Friday, June 27, 2008

Build an Oak Floater Frame

This is a floater frame for a gallery wrapped canvas. It is called a "Floater" because the frame is built larger than the canvas and then the canvas is mounted inside the frame and attached by screws to the back of the frame. This leaves a gap between the frame edges and canvas and appears to make the canvas float inside of the frame. Very cool looking!
You can buy these ready made or have them made per your dimensions if you look around online or talk to your local framer. Since my framing budget is nowhere near that of many painters whose names you know I made this one is my second floater frame I've made and came out pretty good I think.

It is made of Red Oak strips bought at Home Depot, 1"x4". I then saw it down to the size I need on a table saw. The corners are miter-cut on the table saw and then glued and nailed's sanded and then rubbed with wax to protect the wood and enhance the wood grain of the oak.

Here is the procedure for those of you do-it-yourself types.

Here is the Red Oak purchased at Home Depot before cutting down to lengths to work with. Cost is about $2.50 per foot.

I then cut the length into 4 pieces. Then cut the width for the sides and back and then cut miter cuts where the 2 pieces will join at 90 degree angles. The miter cut is a 45 degree cut.

The next step is to assemble the four sides of the frame with wood glue and either small finishing nails or brads. I used brads shot with an airgun (fast!) but a hammer and finishing nails would work fine. If you used an epoxy glue you could probably skip nailing altogether. I was working alone so having this little clamp to hold the corners is great! I should have bought two though.

This is a crummy picture of the next step...nailing the back to the sides but you can see how the miter cut works. It gives you a nice joined edge

That is the basic assembly. Let it dry overnight and then sand all the sides and edges. I sand a smooth radius around the front edges and corners too. After that you wipe it down to get the sawdust off of it and then start rubbing in the wax. I used a wax with an orange oil in it to protect the wood. I love this step because now the oak really shows it's beauty.

Here is the whole frame waxed up....nice! From this point you just drill holes in the back of the frame and then place your painting in there...get the sides even and then screw into the back of your strecther bars to hold it all together.
Here is the frame and painting mounted together.
Here you can see the gap between frame and canvas. Also, the corners and edges. Notice the side nails are placed at bottom and top of frame so you can't see them. The back is nailed from behind so you can't see those nails either.

It looks like a ton of work but this second frame was much easier to build than the first...all of the figuring out was spent on that first one. I've seen versions of framing paintings where they built the frame flush with the edges of the painting and made no back at all. I've seen one like that made that was simply built of pine and then sprayed with black paint and it looked pretty cool too. Just a matter of what results you are looking for.

If you kept the edges all flat without the miter cuts and could find the wood in the correct thickness you could build this frame with just a miter box made of wood or plastic. It's just hard finding the wood in the right thickness. My wood is 3/8" thick and I started with 1" thick wood. That's why you need a table saw to do this. The table saw is also needed to cut the miter cuts. It's a fun project though....give it a try sometime. is a pic of the back of the frame showing how the canvas mounts to the frame. The canvas lays flat against the back of the frame. Your stretcher bars of the canvas will butt up against the back of the frame. All you need to do is center the canvas in the frame and drill a pilot hole through the back of the frame and into your stretcher bar. Then simply put a screw in to hold your canvas to the back of the frame. I used 4 screws to mount this painting. To center the painting I use either pieces of foam core or bits of old mat board placed between the frame and the edge of the canvas...just add pieces until the painting is even on all 4 sides. ANOTHER UPDATE....Here are some additional pics of the assembly of the frame. Again, the shape of the frame is an "L" for each side of the frame. I did a mitre cut on each piece where they are glued together forming the "L". A mitre cut is a 45 degree bevel cut (actually any degree of bevel). For additonal strength I shot 3/4" brads, which are like finishing nails, in from the back of the frame....see diagram below.

Instead of brads you can use small finishing nails. I bought an air powered brad gun, which is a lot like an electric staple gun, at Harbor Freight for about $20. I already had a compressor to run it. I'm sure they sell manual or electric brad guns too....try Home Depot.

Here you can see from the behind the frame looking down from the top. The brads (circled in white) are shot from the top and from behind the frame. This keeps the viewer from seeing the brads when the frame hangs on the wall. Brads at the bottom of the frame are shot upward...the reverse of these tops ones. You can also see the mounting sheet metal screw going through the back of the frame and into the back of the stretcher bar holding the painting to the frame.

