Stretching Canvas

Building a stretcher frame

One thing I learned in art school: How to build stretcher-frames and stretch canvas.

I build my own frames for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, I get a better quality frame for less. Art store frames are expensive and built with inferior wood. We live on an island where the art store is far-away. I can always go down to the Hardware store and pick-up some kiln-dried fir and hemlock quarter-round to build some frames. I can make any size. Mostly though, I love the process of priming, and despise pre-primed canvas. A fresh raw canvas is tight, like a drum, when I load the paint onto it from the very first layer, it beats to the rhythm of the brush.

Tools for building a canvas stretcher frame.

The tools are pretty simple, except for the miter saw, that I have to borrow. I attach the hemlock quarter rounds to the 1 x 2 kiln dried fir using carpenter’s glue and finishing nails. 45 degree angle corners are made using the miter saw. The frames are assembled in the ratchet straps while the the gussets are glued and nailed in, holding it together. Cross pieces are important for larger canvases to avoid the dreaded warp. A good painting should be on a support with integrity!

Stretching canvas, for painting.

I buy 10 duck heavy-weight canvas, because I want the best support for the painting. It has a nice tooth and strong structure which holds-up and doesn’t sag or flatten out on the big canvases. Heavy-weight canvas tears square with itself. I tear a piece a few inches bigger than the frame, center it, and then begin stapling it to the the frame.  Starting at the center of each bar, and working opposite sides simultaneously. It’s kind of like the drape of cloth in clothing, if it’s right, it hangs well. I often have to go back and pull the first few staples to tighten up the center. Corners are tucked in. I know it’s all good if it makes nice drum noises. The edges are then taped with painters tape, to preserve the clean raw canvas on the sides.

Priming the canvas for painting.

Priming is fun. At this point I’m really starting to dream about what could be, and having fun getting paint moving. The first coat is thin, getting a little thicker with each coat. It’s important to sand in between the layers to get a nice smooth, even ground.

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