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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I am a photographer by trade and would like to start building some picture frames for some of my art shows, I have looked into dual bevel compound miter saws, hand miters and various other tools, I am not sure where to start. I have been told many different things and not sure what is true and what is opinion. If anyone could help I would very much appreciate it.
Thanks from a newby.
 

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I'm going to go out on a limb, and open myself up to all kinds of controversy, but I personally, wouldn't recommend a miter saw for picture frame applications. A miter saw is great for rough in carpentry, but for fine woodworking like picture frames, I wouldn't bother. There is too much play in the mechanics of the saw and even slight variations in the way you pull the blade down into the wood, can change the angle of your cut enough to cause open joints on a picture frame. I'm a bit of a perfectionist and my opinion is based on personal experience. I never really got perfect mitres, until I started cutting them on a table saw with a quality miter fence.
If you are going to be using a shooting board with a plane, don't bother with a power tool. You cut cut the mitres close enough with a hand saw. Save yourself a few dollars that way too.
 

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I cut my miters on a table saw with a crosscut sled. I used to use a miter saw, but couldn't get the results I wanted.

How many frames are you planning on making? If rapid production isn't needed, hand cutting is a lot cheaper (assuming you don't already have a table saw). A Nobex miter saw will serve you well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I own very little in the tool department, mainly hand me downs from my grandfather. I will more than likely make 10 to 15 frames eventually for this show, but I just bought a 1890's Victorian house and wouldn't mind hanging a few pieces in it. I have access to some bastone wood and a lot of black walnut.
 

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Kenbo has given you very good advise. I've been a serious woodworker for 4 years + (30 years as a weekend woodworker). Got serious when I retired 4 years ago. I have never, and never will own a miter saw. I do own a very good table saw and don't need a miter saw!

Even with a good table saw and shooting boards etc... picture frames are a challenge. Besides getting the perfect angles
(perfect 45* angles + perfect 90* cuts), you also need to have perfectly cut (length). If your top is cut at 6 inches, the bottom needs to be 6 inches (not 6 + 1/64 or 5 63/64th's).

Considering you just purchased an old "Victorian" home, I think a good table saw may serve better then a good Miter saw. But table saws are pricy. But to save you a bit of cash, lots of folks will try to sell you 3+ hp. Tell them NO! My saw can be converted to a 3HP saw, but I will not. My 1 1/2 hp has served me very well over the few years. I have ripped 10/4 hardwoods by slowing my feed rate. Honestly, a 3hp saw scares me because it's a lot of hp to control. I've experienced kick-backs and they are all scarey. I have also avoided some kick-backs by overpowering the saw (can't do that with 3+ hp saws).
 

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I posted a picture frame tutorial thread a while back. You can find it here. Later on in the thread, I also post the 4 part video tutorial that I made. Although I use equipment that you do not have at this point, it might give you an idea of what is involved in making picture frames. Hopefully, it will point you in the right direction.
 

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My daughter is a professional framer, or was. Today, it's much less expensive to out source frames from overseas. Frame shops don't have to have any tools or stacks of inventory from moldings to mattes or specialists to do the work. The frame shop she worked in has closed its frame making operation. She just started at another shop, yesterday, where she only assembles art in ready made frames. They are still custom made to the customers requests, but she doesn't operate any frame cutting equipment. Their clients are not typically retail customers, they do work for museums, artists, galleries and wholesale customers.

The former shop used several pieces of equipment since they did wood as well as metal frames, mattes, inserts, etc. For wood frames, they used an ordinary Makita chop saw. Anyone that thinks a modern miter saw isn't precise enough doesn't have enough experience with one, has the wrong blade or uses a poor technique. My daughters previous shop isn't the only one I know well. Shops have other equipment such as pneumatic frame clamps, V nail machines, crimpers and other specialty tools but a simple miter saw is pretty standard.

