I recently had someone reach out to me for a unique opportunity. At first, it seemed like they wanted a traditional rectangle frame. Then they sent me the following photo and asked if I could make a frame shaped like that for a mirror.
I had never made a frame that didn’t have 45-degree angles. At first, I didn’t know if I could honor the request. I analyzed the photo to determine what work would need to be done. The only dimension I got was the width of the frame at the top and to make the rest of the frame in proportion to the photo. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I decided to take on the challenge anyway.
From the photo, it looks like the mirror sits on top of the frame but I had to make the frame similar to a picture frame where the mirror would be inserted from the back. While I wasn’t expecting this to be a problem, I started running into problems as soon as I was ready to start cutting out the grooves for the mirror to sit in. I usually run the wood through the saw to cut the grooves all the way through. Because the thickness of each side was different, and the angles were not 45-degree, I was not able to do that on the left and right sides.
The steps I took to create the frame were also different than the normal steps I have been taking. Instead of being able to get into cutting right away I had to think about how to cut the pieces without messing anything up. I had to figure what the angles would be so I wouldn’t need to wing it and hope it worked out. Here I have all the pieces cut slightly longer than needed and the angles marked out.
The next step was to cut the angles. Instead of setting up my miter saw to the separate angles, I decided to do it freehand by lining up the lines to the saw blade. I had to make sure that I was very careful to not cut off too much. In most of the cases, I cut where there was a little left to cut so I had some room to work with. I was happy when I had all the pieces cut at the correct angles and they all fit together perfectly. Now that what I thought was the hardest part of the project completed, I began to work on how to start shaping the pieces to look more like what the photo looks like.
The whole time I’m thinking about the best way to do this I’m also thinking about how I’m going to glue the corners together. I decided to put the thought on the back burner and continue with the task at hand. Luckily I was able to borrow an oscillating sander which made it much easier for shaping the inside of the frame. Before using the sander I had tried a couple other approaches. On the right side, I had tried to use a small saw to cut out the majority of the wood by hand. I found this to be quite tedious and was taking too much effort so I decided to pull out some straight edge chisels to break off the wood. That seemed to be working good until I noticed in a couple of spots it was taking more wood off than what I wanted.
I decided to change gears and see how the sander would do. I typically don’t like to use a sander to make pieces smaller as it produces a lot more sawdust. After trying this approach though I decided it was much better than my previous attempts. I was excited to see the frame starting to take shape though. It’s always nice to see when a plan is working out.
Because I knew I wanted to have squared off outside corners to help with gluing the frame together I decided to not worry about starting on those yet. I was happy with the results I had so far on the inside and could see the frame taking on a shape that is really close to what the frame in the photo looks like. I didn’t take any photos of the next step, which was to cut the grooves out for the mirror to sit in. The top and bottom were the easy pieces as I was able to run those straight through on the saw. The left and right pieces were a little more difficult.
As I did with trying to figure out how to get the excess wood off of those sides, I had to think about how to handle this approach. What I decided to do was mark out how far I could use the saw and run it through that length. In hindsight, I believe I could have made things easier on myself and made the grooves a little wider on the top and bottom, but based on how to make frames for photos I only wanted the grooves to be in so much. At first, I decided to take my chisels and try to cut out the grooves on the corners but again found that to be too tedious and open to mistakes. I decided a better approach was to use my Dremel and that made things much easier.
Once the grooves were cut I was ready to glue the frame together. I have a jig I built to help with this but when trying to fit this frame into the jig I couldn’t get it to fit. The bottom was too narrow. I had another jig, but that wouldn’t work because the corners needed to be at 45-degree angles. So back to the drawing board I went. I remembered seeing people use tape to put corners together in some videos I had watched so I decided to see how that would work.
In addition to the tape, because I knew it wouldn’t create enough force to keep the corners tight, I had to also find a way to tighten up the frame. I had clamps that fit the width of the frame but not the length. I got creative and used two clamps together to do that. It did take me a little bit to get everything lined up correctly so that the corners were not off at all. Now all I had to do was wait until the glue dried so I could continue to the next step.
While waiting I decided the best thing to do for time to pass was to work on another frame. I’ll be posting about that frame in the future as I’m still working on it but I do like the idea I came up with. It worked out nicely because before I knew it, the mirror frame was ready for more shaping. The rest of the project from here was quite easy as it only required putting the splines in and more sanding and shaping. The splines were not as difficult as I was expecting and turned out nice. The frame was made out of pine and I put in oak splines. I like the contrast it gives.
The buyer wanted to finish the frame off himself so this is as far as I had made it. He initially wanted to paint it but after seeing it, and my suggestion, he decided that he will stain it instead. He was very happy with the results and said that I far exceeded his expectations. I have asked for an updated photo of the finished product and he said that he will be happy to show me. I’ll post an update once I receive the finished photo. All in all, I was very happy I took on this project. I learned some new skills and have proven to myself that the frame doesn’t need to be square or rectangle for me to be able to make it. For comparison, here’s a side by side of the photo I was given to the frame I had created.
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