In my last post, my problematic attempt at The Pinterest Challenge had left me with a drawing that I wasn’t so crazy about. Today I’ll be showing the final version of that drawing and sharing a quick way to restore an old frame.
Prague Drawing Update
In the previous post, I left my Prague drawing looking like this:
I waited a few days to get a clearer perspective, and then decided that it was too bright and high contrast. So I added grey tones, evened out some shading and filled in most of the white space. Since I’m hanging it on a grey wall, the darker tones blend with the room better.
Here’s what I ended up with:
I think this last bit of shading helps it seem more cohesive. There are some details that I’m not happy with – mostly because of the paper damage from my mis-adventure with watercolors. But I decided to go ahead and frame it. The good thing about DIY framing and art is that you can always swap a piece out if you find something better later.
Next I worked on framing it. Here’s the breakdown of how I refinished a salvaged frame so that it looks like a new custom framing job.
A Quick Way to Restore an Old Frame
This technique is an easy way to refresh an old wooden picture frame. It’s a great approach if you have a worn piece that you’d like to refinish but you don’t want to do a complete restoration.
The more traditional way to refinish wood is to: strip it down to bare wood, condition it, stain it in several coats and then protect it with varnish or polyurethane. This process gives you the most control over the finish and is great for anchor pieces, like a large furniture or and an heirloom.
But sometimes you have small pieces like picture frames or second hand furniture, and you’re not willing to do such a careful restoration. The approach that I’ll cover today still produces high-quality and professional looking results, but in a fraction of the time. With a little practice, I would question that anyone could notice that pieces done using this technique weren’t fully refinished.
This process involves lightly sanding the piece and then putting a new coat of stain over the existing finish. It can be used to refresh an existing wood tone or to deepen it. You cannot lighten the stain color of wood with this method (to do that you would need to fully remove the original stain). It also works best on pieces that do not have major damage to the existing finish.
I’ve used this approach many times and I think it’s even easier than painting, because you don’t have to worry about primer and it’s a one coat process.
Step by Step Breakdown:
If you remember from the last post, I’d been lucky in finding a set of three matching frames that were thrown out in the trash. They all still had their glass in place and were in great shape structurally.
I almost could have used them as they were. Except that I didn’t like wood’s orange tint or that gold detail. You can see in this close up, they weren’t badly worn, just a little lackluster:
I have plans for the whole grouping of frames but today I’m just going to break down how I framed this one drawing.
Here’s how to do it:
- Once the frame is empty, lightly sand it following the wood grain. Use a fine wood sanding paper, something like 180 or 220 grit. You just want to remove a bit of the previous varnish and open up the grain. You don’t want to see visible scratches. If you’re scratching the wood, you need to go to a finer paper and then sand out the scratched areas.
- This photo shows one my frames after sanding it. Notice that I didn’t sand off the original finish. The bare wood is exposed on some of the edges, and that’s OK, but you want to leave most of the original finish. At this point, it looks like the wood has a matte finish and the surface should feel soft and smooth.
- Notice how the gold detail is gone? It was just painted on, so it came right off while sanding. I knew it was a painted detail because it had already been scratched off in some areas. If I had wanted to keep the gold, it could have been taped off and protected.
- Clean the frame to remove all the sanding dust.
- Find an oil based product that is a combined stain and varnish in one. The idea is that by using the all-in-one product, you save a step. I recommend an oil based stain over some of the gel/water based products, because with oil you don’t have to worry about compatibility with the original finish.
- The stain color should be of equal or darker tone than the original stain. This can can work with any finish you like (matte, glossy, etc.) But be sure to do a test swatch of your stain on the back of the frame to make sure you’re happy with the color.
- Apply the stain, brushing with the wood grain. One very thin coat should be enough. It will refresh the previous stain and give a nice even finish. Err on the side of less stain – this is not the type of stain that you apply liberally and then remove the excess. Reapply or touch up only if you want more coverage.
Tips for a flawless finish:
- Be aware of the consistency of your stain product. Oil-based stains can become gloppy and apply unevenly. If this is happening, thin it with mineral spirits or paint thinner until it brushes on smoothly.
- If you want to deepen the color with a second coat or do touching up, be sure to follow the product’s instructions for wait times between coats. Reapplying too soon is a sure way to get a sticky and uneven finish.
