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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Framed! Basic Canvas Building For Artists on a Budget

Frame Building 101
Grey Cross Studios

This brief tutorial will explain frame/canvas building essentials.

Materials you will need the following supplies:

  • Unwarped lengths of board in either 6’ or 8’ lengths of either 1” or 3” width 
  • Canvas that is at least 1 foot wider than the frame your building
  • Two 2” Flat corner braces (package of 4 in each)
  • Heavy duty staple gun
  • A saw or a simple electric hand saw
  • Phillips screwdriver (electric screwdrivers are much easier than by hand)

I usually buy my boards in 6 foot or 8 foot lengths depending on how big I want the frame to be. I buy the boards at Home Depot and usually choose a pine because I find they are straighter and less warped. I always go with a 3 inch wide board because my pieces are heavier and need the extra support, but you can also go with a 1 inch wide board if you prefer. Because of the nature of my work, I find that normal canvas you can buy in an art store is not heavy enough for my needs. So I use a canvas drop cloth (also bought at Home Depot). I usually try to get the plastic backed canvas because I find it is very sturdy. Finally you will need two packages of flat braces for both sides of the frame (again also at Home Depot). For an average 4 foot completed canvas, you can usually get everything you need for under $30.

The frame being built in this tutorial is 2’ x 4’. Cut your boards accordingly for the size you are building and keep in mind that you will add an inch on either side because of the way the boards are laid together.

Lay the boards out on a flat floor in a square. Pay attention that the you match the boards exactly in each corner. This is where that extra 2 inches comes into play and if you don’t match each corner the same way you’ll end up with a lopsided frame.

Open one package of your corner braces and attach one to each corner. Keep in mind to keep your boards tight against each other while you screw them in. I find this the hardest part of the process because its easy to be slightly askew.

Once you’ve attached one to each corner, again making sure everything lines up well, you want to turn the whole frame over and repeat the process on the other side with the second package of corner braces. Your finished frame should look like this.

Please note that you can substitute the second set of corner braces for an inner brace instead (see photo). This is if you don’t want the braces showing under the canvas. I find this isnt a problem though because the canvas is thick enough not to show the flat brace beneath it.

Remeasure at this point to make sure that each side is even and nothing is askew.

Now whether you bought your canvas at an art store or at Home Depot, your going to want to iron it. This will make the stretching process so much easier if you’ve taken all the creases out of it and loosened the fiber up slightly with steam from the iron.

Once ironed you want to lay the canvas on the floor or a large table and lay the frame on top of it.

Make sure the canvas has no wrinkles in it and is perfectly flat under the frame. Take a ruler and measure that you have at least 6 inches on each side that overlaps. Cut off the excess carefully.

Now comes the stretching and stapling. You want to start with one staple centered on one side.

Now you want to move to the exact opposite side of the frame and pull on the canvas until its tight in the center. Don’t worry if you get a slight bulge, it will come out later. Again add just a single staple to the center once you’ve pulled it tight. Now do the same on the remaining unstapled sides, again just adding one staple in the center of each.

Now place an additional two staples on either side of the center staple, again go to the opposing side and do the same, making sure again to pull the canvas tight. Again go to the remaining sides and do the same. Repeat this process until you’ve stapled all the way to each corner. At this stage your canvas should be tight. Lift it and check it to make sure it is so. If not, then you messed up and need to restaple.

You should now have an overhang of canvas on each side. The overhang should fold under the back of each board and be stapled along the length of the board. This will allow for additional strength to the canvas.

You should now be left with only each corner to complete. I suggest the following youtube tutorial to show you how to cut and fold each corner to get it perfect.

You should now have a completed and tight canvas ready to use.

At this stage I usually prime the canvas. Gesso is the most commonly used primer. This will stiffen the canvas and make it usable and also tighten the threads a bit more. Because I work with metallics, I like to have a flat black canvas to start with, so I usually paint over the primer with flat black acrylic. The final product should resemble this:

I hope this was helpful. Email me with me questions. I’ll be glad to help or find me on facebook or twitter.


  1. Thanks for this. One thing I have found in stretching canvass is to keep the tension equal when adding the subsequent staples around the center one. Otherwise, you can end up with a wavy thread pattern which isn't aesthetically pleasing if you know what I mean.

    Carlo Clausius

  2. You are so right Carlo. I crisscross. One staple to start, then one staple on the opposing side, pulling the canvas tight, then one staple on each side, also pulling tightly. I also find I have to pull the canvas on either side of the staple to keep it away all the bulges. It takes patience to be sure!

  3. For making the frame it's important to make it on a flat surface so that it does not end up twisted. Also you'd want to use a square to ensure the frame is square, although you could probably use a second corner bracket for that task