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Cabinet Woodworking

The Chap’s Frame

“Right, so there’s no school for the foreseeable future. What can you do with your time?”

Like every parent of school-age children, we needed to spend the Spring and early Summer keeping our boy, aka The Chap, occupied with educational activities. School gave out a steady stream of things to do, and he kept on top of this study as best he could. We got him (and me) doing the Joe Wicks workout every morning, and went on extended bike rides around our town every evening. The Xbox kept him in touch with schoolfriends, and they could chat away whilst shooting at each other in Fortnite or building things in Minecraft. But still there was a ton of time to fill.

“How about trying some woodworking?”

He was vaguely interested. So, it was time to teach him a little more about saws, drills, and sandpaper.

What to build… First, he came up with a nice idea for a box to go on the wall, that could hold his Xbox controllers and other bits of computing stuff that otherwise cluttered the Desk. Unfortunately, this had to go on hold for want of some nice wood – I had plenty of old scrap planks, but mostly they were, well, inelegant, and more suited to garden projects. We decided to return to the box sometime in the future, once wood stores were open again.

“Ok. How about I make a Picture Frame?”

Now there’s a good idea! I have some strips of wood that we can pick through, and a picture frame would teach lots of skills like accurate measuring, and sawing at an angle.

So first let’s practice that sawing. I had an old wooden Mitre Block and Tenon Saw that could cut at 45-degree angles. He had a go, and turned a scrap piece of architrave into a sort of frame (though there was only a short strip of this wood – not enough to make an actual frame that could fit a picture in. He was quite proud of it nonetheless!)

The mitre block was unsatisfactory though. It had been worn out, and the tenon saw wobbled in the groove, meaning you couldn’t guarantee a 45-degree cut horizontally, or a nice sharp vertical cut. I had long meant to upgrade this anyway; I have a long list of projects that I’d like to try with cuts at complicated angles. I decided now was the time to order a new Mitre Saw. This duly arrived, and we had a go.

The new saw is great. Guides hold the blade vertical and allow all sorts of different angles to be set, and the fine-toothed saw blade gives a nice clean cut.

Anyway, on to the design. He came up with a good first sketch; a square shape with a nice dark wood border, and planned for it to be assembled so that he could slide things into and out of the frame through a slot in the top. He wanted the frame to be quite thick so that it could take solid things as well as pictures. This idea could coming together quite well.

Now we have to look at practicalities. He wanted a square frame with a glass front. No chance of finding a place that could cut glass though, and I’m not equipped to cut glass myself. Instead I recall that I’ve got some old clip frames in the loft that we no longer use. How about we re-use the glass from one of those? “OK, that’s fine, and we can use the backing too so don’t have to cut that out specially.” Good thinking!

Next, the available strips of wood will determine how big a frame could be made. We found a strip of decorative bullnose moulding, about 1.5 metres long in oak, left over from a thing I made for our campervan (another project to write about…) This looked excellent, and was long enough to go around a good-sized clip frame. This could make up the front border of the frame. We also found a similar length of stripwood that would be good to form the back of the frame and give some thickness to the piece.

“So, the stripwood would go around the edge of the clip frame’s glass and back board, and the moulding would go on top to look nice. Won’t it need another, smaller strip of wood to separate the glass from the backing?”

“Pardon?”

“Ok, let me draw a sketch to show…”

“Ah, I see.” The backboard can be fixed to the frame, and the other wood makes a channel for the glass to sit in.

We found an offcut that quite by chance was exactly right for this job. It was literally an offcut. I think it came from a job where the available wood was ever so slightly too wide, so a strip was sawn off the whole length using a jigsaw. When glued down the middle of the stripwood, this strip would leave just enough room either side for the thickness of the back board and the thickness of the glass.

Another practicality. “Do we need to cut the stripwood diagonally?” Good question. The stripwood would be mostly hidden by the moulding, so we could probably just cut it square. It would make it easier to fix everything together, and it also let the design accommodate that slot across the top of the frame that he wanted. We could make it so that the top strip can simply be lifted out of the frame.

Much sawing later, The Chap had assembled a collection of bits of wood that fit nicely around the clip frame. These could then be glued and pinned together to form the frame box. He learned all about Nail Sets at this point, and how to hold the pin in position with long nosed pliers before that first hit with the hammer.

Once pinned, the box could be formed by fixing these strips to the back board – remembering that the top piece would be left loose so it could be removed to put things into the frame. Two screws were then fitted to secure the three fixed pieces of the box together.

Now it was time to saw the moulding. Here I suggested a very small change to the design. Originally, he intended for the moulding to be the same size as the frame box. I suggested making it about 2mm wider all round. This was going on the assumption that the moulding might be a fraction of a millimetre bigger or smaller than the box. If we tried to line the two up exactly, the smallest error would show up. If the moulding deliberately overhung the box, a very slight deviation in the size of this overhang would not be noticeable. Anyway, he got measuring and sawing again.

And ended up with a collection of bits of moulding all nicely cut at 45-degree angles. Very good!

We tried resting the moulding pieces on top of the box. How about that?! They fit perfectly.

So, how should they be fixed? “Do we pin these on to the box?” This time, I’d say no. We want the frame to look good, and pin heads don’t really look very nice. We can’t pin from the back as the box is too thick and the moulding is only very thin. So, the best we can do is glue.

Gluing wood is quite straight forward, but clamping can be tricky. It’s easy to knock the assembly while attaching the clamps, causing the pieces to go out of alignment. We rigged up a stand that would hold the frame up a little, and allow us to attach clamps without touching or moving the wood. Then gradually we worked our way around, attaching various clamps to various points until the wood was all secure. This was all made a little trickier because the top section was not connected to the rest of the box, though it had to be glued as one piece so that everything would all line up when assembled.

Once the glue dried, off came the clamps. It worked! There was a box frame with all the moulding pieces lining up perfectly.

And the top section slips off easily to allow things to be put in and taken out.

Lastly. it’s time to apply the finish. The Chap chose a light oak satin varnish for the stripwood box, and used Osmo oil to bring a beautiful shine to the frame’s oak front.

All that remains is to bang a nail into the wall, hang it up, and fill it up.

Of course, he hasn’t found anything proper to put in it yet. But you’ve got to say, that frame looks really nice.

By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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