In Search of the Perfect Grain

In Search of the Perfect Grain

Written by: Chris Gore

After Gillian creates her art, I get to finish the piece with a custom-made wood frame.  This is where the fun begins for me.  I enjoy examining a new shipment of wood to discover the possibilities the grains present.  Woodgrain provides opportunities to enhance Gillian’s work without detracting from the art.

walnut frame being sanded for final finishing

I enjoy laying out a variety of shades of cherry or walnut to consider how the mitred corners can best display the characteristics of the grain in each piece.  This is a worthwhile step as each piece of wood is unique and some fit together better than others.  

Cherry can range from red to shades of brown with some orange aspects.  Walnut is more unpredictable and after being milled it often displays lighter shades mixed with swirling or speckled grain.  I prefer working with these hardwoods but will try any wood for the best result.  I find the variety of shades and grains in cherry and walnut offer many possibilities for the finished product.

Some walnut presents a dark chocolate or coffee-like colouration which is further enhanced when I put a finish on the frame.  Most of the wood we use is cut to ¾ x 1 ½ or ¾ x 1 ¾ inches which I find is the easiest starting point for most frames. We buy most of our hardwood from Lacasse Fine wood products. They cut the wood to the required sizes take care during the milling process 

Following the selection of the pieces for a frame, some cutting is required to prepare the pieces for the glueing and assembly of each side of the frame.

Here is where the beauty of the wood and the careful selection of what wood to use comes together.  A contrasting accent piece on the edge of a frame can contribute to pulling out the shading and grain on adjacent pieces of wood used in the frame.  For example a thin walnut edge joined to maple or cherry can greatly enhance the finished work by pulling out some of the darker tones in the art.  These are just a few tips I have picked up after making over 300 frames.

Once I have assembled the frame, I clean the corners of any residual glue and the long and slow sanding process begins.  Gillian and I both agree we have our strong suits.  Gillian would not enjoy the monotony of sanding each piece while I find a certain pleasure in the process.  She prefers creating and using colours and textures to capture images in free flowing process. The process of frame making is somewhat repetitive but the unique grain patterns allow for a different result each time. Our personalities are expressed through our contributions tothe final product and support and complement each other. 

The sanding begins with 100 grit then 220 or 320 and I finish with 400.  This process takes a little time but is justified by the end result.  It is an essential to create a beautiful frame.  After I clean the frame with a dry cloth, I use a tack cloth to be sure there are no fine particles remaining before I finish the frame.  

I generally use three or four coats of a water-based satin polyurethane.  the finish is sanded with extrafine steel wool between each coat.  While this process is somewhat repetitive it does seem to result in a richer longer lasting finish. I really enjoy applying the finish by hand so I can feel the wood and spread the finish evenly. It is a little dirtier than using a brush or spray can but I do feel the results justify the time and effort. 

The wood frames provide a subtle connection between the natural world and the art.  The simplicity of the wood and the intricate patterns of the grain are reflected in the art which the wood surrounds. While I occasionally use a dark stain on poplar or maple if it suits the piece,  to be honest  I do prefer to see the natural grains as much as possible.  I think Gillian and I are both drawn to natural fibres - she in her art and me in the natural wood I use to frame it.  

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