Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Make Simple Floater Frames for your Plein Air Paintings

Do you have a lot of Plein Air paintings in your studio, and you want to give them nice frames on a budget? Well, look no further. Here is how I make some simple, inexpensive floater frames for my paintings. 


-1x2 Select Pine, Oak or Poplar (I think the texture of poplar is best if you are painting the frame and plan on doing an antique finish. Pine or oak looks better if you are staining and varnishing). Since this can be expensive at about $1 per board foot, we want to use this for the outside only. 
-1x2 Cheap pine (This will go on the inside of the frame.  I paid $.99 for each 8ft piece). Look at the wood edge-on and make sure you get the straightest pieces you can find. 
-Wood Glue
-E6000 Glue
-Paint or stain/varnish
-D-Ring hangers
-Hanging wire

-Measuring tape
-C-Clamps or bar clamps
-Band clamps 
-Miter Saw or table saw
-Staple Gun

Start with 1x2 pieces of cheap pine (left) and your nicer wood, in this case "Select pine" (right)

Lay the nice piece face-down on your work table. The side that faces down is going to be the outside of the frame, so choose the best looking side. Apply wood glue to the cheap piece of pine, and place it on the top of the nice wood. 

Use a ruler to set the depth. Your painting is going to rest on this piece of wood, so keep in mind where the front of the painting will end up. I like to have my paintings inset 1/8 inch. Since this painting is on a panel that's about 1/4 inch, I'm going to set the depth at 3/8 inch. 

Once you measure the correct depth, use a c-clamp or a bar clamp to brace the pieces together while the glue dries. I like to measure the depth and put a clamp every foot or so. The more clamps, the straighter it will be.

Use a pen to mark the back side of the molding. 

Using a miter saw, cut a 45 degree angle off the end.

Next, take your painting and set it 1/8" from the edge. Always measure off the actual painting to ensure accuracy. 

Make a mark on the wood 1/8" from the other edge of the painting, and then use your saw to cut it. I like to cut the piece a little bit bigger than it should be, and then shave away small slices at a time until it is just the right size. 

Measure it up against the painting. It should have about 1/8" extra on either side. 

Use the backside of this first piece to measure off the opposite side of the frame. The most important thing now is to make sure each piece is exactly the same length as the opposite side.

Once again, cut the piece a tiny bit bigger than you need it, and then use the saw to shave off thin slices, constantly comparing it back to the first piece. We're splitting hairs here... it needs to be perfect! The slightest difference in length will result in noticeable gaps in the corners.

Repeat these steps for the other dimension of the painting. 

Test-fit your pieces together and make sure they join up right. Set up a band clamp around your frame, but don't tighten it yet. 

Remember the mark you made on the back side of the molding? Make sure it is facing down on each piece! 

Place glue on all the edges to be joined. Tighten the band clamp. As you tighten it, check how the corners are lining up. Make adjustments as you need to, and then tighten the clamp the rest of the way.

With the clamp tightened, flip the frame over. Put a couple staples in each corner. You may notice that the back-side may have some slight gaps. That's ok, since we won't see it. We only really need to make sure the front and the edges line up and look as clean as possible.

Flip it back over and put the painting in. Perfect fit! There is a 1/8" gap all the way around. This is where the "floater" name comes from. 

Leave the frame to dry overnight, then give them a good sanding in the morning. I like using a palm/rotary sander. Pay attention to the corners and edges.

If you have any gaps where the pieces join, you can fill them in with wood filler. Use plenty. Let it dry overnight.

Once this is dry, use a palm sander again and sand until it is flush.  

Now for painting. For my large frames, I like to use stain and satin polyurethane varnish. For my smaller frames, I came up with an antiqued gold look.

Begin by spraying the frames with a bright gold. It's too bright on its own, so we need to tarnish it a bit...

Brush on some burnt sienna ink. Let it soak momentarily, and then smear/dab with a paper towel. Use a couple coats if you want the frame to look more tarnished.You could use oil paint, wood stain, or just about anything else. Tint the gold in a way that would compliment your paintings.

Using some black acrylic, paint the inside edge of the frame. You can paint the edge of your panel black too if you want. 

Use a flexible, silicon type glue to affix the painting to the frame. I like E6000. Put a pea-sized amount in each corner, and then gently place the painting on top.

