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Oval Picture Frames

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Oval Picture Frames

Don’t let their shape intimidate you —these classic frames are easy with our simple jigs.

By Randy Johnson


Oval frames are delightful eye-catchers, evoking images of days gone by and giving a unique setting for that very special photo. At first glance these frames may look tricky, but we’ve figured out an easy way to make them and you don’t even have to know how to draw an oval. Simple-to-make jigs and patterns are all it takes. In fact, this method can be used to make almost any size oval or round frame.


Oval frames in four easy steps

The four basic steps to making an oval frame are:

1. Create a frame pattern using a piece of oval glass, some 1/4-in. plywood and a couple of washers (Fig. C and Photos 1 through 5).

2. Prepare the frame parts for routing. This involves cutting the miters to size, gluing them together and rough sawing the oval shape (Fig.B and Photos 6 through 9).

3. Make the router jigs and rout the frame to final size and shape (Figs.A, E,F, G and H and Photos 10 through 13).

4. Finish your frame and install the glass,mat, picture and an oval screw ring (see Sources, below) and it’s ready for the wall.


Materials and tools

It takes only 2 bd. ft.of 1-1/8-in.-thick lumber to make one of the frames shown here. The jigs can be built from scrap 3/4-in. plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF). You can buy oval glass from a picture frame shop or by mail order (see Sources, below). Your framing shop should be able to make you an oval mat. You can also cut your own glass and mat and save a bunch of money (see Cutting Your Own Ovals, below).

The tools you need to build the jigs and frame are a tablesaw, a jigsaw, a router with a 1/2-in. collet, and a drill press with a drumsander attachment.You will also need a flush-trim, rabbet, 45-degree chamfer, and Roman-ogee router bit, and a slot cutter (see Sources, below). If your lumber is rough sawn you’ll need a planer and jointer. A router table and either a belt sander or disc sander are also handy but not absolutely necessary.


Router table vs. router jigs

There are a couple of steps (Photos 12 and13) that can be done on a router table or with the frame-holding jigs (Figs. G and H). I opted for the jigs because I think they’re safer and easier to use.When I tried making these cuts on the router table, I found holding the frame with push blocks awkward because they tended to slip off the narrow frame during routing. I did use the router table to cut the spline slots (Photo 6) because it’s quick and accurate, but the slots could just as well be cut on the tablesaw.


Oops!


While developing this project we used several types of wood: oak, pine,walnut and mahogany. They all machined nicely except the mahogany. It had a tendency to chip out when flush-trimming the outside diameter.With a curved shape like this you’re guaranteed to be routing against the grain somewhere along the edge,making chip-out likely.

If you do experience chip-out, the solution is to sand the outside diameter of the frames rather than rout them. You’ll have to do the sanding freehand without the aid of a jig but it does the trick and is almost as fast as routing. So if the wood you choose gives you trouble with chipping, give your belt or disc sander a try.


Cutting your own ovals

You can buy oval glass and mats or you can make your own. They pay for themselves after about a half dozen frames. These cutters cut ovals from as small as 4-1/4 in.by 7-1/4 in. to as large as 21-1/2 in.by 24-1/2 in.They produce excellent results and are easy and fun to use.


Fig. A: Oval Frame Cross Section

The shape of the oval frame is created with the use of four different router bits; a flush-trim for routing the frame to width, a chamfer, a rabbet and a Roman-ogee.


Fig. B: Exploded View of Frame Parts

The oval frame starts out as a rectangle. The spline joints add strength at the corners and the clamping notches are a big help when gluing the frame parts together.


Fig. C: Oval Frame Pattern

Make this out of 1/4-in. plywood. Photos 1 through 5 show you how.


Fig. D: Position of Spline Slot

The spline slot is located slightly toward the back of the frame. This keeps the spline from showing up in the Roman ogee (Fig. A).


Fig. E: Flush-Trim Jig for Inside Diameter

Attach the rough-cut frame to this jig with two 1-1/4-in. screws set back 5/8 in. from the inside edge.


Fig. F: Flush-Trim Jig for Outside Diameter

Attach the frame to this jig with two 1-1/4-in. screws set back 3/4 in. from the outside edge.


