I think I was in the garage working on this project when Working Them Angels came up in the rotation. For the next hour I kept humming “working that wood, overtime”. And it’s just too important that a title like that be used that I couldn’t let a triviality like no article stop it.
I may be a little OCD. Maybe not. But maybe. That aside, I do like me some puzzles. Putting together a difficult puzzle calms my brain for a few hours. The downside is you end up with all these half disassembled puzzles laying around in their boxes. Some are just bad, but some are nice or interesting images (e.g. I have a topographic map of Mt. Rainier). Sometimes it seems a shame to just box them up and put them on a shelf. So this project started at a way to use some of the plank harvested from the mesquite tree – not enough to start building cabinets, but plenty to make some picture frames. Kill 2 birds with one stone.
So the basic process I used to make a frame: Start with planed planks (see the first time I worked my wood ). I picked two that were roughly the right size for the puzzle I was planning to use, so one about 36″, one about 25″ – You have to make sure that, after 45 degree cuts, the outside edge is long enough to be continuous for the given inside size. From there, you have flattened boards with rough edges. For the rustic look, I wanted to keep the rough edges, so I marked them down the middle length wise and hand cut them as accurately as possible, thereby turning 2 planks into 4 sides of the frame. To square up the cut, inside edges, I clamped all 4 planks together, lining up rough/natural edges so that the are close to parallel. That lines up the cut edges, exposing all the bumps and wiggles. With a hand plane and orbital sander, bring those cut edges into true.
After this process, I ended up with the 4 sides of the frame with natural outside edges and flat, square inside edges. To create the frame, I measured the size of the ‘art’ (or in this case, puzzle) and marked the cut edges to that length and made 45 degree cuts on the chop saw. You could make these inside cuts larger than the final puzzle size and then mat it (so you have a border around the image), but I choose to make the opening in the frame the exact size of the puzzle, so I made sure the length of the inside edge of each side was matched exactly to the final puzzle size. Now one needs rabbets on the back side to frame so the cover (acrylic or glass) and the backing that the puzzle gets mounted on will fit the hole in the frame and be flat on the back. So with a dado blade, I cut rabbets on all 4 sides, 1/2″ wide and depth set to the combined width of the acrylic and mounted puzzle. With the rabbets cut, join the 45 degree angles with wood glue and tack it with a staple gun. Of course, since the outside edges are ‘rustic’ the corners of course don’t line up. So did rough cut and sanded to blend in a hopefully somewhat seamless way. I’d like to match up the wood grain a bit better, but the way I cut the sides from separate pieces didn’t allow that – I might try to plan the next one a bit better. Now for the frame, the only thing to do is sand down to an 800 grit, stain (natural) and polyurethane.
Now for the puzzle – once it’s complete, use a puzzle glue (I used this) to ‘seal’ it. Usually it only takes one application and then a touch up to hit the places you missed the first time. Once it sets up, you can (carefully) pick up the puzzle as one piece. To mount in the frame, you need to mount the puzzle on backing material. You can buy foam or cardboard backers or use some 1/4″ plywood; but I have a bunch of heavy grade cardboard, so I just used that. I attached the puzzle to the backing material with some spray adhesive, standard Gorilla glue spray adhesive from Lowes (since the local Lowes doesn’t seem to worry about enforcing mask nonsense). Once the puzzle is securely mounted, cut the backing material to extend 1/2″ beyond the puzzle boundary on all side so it fits snugly into the rabbets on the back of the frame. Here’s were you’d adjust the measurements and add a mat if you wanted to get fancier. Cut a piece of acrylic to the same size as the backing material and ready go.
Tacked the acrylic into the frame with a touch of clear silicon caulk at the corners, mounted the cardboard backed puzzle and locked in with short pieces of very thing red oak stock I had left over from a different project. And that finishes the deal.
I’ll probably do a few more of these, certainly this one for the bathroom. And I have this one glued up, so I’ll probably do a frame for it. I suppose how many more I do depends on whether I can think of something more interesting to do with my wood.