Splined Picture Frame

splinted picture frame
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Splined Picture Frame

Splined Picture Frame

By Brian Hendricks

 

Miters are a great looking joint, but they aren’t very strong on their own. That’s why reinforcement is necessary when making a mitered picture frame, or any mitered joint for that matter. Adding splines or floating tenons gives the joints rigidity and strength that helps keep the joint together for a lifetime. There are endless ways to make mitered picture frames and many ways to make splines. Most methods involve complicated sleds and spline jigs that can save time when you’re batching out large numbers, but also require a lot of setup time. The most common way to cut splines is using a jig that holds your workpiece upright at a 45-degree angle and guides your piece over the blade of your table saw or a straight bit on the router table. The method I’m going to showcase here has become my favorite way to make picture frames. It’s quick, easy, and doesn’t call for any fancy jigs.

 

Calculate thickness of glass, art, any matting, backing and fasteners when determining rabbet depth.

 

I started by milling the stock to dimension. I wanted to frame an 11x17” piece of art. Given a stock width of 1-3/8" and a rabbet of 1/4", my finished frame would be 13-1/2" by 19-1/2". I planed all the stock down to a uniform 3/4" thickness, cut to rough length (leaving an extra few inches on each side to avoid planer snipe and/or checks in the wood) and ripped everything to 1-3/8".

 

 

Machining rabbet.

 

 

Make the profile as plain or fancy as you like.

 

Then I moved to the router table to rabbet the back and profile the face. I used a 1/4" rabbeting bit adjusted to a depth of 1/4", as well. Next, I flipped the pieces over to rout the profile on the front of the frame stock. This is where you can get creative and really define the look of your frame. There are many profile bits out there that can give you drastically different looks. I chose to use a simple chamfer bit and put a 45-degree angle on the inside of my frame. Since the stock was relatively small, I used featherboards to keep the stock tight to the fence and to the table for both the rabbet and profile cuts. Not only did the featherboards keep me away from the bit, the resulting stock was perfectly uniform in its profile.

 

 

Whether you use a miter saw or table saw, set stops to keep opposite sides exactly the same length.

Once the router table work was done, it was time to cut my miters. To do this, I put a tic mark at my desired lengths, then used a DelVe Square to mark 45° angles. Next, I cut miters on one end of each piece at the miter saw. Then I flipped the first piece 180 degrees and lined up the blade on the line I marked previously. Once I had my piece where I wanted it, I clamped a stop block to my miter saw table so I could make the other side of the frame exactly the same length. If you don’t have a miter saw, add a temporary fence to your table saw miter gauge and attach a stop to that. Just don’t try to cut frames to layout lines. You’ll drive yourself nuts trying to get two pieces exactly the same length. Stops are how you get it done right.

 

Band clamps are perfect for assembling frames. Handle glued frame carefully while making splines.

After the miters were cut, I could move on to the glue up. My favorite way to go about doing this is to use a strap clamp. Any time I’ve tried it with bar clamps, the miters slide out of position with the slightest amount of uneven pressure. Woodpeckers Miter Clamping Tools solve the problem, too, but I had the strap clamp right here in my shop. I let the glue dry for two hours before taking it out of the clamp.

 

Mark equal points from corner for spline position.

 

 

Align blade height and stock position to center.

 

Simply butted together, the miter joints will hold up to gentle handling for a while, but they need reinforcement. I like the look of an open spline, particularly with a contrasting wood used for the spline. I want to share my simple method for cutting splines with just a table saw and a piece of 1/4" scrap stock for a stop. The set-up is simple. With my DelVe Square, I made a 45-degree mark to determine the depth of my splines. I then took my frame to the table saw and lined up the blade with my mark. Once I had my frame and the blade in position, I took a ¼” piece of scrap and clamped it to my table saw fence, using it as a stop. Next, I lined up the blade to the center of my frame and made my cuts, slowly pushing the frame through the blade until it hit my stop, turning off the saw, then backing it out. This method leaves you with a spline slot that is curved on the inside (as you can see in the cross-section photo), allowing for more glue squeeze out and only two points that need to shoulder.

 

 

Clamp stop to fence at correct position.

 

Push corners into blade. Turn saw off to retract.

 

Once the spline slots were cut, I could move on to making the actual splines. The thickness of your splines is determined by the kerf of your table saw blade, which was 1/8” in my case. I wanted the splines to stand out from the rest of the picture frame, so I went with maple for contrast. I made a mark all the way down the edge of my board at 1/8” and took my stock to the bandsaw for resawing. After resawing, I could sand it down to its final thickness at the drum sander. If you don’t have a drum sander, another option is to double stick tape your spline stock to a thicker board, then run it through the planer, essentially making a planer sled. Once the stock has been taken down to the correct thickness, your splines should fit perfectly in the slots you cut earlier.

 

 

Finished spline slot.

 

Slight arc in spline cavity does not affect strength.

 

Resawing maple for spline material.

 

After the spline stock was milled to the correct thickness, I inserted the stock into one of the spline slots and traced the corner of the frame onto the stock. Then I could take the stock to the bandsaw and cut out the splines. It’s important to oversize the splines slightly so they can be flush trimmed later. When gluing the splines into the slots, remember to apply glue to both sides of the spline. Let the glue dry and come back with a flush trim saw to get the splines close to flush. Then sand them smooth and use a finish of your choice.

 

 

Marking out spline.

 

Cut out on band saw leaving room to trim.

 

Spline glued in place and ready to trim and sand.

 

Now you’re left with one question, what looks better? The art or the frame?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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