Build Your Own Float Frame

I think that the Float Frame (or floater or floating frame as I’ve heard them called) is a particularly stylish way to display canvas art from paintings to canvas photo prints (also check out my video on how to stretch your own canvas).  The thing I particularly like about float frames is that they’re easy to build, look great and they’re pretty versatile as far as framing different styles of art.  In addition, if you want to frame non-standard sized paintings or prints, you can save a ton of money doing it yourself!  In this post, I’ll cover building one from start to finish.  And, if you stick with me until the end, I’ll show you another cool float frame project!

You’re going to need just a few tools for your float frame:

  • Miter Saw
  • Hand Sander
  • Kreg Jig
  • Staple Gun
  • Carpenter’s Square
  • Wood Glue
  • Clamps (yes, these are necessary in my opinion, you really need 4 of them although I used 3 in my project, and they need to be long enough to hold the frame both horizontally & vertically.  You may also want to consider a right angle clamp like this.)
  • Finish Products – Primer & Paint if you’re painting the frame or stain if you plan to go that route.
  • Wood screws (length will depend on your material thickness.  In this project, I used 4 1″  screws)
  • Drill with a Countersink Bit (the countersink bit is optional, but definitely preferable)
  • Hanging Hardware: brackets, hangar wire & adhesive bumpers to protect your wall.

A couple optional items that you might want are:

  • Table Saw: This is also optional and only needed if the thickness of your frame needs something other than standard sized wood.  I did not use one for this project.
  • Biscuit Joiner: Another optional tool that’s useful for getting better joints & eliminating any slippage when clamping.  I did use one on this project, but you can certainly do without, particularly if you have a staple gun.  I personally use a DeWalt biscuit joiner.

As far as the wood goes, I’d recommend using a better quality wood for the outside pieces and some lower quality wood for the lip that will attach to the canvas.  That will save you a little money on materials.  Also, you’ll want to consider the material choice whether you’re painting or staining.  I painted this project black, so I used 1″ x 3″ select quality pine from Home Depot.  The select quality was a little more expensing than the cut whitewood, but the boards were straight and for the frame this is an important item because you’ll be joining mitered corners.  For the inside shelf of the frame I used the cheapest 1″ x 3″ wood that I could find.

I’m using 1″ x 3″ wood because my canvas frame is pretty thick.  Remember the nominal widths of the wood… 1″ x 3″ is actually 3/4″ x 2 1/2″ so once you attach the “shelf” to the frame boards, you’ll actually have 1 3/4″ of the frame board extending.  My canvas frame is about 1 1/2″ thick, so the frame will extend just above the canvas, which is the look I want.  If you want the frame to be exactly flush with the canvas, you’ll need to use a table saw to rip the 1″ x 3″ to the appropriate width.

Nice frame wood on the left, cheap inside wood on the right, cut to size

Nice frame wood on the left, cheap inside wood on the right, cut to size

As far as measuring your wood, your frame needs to be cut 2 1/2″ longer than the sides of your canvas to provide for a 1/2″ float gap.  My canvas was 30″ x 20″ so my frame boards measured 32 1/2″ x 22 1/2″ so here’s the cut list:

  • (2) 1×3’s of select quality pine @ 32 1/2″
  • (2) 1×3’s of cheap whitewood @ 32 1/2″
  • (2) 1×3’s of select quality pine @ 22 1/2″
  • (2) 1×3’s of cheap whitewood @ 22 1/2″
You get the idea of how this is going to look

You get the idea of how this is going to look

Since you’re going to be mitering the corners, you need to be very careful to cut your wood exactly, or slightly longer than the measured length.  Corner joints can be very tricky and don’t take your wood’s “squareness” or even your saw’s squareness for granted.  Every time you need to make a cut, particularly when cutting your 45° angles, measure them with a carpenter’s square.  Then do it again (I can’t stress that enough)!

I prefer to sand my wood before building the frame.  I can always touch up any places after I get it together, but this makes the prep work for painting easier than trying to sand once you have your joints built.

Once you’ve cut your wood, use a Kreg Jig to drill pocket holes into the back of the cheaper whitewood (or inside wood) of your frame.  The nicer face frame wood will be what’s visible so you don’t want to make any marks on it.  Then using screws and wood glue, form a butt joint (meaning just butt the inside wood against the frame faces) to create an “L” shape.  You’ll join the cheaper wood to the inside of the frame boards as in the picture.

Use a Kreg Jig to join the "shelf" of the frame.

Use a Kreg Jig to join the “shelf” of the frame.

Make a series of pocket holes on the back side of the cheaper "shelf" wood. Don't cut your pocket holes in your frame wood!

Make a series of pocket holes on the back side of the cheaper “shelf” wood. Don’t cut your pocket holes in your frame wood!

Here I'm attaching the shelf to the frame boards. Use clamps to make sure your wood doesn't move when joining. And don't forget the wood glue!

Here I’m attaching the shelf to the frame boards. Use clamps to make sure your wood doesn’t move when joining. And don’t forget the wood glue!

Next step is to cut your miter angles.  Again, let me stress that you measure your saw to ensure a true 45° angle (don’t take the markings on the angle sticker for granted) and practice your cut on some scrap wood.  If you’re off even a little bit then your corners will have gaps.

Measure exactly to the outside points on each end and use a square to mark your angle at the cut.  This will give you a guide when you make your cut, especially if you don’t have one of those nice saws with the laser cutting guide.  Also, having a nice sharp saw blade is a plus here so you minimize any tear-out.  If you have some, resist the urge to sand it down until after you’ve made your joints.  If you go at it with the sandpaper before you make the joint, you may end up creating gaps on your corners.

