Photo Frames from Recycled Materials

Photo frames made from recycled timber and glass. These became gifts for some friends and family, as well as a few for my own house. Another really fun project to work on, with a lots to learn and problems to solve.

My 7 home made 5×7″ photo frames all finished and looking pretty

This project used up a decent amount of the old fence timber I’ve been hanging onto for ages. I’d found uses for this timber before, but my projects usually only use small amounts each time. For example.

So much timber that I really don’t have space for.

The fun thing about this timber is it has been weathering for a good 50 years as part of a fence before a friend gave it to me. So while they look pretty rubbish initially, once you plane off a bit of the surface, it reveals some amazing patterns as the weathering has penetrated deeply through some of the fibres, but other areas are almost pristine. This leaves an exaggerated contrasts of the wood grain, particularly when you add an oil based finish. It is unfortunately also very brittle, so finding uses for it has been difficult.

Lower image is after a couple of passes with the plane

I cut all the strips I’d need, trying to find the nicest pieces and avoiding areas of major rot or nail holes. This old timber twists and warps as you cut it, so I couldn’t be too precious about accuracy.

By making quite a few frames at once, each step I could set up properly to save time, making the the whole project pretty efficient. I made enough for 7 frames in the end.

Strips ripped to width of the table saw and cut to length on the mitre saw.

My table saw sled came in handy to safely cut out the joints. I went for a combination joint which is part mitre joint and part half lap joint. This way the front looks the part, as most photo frames are joined like this with a 45 degree angle, but on the back I had a nice flat surface for gluing.

Using a cross cut table saw sled with a little 45 degree block makes for simple and easy mitre cuts.
Multiple passes to cut away the half lap joint

I then cut a recess for the glass, again on the table saw, making sure I had enough depth for the glass and backing boards. A router would have worked also and probably made cleaner cuts, but in the interests of saving time I decided one less power tool meant less fluffing about, particularly as I don’t have a dedicated router table. 

Simple table saw cuts for the glass rebate, leaves an opening at the side but this gets covered later
Simple glue up, no clamps, just a little care to keep everything aligned

The glue up wasn’t perfectly square in the end, so just to be a little pedantic I neatened them up with the new shooting board I built recently. The advantage of this over say using a table saw or something to square up, is this shooting board lets you take very gentle cuts (important for this old brittle timber) and you have some great control. Plus you don’t upset your neighbours with loud noises at night! 🙂

My new simple shooting board for squaring up things with a hand plane

To add an extra element to the frames, I added a strip around the edge. This seems to be a style of frame that’s somewhat popular at the moment (if Pintrest is anything to go by). The edge also gives another level of contrast as it exposes the full cross section of the timer, which is a lighter colour.


Next Was onto what is quickly becoming my least favourite part of any project: sanding! I do everything I can first with a hand plane as I  don’t mind that part as much. As my boards were all a bit odd sized to start with, I did have to live with some adjustments after glueing up to get things looking pretty.

Some sanding and planing and they are starting to look the part

The glass I sourced from Op Shops (Thrift Shops), finding lots of old frames for throw out prices and some literally in bins having been deemed not worth selling. I even cut some of the glass down to size from bigger panes. I also reused the backing boards were I could. I do laugh a bit that I’m using photo frames to make photo frames. Oh well, mine are nicer 🙂 

Glass cutting is surprisingly easy. Just score straight and square and watch out for the sharp edges when you crack the pieces in two.

A few simple tabs screwed on the back holds the the glass and backing boards into place. 

Off cuts screwed to the back work better than those annoying bent metal tabs on most cheap frames

At this late point I realised that I hadn’t considered what to do about stands to prop the frames up. I hate the cheap bent cardboard solution on some frames, and I didn’t want to buy hinges or special hardware to make the usual kickstand type thing.  So after some trials I came up with this neat solution using just some thin board with a few holes drill, and string. Works well and really looks the part.

Simple but effective stand for the frames using left over backing boards and kitchen twine

For a finish I went for a new finish for me, tung oil (actual pure oil rather than a blended number). This is supposed to be superior to the cheap boiled linseed oil I’ve used before (which is not pure and has drying agents added apparently), giving a longer lasting stronger finish, and not darkening over time. Ontop of that I added some old school beeswax finish the give it a slightly nicer look. It fills in some of the open grain and adds some extra projection. 

Oiling in progress, front most shows the colour difference before and after

I really fell in love with these frames over the course building them, so I was actually a little sad that I didn’t make more as I gave away most of them as end of year presents. I’ll just have to make another batch; it’s not like I don’t have enough timber for them! But I will have to go raiding for more glass. 

My wife suggested a lovely finishing touch, which was to cut up some pages from an old book to use as placeholders for actual photos in the frames. So another raid at the local Op (Thrift) Shops for a gem of book to disect. Very happy with and proud of my latest project.

Chopping up a fun book on the gardens around Melbourne

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