In Projects, Techniques

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Safely make shaper-quality molding on your tablesaw without fancy jigs.

By Eric Smith and Richard Tendick

This how-to story has a picture-perfect ending. In fact, you might want to round up some spectators for applause in the final steps. Richard Tendick has developed a safe, simple technique to help you make narrow, complex picture-frame stock using nothing more than a tablesaw. That’s right, there are no routers or specialized jigs and sleds to make, either. With Richard’s system, you actually glue the frame before the final cut. The fun comes when the frame is cut loose from the square stock.

Richard’s molding also simplifies assembly. Mitering and gluing odd-shaped picture frame molding can be a struggle. With this technique, the frame is mitered and glued when the stock still has its square profile. That makes building a picture frame much easier.

Grain and Color are Important

This technique requires 1-1/2-in. square stock. For a frame to look good, the grain must flow smoothly around all four pieces (see “Oops,” below) and the color must be consistent. Choose clear, straight-grained wood for your frame stock. It’s best if you can cut the frame stock from a single length of wood. Buy extra wood for test cuts. We found 1-1/2-in. square oak stair balusters sold at home centers to be an excellent source for frame stock.

Set Up for the Cuts

1. Rough-cut the frame stock to a few inches over the finished dimensions for cutting on the tablesaw.

2. Sketch the cuts on the end of each piece for orientation (Fig. A). All cuts start at the same end, so if you find yourself reversing the piece, something is wrong. Pay attention to grain direction!

3. Cut spacer strips 3/8, 5/8 and 3/4 in. wide by 18 in. long. You’ll use these for setting the fence and saw blade height for some of the cuts.

Making the Saw Cuts

4. Set the blade to make a 3/8-in.-deep cut and make Cut 1.

5. Set the blade and fence for Cut 2 and make the cut.

6. Make Cut 3 with the blade titled to 33 degrees. Set the blade just high enough to poke through the wood about 1/4 in.

7. Make Cut 4 to create the rabbet that holds your picture, matte and glass. Set the fence and blade height using Cut 1 as a reference.

Sanding, Mitering and Gluing

8. Sand the frame before cutting the miters. It’s a lot easier than sanding into the corners of an assembled frame.

9. Before you cut the miters, take a 1/2-in.-thick slice off your stock. Save the slice for setting up the last cut.

10. Attach a long subfence to the miter gauge. Use a drafting square to set the gauge at 45 degrees.

11. Cut the miters.

12. Test-fit the frame with a band clamp before gluing to check for tight-fitting joints.

13. Glue the frame together, spreading a heavy coat of glue over the entire miter. Yes, that includes the part that will eventually be cut off. Wipe off excess glue with a damp rag.

The Final Cut (the Fun Part!)

14. Set up the tablesaw for Cut 5.

15. Make the final cut on all four sides of the frame.

Get a Better Grip – Hold small pieces of wood in the tablesaw with this rubber-tipped push stick. Just glue a standard eraser into the push stick notch.

16. Lift the frame from its four-sided offcut. (You may want an audience for this step).

17. If the inner frame doesn’t fall away from the offcut immediately, don’t panic. Ours didn’t (and of course, we panicked). It turned out that despite our best efforts, the blade was set a hair too shallow. All we had to do was push down gently on the frame to break that sliver of wood and release the offcut.

Finishing Touches

18. Reinforce the corners with 1-in. wire brads. Pre-drill the holes with a No. 60 wire gauge bit or clip the head off a brad and use that as a bit. You may need to use a mini-chuck if your drill doesn’t hold a bit that small. We don’t recommend using a nail gun for this step—it’s too easy to blow a nail out of the face of the frame. The nail would be hard to extract, and the resulting damage, difficult to repair. With a drill, if you accidentally drill a hole in the wrong spot, it’s easy to hide with filler.

19. Sand the outside of the frame and fill the nail holes. Stain as desired and finish with at least two coats of varnish or polyurethane.



At first we didn’t pay attention to grain orientation. The result was mismatched grain and a bad-looking corner. Make sure the face of your frame is positioned so the growth rings run perpendicular to it. This will give you a straight-grained face, which will make the corners match better.

Picture Frame Profile Cuts

This story appeared in the September 2004 issue of American Woodworker.

Finally, this rare issue of American Woodworker (Digital Issue) magazine can be yours! Discover the fascinating contents of the September 2004 issue including such plans, projects, and articles as:

  • The Best CAD software for Woodworkers
  • Dovetailed Blanket Chest Using a Do-It-All Router Jig
  • Classy Picture Frames Made with Only a Tablesaw
  • Stylish Speaker Stand, Plus DVD Storage
  • Get Super Accuracy with Dial Calipers

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