A Decorative Mirror Frame-Canadian Woodworking Magazine

Home Project: Frames are a great addition to a room, whether it be surrounding a mirror in a bathroom or living room, or a painting in a dining room or bedroom. Use this method, and maybe even include a few decorative add-ons, to add a harmonious look and feel to your home.

A Decorative Mirror Frame

A Decorative Mirror Frame

Photos by Mark Salusbury  Illustration by Len Churchill


Recent renovations meant making frames, in a variety of sizes and wood species, to enhance mirrors in several spaces, providing harmonious additions to the style and decor of each space. I used one frame design and construction to complete the commission, altering each slightly to suit while retaining continuity throughout the home.

Different, but the same

Each mirror was a different size, but the scale was such that making frame stock of all the same width and thickness proved perfect. All I had to vary was the part lengths and the depth of the rabbet that would accept the mirror glass. This same design can just as easily be used to surround artwork so it’s very versatile and easily adaptable as you’ll see.
After designing the finished material thickness and width, I milled and sanded enough stock to rough-cut all the lengths I’d need to suit the mandate. All were milled from straight-grained, stress-free stock, which milled easily and remained straight and true; there’s no way to correct bows and twists after assembly and installation.
I wanted the frame profile to include three notable elements; a proud 3/8” bead surround, a 1/8” inner edge to abut the mirror (or glass) as this will be doubled via reflection and anything thicker would look too heavy, and a 3/8” wide rabbet to accept the glass behind the frame. Knowing the thickness of the glass now allows for the depth of the rabbets to be determined and, once established, the angle of the chamfer can be decided upon. I wanted the chamfer to start at the 1/8” inner edge and end at or within 1/8” of the base of the 3/8” bead surround. Drawing this profile boldly and crisply on the end of one piece of the finished frame material allows for quick setup and alignment at each machining stage.

Draw the Details – With the precise profile drawn on the end grain of one of the lengths setups can reference off this pencil lines. Additionally, order of operations can be numbered on the end grain to help keep you focused.

Three easy profiles

First rout the 3/8” bead on the upper outer edge. Next, rip the chamfer that will reveal the face of the frame. Lastly, rout a 3/8” rabbet behind the frame to accept the mirror or glass and artwork. By doing these steps in that order it provides the optimum support and control when machining each stage, especially for the chamfer.
Routing the 3/8” bead profile is done on a router table with a fence and featherboards. The fence and table support the stock precisely and featherboards both above and beside the stock assure consistent positioning, control and backpressure. Maintaining a uniform feed rate and a smooth surface needing little cosmetic sanding.

First, a Bead – The first pass is to create a bead on the outer front edge of the workpieces. This is done with a single pass, assisted by a feather board, for an even finished look.

Featherboards become essential at the tablesaw when ripping the chamfer. Here, the saw blade will be exposed over 2-1/4”, so a featherboard, in addition to guiding and supporting, offers safety, a visual reminder and anti-kickback protection. The resultant cut will be almost glass smooth and burn-free. When you position the featherboard on the table saw's surface ensure it's behind the blade. If it overlaps the blade at all it could cause dangerous kickback during or after the operation.

Taper the Face – With the table saw set up to rip the tapered surface onto the face, a featherboard can be positioned to help keep the cut smooth and safe. Notice the forward end of the featherboard doesn't not pass beyond the blade.

Enhance safety and quality easily

A stable push block designed to smoothly follow the fence and advance the stock past the blade offers safe, repeatable control of the stock and keeps fingers away from danger.

A Helping Hand – A dedicated push block helps keep your hands free of the blade, and ensures the workpiece keeps moving, eliminating any burn marks on the freshly cut surface.

Another simple safety measure that also improves the cut quality is a zero clearance table saw insert. I refresh my insert prior to each session by firmly and smoothly applying two layers of blue painters tape to my stock insert, well trimmed so the stock can’t catch on it or wear it as I rip stock. Cover the insert fully, insert in into the table saw making sure it’s flush with the table surface then advance the blade up through the tape no more than the final operating height. Safety is enhanced and blowout below the cut is near zero.

A note about ripping anything

Ripping any stock, you need to be sensitive to the resistance of the process and adjust your feed rate and /or depth-of-cut per pass to safely achieve a smooth even pass and good result. Other factors to consider are the style of blade, its kerf width and sharpness. A thin, keen blade with fewer teeth works best.

Thin kerf is fine

I use thin kerf saw blades almost exclusively. The cuts they produce are smooth and controllable plus resistance and the potential for kickback are both greatly reduced; so are effort and anxiety. A 10” x 60 tooth, thin kerf, alternate top bevel (ATB) fine finish blade to rip stock; the blade geometry produces an extremely smooth, controllable cut with good swarf removal. For cross cutting, a 10” x 80 tooth ATB fine finish blade yields an exceptionally clean cut, smooth and crisp, perfect for fine joinery. Used with a pair of stabilizing plates or stiffeners which remove any blade flex or vibration in use takes cutting to the next level of smoothness. 