Center the panel. You can use pieces of cardboard as shims: place between the frame and panel edge while the glue sets. Let it dry overnight.

When the glue is dry, put on some D-Rings and hanging wire.

Bigger Frames:

I like to use 1x3 planks for any paintings that are on stretched canvas. Set the depth the same way as the smaller frames. So, the frame for a 1 1/2" canvas would have a depth of 1 5/8". On a larger piece, I like to bump up the edge gap to 1/4". 

Also, when I'm using 1x3" planks, I like to have something more than just glue holding them together. I use pocket-hole screws when building the molding. 

When you are attaching the stretched canvas to the frame, use pieces of cardboard as spacers/shims to hold in the painting. Flip it over, and use screws to attach the frame. If you don't use the cardboard spacers the painting can get off-centered. 

Well, that's how I make frames. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Happy painting!


  1. Great post, thanks for taking the time to do it. If a buyer decides they want a different frame how hard is it to remove the piece?

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read!

      It's pretty easy to take out. The Silicon glue holds very well but is still removable, because it's flexible. Using some pressure from the back side of the panel, you can pop the painting off. Use your fingernails to peel any glue off of the panel. 

      Make sure to use pea-sized blobs of glue. It will make removal easier. If your panel has a paper backing you will lose some of the paper, but the board itself will be fine. If your panel has bare wood on the back side it will be just fine. MDF or hardboard is hit or miss. I've had some panels come off pristine, and some have a slightly thin layer of the board peel off. Nothing that would comprimize the integrity of the panel though, just purely cosmetic. 

      If you get a floater frame from a professional frame shop, they tend to glue the panel to a slightly larger board before framing. Same glue, and I've peeled those off before. Same issue, cosmetic marks on the back. Nothing to worry about.

  2. Awesome, thanks! I use birch or MDF. but I always paint both sides. Should work fine.

  3. Are there any commercially made frames like these? I don't have the necessary tools...but have several pieces I'd like to frame. I know I could take them to my local frame shop, but that is serious $$$. Since I paint on ampersand boards, all my work is a standard size...

    Otherwise...guess I need to make friends with a woodworker!

    1. King of Frame has a few, which you can find at

      Also, any kind of frame can be turned into a floater frame. All you have to do is mount the panel to a black board, and then install the board into the frame. Mat board is a popular choice. Though, if you go that route, you'll have to use odd-sized panels. For example, if you had a 9x12 readymade frame, you would use a 9x12 piece of black mat board and an 8.5x11.5 panel (you need to use a slightly smaller panel to account for the 1/8" spacing along the edges). Going with odd-sized panels seems like a much more difficult route to me, as those would have to be custom made.

    2. Thank you! I think I may just need to buy some tools. :P

    3. Ampersand is now making floater frames for their panels. I've framed one piece that way...pretty slick.

  4. My paintings are on MDF 1/4" thick boards 12x14". They are quite heavy and I'd be scared to trust 4 dabs of glue. These need to be screwed in place even though it means screwing into the back of my painting. I just love float frames for presentation. If anyone has a better idea please let me know.

    1. correction 12x16" even heavier.

    2. I framed a 16 x 20 Ampersand 1/8" board in an Ampersand floater frame. I was pleased. It has been hanging for two months's fine. Ampersand help line recommended silicone adhesive- the kind one uses to build aquariums.

  5. Hi, I really liked your paintngs.

    I have a question, I have these 1/8 inch stretched canvas mounted on hardboards and I want to frame them like yours. The sizes are 24x30 inch. So what should be the depth of floater frames to fit them right? I am doing this new so really confused.

  6. Also, will a 24x30 inch will stick to the floater frame with a silicon glue? Since it is 1/8 inch in depth I cannot drill holes!

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic. This is really helpful and informative, as this gave me more insight to create more ideas and solutions for my plan. I would love to see more updates from you.


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  9. Great directions! I kept finding tutorials for “floating” frames using L brackets as spacers or other gimmicky tricks. I wanted to make a real floating frame to showcase my mother’s beautiful artwork. I have the skills and tools, just needed the directions, thanks!

  10. I appreciate everything you have added to my knowledge base.Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer.Thanks.