Step 2: Preparing the Wood

Choosing the Wood

In Step 1, I decided on the frame molding profile shown here. My sister-in-law said she wanted a dark frame, so I decided to use Maple and stain it to the desired tint. Maple is a beautiful hardwood to work with, but other good choices are oak or walnut. I recommend you use hardwood instead of softwood, even though it is considerably more expensive.

Frame Profile
Hardwoods are nicer quality and easier to work with. You’ll need a nice, sharp, carbide-tipped saw blade to cut them though. Look for a “combination blade” with around 40 teeth. It’ll likely cost you around $50 – $60. If you’re looking at a saw blade that is only $5 or $6, then it’s not carbide-tipped and will be useless for cutting hardwood.

Lumber from the lumber yard
Because I’d decided that my frame would be 1.25 inches thick, I needed to find wood that was already the right thickness, since I don’t own a planer or jointer. I found the perfect match at a local lumberyard (The WoodSource, in Manotick, Ontario). I bought a piece of Maple that was 1.25 inches thick, 2.5 inches wide, and 5 feet long. It cost about $15.
Cutting the Wood to Size

Since my frame border is only 1 inch wide, and the wood I bought was 2.5 inches wide, I “ripped” the 2.5 inch wide plank down to two 1-inch wide strips using my table saw, keeping the same thickness. To do this, I set my table saw’s fence at exactly 1″, making sure that the saw blade was outside the 1 inch gap.

Setting saw fence for 1″-wide strips
I then ran the lumber through the saw twice, cutting off two 1″-wide strips. This left a small scrap piece, which I will use for stirring finishing materials or testing the look of a finishing technique before applying it to the actual frame. The scrap piece is actually a little less than half an inch wide, because the thickness of the saw’s blade eliminates some of the width during cutting. Here’s an end view of the lumber after I cut it:

Plan for ripping the lumber

The lumber, cut to the desired widths
Cutting the Rabbet

Next, I cut the rabbet into the back of the wood (the deep notch in the bottom right of the diagram at the top of this page) using the table saw. First, I marked the dimensions of the cut on the end of one of the pieces.

Marking the wood for the rabbet cuts
I set my table saw blade depth at 3/4 of an inch, and set the fence at 1/2 an inch. To make sure the cut is accurate, I lined up the wood with the blade (with the saw off) to see where the teeth would hit, in relation to the lines I marked on the end of the wood. In this case, you want the blade to cut on the scrap side of your lines, as shown in this picture (note that in the picture, I’m just checking the width. I haven’t set the blade depth yet).
With the blade set, I ran both pieces across the blade lengthwise. This cut a narrow channel in the wood.

Cutting the rabbet, step 1
To complete the rabbet, set the saw fence at 3/4 of an inch, and the blade depth to 1/2 an inch, and run the pieces along the saw again. This will complete the rabbet. This doesn’t have to be exactly dead-on, since this is just the channel in the back of the frame that will hold the glass, art, matting, and backing. This will not actually be visible, once the frame is complete. Here’s what my wood looked like after the second rabbet cut:

Cutting the rabbet, step 2
Note: Pay attention to the thickness of the saw blade, and make sure that you’re cutting inside your lines. That is, that the blade is cutting on the scrap side of the line. When you’re working with pieces this small, the thickness of the saw blade can actually affect your measurements and throw off the end result.
Routing a Decoration

Once the rabbet was finished, I routed the decorative ledge into the face of the frame. I inserted a rabbet bit into my table router, set the depth at 1/8 of an inch, and adjusted the fence so that when I ran the wood along it, the router bit would cut into just the first 3/16 of an inch or so of the wood. This is best done in several passes. After each pass, I adjusted the fence a bit, and repeated it, until the ledge was eventually 1/2 an inch wide.
Rounding the Edges

The last step was to round the edge of the wood. I installed a 1/4 inch rounding bit in my router and set the depth at about 1/8 of an inch. I didn’t use the router’s fence for this step, since my bit is a pilot bit, meaning it has a roller bearing on the tip that you press the wood against as you slide it along the bit. But you need to keep a firm grip on the wood, and use your router’s starting pin to get started.

Rounding the edge of the frame
As with cutting the face ledge, I started shallow and made several passes, gradually raising the bit up out of the table a little bit each pass. This allowed me to just take a little wood off at a time, giving a nice, smooth rounded edge.

Rounding the edge of the frame
Give the pieces a light sanding with some 120 grit paper, then 220 grit paper to smooth out any rough spots.