Finally doing Grandma’s Picture Justice

7 Jan

In looking for a project to close out the year of woodworking, I rediscovered this picture of my Grandmother at her wedding and decided to create a picture frame for it.


I really love this picture.  But of course, it should be noted that, well, it’s not quite what it seems.  I mean, it looks quite the picture of opulence, but my grandparents, while not quite living in The Jungle, were only a few steps above that rung of the Chicago economic ladder.  Moreover, my Grandfather loved organized religion so much that he didn’t want to go near a church, especially not for an occasion such as his wedding.

Still, the romance of the picture held me throughout my young adult life.  I was captivated by my Grandmother’s intelligent and piercing stare contrasted with my Grandfather, going through a Homer Simpson moment.  It all came crashing down and then, perversely, back up again, when my Mother showed me her aunt’s wedding picture.  Same dress, same setting, different people.

Same photographer’s studio, same photographer’s props.

Ah, the illusions we weave.

My Grandmother set a standard for how one should ungracefully age.  Not that she really intended it, but you get what you get.  She lived into her 90’s, but with dementia…  But if I get dementia, I want that kind.  Whenever I went to visit her in the nursing home, it was hit or miss whether she’d be able to say who I was, but either way, she’d soon be regaling me with the latest news.  You see, she was conducting an affair with Ron Reagan.  Nancy was, well, understandably less than supportive of the relationship and my Grandmother was not fond of her either.  They had issues to sort out; fortunately Oprah was there to help.  Then there were the various aids and family members who were all engaged in a variety of un-presidential behaviors…  Truly, she was having a fabulous time in her own mind.

It wasn’t real, but you could do worse.

So yeah, the picture frame…

I went through a lot of ideas to get here. Like seemingly everybody else in the hobby these days, I’ve been looking hard at Greene and Greene and the rest of the Arts & Crafts movement. I saw a few picture frames in this style that seemed completely over the top.

I mean really, a picture shouldn’t be a competition to fit the maximum number of cloud lifts and plugs on it.

I like this design.  It’s complex, but not overcooked.  As a bonus, it’s really surpassingly easy to make the frame itself.  I won’t bother talking about the stand since it’s a pretty straightforward build.

First you cut a basic through-mortise design, like this:


Then you cut away a chunk off the tongue side, like this (the blue opaque triangle illustrates what’s cut away):


As the diagram indicates, I did it on the table saw by taping a 1/8” shim against the back face and just running that through with the shimmed side against the fence.  Tape is probably the single most valuable woodworking tool I added to my toolbox this year.

Once you do this on all four pieces, you’ll have that hand-over-hand interleave on all four sides.  Plus, and this is a big deal, the back of the frame is still a flat reference surface.  That’ll really help when you go to cut the holes for the plugs and cut out the dado on the back to hold the picture, glass, and other stuff.

I cut the Dado on the router table and squared the ends with a chisel, which leaves you with this:


All that’s left is rounding over the edges. What’s nifty about this design is that all of the edges that need to be rounded can be rounded without any kind of a stop.

As to the plugs, I found that the wood I was using scorched easily, and so the plugs aren’t actually ebony, they’re just scorched end-grain.

Lessons Learned

This summer and fall taught me several valuable lessons, not the least of which being that tape is an awesome woodworking tool.  I went through all manner of complex schemes for cutting away that cheek, but fortunately the taped shim idea hit me before I rigged up some convoluted scheme with a table saw sled.

But the big news was the drill press.  This tool began its renaissance in my shop when I built this table:


I always had a struggle mounting stuff on the itty-bitty drill press table to do anything.  Now that I’ve got that table (and a fence, rulers, a precision stop, and hold-downs mounted in the T-Track) I can really use the thing.  Now, I’ve been using it as a way to drill holes for some time.  But I’ve been doing all my mortising on the router table.

I still like the router table for mortises, but for this project, I broke out the Delta Mortising Attachment I bought years ago.  I used it before I built this table and hated every minute of it.  But with the table, I can actually comfortably manage decent-sized pieces, easily position the work, etc.  It’s not quite a perfect tool, the drill bit doesn’t seem to be quite exactly centered in the chisel, but there’s a fair chance of operator error causing that.

All in All…

I’m pleased with the result.  There was a lot that could have gone better, and certainly would have if I had permitted myself a second go at it.  Perhaps I’ll make a 2.0 version of it next year.


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