Because we often fabricate and frame custom mirrors, I want to take this opportunity to talk a bit more about how that is done.

Most people think that we simply attach a frame to the edge of the mirror glass and attach a hanging wire at the back.  There is quite a bit more to it as you will see.  

First we need to determine the anticipated weight of the mirror, as determined by size, glass thickness, and frame weight, and where it will hang.  If the mirror is large and heavy (it can weigh up to 100 lbs or more) then we need to know that the mounting or wall surface will support it, and that will also determine what hanging system that we use.  This can be mirror straps, or aluminum horizontal Z bars across the back at the top, or at the top and bottom if required.  These systems are designed to engage the wall studs for strength. If the unit is smaller and lighter then a wire will be fine.

Next we want to determine in what room of the house it will hang - living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc.  This will also dictate the type of hanging system used.  A large mirror over a bed will require safety hanging devices for instance.  A bathroom mirror exposed to moisture will need special treatment  before being framed.  This will consist of treating the edge of the glass with a sealant, and perhaps creating a moisture trough inside the mirror at the bottom with silicone wedges so it can evaporate out if trapped.  For all mirrors, we black out the frame interior so it does not reflect through to the viewer at the front.  

Th frame itself can be attached to the mirror glass itself in a number of ways.  We can use framers points, Z clips, or non acetic silicone - again depending on the size and application of the mirror.  Then determining the style of frame to be used, in relation to the size and weight of the mirror glass is the next step.  There are pros and cons all along the way, so talking all of this over with the customer is really helpful.

Finally the thickness and quality of the mirror glass itself needs to be considered, whether or not beveled, and budget considerations.  There is a difference in the appearance of the mirror glass depending on source supplier and quality which as always, relates to cost.

Finally it is up to us to bring all of this together and have a happy client when the job is complete.

Lets talk more about the frame itself and how it is joined together.  Fame moldings can be made of a variety of materials, including wood, metal and plastic.  The material type determines how the frame corners are joined.  For this post we will talk about wood frames.

The shape of the frame moulding is called its profile. These are a couple of dozen basic profiles and thousands of variations.  There are also many ways to finish a moulding, and we cover that in the next post.  Here we will talk about cutting and joining a pre finished length of moulding typically purchased 8 to 10 feet in length.  When a frame is constructed by first joining an unfinished raw wood profile and then finishing it as a single unit, this is called a "closed cornered frame".   We will cover also this in the next post.

When constructing a frame, the frame moulding has to be cut, and mitered (corners cut at a 45 degree angle) and then they have to be joined.  Cutting can be accomplished by a hand saw, electric saw, or foot chopper.  A chopper is a mechanical device where a sharp blade falls down on the moulding and slices through it at the proper angle.  Each of these methods has its advantages and its drawbacks.  Cut moulding pieces have to be evaluated for the proper cut angles and "dressed" to ensure that a good joined corner will occur.

Once the moulding has been cut to the proper length and width with the correct allowance (see previous post) it has to be joined at each corner.  This is accomplished by gluing, thumb nailing (a plastic wedge driven into both sides from behind), brading (thin wire nails), and/or v-nailing (a v-shaped staple fem the back) the corners together.  We use a combination of these methods here at our shop. We may glue the corners together held together in special vise, and then either brad or thumbnail in addition for added strength.  Gluing and v-nailing can also produce a strong corner. Brads or thumbnails without glue are not sufficient.  The shape of the moulding and the desired appearance and strength will help determine which method is used.

Prior to gluing we may touch up the raw ends with color to match the frame finish.  Once joined the frame then is inspected for any minor flaws and either touched up or color matched putty is used where needed, particularly if there are brad holes.

Lastly we test fit the frame with the art to ensure size and dimensions are as intended, and set it aside while we build out the rest of the package which can include mats, glass, backing and other special materials as designed.
These posts may seem to ramble a bit, but as we discuss more of aspects of custom picture framing we will touch upon almost all of the design, quality and construction considerations.  But not necessarily in a linear fashion.

When working with a professional picture framer, there are many considerations being processed in the framers mind at any given moment during the design process, many of which you will never become aware of as a customer. 

In the last post we talked about the necessary internal “allowances” needed for quality construction.  In this post we ramble back over to talk about a concept of frame design that we in this studio adhere to, although many framers do not.  There is no right or wrong here – it is just a matter of personal taste.

Our framing philosophy is as follows: if the frame, no matter how beautiful the moulding is, how fine the mats are and how intricate the design is,  distracts or draws the viewer’s eye away from the artwork, it is defeating its purpose.  The frame’s primary purpose is to protect the artwork.  It can also be a thing of beauty and a work of art in its own right.  It can add a sense of balance and continuity to a work of art, but it must not overshadow or distract from the art in any way.

This would seem to be a simple assignment, however, artwork consists of many visual aspects such as size, color, composition, time period and even artist recognition (e.g. a Rembrandt would be more deserving a genuine gold leafed frame as opposed to a raw ramin wood frame).  These must all be taken into consideration during the design process.

This now opens the door to interior design related discussions of the room décor, paint schemes and the like.  Our philosophy here is that we “frame the piece to itself”, providing it suits the tastes of the designer or the customer.  It is wise to consider that the piece may eventually hang in a different room, with different colors and different themes than originally intended.  Because good frame design is timeless, the piece should be able to hang almost anywhere, and “wear well” visually over long periods of time.

Another aspect to consider is the strength of the image itself.  A pencil drawing, one color etching or saturated watercolor cannot compete with a bold, bright, or overbearing frame.  But we have framed images that have been so strong - sometimes as much in emotion and meaning as in color, that we could (and have) put almost any frame on them that one could imagine.   And it worked.

More on design and construction in our next post…