose in there, you may need to shave a bit off the lengths of the frame pieces.

After the fit is just right, spread some wood glue with your finger onto the edges of the frame pieces and fit together the joints with the band clamp, wiping away any excess glue before it dries.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools! Step Six: While the frame is clamped and the glue is drying, drive finishing nails into the joints of the frame to give the piece more stability. I chose to only nail on two parallel frame pieces instead of onto each side.

Flip the frame over and attach the canvas from the back by driving longer nails through the canvas stretchers and into the frame.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Float Mount Frame

I personally think float mount frames look the most professional, but maybe that's because it was the most finicky of my frames to make, so I was the most proud of this one! Float mounts leave a space between the edge of the canvas and the sides of the frame. They provide dimensionality to the framed piece and are a great way to show off gallery wrapped edges of canvas art. I personally thought this float mount frame would be great to give a more substantial feel to a thin, less expensive canvas piece.

For my float frame, I used the following wood:

-1/2×2" lumber painted white
-1/2" square dowel stained dark (though I suggest using a 1/2×1" piece of lumber instead)

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!I chose to start with already-painted side pieces to save me the trouble of trimming in with paint and stain with an assembler frame. I chose a bright white for the outside of the frame and a dark stain to emphasize the float space between the canvas and the frame.

Step One: Glue the bottom piece of the frame to the side piece and clamp into place. Make sure you wipe away the excess glue before it dries! I used a 1/2" square dowel for this, but it was exceptionally difficult to later attach the canvas to such a narrow space, so if I were to go back in time, I would select a 1/2×1" piece of lumber instead.

Follow Steps 3-5 of the recessed mount frame above, but instead of adding 1/8" to the dimension of the artwork for your frame, add about 1/4" to create the float space in the frame.

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!Step Six: Instead of nailing the frame together, you'll secure it by nailing it to the canvas stretcher from behind. This is the tricky part! You will need to lay your artwork into the frame, making sure the gaps are even all around it. I had a difficult time getting the gaps to stay even as I was clamping it into place. Once it's clamped into place properly, flip over the frame and drive nails through the back piece of the frame and into the canvas stretcher. Make sure you don't miss the stretcher and drive your nails into the float space instead! I had to drive my nails in at an angle because my 1/2" square dowel left me hardly any space.

It was a little difficult attaching the canvas to that little dowel in my float frame, but I love the results! Such a handsome frame ready for display!

3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!3 Custom-built frames you can make without any power tools!I'm really pleased with the results of my custom framing jobs and will definitely be DIY framing more in the future! Next I might try something a little more ornate by combining molding styles. Think of the possibilities! -Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Spring and Valentine of the Signature Collection.

  • So cool! I was lusting after that first frame when you posted the abstract art DIY! I had no idea you made it yourself! Wow, I never would have thought about this. Thanks Mandi!

  • My boyfriend and I have so many pieces of custom art, but we’re never sure how to hang them! Often the dimensions are far from typical sizing, so we’d need to buy a custom frame. This looks so much more personal and affordable. Also the painting in that example is gorgeous!

    Cat
    http://oddlylovely.com

  • As some Craft stores, you can get some canvas steps, basically they look like little metal stair steps that you can screw into the fram of the float mount and it will hold your canvas in place without putting holes in it. I can’t remember the name of it, but they come in 1/8th, 1/4th, 1/2 and 7/8ths steps.

    Just a suggestion for those who have originals that putting any nail hole into would decrease the value of the paiting.

  • This is brilliant! Thank you for sharing this. I’ve long ago retired my huge chop saw and fancy mitering equipment. This is going to get passed along to all of my students. Let the framing begin!

  • Oh wow! Great job, Mandi! These frames look amazing! Thanks for sharing all three different ways to make them, too. I totally thought you were going to be like “here’s three ways and I did it this way.” So glad that wasn’t the case. Can’t wait to experiment with these!

    PS: On step four I think there’s a typo, about halfway down you say a dab of paint instead of glue 🙂

  • This post makes me so happy. I have been toying around with making some frames for awhile.

  • Thank you thank you thank you for this post! I have been trying to figure out how to build my own frame, but have been intimidated by the tutorials I found online. I think I can handle this one!

  • Wow, what a great tutorial! You just made framing look so easy that I’m psyched to give it a shot. Thanks!

  • I was so excited to see this! It will definitely come in handy. Right now I’m looking for a good DIY option for a print though…I have a large (25×25) print waiting to be framed since Christmas. Could I add glass to any of these for a print, maybe with the recessed mount?

  • Yeah, that would’ve been my first choice too, except I was trying to create these framing options specifically for people who don’t own and can’t borrow any power tools. Though you might be able to hand screw them onto the frame with sheet metal screws into soft wood. Honestly, if you made the back of the float frame wide enough, you can nail through the frame into the stretcher frame without damaging the art on the canvas.

    -Mandi

  • It might be tricky to do without a little indent to hold the glass in place. But you could create that by layering a recessed shim in there when constructing the frame! You’ll also, of course, need to screw in some kind of holder for the glass, like those little guys that pivot on a screw- not sure what they’re called! It’s something I plan on trying someday. 🙂

    -Mandi

  • Thanks for this post! I live in an apartment and don’t have any garage or backyard space for big projects that involve power tools so I’m excited to try these framing projects in the future!

  • Wow, I wish I’d known about this back in college. All that money spent on custom framing kits for my artwork. I don’t even want to think about it.

  • Mandi, you have done it again! Seriously, I need to tell you that your projects always keep me in a state of ‘OH MY GOSH THAT IS JUST WHAT I NEEDED!’ Especially this project, which is going to come in super handy when figuring out what type of framing to make for all of my canvases from a painting class i took last semester in school.

    That being said, thank you so much for being awesome all the time.

    Looking forward to whatever project is next!

    <3 Taylor

  • Thanks for the ideas! I hope to try it. I had literally been planning to search pinterest for an option this week.

  • Seeing mitre cutter reminds me of the one my dad used to use to frame his own paintings when I was small. It was screwed to an old bedside table used as a storage unit in our family bathroom (Hmm….Stylish!) Thankyou for the memory….

    I tend to use ready-made frames supplied complete with glass and backing board as most of my work is in watercolour, which has to be presented behind glass ( in case somebody spills a drink on it or a fly decides to take a “comfort break” on it!) But canvasses are much easier and cheaper to frame.
    Great post: I shall have a try with the framing ideas when I’ve used my new Golden acrylic gel(bought today after seeing your post on transferring photos last night) to make a vintage style photo canvas. Perhpas I’ll dig up my old photo of dad painting at his easel to transfer.
    Thanks for this, Beautiful Messy Girls!

  • Hi Ya

    They are great ideas, i prefer the floating frame. I will try and give it a go if time is on my side, will have to blow off the dust of my tools first 🙂

    Blessings Janet

  • I worked as a custom framer at Michaels and know how outrageous some of the frames cost. However, if your art is worth something (sentimental or otherwise) you need to think about using acid free. Regular old wood will ruin your art over time. If you want to keep your art for many years or pass it on to future generations you NEED to take care of it. Acid will discolour and destroy your art.

  • One alternative for the lazy, unskilled, untooled or time-poor:

    1) Buy some good-sized cheap frames (You may find cheap art within. Discard! Art is war!).

    Find them at fleamarkets, garage sales, thrift stores etc.

    2) Cut them down to the size you need.

    3) With what you save, buy absinthe. You’re an artist.

  • A beautiful Mess, you are amazingly great. I was already thinking of quitting the course with thoughts of aquiring the machines blowing me up until this, i have a future. Thank you.