Fig. G: Inside Frame-Holding Jig

Use this jig when routing the chamfer on the back of the frame (Photo 12).


Fig. H: Outside Frame-Holding Jig

Use this jig when routing the rabbet for the glass and the Roman ogee.


Sources

(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)

Hardware and Tools.com, hardwareandtools.com, Hillman Group 122321 Oval Screw Ring (3-pack), #u857458.

Victorian Frame Co., victorianframecompany.com, 877-576-1888, Oval-shaped flat glass, 8" x 10".

Rockler Woodworking and Hardware, rockler.com, 800-279-4441, Top bearing flush-trim bit, 1-1/4" cutting length, #21046; Rabbeting bit set, #91595; 45-degree chamfer bit, #25162; Roman Ogee bit, #91639; 1/8" 3-wing slot cutter; #91750.

M&M Distributors, mmdistributors.com, 800-526-2302, Logan oval and circle mat cutter, #1900; Fletcher oval/circle glass cutter #8461.

Rust-Oleum American Accents paints are available at hardware and paint stores nationwide. Gold metallic, #7954730.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2003, issue #99.

March 2003, issue #99

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

We designed this frame for an 8x10 photo without a mat or a smaller photo with a mat, but you can make the jigs bigger or smaller to fit almost any size photo.


1. Start with your oval glass and trace it onto a piece of 1/4-in. plywood.Then saw out the inside with a jigsaw and carefully drum sand right up to the pencil line.This piece of plywood is your glass pattern.


2. Trace around the inside of the glass pattern onto another piece of 1/4-in. plywood.This new piece of plywood will become your actual frame pattern (Fig. C).


3. Use a 3/8-in. flat washer and trace around the inside of the glass pattern.This line marks the inside diameter of the frame. Note:Any washer that produces a 5/16-in. or slightly bigger offset will work. Just make sure the offset is not bigger than 3/8 in. or the glass may not fit the final frame.


4. Draw around the glass using a 2-1/8- in.-dia. plywood disc.This marks the outside diameter of your frame. Use your oval glass as a guide by centering it on the line you drew earlier (Photo 2).


5. Complete the frame pattern by cutting it out and sanding it to final size. Leave the inside and outside diameter pencil lines. Be careful to sand the oval evenly, without any lumps or valleys.


6. Rout the spline slots in the mitered ends of your frame parts (Fig. D). Next make the splines.They should slip easily into the slots, but without a lot of play.


7. Glue the frame parts together using a clamp at each corner. Use light clamping pressure at first. Increase the pressure once all the parts are correctly aligned. Wipe off any glue squeeze-out while it is still wet or scrape it off later.


8. Draw around the inside and outside of your frame pattern. The pattern doesn’t need to be perfectly centered on the frame material, just make sure you have a little extra wood all the way around the outside and inside.


9. Rough cut the glued-up frame with a jigsaw. Leave about 1/8-in. extra wood beyond the pencil lines.


10. Flush-trim the inside of the frame using a top-bearing, flushtrim router bit. The rough-cut frame is held to the jig during routing with two screws driven into the back of the frame.The jig is held in the vise by a plywood cleat on the bottom of the jig (Fig. E). If you are only making one or two frames, you could just sand the inside flush using a drum stander and skip making the jig.


11. Flush-trim the outside frame diameter the same as you did with the inside, except with a different jig (Fig. F).We experienced some chipping when routing a mahogany frame (see Oops!, left), but the walnut we used for the frame shown here routed cleanly.


12. Rout a chamfer on the back outside corner of the flushtrimmed frame. Use the inside frame-holding jig (Fig. G). No screws are needed to hold the frame to this jig, because the inner disc keeps the frame in place.


13. Rout the rabbet for the glass in the back of the frame.This time use the outside holding jig (Fig. H). No screws are needed here either.This jig alone will hold the frame in place while routing.Then flip the frame over and rout the Roman ogee on the front inside edge.When you’re done routing, sand the frame and you’re ready for finishing.


14. Finish your frames with your favorite finish.We added a little sparkle to our frames by painting the inside edge with gold metallic paint (see Sources, left).You can now install the glass, mat and photo.