Making a Tile Frame, Part 2

by Josh on December 3, 2010 · 1 comment

in Projects

When last we saw my tile frame, I had completed the construction and was ready for finishing.  When it comes to staining and finishing, I’m a complete amateur.  I just haven’t done it that often and my past results have been mixed, so I really wanted to take a step forward in my finish quality on this project.  With that in mind, I decided early on that I wasn’t going to attempt to stain the frame with ammonia fumes the way many Arts & Crafts-era wood work was.  My best chance for success was to use conventional materials and methods that I could purchase and get advice about at my local True Value Hardware.

I began the finishing process with a few rounds of sanding with my power palm sander.  The ends of the dowels and the edges where there had been some tear-out in the lumber required some extra attention with 150 grit paper.  Then I finish sanded the whole piece with 220 grit sandpaper, being careful not to round off the corners to preserve the frame’s sharp lines.

I wiped the sanded frame with a tack cloth to remove sanding dust and then applied pre-stain wood conditioner.  I had never used wood conditioner before, but tried it with the frame to avoid or minimize the blotchiness I’ve found on some past staining projects– though I believe that is more likely to be a problem with softer woods like pine.

Frame after wood conditionerWhen I had applied the wood conditioner, I propped the frame up from my workbench on some wire nuts as impromptu painter’s pyramids.  This kept the frame out of any dust on the work surface and allowed me to keep the freshly finished sides of the piece from contacting the benchtop.  I did this for all subsequent finishing steps as well.

Wire nut stain stands

After the wood conditioner, I followed-up with 4 light coats of Minwax “Special Walnut 224” liquid stain applied with a foam brush.  Then I applied 2 coats of amber shellac because I thought the amber tint would warm up the finish and give it a bit of depth.  Shellac is also a traditional finish for the bungalow era, so I figured shellac would help the frame look “right.”

Frame after stain and poly

Things were going so well I couldn’t help courting a little disaster by choosing to disregard the note on the shellac can stating not to apply it as a sealer under polyurethane.  I did this to seal the shellac against water damage and achieve a less glossy sheen.  Through successive rounds of ultra-light sanding with 220-grit and a light coat of poly, I completed the finish with three coats of water-based, satin-finish polyurethane.  I saw no signs that the shellac and poly weren’t playing nicely together.

Tile tacked into frame

With the finish done, all that remained for the project was to install the tile and hanging hardware for the frame.  Mounting the tile in the frame turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.  In terms of size and squareness, the frame was just perfect.  As the above photo shows, the corners were square and the tile fit easily in place with no slop space.  I thought I would use some low-profile screw-in clips to hold the tile in the frame, but I just couldn’t find what I had in mind.  So instead I braced the tile with a couple brass thumbtacks on each side of the tile, which worked surprisingly well.  A sawtooth picture hanger at the top back of the frame wrapped up the project.

Finished tile frame

So there it is– one Arts & Crafts-style frame in red oak, stained to match my bungalow’s woodwork.  I’m really pleased with the results and confident that I could use this same design successfully on some other framing projects around the house.

That said, there are still some things I would do differently next time.  First on the list is paying more attention to matching the wood grain.  I didn’t notice until I started staining that the grain on the left stile is noticeably wider than on the other frame members.  I would also think about upgrading the quality of the lumber.  This flat-sawn oak looks nice (and I had it on hand) but quarter-sawn oak has even more beautiful grain patterns that would make the frame that much more appealing.

Disclosure: I was one of the bloggers selected by True Value to work on the DIY Squad. I have been compensated for my time commitment to the program and my DIY project as well as my posts about my experience. I have also been compensated for the materials needed for my DIY project. However, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive comments.

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