More About Woods and How We Finish Them

“For interest, beauty, and the effect of home comfort and welcome,
we depend upon the liberal use of wood finished in such a way
that all its friendliness is revealed…” — Gustav Stickley


The foundation of every craft is a love and appreciation by the artisan for his materials, and so our work begins with an appreciation for the natural beauty of wood. I personally spend many hours each year at our various hardwood suppliers selecting individual boards for every frame we make, choosing for clarity, color and, most of all, beautiful grain. Every wood species — indeed, every tree and even board — has its own personality and qualities for framing.

Quartersawn White Oak
For it’s aesthetic effect and deep, historic associations — and for the most authentic Craftsman or mission oak look — we frequently recommend quartersawn white oak. This wood was a favorite of Gustav Stickley and his followers for its strength and stability and especially for the lively and dramatic “flame” figure revealed in the grain by the quartersawn method of milling. It was also especially favored by framers and moulding manufacturers (see Tim’s article, Hidden in Plain View: An Appreciation of the Oak Frame Tradition (PDF), for Style: 1900 Magazine). We offer a wide choice of stains as well as a clear finish.

Domestic Hardwoods
The other domestic hardwoods we offer — walnut, cherry, and maple — were less common choices for original Arts and Crafts furniture and frames, but are beautiful woods, familiar and popular in today’s interiors, and are very effective for framing many pieces. The coloring and character of walnut make it especially effective in framing. We are prepared, in fact, to offer frames in any wood available to us. Inquiries about other woods are always welcome. Call about staining options. Ebonized frames are normally made in cherry or walnut.

Honduran Mahogany
Because we share the widening concern about the devastation of the world’s tropical rainforests, the Honduran mahogany we offer is purchased from a source certified by the Rainforest Alliance’s “Smartwoods” program. We emphasize that it is authentic Honduran mahogany selectively and sustainably harvested in Central America. This species has long been prized by fine furnituremakers — including Gustav Stickley — for its lovely red-brown color, intriguing grain, and superb working characteristics. (Particularly when accented with square ebony plugs, it evokes the work of the brilliant early twentieth century California architects and designers, Henry Mather Greene and Charles Sumner Greene.)

You will find that mahogany especially becomes more beautiful and rich with age. While the wonderful depth of mahogany is shown to its best advantage with a clear finish, when used in framing art or for matching existing cabinetry or furniture it often needs staining. Call for options.

Please be advised that all woods change over time. In particular, cherry and mahogany start out light and darken with age. Walnut will actually lighten a bit. Maple turns more golden over time.


Artists put great effort into the quality of the finish in their work, respecting the natural characteristics of their media. The finish of a frame needs to be executed accordingly, with the same deliberate integrity and respect for the native beauty of materials. The most difficult characteristic of our frames to project online or in print, our finishes win frequent compliments when seen in person.

Finishing starts with careful sanding to clean up the joints, remove all signs of milling, and to achieve an appropriate degree of smoothness (the coarseness of oak makes too much sanding needless; on other woods, sanding to a very fine degree results in a glossy finish that’s not always suitable to the art). If the frame is to be stained, we apply aniline water dyes, which are the best solution for staining. The additional steps, required by water dyes, of “raising the grain” with clear water and a final step of sanding to knock down the raised fibers are worth the effort. Next we rub on by hand 2-3 coats of varnish long on oil so that it penetrates the wood, leaving the natural texture of the wood visible and accessible to the touch. (Most commercial finishes are a plastic surface coating that create a barrier to the touch and an unnatural look.)

Our concern for the quality and suitable character of the materials of our craft — from choosing lumber at our suppliers’ yard to selecting the particular pieces to go into each frame — is rewarded when the frame is finished and the picture’s installed in a setting of that unique and enduring, restrained beauty characteristic of carefully finished wood.

See Tim’s article A Natural Finish (PDF), Picture Framing Magazine, April 2008

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