Back at the router table

Once the chamfers have been ripped, it’s time to rout the rabbet to accept the glass behind the frame. A good width is 3/8” and the depth is determined by considering the thickness of the mirror or glass/matting/artwork plus a margin for mounts (framers points, pins, tape, etc). As my weighty mirrors (5mm glass) will already be fixed on the wall with metal brackets I make these rabbets 3/8” deep.  For a decorator mirror (2mm glass) that was added to the job, I’ll rout a rabbet just 5/16” deep.

Tidy Rabbets – With a bit set in his router table, Salusbury machines a rabbet in the inner edge of each length. He uses two passes in order to be left with a clean cut.

I prefer a machinists ½” diameter, four fluted HSS end-mill for rabbeting. With four sheering cuts per revolution plus a fine end-cutting action, it produces an excellent cut. With the bit set to final height, the first slow pass is a shallow 1/16” to assure crisp edges. The second pass removes the remaining 5/16” of the rabbets width.
After shaping, and while the stock is rough length, I sand the profile smoothly and crisply then prepare to mitre the parts to final length. 

To get these lengths

I take the dimension of the mirror/glass, add 1/8” for margin plus twice the width of the distance between the rabbet shoulder and the outer edge of the frame stock. For example, for my 18” wide mirror: 18” +1/8” + 2 3/16” + 2 3/16” = 22 ½” framing material length tip-to-tip after mitering.

Repeatability – Once the frame stock has all been profiled it's time to cut the different parts to length. Salusbury's favourite approach is to use his mitre guide and stop block.

A precision mitre guide or shop-made sled, either fitted with a stop block, dials in exact, repeatable angles and lengths.

Floating tenons

To join the mitred corners, I mortised slots for #20 biscuits, centred within each mitre, using a plate joiner. A floating tenon, biscuits are available in a variety of sizes to suit projects large and small.

Time for Biscuits – Biscuits are essentially loose tenons, and they are quickly and easily machined to locate the corners and add strength to the frame.


Next, I dry assembled each frame, alternating parts if required, making certain everything aligns, fits and assembles smoothly, precisely and fuss-free. Now’s the time to make any tweaks to avoid anxiety during glue-up. Satisfied, I lightly mark each part with a symbol or letter for at-a-glance final assembly.
Titebond III offers long open time for a relaxed glue-up, plus produces a strong waterproof bond once cured. A 1/8” dowel or popsicle stick and an acid brush make good applicators. Clamp each assembly on a known perfectly flat surface to avoid a twisted frame and check each corner for square before the glue sets up; they should be if your lengths and mitres were exact.
After and hour, remove the clamps, pare away any slight squeeze-out and sand the frame overall using a sanding block and fresh P220 grit paper, preserving defining details.

A cool appliqué

To celebrate a tile design in one of the rooms, I appliquéd a pattern created from shop-made veneers onto the mirror frame. Assembled face-up, I taped the individual pattern pieces together tightly then applied a full length strip of tape overall.  Next I centred it on the frame and added a strip of tape along one long edge, forming a hinge, flipped the assembly and applied a small amount of glue using an acid brush. A tapered glue-block made from a chamfer ripping, complimenting the angle of the frames chamfer, allowed me to clamp flatly from the rear of the frame, fixing the appliqué in place while the glue dried.

Tight Appliques – Salusbury used shop-made veneers that, when taped together, created appliques that match his bathroom tile.

Clamp it Up – Using one of the tapered offcuts from the ripping operation earlier in the project, clamp the lightly glued applique lengths in place.

Getting ready to apply three coats of waterborne varnish, I misted the frame uniformly with distilled water (no stain causing minerals therein). Once dry I gently block-sand with fresh P320 grit paper, levelling all raised fuzz and easing sharp edges and corners.


I spray three coats of waterborne varnish (my choice is Target Emtech EM 2000WVX Gloss) sanded gently between coats. I like the sheen and transparency of gloss varnish for this application, but if I want a duller result, I’ll buff gloss varnish with a grey micro-fibre pad to simply knock the sheen back as much or as little as I’d like; satin and semi-gloss varnishes employ fine dulling agents which obscure the rich vibrancy of a woods natural tones, grain and figure.


The larger mirrors are hung using metal brackets so the frames are applied and secured using dabs of silicone or other such adhesive, temporarily aided by painters blue tape until the adhesive has cured. The smaller decorator mirror was placed within its rabbet and backed by a fitted sheet of Bristol-board, behind which several “framers points” or small brads driven into the frame would hold the mirror in place; instead I use 2” long beads of clear DAP bathroom caulk / adhesive in each corner and midpoint, allowed to cure overnight for a resilient backer.  Now it’s time to stand back and enjoy the frame; an enriching addition to any space.

Secure the Mirror – Salusbury used Bristol-board, along with some DAP to hold the mirrors in place. Framers points, brads or other hardware could be used to secure the mirror or glass in place.

Mark Salusbury

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