To understand your options for holding the contents in a picture frame, you must first understand the concept of “frame fitting”. Frame fitting refers to that part of the picture framing process where the contents are secured in the frame. The contents might consist of a canvas stretched on stretcher bars, needlepoint stretched over cotton batting, or most commonly a stack of glass, matboard, foamboard and art.
Getting to the Point
The preferred method for securing contents in a frame are “points”. If you are unfamiliar with the terminology, points are the metal tabs found at the backs of gift frames, the ones you bend up to get the promotional contents out so you can put your picture in. Those points are called flexible points because they are easily bent. Most professional framers, however, use rigid points because they are thought to be more secure.
In addition to rigid and flexible points, there are also multi-points which provide a slightly broader holding area but which are not as common because many point inserting tools don’t accept them. Glazier points are sometimes used in framing but must be pushed in with a handheld tool called a point pusher, making them impractical for hardwood frames and for larger, heavier pieces.
To muddy the waters a bit more, points are sometimes called inserts (they’re the same thing) and are sometimes substituted with brads. Brads are small wire nails. Before points were invented, brads were used by hammering them into the inside walls of the frame recess. Driving brads with a hammer was a problem, however, because they had to be driven at an angle which didn’t provide much holding area. The solution was a brad nailer, a gun that drove the nails perpendicularly into the inside of the frame recess.
Although some framers still prefer brads, most have made the switch to points. Even though they can now be driven at a proper right angle, brads don’t provide much of a holding area. The main advantage of a point is that it is flat instead of round and covers a broader area against the surface of the stack.
Squeezing and Vising Tools
One of the most important tools you can buy for picture framing is a point inserting device of some kind. The majority of frames are made of wood. Unlike metal frames, the means by which you hold contents in a wood frame are not provided with the frame, so you must provide them yourself. And you must have a fast, easy, reliable device to insert them.
Both Fletcher and Logan offer inexpensive point squeezing devices that work on the principal of a vise. Curiously, these tools are so generically named that some people people are confused into thinking they’re indispensible. Fletcher calls theirs the FrameMate and Logan refers to theirs simply as the Framing Fitting Tool. What these are in fact are inexpensive, second-rate versions of what good framers really use.
These vising tools are loaded one point at a time and adjusted to the width of the frame. When the handle is squeezed, the jaws close, squeezing the point into the inside of the frame recess. Leaving aside the tedious and time consuming need to load the tool one point at a time, vising tools like this do not work well with hardwood frames like oak and maple, and unless adjusted properly will hang up on the point, requiring the user to readjust after each point is squeezed, a slow and cumbersome process.
When you get to the end of the frame job and can see the matted, glazed artwork in the frame, you will want to move along to completion. You will not want to find yourself fumbling with a finicky, time-consuming tool. You will want a point driver.
Vise-style point inserting tools do have one advantage over point drivers. Because they squeeze the point rather than fire it, they are preferred by framers working with loose media like pastels or charcoals where the jarring that a point driver delivers can cause loose granules to shake off the face of the artwork. In all other circumstances, however, a point driver is preferred.
Picking up on the concept of a brad nailer, a point driver drives the point perpendicularly into the inside wall of the recess. They are spring-loaded and have tensioning nobs that can be adjusted to increase the drive strength to penetrate hardwoods or softwoods. They are magazine loaded, meaning the points come in a stack and the whole stack is loaded into the gun at once. When the gun is triggered, a single point is fired off the bottom of the stack and the next in line is aligned in the breach.
Point drivers are fast and efficient. What might take several minutes with a vising tool can be accomplished in seconds with a point driver. Fitting becomes another matter altogether when the situation does not allow for a point driver. Case in point: when the stack of contents is thicker than the frame is deep, prohibiting access to the inside walls of the frame recess. This is a fairly common problem in framing and is the main challenge in framing canvas stretched on stretcher bars.
Off Set Clips
The easiest way to deal with it is to employ an ounce of prevention. There is no standard depth to the recess in picture frames. From one style of frame to another, the recess (also called the rabbet) can vary from ¼” to 3½” deep. When you buy your frames at Framing4Yourself, the rabbet depth of each frame is listed for your information. Look them over and choose wisely.
As a rule of thumb, you will need at least 3/8” depth in the rabbet (the recess) for most frame jobs involving a mat, foamboard and glass. If you opt for a double mat, you will be safer with about ½” depth in the rabbet. And properly mounted needleart will likely require 5/8” depth in the rabbet. However, it is not unusual that the frame you have your heart set on is not adequately deep for what you want to load into it. In these cases, go ahead and buy the frame and then work around the problem.
The most common work-around are off set clips, metal brackets with offsets of 1/8”, ¼” or ½” that screw into the back of the frame and reach up to overlap the stack. In fact, ½” offset clips are deep enough to hold stretched canvas in most frames and are a quick, easy solution.
At first glance frame fitting seems like a simple, straightforward question of holding the contents in the frame, but there are several potential problems and making the wrong choices can lead to frustration. By carefully considering your options for securing the contents of a picture frame, you will insure a much smoother experience.