Professionally made picture frames come in two types: the chintzy-looking cheap ones, or the really great-looking expensive ones. I decided that I would like to build my own and come up with a really great looking frame that was inexpensive (but definitely not cheap!).
This picture frame makes use of small tiles of hardwood that are glued to a plywood substrate underframe. The beauty of this idea is that the various tiles each have their own grain pattern contained within their border. The accumulation of all those tiles and their differing grain patterns creates a frame that is both geometrically regular, but texturally diverse. The effect is quite attractive. As I place my tiles on the frame, I take time to enhance that feature by looking for subtle changes in hue and figure, and placing them in such a way that it creates interesting patterns. You can think of it as a mosaic, with Mother Nature as the artist. Another thing that I find attractive regarding this design is that by using many little pieces, I can make use of stock that others would have to throw away — and, for that reason, I can buy my materials quite inexpensively.
With all that said, if the prep work of slicing many little pieces from many small blocks of wood is a degree of activity that you might want to cut down on, you can buy 1/4″-thick hardwood stock in bigger pieces, which will make the prep work go a bit faster. Either choice works fine on the frame.
Early Design Decisions:
The frame creates a 16″ x 20″ opening — a standard size. Proportionally, I decided on a 3″-wide frame, which allowed me to use three rows of 1″-wide tiles. The typical 2″ length of the tiles evolved from the corner detail. I wanted the tiles on one row to be bisected by the tile butting in from the next row over (this visual effect is sometimes called bonding). In practice, the tiles are placed from all four corners, working inward. When I got to the middle tile position(s) of each row, the length of those tiles had to be slightly adjusted to fit the opening.
The plywood frame is made of 3/8″ Baltic birch overlaid with 1/4″ Baltic birch. The combination of butt joints, lap joints, glue and screws makes this underframe basically bulletproof.