The issue with making picture frames is that you need to be able to cut dead on 45s and opposite frame members need to match in length exactly. Any hand operations or use of tools like miter trimmers are likely to change the length. It's very difficult to use those methods and maintain control over length. Finish carpenters installing trim in buildings would go broke if they had to do secondary operations on every one of the hundreds of miters typically involved in their daily work. A good quality miter saw along with extended fences and stops allows precise repetition. It's probably being done 100,000 times just today.

As a photographer, you might find that outsourcing frames is a great way to go. You won't have to have any special equipment or skills and you'll have access to a world of framing options you may not even know about. Of course you won't have the expense of inventory, waste or the responsibility for frames that may have issues. You can have one or 100s of frames to your exact specifications in days at far less cost than you could make them.
 

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Miter saws are plenty accurate enough to cut 45s with. I have anything from a Langdon-Acme with handsaw, to a sliding miter Dewalt. I've built picture frames with any of them.

The trouble comes in getting the opposing sides EXACTLY equal in length. Even with a stop block, more pressure on one piece than the other on the little point, and you can get enough difference to open joints up.

I have a miter trimmer, and shooting board. The shooting board is easier to take off a few thousandths with. Just hold the opposing sides back to back, feel, and trim accordingly, then try.

It looks like such a simple thing to make, but without good tools, it's almost impossible to get all four corners to fit exactly.

Proper corner clamps help a lot when putting it together.
 

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Anyone that thinks a modern miter saw isn't precise enough doesn't have enough experience with one, has the wrong blade or uses a poor technique.

And this is why I said that I would not recommend using a miter saw. I have 35 years experience in woodworking and I know the ins and outs of this type of saw and there are just too many variables for a beginner to get good results.
I figured it was only a matter of time before someone chimed in and said that a miter saw was the way to go.
Bottom line is this.......there are a million different types of frames, and a million different ways to make those million frames. You have to choose the method that works for you.
 

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When I owned a picture framing shop, we used a Morse chopper. It did a fabulous job, of course. You might want to check with a framing shop in your area to see if they will use theirs to cut your pieces.
 

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No offense, Kenbo but you are completely wrong about today's electric miter saws. Everything you said about them isn't true anymore.

I didn't say a miter saw was the way to go, I just said they are in many frame shops that I am familiar with. I suggested the OP outsource the frames and gave some reasons. I didn't recommend he even bother making the frames. I don't know if the OP has any tools or woodworking experience. Even if he was an expert, I'd still recommend outsourcing. That's if he's talking about frame work up to current professional art standards.

I started in the 60's when there were no electric miter saws. They've only been around since the 80's. I've bought every version since the Rockwell chop saw to the Sawbuck and then the Craftsman that was more like a mini radial arm saw, you needed some body English with those early versions. Then Hitachi changed the game and it's been nothing but improvement since. Almost anyone that can pull a switch can produce dead on perfect miters, today. They don't have any slop, you would have to exert unusual pressure to pull them out of line, even inexpensive blades do a fine job. The majority of today's miter saws need no set up or tweaking, they are actually quite amazing right out of the box, especially compared to the days when all we had were handsaws and planes. Many of today's advanced woodworkers would be in trouble if we took away their electricity.

I cut miters and other joints everyday for my living. Sometimes I use my miter saw, sometimes I use my table saw, I have sleds, a lion trimmer and shooting boards. I use them all when they are appropriate for the job at hand. There really isn't any right or wrong way to cut the materials but there can be depending on the materials. When the materials are appropriate for cutting on a miter saw, it does just as good a job as any other method and usually, much easier.
 

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Hammer1, I believe we have been on similar paths. I didn't find an electric miter saw I liked until the mid '90s. I agree absolutely 100% with every part of your previous post.

I know a good photographer who decided he would start making his own frames. He kept buying woodworking tools until the point where he now has a nicely equipped shop complete with dust collection. He still has a hard time making a frame that has 4 tight corners.
 

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I would suggest you cut your miters with a table saw. However, great results can be had with a miter saw. I have one of these miter trimmers to help remove saw marks and any problems in the miter cut. Works like a charm.

 
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