By the Practical Artist
Another way to frame inexpensively is by restoring used frames. Where can you find used frames? A good source for used frames is flea markets, second hand stores and yard sales.
Choosing A Good Used Frame is not as difficult as you may think. Take your tape measure with you because frames and framed art found here may or may not meet the usual size requirements of the standard canvas sizes sold in the art store. The frame probably won’t be in pristine condition eiher so you may have to do some refinishing. I recommend wood or metal frames because they are easiest to clean up and refurbish. Because of the difficulty of repairing the faux carvings, I prefer to stay away from the more ornate frames with raised plaster designs.
Metal Frames: A good used metal frame may have scratches, but it will be square (no warping) without bent edges. Depending on the size of the art you are planning to frame, it should probably be at least ¾” to 1” wide. Make sure the corners fit together well without any danger of coming apart. A little rust or scratches are okay as they can be sanded off and smoothed out. Check the sizing with your tape measure to be sure your art will fit. Metal frames are typically used to frame watercolors or pastels, which are done on paper, and while the art paper may be cut to fit the frame, pastels and watercolors are also usually presented with a mat. Unless you have a mat-cutter, you will be using pre-cut mats, which come in the same standard sizes as canvas so making sure the frame is a standard size will cut down on the amount of work you will need to do when you frame the art. The used mat may also be reusable depending on its condition but if it free from stains this is an easy fix. Scratches on the glass or plexi means it will have to be replaced, although if the glass is scratched very near the edge of the frame it might not be noticed.
Wood Frames: A used wooden frame may or may not come with a canvas painting or print. The good news here is that after you have checked to make sure you won’t be covering up a lost masterpiece, you will also have a blank canvas or board that you can use to paint your masterpiece! (Look for a separate blog on re-using canvas).
Non-fixable issues: Check the frame for warping. Warping can be caused by water damage or just simply damage done to the frame itself. While warping can be corrected it requires wood shop tools like vises and such. Probably not worth your trouble.
Chipped Corners or edges: Unless you are going to go for a distressed or really rustic look this can’t be fixed. It can be minimized with paint but it will still show up to the eyes.
Fixable Issues: check for loose corners. This is an easy fix, usually requiring some wood putty and finish nails. Scratches and stains are also fixable requiring stripping, re-sanding and either re-staining or painting of the wood part of the frame.
Linen Mat Issues On A Wood Frame: The most common flaw in a used wooden frame is the linen mat is stained or discolored. This is a pretty easy fix; just repaint it with off-white or parchment color. A tear in the mat may or may not be fixable, depending on the size of the damage. Usually a little glue and repainting the mat will suffice.
*For How-To procedures on refinishing old frames, please see the blog Refurbishing A Used Frame (part 3 of this series).