Solid and Stable Stretcher-bar Construction

from Inexpensive Dimensional Lumber

I work on raw canvas and like the studio practice of building and framing canvases. Buying large custom-made canvases and framing is expensive. Furthermore, creating a painting where the artist constructs the support and stretches the canvas is classic (for now, I’ll leave pigment grinding to the pros).

NOTE: The way I do it requires these tools:
• Miter saw
• Table saw
• Band saw
• Biscuit cutter
• Frame clamp ( My DIY frame clamp plans here).

If you don’t have these in your shop/studio, maybe you have a friend that does. This isn’t a serious carpentry-level project, but it does call for some semi-serious tools 🙂

The keys to a good stable canvas stretcher bar depend on:
• The “trueness” of the stock (straight with no warp, minimal knots, etc.)
• The bevel that keeps the canvas away from the bar.
• The accuracy of the miter cut
• The strength of the corner connection

(Not Shown is the ripping of the bars from dimensional lumber. I get 2 x 6″ or 2 x 8″ and rip them to 1″ width on a table saw. So final size is 1 x 1 3/4″ to whatever are your canvas dimensions. The canvas size I am making here is 33 x 33.”)

When the bars are ripped, miter-cut them to size. I make one to size and use it as a model or “jig” to make its opposing side.

Note the bandsaw in the background with the table tilted at 15˚

You, or a buddy?, will need a good quality bandsaw to cut the stretcher bar bevel. I have the Laguna 1412 and love, love, love it.

I set the table angle to 15˚ which gives enough relief to the canvas, but leaves enough wood for a stable structure.

NOTE: There is a right side and wrong side to your mitered stock.

This is the wrong side.

Note the bevel leaves a little of the front surface flat; you don’t want the canvas stretching over a sharp corner.

After the cuts I sand the edges smooth for easier stretching and a smooth look.

Save the pieces cut from the bevel cut; they help keep the bars square for the biscuit cutting operation.

Lay the bars out bevel down on the scrap cuts and mark the center of the miter for biscuit cutting. Label each corner for final assembly and gluing (A, B, C, etc)

Clamp the bars (with the scraps underneath) being careful that they are flush with each other so they don’t mess up the biscuit cutter alignment.

Cut the biscuit slots.