It’s a Frame-Up!

It’s hip to be square…like the song says!

– Homer Simpson

Ever buy a gallery frame, hang it up, get on with your life, and then later notice that the top rail is bowed? If you hang a frame from the top rail, the weight of the glass (and everything else) can pull the top out of square. Ikea frames and thin gallery frames are particularly prone to this effect.

Last year, I used French cleats to hang some geeky art in gallery frames. Leveled Art on French Cleats

I used cleats to help hang the matched frames exactly at the same height. Since the cleat extends along the top rail for a few inches, I didn’t think that the frames would bend. I was wrong!

That's daylight between the frame and the glass.

That’s daylight between the frame and the glass.

The better way to hang frames like this is to run a wire from side to side, which keeps the weight off the top rail. But I’d already used cleats, and many frames attach hanging hardware directly to the top, so this issue is pretty common.

To fix the problem, I needed to either stiffen up that top rail or transfer some of the weight from there to another part of the frame. I went shopping for small angle brackets to insert in the top corners to pull the frame into square.


Angle bracket (via)

The Kev surmised (correctly) that a cheaper option would be buying flat aluminum bar to tie together the top and sides of the frame. A three-foot length was under $3, and I picked up some 1/2″ brass screws to hold everything together for 86 cents. Last of the big spenders!

aluminium_tile_coasterBy the way, it’s “aluminum” in the states and “aluminium” in the UK (learn why here). “Aluminium” jives more closely with other elemental names (sodium and potassium, for instance), but the difference is basically just one of those things. We both use the -um and -ium versions situationally, but I’m never fully comfortable with -ium. I find that I take a break before I push through to the end: “Ah-LOOOOOOO. Minium.” As you might imagine, I’m often mistaken for a super-cosmopolitan chemist.

Thin alumin(i)um strip

Thin alumin(i)um strip

I laid the strip on the back of the frame and marked an angled cut for the top and for about halfway down the side. I used a hacksaw to cut my two pieces.

Metal pieces cut and in place on either side of the French cleat

Metal pieces cut and in place on either side of the French cleat

I marked where to drill the holes for the screws. It’s a little harder for a drill to bite into metal, so I use a punch and a hammer to make a little dent on top of the mark. The dent helps guide the bit so that the drill doesn’t just dance all over the place and make you feel like a dope. If you don’t have a punch, you can use the point of a large nail the same way. Hold it in place and tap it with the hammer. It’s also a good idea to clamp a piece of wood down that you can drill into once you’re through the metal.

Punch and clamp

Punch and clamp

So drill those holes! Use a file or sandpaper to take slivers and burrs off the sawed and drilled edges, then set the pieces back in place on the back of the frame. I used a ballpoint pen through the drilled holes to mark where the pilot holes would go in the top rail. I swapped for a skinnier drill bit to make the pilot holes, then I screwed the bar down to the top rail only.

You want to square up the frame before putting in the other screws. I pushed the frame’s top rail down and used a square to make sure the top rail was at right angles to the sides. With the square in place, I marked the side rails for the pilot holes, drilled, and then screwed in the sides.


Looks fairly square here…

I wouldn’t really know if it had worked until I set the frames back on the cleats. Fortunately, we appear to have a result!

onna wall

Square here too! Maybe a little frame nudging needed, but the bowing is gone.

The French cleats really help everything hang evenly, but I will brace the frames first before using them again. Eventual frame bowing rather ruins the effect of even hanging!

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6 Responses to It’s a Frame-Up!

  1. kriskat says:

    Kite wiring is what the framers do….

    • Stacey says:

      Thanks, Kriskat — Before I started, I did some searching for what a framer would do, but didn’t see kite wiring. Do the wires run top to side, or how do they do them? Would love to add the information to this thread if you get a chance to stop back. (Edited to add: D’oh! I realize you probably meant that wire is a better way to hang these frames than a cleat or other attachment to the top rail! Good point — I’ll clarify that in the post.)

  2. kriskat says:

    Mom is a framer. She uses tiny eye hooks in the 3, 6 and 9 oclock positions Then use picture wire to run through all three eyelets. Wrap wire upon itself well. Bumps do make pic stick out of wall a little ( you can put eyelet in 12 oclock position but to have “even spacing” out from the wall – but don’t put the wire through it. She has it is “kite” wiring because it is shaped like a kite….

    • Stacey says:

      So glad you stopped back, Kriskat. Thanks for the info — next time I frame something, I’m going to do it that way, it makes such good sense. Please thank your mom for me, too.

      Now, for some strange reason, I want it to be kite season!

  3. Karen Puskarich says:

    I am curious…..if you do the “kite wiring” on the back of the narrow frame, can you still hang them with (2) two sawtooth hangers at the top? I used an inexpensive frame as you are describing for a corporate job as they didn’t want to spend a lot of money. They are currently hanging on the sawtooth hangers.

    • Stacey says:

      Karen, thanks for stopping by. I’m guessing you might know better than I since you have paying clients! But I would think if the frame is all wired together and is pretty rigid, you could hang it from sawtooth hangers (assuming it’s not super-heavy).

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