So that’s it really. You just lightly sand the frame and then top it with a thin coat of stain/varnish in one. I’d say that the active time to refinish one of these frames was less than 30 minutes (next time I should time myself). They only even took that long because they’re over 2 feet wide. Smaller frames would be even faster.
Here’s my frame with its new finish.
And another shot with different lighting.
The difference is subtle and hard to capture in photos; but in person, the color rich with a nice smooth finish. These frames look professional, and definitely not like they were saved from the trash. If I didn’t put it out here on the internet no one would be the wiser!
The products I used:
I’m going to give some details on the products I used, in case it helps anyone. I’m pretty sure the brand I used is only sold in Europe, but Minwax Polyshades would be a comparable product from the US.
I already had this stain on hand, but I wanted a little darker tone for these frames so I added a few drops of black tint to the stain (that small bottle is tint).
They sell concentrated paint tints in all the stores here, and they’re awesome! In the US I never came across affordable tints or pigments like this. But having them available now, I’ve realized how great it is to be able to tweak a color with a few drops of tint. That little bottle of black tint has saved several of my projects. You have to be careful though, it’s potent stuff!
I only used one coat for this frame, but you can do multiple coats as I mentioned above.
For this frame I had our local frame shop cut a plain white mat for me. I have a mat cutter and sometimes cut them myself. But I don’t enjoy the process, and my mat board supplier went out of business (woe is the Spanish economy). Also sometimes when frames are this large it’s no cheaper to cut the board yourself.
After I was sure the varnish had cured (about 2 days), the glass, mat, art and original cardboard frame backing got loaded back into the frame.
When I found this frame it had an oversized eyelet screwed into the back for hanging. It stuck out of the back bout an inch or so. I thought to myself, “What an awful way to hang a frame, it must have hung way off the wall, at a weird angle.” I took this picture, unscrewed the eyelet and assumed I’d easily update it with proper framing hardware.
I was wrong. When I went off to the hardware store to grab some picture hanging wire and hardware, guess what, all they sold was the same type of eyelet paired with a wall hook. I tried four other stores, same thing. The best I found were those plastic saw-toothed brackets, but they won’t support large frames.
This pretty much sums up my experience as an expat taking on projects in a foreign country. You come into whatever it is thinking that you have a better solution. So you go about trying to implement “your way”. (Of course you also think that you’ll be doing people a service here by enlightening them with your improvement.) But then, after hitting barriers, you realize that you’re just creating unnecessary problems for yourself. You forget about your “better way” and you end up doing it the local way. So, when in Rome…
Oh look, another eyelet. My version is a little smaller than the original, and I screwed it into the frame as deep as possible to help it lay flat against the wall. In the end it hangs well enough. But I still prefer wire, it distributes the weight more evenly and is better at keeping the frame square.
In the photo above, you can also see how I kept the cardboard backing in place. I like to use small finishing nails to do this. Lightly tap the nails into the frame (being careful not to hit the glass!). If they need to be tightened up even more, they can be bent in towards the cardboard. Staples can also be used in the same way, but I find that I have more control with the nails. Also, if you want to change the artwork in the future, the nails are more likely to be bent and reused for the new art.
To close the back, drive a few nails into each of edge of the frame. Flip the frame over and check to make sure that the mat and artwork are flatly pressed against the glass. If the artwork is buckling in an area, add a nail directly behind it push it closer to the glass. Keep adding nails until the artwork and backing is securely in place and does not shift.
Traditionally in framing, the entire backs of frames are covered in a paper. I just tape over the open edges so that it is all cleanly sealed. I used masking tape, but any tape that is wide enough to cover the nails would work.
And look, yoga mats are perfect for protecting the front of your newly finished frame when you’re working on the back of it.
OK, so here’s a look at it all put together (click image for larger size).
And here’s a side-by-side comparison of the art and frame changes. On the left is the original frame and the drawing as it was at the end of The Pinterest Challenge. On the right is the refinished frame and the finished drawing. The difference looks subtle in the photo, but it’s quite noticeable in person. And I’m pleased enough with it to put it up on the wall.
This isn’t the flashiest before and after makeover out there, but it’s a very useful thing to know. I’ve used this technique countless times to give new life to wooden objects that are past their prime. You can refresh a piece without spending days sanding and staining. Though it’s subtle on screen, in person you notice the warm wood tones and the polished, professional looking finish.