Pallet Wood Picture Frame

Last month one of my photos was selected for the biennial employee art competition at my work. As excited as I was to have my photo selected for the show, I quickly came to the realization that I would need to frame the photo. I found this irritating, because on one hand I was proud of my work and wanted to frame it as nice as possible, but on the other hand I know that quality frames are expensive and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a frame that I wouldn’t get to keep!

I tried to think of how I could elegantly, but frugally, frame the photo and then I got a brilliant idea — pallet wood! I know pallet wood typically is weathered, cracked, full of rusty nails, and generally not something that is seen framing artwork in a gallery, however I think based on my description of the photo for the show it would be the perfect material:

Once home to amusement park rides, summer cottages, and miles of sandy beaches, Pleasure Beach became a ghost town in 1996 after a fire destroyed the wooden bridge connecting it to the southern Connecticut mainland. I began exploring the remains of Pleasure Beach ten years after the Coast Guard evacuated its residents. Bicycles with flat tires, cars sitting idle in garages, and houses with storm battered screen doors opening and closing with each gust of wind give the area a horror movie feel. In addition to the dilapidated cottages, there are larger structures in disrepair such as the Polka Dot Playhouse. Sitting in the theater’s main hall it is easy to picture a sold-out crowd watching a performance on stage — a dream that is quickly broken by way of pigeons flying overhead. Instead of a lively auditorium filled with theatergoers and a spotlight following actors across the stage, all that remains of the Playhouse today are moldy seats and sunlight shining down from the holes in the ceiling.

Decrepit old building shown in a deteriorated wooden frame, perfect!

I had never built a picture frame before, but I figured it’s just four pieces of wood and some glue, it couldn’t take more than a few hours to build, right? (hint: I was wrong)

I started my build by searching Craigslist to find someone who was throwing out free raw materials. I found a business getting rid of a whole stack of pallets so I took a drive over to them, picked over what I thought would be suitable, and came home with this:

Next, with a jigsaw and a hammer I took apart the pallet into its individual boards. Free wood! I also removed all nails at this point since I would not want them dulling any of my blades in the subsequent steps.

I wanted to maintain the weathered appearance of the boards as much as possible, but I did need to joint the edges of the boards with my router table so that I could have a flat edge to use when I cut the boards down to the correct width on my table saw. Here are the boards with jointed edges:

Next, I cut rabbets into the edges of the face of each of the boards so that the plexi + photo + mat would have a sill to rest on. Up to this point, everything had gone smoothly. It was only when I started increasing the depth of my rabbets that I realized that all of my boards were not of equal thickness. I thought “No big deal, I’ll just align the face of the frame parts flush and have the thicker parts of the boards show in the back”. This is where I should have planed everything down to the same thickness, but I went ahead anyway…

In my last post I built a 45-degree table saw miter sled. I used this sled to cut the angles on the frame corners and it worked great. After all of the pieces were cut, it was time to glue. I bought a fancy belt clamp that was supposed to make gluing frames a snap, however due to the varying wood thicknesses, the pressure of the belt on the frame was uneven and I couldn’t use it. I chalked that up as a loss for this project and I’ll just have to use it on the next frame I build where I will have equally thick boards.

I ended up building a basic jig with squared piece of board screwed into a piece of plywood. This gave me a 90-degree angle that I could clamp my corner pieces against for a perfect fit. The varying wood thickness still affected me here though, since I needed to shim one of the clamps to ensure that the face of the frame would lay flat. Take a shortcut early on, pay for it multiple times down the road.

Eventually I got all four corners of the frame glued, and the frame was done! Renee was gracious to model the finished frame for me.

All that was left to do after this was insert the plexi + photo + mat, screw on a 1/4″ piece of plywood to the back to hold everything in place, and install some photo wire.

Originally published at on December 1, 2014.

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