What are CLOSED-CORNER frames?
While most frames today are joined from mass-produced, pre-finished molding,
closed-corner frames are finished after joining. Before framing
became a big business frames were joined in the raw – using time-honored
joining methods — and then finished, as a piece of furniture
would be. The traditional method, which we use exclusively, makes for
stronger, cleaner and more even corners — and more enduring and
What’s wrong with how most frames are made?
The vast majority of frames available today are made from mass-produced
molding, finished in length and then chopped down and put together
with metal or plastic fasteners or nails to make individual frames.
The corners of such frames are neither as strong nor as clean and even
as they should be. Frames made this way don’t allow for the sound
joinery we expect of quality wooden furnishings. And at best, the finish,
by necessity, is broken where the sides meet. The conventional joining
methods of the framing industry have the advantage of being low-cost
because they are quick and require little skill and training. But their
results don’t hold up to either time or close scrutiny. Even
when they’re not abused, the corners of conventional frames usually
break down before too many years, simply because the joinery techniques
can’t withstand normal glue failure and wood movement.
The CRAFT of closed-corner Frames
The corners of a frame are its main points of strength and integrity,
and are a primary concern for the serious frame-maker. Finishing frames
after they’re joined allows for much stronger, more durable joinery
(using splines, mortise & tenon joints and lap
our frames this way also means the joints are more even, since they
can be sanded, planed and carved to meet perfectly. And the joints
are cleaner, since the stain and varnish are continuous over the joint.
Above: Noelle does final clean-up on joints of raw
frames before finishing.
Of course it also
means we aren’t limited to a molding factory’s limited
color offerings, but can finish the frame to exactly the right color
and shade for your picture.
Above: Closed-corner frames have tight, smooth joints because
they can be sanded, hand-planed and/or carved to be made even.
A great many gilded frame manufacturers produce closed corner frames,
leafing the frames after joining. Holton Studio, however, works in
the old “Cabinet-maker’s
Frame” tradition — a
legacy of ungilt (or minimally gilt) hardwood frames by furniture-
and cabinet-makers that represents the origin of picture frames in
Europe. Cabinet-makers’ frames are put together with the traditional
expert methods of the professional joiner. Rather than relying on the
dubious strength of nails and screws, traditional cabinet-makers’ frames
were more likely than gilt frames to be joined with mortise & tenon,
lap-joints and splines.
The ART of closed-corner frames
But beyond allowing for stronger joinery and more integrity to the finish,
closed-corner frames make possible the full artistry of frame-making, opening up infinite design possibilities which are natural and integral
to the construction and materials of the frame and not simply applied.
One of the great contributions of the Arts and Crafts Movement was
its understanding of construction as a basis of design and as inseparable
from the aesthetic affect of a piece. As structural points
of strength, a frame’s corners are aesthetic points
of strength as well. The frame-maker takes advantage of this to articulate
the frame’s form with any number of decorative treatments to
the corner design and detailing.
details of a handful of small mitered frame designs shows a
variety of artistic possibilities for enhancing the corners – a
option afforded by closed-corner frames.
Above: Through mortise & tenon joints articulate
the corners of the Four-Square
Basic. As Gustav Stickley wrote, in regards to the design
of his Craftsman furniture, the idea is to “turn such
structural devices as the mortise & tenon to ornamental
use; to employ them in such a way as to force them to give
accent and variety to the outlines of the object in which they
Above: Chamfer stops articulate the corners of the Gimson
frame. This frame could not be made from stock molding,
since the chamfering stops at the corners. Note also how, with
the chamfers stopping shy of the corners there is more mass
at the corners, expressing them as points of strength. (Imagining
the reverse use of chamfers — chamfering only the corners and not the
sides, thereby weakening the corners — helps
demonstrate this principle.)
Closed-corner construction also allows the frame to be designed with
a more interesting overall form emphasizing other points of strength,
such as the centers and the top.
Above: The overall form of
this mortise & tenon “Secession” frame
was designed in sympathy with the forms in the
print (by Laura Wilder). In this case the center of the top
member of the frame is articulated — a design element that
would be awkward using pre-finished molding. Also the treatment
of the copper-leafed liner is possible.
The sense of quality and integrity, honestly earned, in closed-corner
hardwood frames contributes greatly to the presence and aesthetic effectiveness
of the frame.