Making a Giant Canvas Frame

At some point I became interested in doing giant paintings. I think it harkens back to my time as an undergraduate where I was allowed to paint murals on the walls. I painted a lot of murals over the four years I lived in that dormitory, most of which I’m proud of. Painting murals in apartments I’m renting is definitely less kosher, so instead I have decided to do giant paintings on canvas frames.

Unfortunately giant canvas frames are expensive. They easily shoot up in the hundreds of dollars getting anywhere close to wall-sized. I figured: I can make that.

For my first go at it I purchased a stack of 1x3s from Home Depot. I picked the straightest ones and cut four pieces with their ends at 45degree angles. Then I glued the corners with wood glue, having my boyfriend hold them tightly together while I used a staple gun to hold them in place while the wood dried. The result was a large frame that was pretty wonky — it did not sit flat on the ground at all. But it was my first go; I figured it was because the wood wasn’t planed.

I also bought a huge amount of canvas from Amazon for about $40. I expect it to last me a long time. Once I had the frame, I cut an appropriately sized piece of canvas and lay the frame on top of it. Then: a lot of time with the staple gun. The trick it to start in the center of each side and slowly, going round to each side, work your way out. Pull the canvas as tight as you can, staple it to the back of the frame. I would put one staple about every 2-3 inches until I had made it to the corners of the frame. Then I went back and stapled in between each staple. Remember: you still have to pull tight! It’s amazing how much you can stretch the canvas. The extra round of staples makes it much tighter.

I was pretty disappointed by how flat it was not. Plus, I decided it wasn’t that big. I wanted to go bigger! Flatter! Better! So I tried again.

This time I went with slightly more expensive wood from Home Depot — some planed 1x2s that I spent about half hour messing with to find the 3 straightest pieces they had. But I figured I’d use the same technique — glue, hold with staples — so I could compare how much flatter wood makes a difference. I didn’t do the 45degree cuts; since they were so square I just glued them at the right angles. I even included a center bar for extra structure. I canvased it and viola! Giant canvas frame.

This was about twice the size. 8×4 feet! It looked great. But in the process of moving it from the ground to laying it against the wall it broke. Though it’s light, it buckled under it’s weight when torqued. Some of the staples almost came completely out. I guess they weren’t enough to hold it while the glue set.

The wood glue really requires a lot of compression to work properly. Ideally the wood glue joints should be stronger than the wood itself. So I went back to Home Depot and bought a large square post, which I cut into a series of skinny squares — one for each corner. Then I glued by square pieces into the corners, this time clamping them down to get a good, strong joint.


Now I was getting somewhere. The resulting frame was huge, beautiful, and very robust. Not only that, but it was pretty freaking flat! I’m still in the process of painting it, but I’m extremely happy with the frame.

The whole thing probably cost about $30. There’s the cost of the slightly nicer wood, about $5/8feet, then the cost of the canvas, probably about $5 for the section I used. But the canvas is raw; it requires a lot of primer. And then there are the incidentals of glue, staples, the extra post… it’s not quite as cheap as I would like. But the nicer wood definitely made a difference.

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