How to Make Frames Without Miters
Miters make a great choice for frames because they hide end grain, and the joint lines direct your eye to the framed item. But miters can be finicky to cut and clamp, and they make a relatively weak joint. Instead, try these techniques to create simple, strong, handsome frames for pictures, mirrors, and more. Each of these frames shows end grain, but that’s not necessarily a negative.
The simplest joint to cut
Take care to position reinforcements far enough from the interior edges that you won’t cut into them as you rout the recess for the artwork and glass.End grain doesn’t provide a strong glue surface, so butt joints must be reinforced. If the rear of a frame will be visible, choose one of the hidden options listed below. Hanging a frame on a wall hides the less eye-pleasing visible choices.
Biscuits require a biscuit joiner, which plows mating semicircular grooves in each frame piece. Gluing a football-shape biscuit into those slots aligns the workpieces and provides strong face-grain-to-face-grain glue surface [Photo A]. The shortest slot cut by a biscuit joiner dictates rails and stiles at least 21⁄4 " wide.
Installing dowels requires a little more time and effort than biscuits, but dowels create the strongest butt joint. Drilling the mating holes in each piece requires a jig to align them accurately [Photo B]. Dowels can join pieces too narrow for biscuits.
To assemble a butt-jointed frame quickly, choose pocket screws. Use a pocket-hole jig to drill angled holes toward the end of each rail, then drive in washer-head screws to pull the rails tight to the stiles [Photo C].
Splines (shown above) bridge the joint, providing face-grain glue surface. This approach can be purely functional and hidden on the back of the frame [Photo D], or used as an accent on the front [Photos E–H].
Sturdy and self-squaring
With lots of face-grain-to-face-grain gluing surface, half-laps make a strong choice for large frames and those that need to support heavy objects such as mirrors. Traditional half-laps have flush ends, edges, and faces. To cut this joint, follow the steps in Photos I–L.
Customize half-laps for a variety of looks without sacrificing strength. For example, make one pair of frame pieces slightly thicker to create a frame where the rails or stiles stand proud of the mating pieces [Photo M]. Or cut dadoes, rather than rabbets, to create a frame with rails and stiles extending past the mating pieces [Photos N, O].
Stub tenon and groove
Often used for doors, but great for frames.
With this joint, a tongue on one piece fits a centered groove on the mating piece [Photos P, Q]. After gluing up the frame, rout around the frame, removing the back of the groove to form the rabbet for the artwork.
If you have a cope-and-stick router-bit set [Photo R], it cuts a similar joint with an attractive molded edge that appears mitered around the interior.
The chase is on
Another way to create an eye-catching frame without miters is to assemble it with a chasing or pinwheel pattern, rather than capturing the rails between the stiles. Use or adapt any of the joinery methods described in this article.