How to Make a Cheap Frame – DIY

As a man of refinement, who, at the time of this writing, is notoriously poor, I’m forever on the lookout for cheap alternatives to my favorite interior design standards, and in this case, that standard happens to be framed art.

I love hanging shit on walls. I mean that sincerely. The first thing I do in any new apartment is plot ways to cover up vacant vertical space with shelving, plants, and pieces of art. It’s less of a habit and more of an unfightable urge that some might consider an advantage while others (such as former roommates) have cursed my name while watching me carelessly hunt for a wall stud with a fistful of screws in one hand, a drill in the other, and a staggered line of first, second, and third tries in my wake.

I went into my 20s as the king of the college poster sale with a collection of 24″ X 36″ pop culture icons growing exponentially each year until I had literally run out of wall space.  

Me in my college dorm room circa 2008. The amassed wall decor is highly recommended if you want to feel like you’re waking up in the CBGB’s bathroom every morning. *Just out of frame – an original iPod playing “Hey Ya” on repeat*

But after four years, what does one do with 30+ posters once the college dorm room door permanently closes behind you?

A. Throw them away?

B. Ask your parents to hang them neatly in their foyer? 

C. Keep them tightly rolled in a cylinder for years, only ever acknowledging their existence when it’s time to YET AGAIN load them into a moving truck and haul them to another new apartment and another new corner for them to collect dust?

If you’re having trouble guessing, I’ll give you a hint – I’m a notorious hoarder and my parents don’t have a foyer. 

I had made myself a strict rule – don’t hang any posters of years past unless they’re framed. And if you’re not willing to shell out the hundreds of dollars for a professional framing job then you’d better be fine with putting them behind a cheap plastic frame from Target.

On my recent travels through the glorious USofA I purchased a cigar ad lithograph from the 1950’s and had settled picking up the most expensive frame I could find for my tax bracket. But apparently, 44″ x 33″ are dimensions the fat cats down at Big Framing have yet to consider.

I settled on a crafty option as old as time – cut and paste.

I went to Home Depot and had them cut me a piece of underlayment plywood to the dimensions of my poster which cost me $15 with the intention of gluing the art directly onto the wood, distressing it a bit, and, once it dried, I’d have a freestanding piece of decor on display with a unique look as though it was salvaged from the depths of the dustiest of junk stores.

I was originally going to use homemade wheat paste as an adhesive (a simple recipe of flour, water, and a little sugar for increased stickiness), but worried it may be too weak to hold the weight of the paper. The same reasoning took Mod Podge out of the running and, obviously, Elmer’s wasn’t going to cut it.

The clerk at Blick’s aimed me in the direction of Yes! Paste for $13 and although I’m not typically the type of person that supports products with excited names I figured I should listen to her and get the hell out of the art supply store before I ended up losing a day of work wandering the aisles spending money on delusional projects I’ll never actually see through (I don’t NOT need a $200 sculpting set for the statues I’ll never carve).

Of course, that’s exactly what happened, but it was truly worth it this time around because I ended up striking gold in the frame section.

Blick’s sells individual wooden frame sections. And by sections, I mean sides so they essentially look like boring rods of wood but they’re so much more.

Each end fits into the next like a puzzle piece that makes a near-seamless corner without any screws, nails, staples, or any of that fastening BS you’re used to.

And just like that, I had the components for a respectable wall hanging.

I dabbled with the idea staining the frame, but only if I could flex my craft muscles and use some clever method like coffee to darken the wood. However, after brewing a fresh pot of Columbian Dark Roast and wiping it onto my frame I saw little to no change in the color (I tried this same idea with tea as well and had the same result).

Although the staining was a complete and utter failure, the frame looked damn good and it looked even better bordering my poster.

Using the Yes! Paste was a snap. I laid my plywood down flat on a table, spread a glob of paste onto it and spread it using a paint brush. This stuff was sticky and (at times) a pain to get across the surface so I added a splash of water to thin it out.

Once my poster was glued on, I did have to weigh it down for a few minutes with whatever I could find. And I did have to go back around some of the edges to be sure no sections would end up curling over time, but it looked great.

Fearing these images would look too staged, I’m including the below picture of Rosie for realistic reference.

I drilled my frame around the edges of the poster/wood with small screws and then fired another one through the entire thing hoping it would find its way into my brick wall and stay there without any trouble…and that’s exactly how that shit went down.

I’m not saying I invented a new way to frame art (especially when you consider that Blick’s has been manufacturing the pieces of frame for who knows how long) but I am saying I’m the first to write about it in a design blog that included more than one swear word.


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