Step 5: Finishing the Frame

Sanding the Frame

After you’ve allowed the glue to dry at least overnight, release the frame from the clamp. Using 120 grit sandpaper, sand the corners to get rid of any remaining glue that squeezed out, and to smooth any joints that aren’t perfectly flush. Next, sand the whole frame with 220 grit sandpaper, to smooth the surface.

Sand the frame smooth

Entire books have been written on finishing wood, so I’m only going to cover this topic very briefly. “Finishing” the wood means to optionally apply some sort of pigment (stain, dye) to the wood, then seal the wood to bring out the grain and protect the wood. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just mention one simple finishing method that I often use, to give you an idea of what’s involved.
If you want to change the colour of the wood, you’ll need to apply a stain. Buy some stain and some disposable foam brushes (I bought 24 for about $4 at Canadian Tire). The stain will have directions on the can, but usually it involves brushing on the stain, leaving it for a few minutes, then wiping it off.

Test the stain on spare wood
My sister-in-law had requested a dark finish for the wood, so I took 2 different dark stains I had in my shop and brushed them onto some spare Maple (actually, the pieces that had been cut off when I cut my miters in Step 3). I decided to use the stain on the right (“Red Mahogany”), as I found the stain on the left (“Bombay Mahogany”) to be a little too red.
I applied one coat with a foam brush and wiped it off with a clean, cotton rag (actually old socks that had worn out) after about 10 minutes, as the directions instructed. Then, the next day, I repeated this with another coat to even out the colour.
Applying the stain
Here’s what the frame looked like after the 2 coats of stain had dried, but before any varnish has been applied. The stain preserved the beautiful wood grain, but gives the wood a rich, “antique” look.
Frame after second coat of stain
After the stain dries, you’ll want to seal the wood. This will bring out the grain, protect the wood, and give the frame a nice shine. I use varnish. I use either clear gloss (if I want a shiny frame) or clear semi-gloss (for a little duller sheen), applied with a disposable foam brush. You’ll need to apply multiple coats (shoot for at least 3, preferably 4). Between each coat, you should lightly sand the frame with 220 grit sandpaper so that the next coat of varnish will form a strong bond with the previous coat. If you apply successive coats within 12 hours of each other (but no less than whatever is recommended on the can, usually 6 or 8 hours), then you can skip the sanding step, as the next coat will bond chemically to the not-yet-fully-cured previous coat. It is a good idea, however, to sand after the first and second coats anyway, to smooth out any rough surfaces and get a nice, even finish.
Let the final coat dry for several days before assembling everything together. The varnish will actually continue to “cure” for the next month or so, but it will be safe to the touch after a day or two. The glossy finish doesn’t really come through in this photo, but the frame is actually pretty shiny.
Frame after 2 coats of stain and 4 coats of varnish
Congratulations! At this point, the frame itself is done. The rest is just putting the whole package together.