Late last year Lost Art Press put out a limited run letterpress poster, “By Hammer and Hand”. My family purchased it as a gift for my birthday. I really appreciate the poster and I am especially fond of the oak leaf carvings (natural I guess given that I earn a living studying oaks). I sought a frame for the poster from a craft store. The frame did not fit and it did not do this poster by Steam Whistle Letterpress justice either. So I decided I would make my first frame for this piece of art. It took some time to get to this project as I was working on the window and doors for my workshop renovation. Though in the interim I had the pleasure of showing the poster to my grandfather to get his opinion. He was trained as a printing craftsman and was in the Italian theatre of WWII in an engineering unit where he used this knowledge to print maps. He knew letterpress and talked with me about the process that was likely followed and indicated he thought it was done on a small “proofing” press. Sharing a beer while talking about this letterpress piece was a nice memory from his last year.
The frame I made using ponderosa pine. I found a 1×4 board at the home center with a clear face and and nice grain pattern. I ripped the board in half and cut to a rough length the four pieces needed for the frame. Then it was on to truing the faces and shooting the edges once I oriented the pieces to make the grain pattern look the best. I then dimensioned the pieces to the same width (1 1/2″) and thickness. The next step was to layout the rabbet on the back of each piece to accept the glass, poster, and backing. The rabbet was 1/4″ wide by 3/8″ deep. I used my Stanley 45 to cut the rabbet. I quickly discovered that the pieces were too thin and the fence of the plane stuck down too low to complete the rabbet. As a solution, I made an impromptu sticking board. The joints turned out well once I got this work holding device all set-up. It was made from a scrap 2×6, a length of moulding, and a screw.
I next laid out the mitres and got the length of each piece correct so that the poster would fit exactly into the rabbets. When cutting the pieces to length I had to be sure to account for the width of the rabbet. I debated about whether to saw the mitres freehand or use my poorly constructed Stanley hand mitre box. I went ahead and used the mitre box. The cuts turned out well on all the corners but one. Due to some movement of the mitre box and the piece on the fence, the saw got a bit off as I proceeded through the cut on this one mitre. I got it pretty close fettling the joint with my block plane. Next time I will be sure to fully secure the mitre box to the bench and use two clamps to hold the piece being sawn. Making a mitre shooting board would also be prudent if I were making a number of frames.
Paul Hasluck’s book Mounting and Framing Pictures (1906) provides good detail on the next steps I followed to assemble a frame using traditional methods. This book (and a number of others) also gives details on the mitre shooting board. For assembly I drilled pilot holes on the bottom and top boards (nailing from top and bottom minimizes view of the nails on a hung frame). Using hide glue and headless cut brads, I worked around the frame assembling each corner. I sized the mitre joints to get better glue adhesion on the end grain, rubbed the glue joint a bit, and then drove two nails in each corner. Following advice in the Hasluck book and a section of the The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years, I held the top piece slightly overhanging the mitre corner as I began to drive the first nail in each corner. The force of the nailing brings the two mitre corners together for a more seamless joint. That is the theory anyway. It seemed that the same force on different corners yielded different movement of the top piece. Moral of the story here is there is a bit of finesse or the “right touch” to get the corners to align perfectly when nailing them.
With the frame assembled, I waited for the hide glue to dry and then planed the joints with my smoothing plane. I next applied two coats of Danish oil and “sanding” after each with a brown paper bag. I completed the mounting with glass cut at my favourite local lumber yard (its like a time capsule of an earlier era), cardboard scrounged from the recycling bin, and glazing points. A proper, traditionally constructed frame for this carved and hand-printed letterpress poster was complete.
Afterword –It seemed fitting to draft this entry on my vintage mechanical typewriter during a week I was reading Charles Hummel’s book, “With Hammer in Hand”, that I can only assume inspired the creation of the poster.