Made: canvas stretcher for oil painting

Canvas stretcher for Dave 012  Photo: James Bastow

My brother from the very same mother, Dave White, is doing a series of oil paintings on canvas.  It turns out that canvas stretchers, the frames that you stretch canvas over to paint on, are pretty expensive.  The 72”x24” stretcher that we picked up at Woolfit’s in Toronto was $69.  Now, that’s a pretty fancy frame with slotted corners and select wood, but I remember very serviceable and simpler frames made from 1”x2” pine from my days in Fine Art at the U of G (aaah, the old Zavitz Hall).  So I did an experiment tonight at kwartzlab to see if I could build a decent stretcher at a better price

IMG_2466   Photo: Dave White

Here’s Dave’s latest oil on the Woolfit’s stretcher.  Best to see it in person because the whale in the dark depths rocks.

IMG_2468  Photo: Dave White

and a detail from that piece.

Canvas stretcher for Dave 002  Photo: James Bastow

After work today I was going by Home Depot and stopped in to pick through their 1”x2”x8’ pine ($0.99ea).  5 sticks to start.  Ideally needed 2 adjacent knot-free edges on each stick.

Canvas stretcher for Dave 003  Photo: James Bastow

A couple of tools make this job much easier.  First is the compound miter saw.  Straight chops and also the 45 degree angles are a snap.  Cut to length.

Canvas stretcher for Dave 007  Photo: James Bastow

A canvas stretcher typically has a bevelled edge that faces the canvas so when you pull the canvas tight like a tiger over the frame, it will only minimally touch the wood frame on the front surface.  Otherwise that inside edge of the 3/4” frame, if it was flat, would catch the brush, and too much paint, and just generally produce a poor result.  This is where the router table and a 45 degree router bit come in handy.  Above, I am running the 1”x2” against the cutting bit down the length of one edge to produce…

Canvas stretcher for Dave 016  Photo: James Bastow

this pretty darned good bevel.  After this, it’s back to the mitre saw to get the 45 degree corners cut, leaving…

Canvas stretcher for Dave 027

this type of corner that matches up really well (given that I’ve never done this before).

Canvas stretcher for Dave 028

Here’s my assembly line. 

Total cost of this 72”x20” stretcher is $3.  Estimated build time per frame, now that I know what I’m doing is 15 minutes.  I dropped it off at Dave White’s for him to assemble tomorrow.  James Bastow loaned us a corner clamp, so Dave White will glue and nail the corners together, then mark, cut, notch and install a cross-shaped brace in the stretcher.  I’m going to pick up some more wood tomorrow to make a few more frames and I’m also going to cut up some 1/16” MDF corners to be nailed on the back of the frame in the… corners.  Gives a lot of additional strength.  Might have a to take off a bit more wood with the router to get a sharper edge on the next stretcher, but with material cost so low, it’s almost free to experiment.

Happy making,


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