Make Molded, Mitered Picture Frames

Achieve frame-shop perfection with help from a pro.

On the surface, creating perfectly mitered picture frames may seem simple. But unless you take the needed precautions during the saw setup, cutting, and assembly, you could find your frame sides refusing to play nice. Gaps at mitered joints, tear-out, and mismatched grain could ambush your efforts, resulting in fireplace kindling or material for the local comedy club.

As a frame shop owner for 12 years and long-time teacher of picture-framing classes, I’ll take you through the careful process of creating professional-looking molded, mitered frames using contrasting woods. In addition to using tools you already have, I’ll introduce a useful jig and framing tools that will result in the tightest possible joints, ensuring that your craftsmanship displays as well as the captured image.

Note: Following the frame project, I’ll show you how to size and cut matting and glass, and help you hang your frame; see Picture Framing’s Final Touches.

Maple/Walnut Molding Steps:

  1. Plane dressed maple stock to 1⁄2” thick.
  2. Round over the stock on one edge and rip a 1”-wide strip from this edge.
  3. Plane dressed walnut stock to 3⁄4” thick.
  4. Profile the top face of the walnut stock on one edge with a raised-panel bit.
  5. Rabbet the bottom face on the same edge.
  6. Rip the walnut stock to 1 1⁄4” wide.
  7. Glue and clamp the maple to the walnut, ensuring they are flush along the bottom. Remove squeeze-out with a clean, moistened rag. Let dry and sand.

Tip Alert

For splinter-free crosscutting, install an alternate top bevel (ATB) blade in your tablesaw with 60 or more teeth.

Create the moldings and cut the parts

1. Mill the pieces making up the molding stock for your frame using contrasting woods. I chose tiger maple and walnut. Then follow the instructions with the profile in Figure 1. To simplify the frame making, I chose a common molding width of 1 3⁄4”, but you can vary this as desired. For the lengths of the short and long frame sides, I took my cue from common photo sizes listed in the Cut List and Sizing Guide. To determine the length of your molding stock, add up the lengths of the four frame sides (two short and two long) and tack on another 4” for waste. Note that frames with a mat board surround are larger than those without.

Note: Before miter-cutting the molding into frame sides, ensure your tablesaw is tuned up for precision work. See “Tablesaw Tune-up” for help.

2. Build the tablesaw miter sled in Figure 2, using the accompanying instructions.

3. Study the cutting sequence in Figure 3 for the best grain match. Then, working from the lengths for your short and long frame sides, crosscut the molding stock to size plus 1⁄8”, labeling each piece. Now, miter-cut the left ends of the frame sides (Photo A).

4. Using the “Rabbet Opening” dimensions in the Cut List and Sizing Guide, lay out the cutline on the right-hand end of one long side, as shown in Photo B. Note that the rabbet opening dimensions should be 1⁄8” longer and wider than the glass, photo, mat board, and back for clearance. The rabbet opening for an 8 × 10
photo, for instance, should measure 8 1⁄8 × 10 1⁄8”, unless it receives a mat board surround and requires a larger frame.

5. Place the workpiece on the sled and set up the stop, aligning the cutline with the kerf. Lock the stop, and make the cut, as shown in Photo C. Cut the remaining long side. Adjust the stop, and repeat for cutting the short sides.

Note the stop’s scale location on the T-Track for future frames.

6. Dry-assemble the frame sides on a flat surface, and check the fit. While an accurate sled guarantees a tight joint, if you need to touch up the cut ends, rub them on disc sander disc a few times with the tool off, using a miter gauge set at 45°. See the Tip Alert below for a precision tool dedicated to this purpose.

Tip Alert

This precision hand-cranked disc sander ensures dead-on miters for perfect frames. For those making a lot of frames, it may prove a worthy investment.

Gripping frame sides to the jig’s sandpaper edge, miter-cut the left ends.

From the rabbet’s inside corner at the mitered end, mark the cutline at the opposite end of the frame side.

Adjust the stop. Then, holding the workpiece in place, trim it to final length.

Build the Miter Sled

To build the sled, cut the rail and base to the sizes and shapes shown. Before adding the triangular lamination to the base, mark a centerline on the base from the front to back edge. Set the base on the saw table, align the centerline with the saw blade, slide the fence over, and lock it in place. Now, remove the base. Place washers in the miter slots and set a pair of Incra miter sliders on the washers. The washers should elevate the sliders just above the table. Add double-faced tape to the tops of the slides, and then carefully lower the base on them and against the fence. Flush the trailing edge of the sled with the ends of the slides. With the slides adhered to the base, mark the screw and adjustment screw holes and drill them. Attach the slides and set the sled base on the saw. Using an Allen wrench, adjust the slides so that there’s no slop; then raise the blade 1” and cut one-third into the base.

Next, make a 1 1⁄2”-thick lamination, and cut it to a perfect 18 × 18” square. Cut the rabbet along one edge for the Incra T-Track Plus stop system and install it. Then bore the 1” handle hole. Make the stop as shown in the Stop Details and set it aside. Using double-faced tape, set the lamination on the base with one corner centered on the saw kerf, and adjacent corners equidistant from the trailing edge. Raise the saw blade and check that the angle between the lamination’s edges and blade measures 45°. Flip the base and screw the lamination in place. Adhere sandpaper to the lamination’s right edge. (You could also add sandpaper to the left edge if cutting long moldings.) Cut and glue in the dowel handle.

Now, remove the slides, turn the sled 90°, and trim off the protruding part of the lamination flush with the trailing edge of the base. Replace the slides. Raise the blade, and make a cut into the lamination’s corner, stopping at 3”. This cut snips off the aluminum track where it intersects with the cutline, exposing the rabbet beneath.

Finally, ensure the blade is exactly at 90° to the table. Then, using the sled, miter-cut two pieces of scrap of the same width, one from the right edge and one from the left edge of the lamination. Hold the mitered ends together in the cradle of a square. If a fine crack appears horizontally, sand the miters slightly until they meet snugly at both the inside and outside corners. If the pieces fail to meet vertically, tweak the angle of your saw blade. Test-cut again.

Assembling the frame

1. Apply glue to the miters of two mating frame sides, and set the pieces in a miter vise. Drill a pilot hole for a 1 1⁄4” finish nail about 3⁄4” from the corner. (One nail per corner will suffice.) Tap in the nail (Photo D). Nail the other half-frame sides together. Nail the half frames together. Set the nails.

2. With the glue still wet, fit the frame in the band clamp, and tighten the joints (Photo E), ensuring an even, tight assembly. Remove the glue squeeze-out from the joints with a toothpick and clean moistened rag.

3. Remove the the band clamp, fill the nail holes, lightly sand, and apply finish coats of clear satin lacquer, sanding between each one.

Tip Alert

Instead of driving nails into frame corners, drive staples into the frame’s back using a V-nail joiner. It hides fasteners from view and saves time. Two staples should do the trick.

Clamp the miter vise to your bench, drill the pilot hole, and tap the nail home. Later, sink it using a nailset.

Fit the corner pieces of a band clamp onto the frame, and then tighten the strap to snug the joints.


As a woodworker, you can create unique, attractive moldings not found at your local frame shops. In addition to gluing up exotic and native American woods, rely on your arsenal of router bits to achieve different looks. For more frame options, see onlineEXTRAS below.

Online Extras
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