Woodworker's Central
Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 10/29/02

A Book Review by Drew McManus

Title: The Encyclopedia of Picture Framing Techniques

Robert Cunning

Published by: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.

387 Park Avenue South
New York, NY 10016-8810
ISBN 0-8069-9302-2
Price Softcover: $14.95
176 color pages

The title says it all, although it's not produced like an encyclopedia, it does cover a wide variety of picture framing techniques, taking you from the basics to more specialized and advanced techniques. It includes a photo gallery of frames that range from common to eclectic, traditional to modern.

Chapter 1 Materials and Equipment: Rating 4/5

The book begins from the assumption that you own little to no tools and then goes on to cover the basic tools need for framing. This includes sharp, modern, color photographs with detailed descriptions of each item and how it is used. The author also does a nice job at providing more than one tool example to accomplish the same job, such as the different type of mat cutters. He explains the differences between the simple inexpensive models to the costly advanced versions and how you would need to implement them. This chapter also covers the five basic parts of a frame (backing board, picture, mat, glass, and frame) and the primary categories of moldings. One glaring omission: there is only one brief mention of power miter saws.

Chapter 2 Making a Simple Frame: Rating 3/5
The chapter begins with cutting the mat, which after reading through the book, you'll discover is one of the most challenging tasks in framing a picture. The author covers several different methods in cutting a frame from a standard knife to an expensive professional cutting system. Next is cutting and joining the frame, and looking at this book from a woodworker's point of view, this was both inspiring and frustrating. It was an inspiration in that the displayed techniques sent my creative thought process into motion and gave me direction as to what type of frame I would like to design and make. It was frustrating seeing how the cutting and joining process was oversimplified. The uninitiated in the skill of cutting and joining small pieces, especially mitered pieces, will be very disappointed at how the process has a higher than normal learning curve. And God help you if you skimp out on any of tools presented and opt for the wooden miter box to produce a tight fitting 45° angle. I can just see the weekend hobbyist throwing this book and the miter box across the garage!

This chapter has another flaw due to the author being too general: how to determine the depth of cut for the rabbit to hold the glass, picture, mat, and backing is never mentioned. As for joining a mitered corner there are far better ways to do so than the methods described in the book. Although they will all certainly work, I can come up with four methods that use better materials and will produce a higher quality joint with no more experience or tools needed than the methods described in this chapter. The following sections cover cutting glass and assembling the pieces. It is well written, and easy to follow.

Chapter 3 Advanced Carpentry: Rating 3/5
Here we go, now I was ready to learn something! The opening topic on homemade profiles was excellent; the advice was right on and useful for beginners through advanced alike. The author mentions using preformed moldings like those readily available at your local home store and more advanced ideas like making mirrored inlaid banding from inlay veneer. I was very upset over the light mention of how to use a router to make profiles. It was very oversimplified and I believe it could lead a person to serious injury without further mention of a necessary learning curve.

Advanced joinery was another useful topic although it was lacking in many common techniques used by many woodworkers. The section on ornamental extended corners was very interesting but should be left for the advanced framer/woodworker. I also believe that his method for making ovals and circles is far more difficult than it needs to be. The following section on slips, box frames, and floating frames is really fun and is a section that woodworkers can shine. However, here we once again run into that "depth of the rabbit" problem. It's never mentioned and I kept wondering what is an acceptable amount of space to leave, if any at all, between the backing board, the item in the frame, and the glass. The section on multisided frames (those being more than four sides) is another poor section that will lead the beginning and even many intermediate readers down the wrong path.

Chapter 4 Decorative Mats: Rating 5/5
What a great chapter, I learned a new way to draw an oval, that's simple and uses a compass, nail, and thread, why the bottom "stile" of a mat should be wider than the top, and how to figure the proportions for mats with multiple windows. The section on double and triple mats, and making unusual shapes was equally useful, as were the detailed descriptions about the variety of matboards. The section using other materials in place of matboard got me to thinking about using wide pieces of veneer.

Chapter 5 Wood and Wood Finishes: Rating 4/5
This chapter covers basic domestic woods (assuming you live in the UK or Europe!) and what you can do to cover them in stains and finishes. The one glaring error in this chapter is the assertion that veneers can only be used on flat or gently curved moldings. The author needs an education on bendable veneers! There was also a nice side bar on building your own mini-fuming tent. My mind went right to using it for small piece work as well as frames. The section on stains was basic at best and does not even take into account the many differences in staining different species of woods. Additional techinques such as graining and pickling are covered in useful detail.

Chapter 6 Paint Finishes: Rating 5/5
Admittedly, being the purist I am, I had a hard enough time reading about staining, but painting, ugh! Why cover wood, it's already beautiful. I will give the author credit where credit is due. All sections in this chapter were informative and full of relevant details. This included a great chart about painting and varnish qualities and uses. There were several "high-tech" sections covering decoupage, verdigras, marbling, and lapis lazuli.

Chapter 7 Guilding: Rating 4/5
This chapter taught me a good deal about a topic I knew almost nothing about. Although it didn't interest me enough to want to try guilding I did get a number of great ideas from the section on engraving. My mind moved to pyrography. For those of you who love that Mediterranean look, there's a wonderful section on burnishing clay and pastiglia. I was surprised to find no mention to carving or use of chisels to gain an added effect.

Chapter 8 Restoration & Repair: 5/5
A good chapter but be forewarned, this topic is for those of you who truly appreciate mind-numbing, detail oriented, time-consuming work! Everything from replacing broken ornaments, cleaning wood, and basic repair is covered in good to great detail. The section on cleaning wood is especially useful to woodworkers in that many of the techniques can be applied to cleaning up recovered wood.

Chapter 9 A Gallery of Frames: 5/5
Simply stunning. There's something here to appeal to everyone and to get your creative mind moving. I especially appreciated the broad variety of art styles to help demonstrate the use of the frame and mats. There is also a comprehensive glossary and index that makes this book a truly resourceful volume.

This is where the book shines, the quality of all color photographs, the way the layout flowed from page to page, and the breakdown of sections within chapters made this a great addition to contemporary arts and crafts DIY books. All pages are high quality semi-gloss color pages. The only gripe is a "stay open" binding that never really stays open and only serves to rip the pages from the binding.

Rating 4/5 I enjoyed reading this book and it certainly inspired me to go out and start building some frames. Although I was a little disappointed over the vague descriptions in some of the sections, I thought the low cost and high production values helped balance the scales. I wouldn't recommend it for absolute beginners, but for everyone else it's a good buy.

Drew McManus

Editor's Note: Sterling Publishing has graciously donated several books for review which are passed on to our members free of charge in exchange for thoughtful, honest reviews. Thank You! And you can usually find their titles at a discount from Barnes And Noble

Back to the Gazette

Contact Us | Homepage
We encourage all our visitors to send us
their thoughts, suggestions and complaints.