IMG_0557

Use a square to mark your miter cuts. This gives you a good guide when cutting the joints.

Because I’ve dealt with not square wood and not square saws too many times, I actually make my cuts about 1/16th of an inch generous.  This gives me a little wiggle room in case I put my wood together and see that there are some minor variations.  The float frame is actually pretty forgiving because if you need to make slight adjustments to your angles because they a hair’s width off of 45°, no one’s going to notice that your “float” is ever so slightly thinner than 1/2″.

Notice that to get a true 45 degree angle, I need to adjust my saw slightly to the right of the mark. measure with a square to make sure your cuts are right!

Notice that to get a true 45 degree angle, I need to adjust my saw slightly to the right of the mark. measure with a square to make sure your cuts are right!

If you have a biscuit joiner, put your corners together, make a mark and go ahead with your cuts before making your joints.  Then, using wood glue, staples and clamps, put your frame together.  If you run into some problems with the corners (it happens to the best of us), a little wood filler covers a lot of sins, especially if you’re painting your frame.  If you’re staining it… well, then you’ll probably have to re-cut :).

Use a staple gun to add some stability to the frame corners. Once you clamp down, you can staple both sides of the frame.

Use a staple gun to add some stability to the frame corners. Once you clamp down, you can staple both sides of the frame.

Use clamps to ensure a tight fit while the glue dries.

Use clamps to ensure a tight fit while the glue dries.  Also, check your corners for “squareness.”

Particularly if you’re going to stain your frame, be sure to carefully wipe up any wood glue that seeps out of the joints since it will not take the stain.  Then let the frame rest and let the glue dry before priming and painting.  For the primer and paint I prefer to use Rustoleum primer and semi-gloss black paint.  You can find them at Home Depot and a quart of both will go a long way.

Here's the float frame primed and painted.

Here’s the float frame primed and painted.

Next step is to drill holes through the frame shelf to attach the canvas.  Countersinking the screws attaching the canvas will avoid having any fragments of the screw head protruding from the frame and potentially scratching the wall.

Drill holes with countersink bit to attach the canvas to the frame.

Drill holes with countersink bit to attach the canvas to the frame.

Here's a view of the backside of the frame. You can see the pockethole attachment. Note the countersunk holes at the 4 corners for attaching the canvas.

Here’s a view of the backside of the frame. You can see the pockethole attachment. Note the countersunk holes at the 4 corners for attaching the canvas.

Now it’s time to attach the canvas to the frame.  The trick to doing this is to use 1/2″ scrap wood spacers to set the canvas in place and ensure that it’s exactly in the middle of the frame.  The spacers will also hold the canvas in place when you turn the frame over to screw it down.

Use 1/2" spacers made of scrap wood to ensure that your canvas is evenly spaced in the middle of the float frame. These spacers will also hold the canvas in place when you turn the frame over to screw the canvas in.

Use 1/2″ spacers made of scrap wood to ensure that your canvas is evenly spaced in the middle of the float frame. These spacers will also hold the canvas in place when you turn the frame over to screw the canvas in.

Once you’ve attached the canvas to the frame, the last step is to attach the hanger hardware and put a couple adhesive bumpers on the bottom corners so you won’t scratch the wall with the frame.

Hanging hardware: ring hangers, hanger wire & adhesive bumpers to keep from damaging the wall.

Hanging hardware: ring hangers, hanger wire & adhesive bumpers to keep from damaging the wall.

Attach the ring hanger at an angle.

Attach the ring hanger at an angle.

And with that, you’re done with your float frame!

If you like this…

if you like this float frame look, head over to my Awesome DIY Wine Cork Art Project to see another creative use for a float frame.

Wine-Cork-Art-Project

Thanks for reading!
Ed

7 thoughts on “Build Your Own Float Frame

  1. Marcia Adams

    I can’t believe you didn’t show the finished float frame on the wall. I wanted to see what it looked like.

    Reply
  2. charu

    This is the best floating frame tutorial I have seen. I don’t know why I never thought about pocket holes to attach the back piece to the frame piece. Thanks a lot

    Reply
  3. Catherine Weber

    Hi Ed. Thanks for this helpful post. I am going to start building floater frames for a series of painting and this is exactly what I need. One question. What are the pocket holes for? I am in no way a carpenter and don’t see the reason for them.

    Thanks for your insight.
    Catherine

    Reply
    1. Ed Post author

      Hi Catherine, thanks for stopping by! Great question and first off, you don’t absolutely have to have pocket holes to make the frame, but they do have a benefit. In my example, I’m using screws to attach the “shelf” to the sides of the frame. The pocket holes allow me to do this without making any marks on the outside of the frame where people can potentially see. By drilling pocket holes in the shelf pieces and attaching them to the frame from the inside (and backside) of the frame, you get a strong joint and don’t have to put a hole in the visible side of the frame anywhere. But you could, of course, screw the shelf in from the outside of the frame, countersink the screw a little (that means that the head of the screw goes into the wood a little) and fill the top with wood filler. Or you can use finishing nails. Or you can even use just wood glue. I like the pocket holes just because they make a really strong joint and the fact that they’re “invisible.” But, more important than how you attach the frame together is making sure your wood is straight & square and your angles are cut exactly at 45 degrees. There will be some trial and error here (most likely) so be prepared for that. It’s tough to find really square wood at Home Depot and Lowes. If you’re painting the frame, it’s a little more forgiving because you can use a little wood filler to fix any gaps you have in the corners, but if you’re staining the frame, you need to be pretty precise on that. Hope that helps. Ed

      Reply

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