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Designing Picture Frames


A quick look at using Sketchup in designing some picture frames.

A tale of two pictures...

These two paintings were made by a distant relative in Western Australia in the early 70s. I've had one for a several years, and recently obtained another.

I decided to make some matching frames for these two paintings. I don't have any exotic Australian wood to go with the subject matter, so I had to "settle" for working with native black cherry lumber.

I tend to prefer fairly simple picture frames. I don't go for heavily ornamented or gilded or carved or... or anything like that. The same techniques that I discuss here are the same regardless of your preferred style of frame.

One thing I have found helpful, when designing some kinds of household furniture, is to have a partial "room" drawn in Sketchup, like this.

This is very easy to do. It is just 3 rectangular shapes joined together. One of them is designated the "floor" and made to be about 12ft by 12ft (3.6m by 3.6m) in size. Then one of the built in flooring images is painted onto the component. Here you can choose carpet or tile or wood, whatever suits your space. The other two objects are designated as "walls" and are 8ft (2.4m) tall, and painted with your choice of wall colour.

That's really all there is to this trick, and yet I find it really helps to have a bit of a room available when designing chairs or tables or in this case, picture frames.

So then I started off with drawing a few frames... But I found it very hard to really get a feel for what I would like with these paintings.

Fortunately, Sketchup offers the ability to import your own image files and paint them onto a surface. I took one of my paintings, and laid it flat on a table. Then I took a picture of it, with the camera held so it was directly above the picture, giving us a fairly flat image. I then cropped the resulting image file, removing the current frame and background, leaving just an image of the painting itself.

I was not looking for perfection here! This is just to help during the design stage.

(I'm just covering the basics here, if you google "insert photo into Sketchup", you will find many detailed Sketchup tutorials out there to walk you through this part.)

Create a rectangular object of the correct size, make it a component, and then you can import a file to paint on one of the faces. (File -> Import -> All supported image types -> Use as Texture)

With my picture imported, I could now play around with several different picture frame options, to see which one I liked.

This one was admittedly weird. Since I have two pictures to frame, I wondered about making asymmetric mirror-imaged frames.

This would be more of a rustic / western sort of frame. Depending on how I finished it and other details it could morph into a bit of a Greene+Greene style.
I've made this type of frame before, when I was designing a frame for some tall/narrow prints and I wanted to reinforce the vertical feeling of the piece.
But in the end, my wife and I thought that the standard regular mitered-corner frame was most what we wanted. And I then set about designing the curves and moldings that I wanted in the piece.
Here is a close-up of where I ended up.
This is an end-view of one of the frame pieces, as designed, with all the measurements noted. If you want to duplicate this yourself, all you need is a tablesaw and a router + router table.

Here's how: (Practise on some scrap!!)

  1. First prepare your stock, and plane and rip it to 3" wide by 3/4" thick.
  2. Use the tablesaw to rip the two sets of shallow grooves. First set the fence to 1/2" for the first groove. Then adjust it over another 1/4" for the second groove.
  3. Put a roundover bit in your router table and cut the outside roundover on the outside of the frame. I recommend doing this in two passes, so you don't try to remove too much stock at one time.
  4. Put a cove bit in the router table and cut the inside cove on the frame. Again, I recommend doing this in at least two passes.
  5. The final step is to mill the rabbet on the inside/back of the frame. Here I purposely did NOT put any dimensions on the diagram. You will need to determine the correct size to match whatever it is you are framing. In my case the painting is on 1/4" thick masonite, so I will require a fairly deep rabbet.
That is about it for the design aspect of this. I will post a follow up web page when I finish making these frames, showing the construction and assembly.


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