Here's a five-for-one deal that’s hard to refuse.
This neat little frame displays two 4" x 6" portrait
images, two 4" x 6" landscape images
and one 4" x 4" image in a 13-1/2" x 13-1/2"
package. Made from a single 3/4" x 4" x
22" board, it assembles with half-lap joints
and miters that are reinforced with decorative
splines. This frame contains only three
parts, so it’s easy to build—you simply make
multiples of each part and assemble them. A
couple of simple jigs make building multiple
frames just as easy.
Cut the frame parts
Install a dado set in your tablesaw
and use the miter gauge and
a fence with an clamped-on stop
block to cut the 3/8" x 3/4" rabbets
and dadoes in the blank (Photo 1
and Fig. A, below). These cuts
must be precisely sized and located,
so use a test piece to ensure accurate
setups. Note that the rabbets
are cut on one face of the blank
and the dadoes on the other face.
Cut the rabbets first. Then reposition
the stop block (and flip over
the blank) to cut each dado.
Rip the blank into four 3/4"
wide pieces. Each one of these
pieces contains the three different
frame parts. Make test cuts on scrap
stock first, to ensure that these four
pieces snugly fit the dadoes. I follow
an old-timer’s advice for fitting
joints: “A joint shouldn’t go
together without friction, nor need
a hammer. It should be just tight
enough to knock together with
Install a new fence on the miter
gauge to cut each long piece into
the three frame parts. The first
parts are rabbeted at one end and
mitered at the other (A, Fig. A).
Start by cutting a kerf through the
fence with the blade tilted 45˚. Orient
the long piece with the dadoes
facing the blade and mark it for cutting
at 9-1/4". Align the mark with
the kerf in the fence and clamp the
stop block in position. Then miter
each piece (Photo 2).
The second parts (B) are similar,
except that their miters slope in
the opposite direction. These parts
share one critical 4-1/4" dimension
with parts A (dimension “X,”
Fig. A). These dimensions must
match for the frame’s miter joints
to fit properly. Mark the four offcuts
from the previous step, orient
each piece with its rabbeted end
facing the blade and carefully align
the mark with the kerf in the fence
before you cut (Photo 3). The last
parts (C) are mitered at both ends.
They’re made by shortening the
mitered offcuts that remain from
the previous step (Photo 4). Wait until the other parts are glued
together before cutting these parts
to final size.
Assemble parts A and B without
glue to test their fit (Photo 5).
Make sure the rabbet shoulders
butt flush, the joints are square and
the critical “X” dimensions match.
Glue parts A together first. Apply
glue to the appropriate rabbets and
dadoes and assemble the center
pinwheel. Clamp each joint and let
the glue dry. Then glue and clamp
parts B. Remove the clamps and
place the frame on a flat surface.
Then cut, fit, glue and clamp each
part C separately.
Make a jig to cut slots for the spline
in the frame’s mitered corners
(Fig. B). Center the frame on the
bottom edge of a 12" x 12" piece of
3/4" MDF and transfer its jagged
bottom profile (Photo 6). Label the
three triangular sections as shown.
Cut the blank into three 4" x 12"
sections. Then cut out the three triangles
and glue them to one of the
two remaining MDF sections. Screw
on the remaining MDF section and
test-fit the frame. Widen the opening,
if necessary, by adding playing
card shims between the triangles
and the outer piece of MDF.
Set the tablesaw fence so the
blade will cut through the center
of the jig. Set the blade’s height at 1-1/2". Then install the frame in
the jig and cut 1/8" wide slots in
all the miters (Photo 7). Because of
the frame’s orientation in the jig,
the slots will be longer on one face
than the other.
Use the bandsaw to cut the
spline stock. I compress each piece
of spline in my bench vise. Glue
makes the wood fibers rebound and
swell to create tight joints (Photo
8). When the glue has dried, trim
the splines with a saw and plane or
sand them flush.
Rout 1/4" wide x 3/8" deep rabbets
on the back of the frame (Photo
9). (This depth hides the end grain
from view in the half-lap joints.)
Square the corners of all the rabbets—
this is a pain in the neck to
do by hand. To ease the job, I start
by drilling out the corners with a
3/8" Forstner bit. This leaves visible
scallops at each backside corner,
but it makes removing the remaining
waste much easier.
Apply your favorite finish. I used
wipe-on polyurethane followed by
a coat of paste wax. Install a sawtooth
picture hanger on the top
horizontal frame part. To make
sure the frame hangs level, center
this hanger on the 4" x 4" middle
frame. Cut glass and backing material
(hardboard, foam core, etc.)
for your photos and install them in
the openings. Use turn buttons to
hold everything in place.
Fig. A: Frame Parts
Fig. B: Slotting Jig
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Cut all the frame
parts from one
long blank. First,
cut rabbets on
both ends and
two dadoes. Then
rip the blank into
four pieces sized
to fit the dadoes.
2. Cut each long
piece to create
frame parts. To
create the first
part, miter the
end that has the
you cut, make
sure the dadoes
face the blade.
3. Miter the
of the offcut to
create the second
frame part. This
time, make sure
the rabbet faces
4. Miter the
to create the third
5. Test-fit all the
the four parts A to
form a pinwheel.
Then install parts
B. Cut parts C to
fit after parts A
and B are glued
6. Make a jig to cut
slots for the spline.
Mark the frame’s
profile on a 12" x
12" MDF blank.
Then cut the blank
into three equal
pieces. Cut pieces
A, B and C and
between the other
7. Cut saw-kerf
slots for the spline
in each miter joint.
Rotate the frame
90˚ after each
8. Glue splines in
the miters. Saw
off the waste and
smooth the edges
9. Rout rabbets in
the back of each
frame and square
all the corners.
Apply the finish
and then install
the glass, photos