Friday, November 18, 2011

Designing Your Own Picture Frame Molding

     As a woodworker I learned something about myself a long time ago ..... I'm more interested in the process of what it is I'm trying to create than the final product.  Don't misunderstand this though, there's nothing more rewarding than presenting something I created to a client and hearing them tell me how they enjoy it but the process of getting to that final piece is what excites me.  Many artists/woodworkers/creative people of any bent hear their friends tell them: "hey, if you made a couple hundred of those you'd be rich, they'd sell like hotcakes!"  but for many of us that's not where it's at.  Okay, so where's all of this going?

Lie-Nielsen #66 Bronze Beading Tool
     I was given this beautiful tool, a Lie-Nielsen bronze beading tool which is his companies version of the old Stanley #66.  First off, this company makes their tools in Maine and I'm a great fan of theirs.  I own chisels and planes made by them and the quality and performance of these tools is beyond compare.  What a beading tool does is to scrape profiles into a piece of wood with a cutter.  It's an old time technique used to make furniture details and moldings.  This tool came with a set of pre-made cutters but you can also make your own.  In the hand tools class I taught, I introduced my students to this technique with my shop made scratch stock and the process is really not all that difficult.  However; after using this tool the advantages over a shop made one is pretty apparent but comes at a price!  I'm very apprecitive to have received this tool and just had to try it out!
     Two other things have occurred to give me the chance to experiment with this tool.  First off, I've been asked by a client for a bid to do a picture frame.  The request is for a dark molding of a fairly simple profile.  At the Sin City Woodworker's meeting this past Wednesday Jamie showed some samples of what she called "Smoked Poplar", technically it's called thermo treated Poplar.  It's available here locally and is touted as a substitute for Walnut.  It costs about $3.30 a board foot compared to that to Black Walnut which can be 2 to 3 times that price.  I was able to get a chunk of it free to try out from Peterman Lumber so thought this is the time to experiment with the beading tool and create a custom profile.

     If you've never even thought about making your own moldings it's really an interesting process.  For starters, unless you're framing a panel or a poster you need to have a molding that is thicker than the typical 3/4" stretched canvas.  An obvious choice would be to use wood for the frame that is thicker than that but that can get expensive and heavy.  A trick you can use is to cut the bottom, outside corner at an angle to make the frame angle out from the wall.  For this example I used an angle of about 15 degrees:

Initial 15 degree cut on what will be the outside bottom of the molding
     This was done on the table saw.

Laying out the Rabbet
     Keep in mind that the frame will contact the wall on the beveled edge only.  This means the rabbet needs to be cut out at the same angle of the bevel so the canvas will sit squarely in the frame.  Using a small, sliding bevel I drew in the area that needs to be removed, it's shaded in for clarity.

Removing the rabbet waste, second cut
   The first cut is done with the molding laying flat on the table saw.  The second cut will take a bit of trial and error to establish the correct depth.  Although definitely not OSHA approved, the best way to do this is to eye-ball the depth you think is correct, slide the fence into position, and cut a couple of inches into the board until the blade is covered.  Now, very carefully lift the board straight up by pushing down on the back edge.  You can now see how far the cut went.  For this molding, I turned the elevation wheel up about 4 times, maybe a half a turn at a time, until the two cuts meet.  Once that's done you cut the remaining pieces.  Here's what that process provided for me:

Final, table-sawn profile
In this instance I need to clean up the inside edge.

     Now we've hit the fun, experimentation stage of this project!  Sure, you can design your profile to use either a router or a shaper but they won't allow you to make custom profiles easily like a scratch stock held in the beading tool will.  If this was a production run I could certainly have a custom  cutter made for me and use the power but that's not what we're after here.  Heck, for that matter I could just draw it out and send it to China for them to make like so much of the other crap -- oops, I mean products that we find in our stores today!
     The beading tool came with several preformed cutters.  All I did with them was to remove the machine marks from the outside surface.  This was quickly accomplished with a diamond flattening plate I use for my water stones and then finished with an 8000 grit stone.  The problems I've heard regarding using the beading tool is that it may chatter.  Any chatter will be caused by an unsupported edge.  The technique that worked was to advance the cutter slightly below the bottom of the tool, set the fence to locate it on the profile, and then cut each piece until full depth was reached.  Next, the cutter was re-adjusted to go deeper and the cutting process was repeated on each piece.

Beading Tool in Action

     I found that a gentle pressure is all that's required to make the tool work.  I intentionally went over a small knot to see how it would react and it was okay.  The process is pretty fast too, it took less than 30 minutes of scraping time, using three different cutters, to complete the profile I was after. A side effect which may add to the over-all appearance of this mold is that the beading tool seems to burnish the flat areas of the profile.  I oiled a scrap piece of this poplar and I'm anxious to do it to the corner sample I made.  That'll have to wait until tomorrow but here is a picture of it, freshly glued together:

Ready to be oiled

     Well, this has been a great experiment.  One of the things that came up at the meeting was whether or not the color goes all the way through the wood --- it does.  Peterman told me it would be a little more brittle but because of the heat process it's lighter in weight and more stable.  I think of it as wood that's been in a super kiln.  When I first started to cut it I thought it had a slight chocolate odor but it's probably the charred odor, not objectionable though.  Tomorrow I'll oil this corner sample, show it to my perspective client, and post a photo of how it looks finished.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool John! I'll have to try again and go more gradually. I'll bet my results will be better. Patience is a virtue, right!