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picture framePhotograph: smannion, Flickr

So you've got an empty picture frame with lots of character -- but no backing, glass, mat or hanging hardware. What now?

It's easy to stumble on interesting yet empty picture frames -- I'm talking the framing bars only -- at thrift shops, junk shops, flea markets, and garage sales. Maybe you've even unearthed one recently from storage (ahem, like the editor of this article).

There are many creative ways to use an empty frame: you can simply display the empty frames together as an artful grouping, for instance. But what if you want to use the frames in the traditional picture-behind-framed-glass style? Sending your photo and the empty frame to a professional to transform into a complete frame finished with glass, picture, mat, backing, and hanging hardware can set you back a pretty penny: $70 for an 8"x10" frame.

Here's how to work some DIY magic on those empty photo frames and make them wall-ready on a budget. The supplies add up for the first frame project, but then you'll be set to DIY with any other empty frames you have -- and that will definitely save you money in the long run.

1. Get a piece of glass cut for your frame at a frame shop or buy picture glass in the size you need. If you're making over a bunch of frames, you may consider cutting the glass yourself with a glass cutter, using 2mm plain or non-reflective glass.

2. You can use either Foam Core or masonite for the backing of your frame. Foam Core is lightweight, acid-free, cheaper, and easy to cut. But it's less sturdy and more flimsy than MDF or masonite. You can find masonite at any home center, like The Home Depot, and you can have your masonite cut to size at their store (or DIY with a power saw.)

3. Use a picture mat if you're displaying photographs or original prints - anything vintage or one-of-a-kind. You need to create a space between the print and the glass, so that your favorite picture doesn't meld to the glass over time. You can find readymade picture mats at Michaels and other craft stores. Or follow these tips for cutting your own mat.

4. Put the elements together. Place the frame face down, insert the glass, matted print, and finally the backing board.

5. Insert brads (slim nails) to hold everything in place. Use backing nails for larger or heavy frames. You can find these supplies at craft stores or here.

6. Tape over the brads using backing tape to seal everything. Using backing tape prevents dust from getting into framed print.

7. Attach picture hanging wire. Measure 1/3 of the way down from the top of frame and mark on the side. Place a screw eye or D-ring in the spot. Then repeat on the opposite side. Attach picture wire from one side to another.

Then you're ready to hang your frame on the wall!

  • DGB

    I found some nice frames without glass for real cheap. So my daughter and I painted them some fun colors and hung them on our wood fence to brighten it up a bit.

  • lukeev anssi

    I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles. I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often. I am quite sure they will learn lots of new stuff here than anybody else!

  • Simple Life Tool

    This was a great article. Many times i find myself wasting money buying new frames, but this article helped me to realize that i can be saving money by just fixing and restoring my old frames. Thank you for sharing these great ideas.

  • littleAlittleSstudios

    as a professional picture framer, i'd like to clarify just a few points in your article. you have to buy a special acid-free foamcore that is cream in color. the bright white foam core is not acid-free. it is also important to use acid-free mats to preserve the item you're framing. if you do choose to use masonite or mdf as a backing, you should use an acid-free mat between the board and the artwork to act as an acid-free barrier. if you use a non-glare glass, it will make the picture blurry if you use a mat. non-glare glass is meant to be laid against a picture, but, as noted above, this will eventually harm the artwork. there is a non-reflective glass, called museum glass, but it can be tricky to clean and handle. you should definitely use a uv filtering glass, either plain or non-reflective, to prolong the life of your artwork, and never hang art in direct sunlight! when you assemble the collected elements together, make sure to clean the glass and remove any dust particles before you nail it all together!

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