By shooting the brads from the top and back of the frame you end up with a smooth brad-free frame side like it is shown below. By using the bevelled mitre cut to join the sides and back you have a seamless joint.


Liz Abeyta said...

Hi Ron,
I popped in here last week and checked out these floater frames. You've done a great job with them and they look terrific on your work (love the vineyard scene).

I've been thinking about making these- any idea how you'd secure a panel in there?

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Liz,
With stretched canvas you just screw through the back of the floater frame into the stretcher bars.

When floating a panel you'd have to screw into some strips (blocks of wood) glued to the back of the panel. You could cut strips, like stretcher bars, making a frame behind the panel about 1/2" in from the edge with epoxy glue which is super strong. Elmers makes an Acid Free wood glue too but I'm not sure who carries it.

I wouldn't recommend drilling into the back of the panel no matter how thick the panel was...eventually the screw will rust into the panel.

At a show today one of the other artists asked me where I bought the large oak floater frame! That felt really good.
Good luck with your floaters Liz.

asmayly said...

Did you skip some pictures?
Is there a "filet" I see inside the frame that the canvas screws into?
I was hoping to see that part of the process . . .

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Asmayly,
In pics 4-5-6 you can see the back of the frame. The painting is put into the frame from the front. I then pre-drilled holes in the back and ran longer screws through the back and into the back of the stretcher bars which holds the painting into the frame.

The frame is basically an "L" shape. Because the canvas is so thick 1 1/2" I decided not to put a strip in the inside corner to "float" it even more....wasn't neccesary. Once the painting is mounted to the frame and with the 1/4" gap between painting and frame it appears to float anyway.

Adriana Gomez said...

Hi there. Can you tell me how to assemble the canvas into the floater frame? Like normally one would use canvas clips (or holders) for a normal frame. But no one seams to know how. Can you tell me how to do it and what to use??
Thanks Adriana

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Adriana,
I've added a picture of the screw in the back of the frame that holds the painting to the frame. This frame is built like an "L". The painting sits flat against the back of the frame so all you need to do is put 4 screws through the back of the frame and into the stretcher bars.

This is for using gallery wrapped canvases. My stretcher bars a an 1 1/2" deep. These are thick so when you look into the gap between the frame and canvas you don't really see the canvas is against the back of the frame.
I've bought store-bought floater frames and you still screw into the back of the stretcher bars with the hardware they supply.

barbara said...

I do not see how you created the L. The outside of your frame looks clean. I saw a video showing a lip being added to the inside of the mitered frame with glue. I was concerned that glue may not be strong enough and that I should buy an L moulding.
What do you think?

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Barbara,
If you look at the drawing you can see how the mitre cut joins both pieces together forming the "L" can see that mitre cut in the 2nd photo of this post up top.
A mitre cut is just a bevelled cut...mine at 45 degrees on both side and back pieces of wood. You glue them together and then use brads or finishing nails to hold them tight. After that dries you round the corner with fine sandpaper...this causes you to barely see where the two pieces where joined together....especially after staining the wood.

Commercial frame makers put in a fillet on the inside corner of the frame simply to reinforce the mitred joint or to help in mounting the canvas. Today's glues are much stronger than glues of the past so you can get a very tough joint with glue's also just a picture frame that will have little wear and tear like say a rocking chair would get. I didn't use a fillet because I didn't see the reason for it nor the extra work. The frame is screwed to the back of the stretcher bars too so that adds additional strength to the frame.
Hope the new pics help explain some of this...thanks for asking!

jamesabell_2000 said...

Hi Ron,
Great information here.
If I cannot find any red oak in my locality I prefer to see the wood before I buy, can you recommend any alternative woods?
Many thanks,

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi James,
I used Red Oak because that was the type of hardwood that was available at my local Home Depot. We have a full blown lumberyard here in town but their prices are astronomical. Still, if you wanted a different type of wood you could find it at any lumberyard.

Most types of wood will work. I wanted a hardwood because it doesn't "ding" as easily as most soft woods. Any oak is a hardwood and oak comes in different "colors"...Red Oak Blonde Oak...etc. It really depends on what kind of finish you want, a light frame or a dark frame...oak has both, but even a light wood can be stained dark if you want.

