Custom frames

I can make custom frames of any size, out of any wood, and with any type of joinery you might fancy. This lets you perfectly match the frame to the photograph or painting you want to display, or make sure the frame compliments the other furniture in your home.

If you want to do this the easy way, head over to my online shop and have a browse of the frames there; I deliberately keep a range of them up, even if they show zero stock, so you can look around for one you like the look of. Don’t worry about the size, just focus on the style.

Once you’ve found something you like, just let me know the name of the frame you liked and the size of your art (the actual area you want to show, excluding any white border). I’ll work out a frame and mount size that suit your art, and email you back a quote. Simple!

If you want more control or something you can’t find in the shop, there are four main choices you have to make, outlined in the sections below. I’m happy to advise you on any or all of them, should you find the choice a bit overwhelming; I’ve got some general recommendations at the bottom of each section, to help guide you.

1. What size?

The frame size is largely goverened by the size of your artwork, plus the size of any mat/mount you want included.

I have my own custom formula to work out the width of both the mount and the frame, based on a combination of the “traditional” guidelines and the “golden ratio” approach. I think this produces very pleasing results, and is what I’d suggest for almost everyone. I’ll include a simple diagram in my quote, so you can check that you’re happy with the proportions.

If you want to specify exact custom dimensions, just let me know what they are and I’ll use your values instead. Once again I’ll include a simple diagram in my quote, and it is entirely your responsibility to confirm that it looks the way you want it to. Please make sure you specify the hole in your mount to be a little smaller than your artwork, so it doesn’t fall through. Around 3mm (1/8 inch) per side is usually enough.

You also need to decide on the thickness (depth) of the frame. If you leave it up to me, I usually go with about half of the frame width (e.g. if you want wood that’s 5cm in width, I’d make it about 2.5cm deep). This works great for pictures and other thin paper items. If your art is thicker, please do let me know so I can take it into account.

Please note that the frame size might be a few millimetres (1/16th to 1/8th of an inch) smaller or larger than stated, especially with the more complex joints; these sometimes need a little fine-tuning to achieve a perfect fit, which can shorten the lengths slightly. Likewise the frame width and depth may be a millimetre or so off the mark, because some pieces of wood might need a little more work than others; it’s a natural material and I have to work with what it gives me!

2. Which wood?

The choice of wood is important for a few reasons. The most obvious is aesthetics – do you want a light wood, a medium wood, or a dark wood? A bold grain pattern to make your frame stand out, or subtle grain to let the artwork do the talking? These choices are totally up to you, and depend on what you think would look best in your home.

The second reason is finish and durability. Some hardwoods, particularly walnut, cherry, and maple, lend themselves to this kind of work. They produce crisp lines at joints, are hard-wearing and strong, and produce a beautiful frame. Other woods, such as pine and oak, can produce slightly less crisp joint lines as the grain can tend to be wavy or undulating. That said, many people love the look of a pine frame with these slight imperfections, as they add a more rustic appeal.

Finally, cost factors into this decision. Pine has the upside of being much cheaper, and good quality pine is a very durable wood. Hardwoods are more pricy, but some people prefer the look that they give, and they’re more resistant to dents and scratches over time.

I’d generally recommend Walnut if you want a dark hardwood, Cherry if you like the warmer colour, or Maple for a lighter coloured frame. Pine is a great choice if you want a bold, wide grain pattern, a more rustic look, or to match existing furniture. I can also stain pine to some darker shades, if you prefer.

3. Which joints?

The joints at each corner define the overall look of your frame. They’re also the deciding factor in how strong the joint is and how long it lasts; the weaker, cheaper joints are great for a low-cost frame for the spare bedroom or a small print, while the more complex and expensive joints are what I’d recommend for a larger piece with sentimental value, especially if you want it to be handed down the generations.

For a simple, clean, modern look that doesn’t break the bank, mitre joints with metal pins hidden in the back to reinforce them are more than durable enough to last for years, maybe up to a few decades if treated well. These are the type you’ll find in almost all shop-bought frames. You might notice some gaps start to appear over time, especially if the frame is moved regularly or handled roughly. These are what I’d recommend for small frames like a 4×6″ photo, as they’re more than strong enough for the small size. For larger frames I can put inlaid reinforcing tabs across the corners, but they won’t work miracles.

For a more decorative look with a whole lot of added strength, a mitred half-lap joint gives you some more visual flair while providing a large joint area. Unless abused this joint will happily last for decades, and might well outlast you and I. This is the joint I’d recommend to most people for most frames, as it’s a good compromise between looks, strength, and cost.

For those who want a frame that will still be hanging on someone’s wall in a hundred or so years time, looking none the worse for wear, the tenoned mitre joint is the answer. This joint is more complex to produce, requiring a good deal of careful sawing, paring, and finessing to achieve a perfectly clean joint, and so is a little pricier. But if you can afford the extra, this is the choice if you want your frame to hold firm for generations. Probably a lot of them.

4. Which style?

If you want a highly detailed frame, with lots of moulding, shaping, curves, and carved features, then I’m not the man for the job. These comlex features need either a set of moulding planes (which I don’t currently keep on hand), power tools (which I don’t favour), or an extremely large amount of time with some gouges and chisels.

I can, however, make a few different styles of frame. I myself like the simple, rectangular frame profile, as it’s clean and lets the artwork speak for itself. Adding a simple bevel, where the frame slopes in towards the inside, can make the frame look more delicate and is also a nice clean look.

I can add any amount of curve or round to the frame, from simple rounded over edges to a gentle curve over the whole front surface. I can also add grooves and rebates of various kinds, and decorative beads. For anything more complex, I’d suggest either buying a commercial option or seeing a specialist frame carver (and bringing your chequebook!).

A note on glazing

This is a list of the virtues of glass windows over acrylic for a picture frame:

  • It’s more traditional.
  • It’s more scratch resistant.

Now, allow me to list the benefits of high-quality acrylic over glass:

  • It has a higher transparency, showing off your art better.
  • It has lower reflectivity, so you get less glare from the sun.
  • It has excellent UV resistance to help stop your art from fading.
  • If you drop or knock your frame it won’t shatter into 200 sharp pieces that immediately embed themselves in the feet of your pets and children, leading to a blood-soaked scene from a horror film being permanently dyed into your new living room carpet. Sharp bits of glass also tend to gouge your art, if that matters more to you than all the blood.
  • It’s far lighter, making hanging and handling easier and shipping more affordable.
  • It’s less expensive to buy, especially for larger frames, which keeps the price lower for you.
  • It’s far easier to work with when cutting to fit custom-sized frames, so I can keep the cost down by doing it myself rather than paying someone else to do it for me.
  • It’s much easier to ship to you without it exploding in transit.

Now, you may have gathered from the “hand tools only” aspect of my work that I like traditional methods where there are benefits to using them. But when you’re flying in the face of so many benefits, sticking to tradition is nothing but a hindrance. Modern acrylic glazing is excellent, and therefore I only supply high-quality acrylic windows in my frames.