How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big!

Have you ever fallen for a piece of art, only to realize that framing it would cost you an arm and a leg? If so, you’re in the right place. This recently happened to me after I reproduced a colorful piece of art that I saw in The Design Cookbook by Kelly Edwards.

The finished product was boldly vivid and beautiful, but without frames, the two 24″ x 30″ canvases looked unfinished, a complete buzz-kill moment until I realized I could make the frames myself. It’s only wood, after all. Check out what I did, then follow the tutorial on how to make a recessed canvas frame and save big!! Plus, I only used straight cuts, making this project super easy for anyone!!

Tools:

Supplies:

Total project cost: $22.86 (for hobby boards)
How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! Canvas, oak frame board and 1 1/4" brads

Step 1: Measure and Cut Vertical Frame Pieces

Start by measuring and cutting the boards that will be the left and right verticals of your frame. I used a straight cut for a modern look. It’s always better to cut a board too long than too short so cut carefully. You can always take a little more off but you can’t put a little more on!

Dewalt compound Mitre Saw 12" double bevel
We have the DEWALT Miter Saw, 12-Inch, Double Bevel, Compound, XPS Cutline, 15-Amp (DWS716XPS), and we LOVE it! Notice the “shadow-line” for precision cuts!! The bomb!

Next, verify the length of the left and right vertical boards against the canvas. While holding the vertical frame board against the canvas, check to make sure that both ends are flush to the horizontal edges (aka the top and bottom) of the canvas. It’s important that the vertical side boards are flush with the horizontal edges of the canvas so that when the top and bottom boards are attached, the corners of the frame are square 90° corners.

If one of the vertical boards is too long, carefully cut a little at a time and check again. When both ends of the vertical boards are flush, gently sand any frayed edges and proceed to the next step.

How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! Side view of vertical frame board flush with horizontal side of canvas
The end of the vertical frame board is flush to the edge of the canvas.

I used oak hobby boards for this project because I wanted to skip the staining step for instant gratification. If you prefer a stained or painted finish, do so now before attaching frame pieces to the canvas.

Step 2: Create the Recessed Edge (optional)

To create the recessed edge on the front of the frame, you’ll need something to use as a spacer to offset the frame from the canvas. The depth of the spacers will determine the recessed depth on the front of the frame.

example of recessed edge
Example: 1/4″ recessed edge on the front of the frame.

You can use anything you have on hand to create your recessed edge: a stack of rulers or pieces of cardboard. You don’t have to make a recessed edge at all! It’s entirely up to you!!

Once you’ve determined the desired sized spacer, clamp it to the inside of the vertical frame board (on the back of the frame) to allow the frame to rest on the canvas with the desired depth.

Initially, I wasn’t sure how deep to make the recessed edge of my frame. I tried out several pieces of scrap wood and decided on a 1/2″ piece of scrap wood that created a 1/4″ recess on the front of my frame. You’ll need to play around with it, as canvas sizes may vary slightly.

How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! Wood spacer clamped to back of frame board
I used a 1/4″ x 1/2″ piece of scrap wood clamped flush to the inside of the vertical frame piece.

Working on a raised surface, with my canvas resting face down on an old towel for protection, I clamped the pieces of scrap wood to the inside of the vertical frame board. The scrap wood pieces will rest on the back of the canvas and act as temporary spacers.

Tip: If you have enough scrap wood to use as spacers for the entire frame project, you could glue them directly to the inside of the frame pieces.

Step 3: Attach Vertical Frame Board (directly to canvas)

Double-check that the ends of the vertical frame board are flush to the horizontal edge of the canvas. Then attach it directly to the vertical side of the canvas using a brad nailer. Repeat this step with the other vertical frame board on the other side of the canvas. Some might say you should cut all pieces first and dry-fit before attaching them, but I found attaching the vertical boards to the canvas first allowed me to get a more accurate measurement for the horizontal frame boards.

using brad nailer to attach frame board to canvas

Step 4: Measure, Cut, and Attach the Horizontal Frame Boards

Now that the vertical frame boards are attached, measure the entire length across the top and bottom (horizontal part) of the canvas including both vertical frame boards.

The top and bottom horizontal frame boards should be flush with the outside edge of the vertical frame boards. See the photo below.

How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! Close-up of horizontal edge overlapping vertical edge
The horizontal frame board extends over and is flush with the outside edge of the vertical frame board.

Lightly sand the ends of the top and bottom horizontal frame boards. Clamp the spacers to the inside of the horizontal frame boards and align them with the vertical frame boards. Once aligned, attach the top and bottom frame boards directly to the canvas with a brad nailer.

Step 5: Sand Uneven Edges and Fill Gaps

Check the frame corners for gaps and uneven edges. Sand uneven edges, cleanup sanding dust with a vacuum or microfiber cloth, and fill all gaps with plastic wood or wood putty using a putty knife. Both plastic wood and wood putty need time to dry, so be patient. Once dry, sand smooth, and clean up again with microfiber cloth or vacuum.

Uneven edge of frame
Uneven frame edge.
How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! Dried Wood Putty
Irregular edge sanded flat and filled with plastic wood to fill the gap!
sanding dried wood putty
Sanding already dried plastic wood.

Attach the picture-hanging wire and hang your prints!

How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! -3 photos of picture hanging wire
Close-up of a framed canvas
How to Make a Recessed Canvas Frame and Save Big! Side angle of two framed canvases
two framed canvases leaning on mantle

The completed frames look so good!! Framing the canvases is just what they needed. I made two large, custom frames for under $23! TWO frames!?! Mic dropped!!

Let me know what you think in the comments section below.


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