Hand Finishing Frames With Alec Palmer in A+FT Magazine

This is the first of two articles from the July 2023 Art+Framing Today magazine. Alec Palmer took part in  The Fine Art Trade Guild’s London branch meeting in March where he discussed the topic of hand finishing frames and how they can be used to create a unique finish that is individual to clients needs while increasing profitability. You can read the article below:

Hand finishing frames

If you were at the Guild Weekend in 2022, you might have seen Alec in action. It was because of his skills at building up and hand finishing frames that the group requested a demonstration.

Alec has an enviable space where he sands and paints and plays with wood away from the rest of the workshop. We loved having a peek into his creative space.

Demonstrating how to use multiple frames to build bigger frames, Alec gave the group ideas on how to build up and make interesting frames from bare wood mouldings. Specialising in closed frames, Alec starts by constructing the frames and then takes time to prepare the surfaces for the finishes he applies.

He emphasised strongly that preparation is essential. Using a variety of innovative ideas, he explained the importance of getting as perfect a substrate as you can. For example, he wrapped sandpaper around dowels of various sizes to get into the tiniest grooves, shapes and corners.

Ensuring you have a perfect surface to apply paints, stains waxes and varnishes means you’ll get an excellent finish. Preparation is everything.


Waxin wood

Why hand finish?

When there is such a wide range of excellent mouldings, why should you consider hand finishing frames? Because you can create:

  • A wide range from fewer mouldings
  • A unique finish for your customers
  • Frames that are easier to mend (fill, sand and repair paint damage)

But there is a downside: hand finishing is labour intensive It’s dusty and messy, so you need the space to work. And then there’s pricing…

A taste of the process

You can either apply the hand finish in the length, and then mitre and join the frames, or you can construct the frame and then apply the finishes. Some customers and galleries ask for closed corners (finishing to hide the mitered corners).

If you’re making a closed frame, mitre and make up the frame Use glue and clamps to ensure your frames are as dose to perfect as you can get them. Then find any snags and fill and sand to ensure the finish is perfect. If you’re extending frames by combining a few mouldings you can also fill the gaps with wood filler to ensure the joins are hidden. Then sand and sand and sand. Alec wears a protective mask and buys rolls of sandpaper.

When it comes to materials, buy the best you can afford. Buy good quality paint – Farrow & Ball and Little Greene were among the names suggested. Use professional level artist’s acrylic. Chestnut has a nice range of spirit-based stains.

Always finish all paint or stains with a wax or a varnish. Polyvine has a nice range of decorator’s varnish that dries quickly and can be applied with a brush.

When working with a full frame, make a sample piece and make notes of ail the steps you’re using.

Promoting and selling your new range

Once you’re confident that you can offer hand finishing, you need to tell people about it.

Have a dedicated section on your chevron board for your hand finished samples Market these as premium products. Price all the steps If you sand, charge. If you wax, charge. Some pricing systems allow you to add in the stages.

Thanks to Alec tor a very informative and fun evening.