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Framing a canvas with a canvas floater framer

How to Frame a Canvas with a Canvas Float Frame

For a very minimal yet high-value look, float frames are a beautiful way to display works on stretched canvas. This type of frame gently outlines the canvas without actually touching the art, giving the perception that the piece is “floating” within the frame. A favorite of museum professionals as well as artists who regularly work on canvas, float frames are both economical and classically stylish. When it comes to putting together a custom canvas float frame, there are some important assembly tips you need to know. 

Considerations for Using a Canvas Float Frame 

Named fittingly for the slight space that exists between the canvas and the inside edge of the frame, canvas float frames are especially ideal for artwork that features detail at or near the edge. They provide a sophisticated and graceful separation between the frame and its surroundings, and they’re perfect for attaining a recessed perspective. 

Although this tutorial focuses on assembling a wood canvas float frame, there are also metal varieties available. 

If you order a wood canvas float frame as a joined product, you will receive the frame already assembled, as well as a package of screws for inserting through the frame into the canvas’ stretcher bars to hold everything together.

If you order a wood canvas float frame as an unjoined product, you will need to follow the instructions detailed below. This more hands-on DIY option has the added benefit of cost savings on shipping.

Measuring Your Canvas Before Choosing a Float Frame

Regardless of what type of canvas float frame you’re planning to use, it’s necessary to start the process by measuring the thickness of your canvas. This is a critical first step because canvas float frames are offered in varying depths. 

You’ll want to select a frame with a rabbet depth (listed as the 'R' measurement on the frame detail page) that is appropriate for your tastes. Some people like the canvas to sit into the frame and not protrude any further than the depth, while others prefer their canvas to stick out.

Measure the stretched canvas thickness to order the right floater frameMeasure the stretched canvas thickness to order the right floater frame
Measure the depth of your canvas first to ensure you choose a frame with the correct rabbet depth

When measuring the canvas height and width, be sure to account for the folds. The areas where the canvas is folded over—usually at the top and bottom—can sometimes add up to ¼ inch to the overall measurement. If you measure the stretcher bar before the canvas is attached, the finished canvas will not fit inside the float frame properly.

When entering the measurements on our website, remember that we automatically add the ¼” relief around the canvas.

Assembling an Unjoined Wood Canvas Float Frame

If you’ve decided to go the route of an unjoined wood canvas float frame, these are the step-by-step assembly instructions you’ll need in order to put it together and get your frame ready for inserting the canvas.

Step 1: Apply wood glue to one corner. (Only glue one corner at a time, as you go, so the glue doesn’t dry).

Step 2: Hold the two frame pieces together and align the dovetail slot. This should be done on a flat surface. Handle gently to avoid any damage to the coating.

Step 3: While holding the frame together, insert the dovetail with a small hammer or mallet. 

Step 4: Wipe any excess glue toward the joint to help fill any small gaps that may be present. 

Step 5: Wait for the glue to dry before applying or hanging the frame. You’ll need to check the label on the glue being used (some dry in 30 seconds, and some cannot have any stress on the joint for 24 hours).

Apply wood glue to the edge of your frameApply wood glue to the edge of your frame
Gently hammer in the dovetail joining clipsGently hammer in the dovetail joining clips
Ordering an unjoined frame can save you on shipping costs. Dovetails are provided to easily assemble the frame yourself.

How to Frame Your Canvas within the Float Frame

Place your canvas into the front of the frame. While other traditional types of frames require the art to be placed into the frame from the back, a canvas float frame necessitates setting the canvas in from the front.

Start by moving the canvas around in the frame until there is even spacing on all sides.

A float frame with a canvas print A float frame with a canvas print
Stretched canvas is added to a float frame from the front.

Once your canvas is centered within the frame, use shims of cardboard, Styrofoam pieces, wood pieces, etc., to keep the canvas in place while attaching it from the back.

After adding these “spacers,” double check that the canvas is still centered and adjust as needed.

Add shims to center the canvas in the floating frameAdd shims to center the canvas in the floating frame
Shims keep the canvas centered within the floater frameShims keep the canvas centered within the floater frame
Use shims to ensure your stretched canvas is centered within the frame.

Carefully flip the canvas on its side. Drill pilot holes through the predrilled holes, making sure to drill into the canvas stretcher bar but without drilling so far that the canvas is punctured.

While holding the canvas tightly against the back of the frame, use a screwdriver to secure screws into the back of the canvas float frame and stretcher bar. Continue this step until all the predrilled holes are finished with screws.

Note: We recommend drilling the hole and then immediately securing it with a screw before moving on to the next hole and securing that one. If all the holes are drilled first without securing, misalignment may occur.

Drill pilot holes into the stretcher barsDrill pilot holes into the stretcher bars
Attach the canvas to the floating frame with screwsAttach the canvas to the floating frame with screws
Carefully drill pilot holes into the stretcher bars to align with the predrilled holes in the frame. Then use the provided screws to attach the canvas in the frame.

To receive additional instruction and information on custom framing, as well as news, offers and announcements from American Frame, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

Checklist: How to Choose the Right Frame for Your Art - This free guide outlines six fundamental considerations in discerning the best framing selection for your piece. >> Download Now
February 7, 2023
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