Basically, you can use whatever wood is available in your area and in your price range...the finish is up to you. Good luck with your project James.

Jennifer Drummond Ferris said...

Thanks for all the great info!!! Can you tell me the width of the strips for the back of your frame?


Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Jennifer,
That back strips were cut at 1 3/8" wide. You can cut them any width you really want as long as you can see where to drill into the stretcher bars.
Thanks a lot for the comments Jennifer.

Julia Sutliff said...

You write that the back strips are 1 3/8" wide; does that mean that the side strips are 2 1/2" wide (or deep), since you cut down from 4"? Thanks.

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Julia,
No, I cut the side pieces down to 2,1/4" wide. 2,1/2" looked to deep to me but would work fine if you wanted to go deeper with the frame.

The side deepness is really determined by how deep your stretcher bars are. The stretcher bars I used here are gallery wrapped sized stretcher bars. You could make stretcher bars out of standard 3/4" (or just buy any normal sized pre-stretched canvas) and make a frame just deep enough for that if you wanted to build a floater frame for that size.

Good luck with your frame!

Robert Bryan said...


2 questions:

1. I am curious as to how to paint the edges of a gallery-wrap canvas when using a float frame. I don't like the look when the edge is painted to look like the painting wraps around the corner. Other folks I have talked say don't paint canvas the edge black. I can't see enough detail in your paintings so see what you do. What do you recommend?

2. I like the narrow gap that you use between frame and canvas. Is that about 1/4", or do you ary this with painting size?


Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Rob,
A long time ago they used to paint the edges black to add to the "floating" look to the painting. Then people were painting over the edges but that was mainly for gallery wrapped works hanging on their own with no frame.
Lately, artists are painting the sides a light color...preferably one from the painting so it works as a whole. I pick a light color off the painting and paint the sides with that.
The gap is 1/4" on all of the ones I do Rob.
Good luck.

Bruce said...

I can't figure out how you cut the wood in the initial stages. Going from 1 x 4 piece of wood to having all the pieces to assemble is a mystery. Did you have to do any ripping? Was the 1" dimension cut in half to be 1/2" thickness?

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi Bruce,
I started with a 1"x4" piece of oak bought from Home Depot. I then put it on my table saw and cut it down to 3/8" thickness. I use the table saw because I don't own a planer. A 1"x4" is actually only 3/4 thick so I just has to take off a little.

Anonymous said...

This is a simple technique and easy for someone who can use a table saw for vertical cuts. However, for much larger oil paintings it's necessary to have more wood on the back to support heavy stretcher bars. I've accomplished this by adding another rabbet on the back so there are two rabbets on each frame length. I then attach a length of 5/16" x 4" poplar (usually available at HD and that I'll call a "floater" here); I then have a wider section of wood to drill and screw. You've only left yourself <3/8" from which to screw (3/4" - 3/8" and saw kerf = less than 3/8") and that's too small to provide any wiggle room if the canvas isn't exactly square (nothing is "exactly" anything). It, and kraft tape where the frame meets the floaters, also provides a more professional finish to the back - this is important for galleries - they can't hang everything at once and have to store painting. A wider insert allows for painting to be jostled, slid in and out of racks, and transported without fear that one small split in the rabbet could loosen the entire painting/frame. Oak is a very hard wood, not the easiest to cut unless your blade is very sharp, and, due to its hardness, is more apt to split when challenged by torque or some sort of blow to the frame - it doesn't take much to splinter a hardwood. But, it's a good looking wood for a frame and is used extensively. Oh, and I always use a splined corner - more surface, more glue, more adhesion and no filling.

Ron Guthrie said...

Hi A, All good info you've got there. I know other artists making their frames too and they have their ways problem with that.

This project was for a light, easy to make oak frame from common materials and for a painting that didn't weight a ton. If the painting was larger I could have made a much beefier frame for it. And, since you've brought up that point it is well taken and suggested to anyone making larger heavier paintings or anyone just wanting a larger frame to work with.

Thanks for your suggestions....very helpful stuff.

canvasuk said...

Really a great floater frames...really a great job looks outstanding...
Frames for canvas

Broadoak Railway Sleepers said...

all the pictures are great ..
Green Oak