The Ancient China frame - How I did it.

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Blog entry by grovemadman posted 02-01-2008 05:09 PM 1790 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The frame is easy to make out of pine, fir or any soft wood. We want to make it look precision yet old at the same time. The hardest part is convincing the sun to age your project for you 2000 years in about a few days time. The sun owed me for a few sunburns soooo… Just kidding, we’ll get to the aging part later.
I remembered a frame I had seen at the museum in grade school. I jumped in my truck that weekend and went to the museum to look at ancient lacquered furniture. I took notes on what I thought I saw and used a digital camera with the flash off to verify what I had really looked at. Then I went home and talked to a guy at a cabinet shop about what makes a lacquered finish look old before it’s time. I went home confused about how to get the sun to cooperate with aging my project. So here’s how I started and what you see in the photo a week later.
The Steps

1) You need a piece of rice paper with Chinese writing on it. Check the local festivals in your area. Our neighbor found hers on the ground. Airline flight attendants may be of some help.

2) You need some scrap wood or cheap wood like pine or fir.

3) Make your frame length’s and keep it simple I rounded the outside edge of mine with a small block plane hoping it would look hand made. I routed a rabbet on the back side, then I routed a cove in the inside edge and slightly lifted it from the bit here and there so it would look hand made. If you have handplanes that can do this I would use them. If you don’t make a quick jig IE: featherboards to hold down the wood to your router table. A couple pieces of thin tape on the table will give it a slight waveiness. Remember to always be safe when you work!

4) Test to see that your frame will meet at the corners perfectly. Chinese craftsmen were simple but precise. (pretend your going to get your head cut off when you present this and drink coffee to the jitters before work and then do the best you can)

5) Wrap a baseball bat with some terry bath towels and tie them in knots and don’t let your wife catch you doing this. Don’t let your kid catch you with his Pantera CD or you’ll be going to the pit every band that hits town!

6) Here comes the fun part! Take out some, but not all of your aggression on your work before gluing it together with the bat wrapped in towels. Hitting it on the knots is Ok and maybe closing your eyes a few whacks so it appears random. REMEMBER were trying to distress the wood not destroy it! I took a few shots on some test pieces to see how I would like the effect. We want it to look handled down through the ages.
If the wood screams at first don’t pay it any mind.

7) Now you can rout for biscuits, glue it together with regular wood glue (Tightbond, Elmers,etc..) and then lightly sand it. I only went to 220 grit. I did it by hand without a sanding block.

8) While you are waiting a day or so for the glue to dry (you did clean the squeeze out off with a damp cloth yesterday right?) you can go to the fabric shop and select some groovy looking asian type run of the mill silk with the pattern of your choice. Don’t even think about that tie with the Asian ladies pattern your wife gave you for christmas, you’ll regret it! Besides it won’t be enough cloth anyway. Next stop is your local craft or hobby store for some 3-M super 77 spray adhesive. If you can’t afford it regular elmers school glue will do, just spread it lightly and evenly so it doesn’t sqeeze through the fabric. (I will explain the matting and fabric briefly at the end. But that may be a whole different blog cuz there are a lot of cool cloth inlays you can do to picture frames.)

9) By now you can start the several coats of Black or Red lacquer lightly sanding in between coats to give it that glossy finish. If you know someone who is good with lacquer clear or otherwise consult them as to how to get the ultimate glossy finish. If you want to add the gold guilding they have paints especially for this at the craft store.

10) You can very lightly sand the last coat of color you do and then clear coat it. I chose a windy day on purpose. (the aging thing) Then I put it in the sun at the hottest place indoors I could find and watched it until I could see something was about to go south here real fast. It takes nerves of steel to deliberately ruin a gloss coat. Well, kind of. Before the second coat I sanded it lightly where it looked the worst. It helps if you are a terrible spray painter like me. Then I sprayed the best clear coat I possibly could and let it almost dry and did the sun trick again. I let it dry completely and put one good thin coat on and left it alone. I believe you can buy clear coat spay that dries with the aged look, check me on that one though.

How to do the Matting

The cardboard I used was not the corrugated kind. I used the kind like you will find on a cereal box only thicker. You can find it at the craft store as well. You need a piece big enough so you can cut out the inside for a picture window and end up with one solid piece about 2 or 3 inches wide and enough room to put your art in with the sides of the art overlapping about 1/2”. A straight edge and sharp razor blades is a must. I tape the straight edge to the cardboard with blue tape to keep it from moving while making the cuts. I cut the out side first and then the picture opening. Check it with a little cloth wrapped around it to make sure it fits in the frame. If it bends the you need to trim a little from both sides. I like about a heavy 1/16”.
The first thing I found out about super 77 is to put a light coat on and work quickly. A light even coat. With that said, I prefer to spray the side of the cardboard which glues to the cloth. You could spray the cloth, but you will risk possibly ruining it. I spread out the cloth so there are no wrinkles, spray the cardboard and lightly drop it on to the cloth. check it right away to make sure you don’t have any wrinkles, I hear Emperor’s don’t like them. Next take sharp razor blade and trim the cloth around the inside about 1” from the cardboard. Do the same to the outside. 45 the corners just up to the cardboard, spray some glue and carfully fold the flaps and corners over. Adjust them right away to make sure all is tight

And there you have it, a nice mat to go with your lacquer frame. You can clean the glass and dry fit everything. If it looks good put a few dabs of glue on the edge of the art and carfully apply it to the mat. Wait an hour or two for the glue to dry and assemble everything. Glazier’s push points or small brads will hold everything from spilling out the back. To finish it off you could even take some thin paper and lay it across the back of the frame glue it down and spritz it with water. Put it in the sun and when it dries it will have shrunk and be nice and tight.
It may seem like a lot of work but it really isn’t. If you take your time in about a week you too can have an ancient piece of art for your home, in about a fraction of the time and much less the cost!

-- "It is the job of the woodworker to hide his mistakes and keep a tight set of lips about them!"--Chuck

3 comments so far

View Jiri Parkman's profile

Jiri Parkman

953 posts in 4865 days

#1 posted 02-01-2008 11:01 PM

Interesting. Add some pictures.

-- Jiri

View grovemadman's profile


957 posts in 4824 days

#2 posted 02-02-2008 12:06 AM

I plan on adding a pic of the frame and some photoshop drawings on doing the the mat work. I have to draft them up first. It make take a day or so.

-- "It is the job of the woodworker to hide his mistakes and keep a tight set of lips about them!"--Chuck

View iSawitfirst's profile


34 posts in 4865 days

#3 posted 02-02-2008 01:45 AM


-- The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Aristotle

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