Well-equipped ideas for framers: investing in the right equipment can make a big difference in the time it takes to make a frame

Well-equipped ideas for framers: investing in the right equipment can make a big difference in the time it takes to make a frame

Tricia Bisoux

There’s no doubt that framing equipment can be a little expensive. But is the lack of proper equipment costing you more money than you save by doing without it? Having to rejoin a crooked-cornered frame, redo a mat with overcuts or farm work out for the lack of the right tool may seem a mere nuisance. In the long term, however, such nuisances cost dearly in time, money and frustration.

As the busy holiday season approaches, it’s a good time for framers to reevaluate their operations and look for ways–big and small–to increase efficiency. To that end, we asked veteran framers what equipment made the biggest difference in their shops. The equipment they recommended ranges from the essential to the optional, but all add to the ease with which these framers did their jobs.

Cost-Cutting Dos & Don’ts

Ask veteran framers for a list of “must-have equipment” for the frame shop, and they name the usual suspects: a matcutter, mounting press, underpinner, wall-mounted glass cutter and a chopper or saw.

Even so, many framers–especially those just starting out–forego some of these essentials because of tight budgets. Framers may use a chop-and-join service rather than purchase a chopper or underpinner; they may use a handheld glass cutter in place of a wall-mounted glass cutter. For some framers, these substitutes make sense, said Paul Cascio, founder of the American Picture Framing Academy in Hartford, Conn. But with each choice, they should consider carefully what they’re losing in efficiency and business growth.

“One area where a framer can cut corners is the wall-mounted glass cutter. If necessary, it’s fine to purchase a $10 hand-held cutter,” said Cascio. “In joining frames, however, no piece of equipment will save you more time than an underpinner. Foot-powered ones start at $1,000 and air-powered ones start at $1,7007.”

Reginald Warkentin of the International Picture Framers School in Kingston, Ontario, agreed. “I often tell my students that if they’re just starting out on a budget, go ahead and use a chop service or a chop-and-join service,” said Warkentin. “But they probably won’t make 100 percent of their potential profit.”

Purchasing used equipment can be a great compromise for framers who would like to do it all. Quality underpinners, choppers and saws are available secondhand at reasonable prices for framers who do their homework.

When it comes to matcutters, though, buy new, advised Warkentin. “Don’t buy a used matcutter. When someone has been using a mat cutter for 10 or more years, he’s worn it out,” he said. “Everything else is fine to buy used.”

Keep That Manual Cutter

A framer’s most treasured piece of equipment is often a matcutter. “Despite my wife’s laughter over it, I’ll be buried with my beloved 40-inch Keeton matcutter,” said Seth Bogdanove, a framer in New York. “I have yet to find another cutter that places the blade right on the edge of the bar like this one does. That accuracy makes cutting my surface V-groove designs much easier.”

But as more shops make the move to computerized matcutters, some framers believe manual matcutters are becoming obsolete. Not so, warned Warkentin. No matter how fast and accurate a CMC is, a straightline manual matcutter is still essential equipment, especially at peak times. “Many framers are switching to CMCs, but what happens if the computer crashes and you have a pile of orders to fill by the end of the day? You don’t want to have to send those orders to the framer down the street,” Warkentin pointed out.

A manual matcutter may not just keep a shop going during a computer crash. It also gives employees another option to cut a quick mat for a customer even if the CMC is already in use.

Perfect Corners Every Time

While basic equipment can form the foundation of a frame shop, sometimes it takes only one brand-new piece of equipment to transform a capable shop into a truly efficient business.

Sandie Mizerak of Little Sebago Gallery & Frame in Windham, Maine, pointed to her disc sander as the “most indispensable piece of equipment” in her shop. Since Mizerak added an AMP miter sander to her operation

in 2002, she has seen both an increase in quality and a decrease in frustration when it comes to joining frames.

It takes Mizerak a little more time to use the sander. “But it’s well worth it to have the quality of my product jump up a notch,” she added. “It has improved the quality of my joins enormously.”

Patricia Weekley of Winchester Galleries ha Columbus, Ohio, also noted that her Mitre-True disc sander, which she purchased through United Mfrs. Supplies, is a tremendous asset to her work. Before she had the sander, Weekley wasted time gluing and adjusting warped frames in a miter vise and then waiting for the glue to dry. The sander handles slightly twisted, uneven or warped mouldings with ease, she said.

“Now, it just takes a couple of swipes with the sander and the corners true up beautifully. Since we get perfect corners, we can go straight from the sander to the V-nailer and be finished in a matter of minutes,” said Weekley. “I couldn’t live without my disc sander. Perfect corners make perfect frames every time.”

The Brevetti Prisma miter saw is one of Warkentin’s favorite tools. “It’s so accurate, I’ve never had to adjust it in the years I’ve been using it,” he said. “It makes a perfect 45-degree cut that’s so clean, you’d think it was cut on a chopper. In addition, it has safety glass, so you don’t need to wear goggles.”

Melinda Tennis of Melinda’s Antique Frames and Distinctive Custom Framing in Lynchburg, Va., points to her FrameSquare saw as an essential asset in her shop. Framers often complain about their corners not fitting well, especially when they’re cutting large mouldings. But a miter saw can solve those problems, she said.

“The saw cuts large and wide mouldings beautifully,” Tennis added. “I haven’t used my squaring sander in years.”

More Worthy Additions

Although miter saws are a good choice for creating angled cuts, table saws also serve a variety of purposes in the frame shop, from cutting scraps to making shipping crates. Table saws, in fact, are the most-used equipment at Ambiance by Parker in Nashville, Tenn., said owner William Parker, PPFA’s president.

“I often say that you cannot be a real frame shop unless you have a table saw,” he said. “We have two at Ambiance. The older one is a Craftsman, which has stood strong, if no longer stable, in the face of all our abuse. The second is a professional-grade Delta with a Biesemeyer fence, which will cut to 1/64 of an inch,” said Parker. “We use them for everything from building crates to increasing rabbet size.”

Framers might also want to consider looking outside the framing industry to equipment marketed to the woodworking or cabinetry trade. John Baker of John Baker Picture Frames in San Diego points to his Hoffman dovetail joiner as his favorite piece of equipment. Hoffman Machine Company of Long Island, N.Y., supplies joiners and other equipment to furniture and cabinet makers.

“This machine is gold,” said Baker. “This one cost about $3,500, but manual Hoffman joiners start at around $1,000. It’s designed for the cabinet industry, so it can join anything from a tiny frame to a 4-inch-deep oak shadowbox to large beams. There’s no frame it can’t put together, permanently and beautifully.”

Adding Innovation

With new framing equipment entering the market on a regular basis, even veteran framers might be uncertain whether the latest, greatest, or most expensive in framing equipment is worth their while. To make more informed decisions, framers should spend a week or two tracking “wasted time.” That is, tracking the time staff members spend addressing problems that a new piece of equipment might help them avoid.

Equipment such as a computerized matcutter may even defer the need to hire new staff. “When a framer needs to hire a third or fourth employee, an investment of $25,000 in a CMC makes sense,” noted Warkentin. “The machine will probably pay for itself within a year or two and the framer never had to hire and train a new employee.”

To streamline its nine-location operation, Art & Frame Gallery in St. Louis is in the process of incorporating into its operation Pistorius’ new electronic No. 10G gage, a saw attachment. The gage allows frame measurements to be transferred from the computerized order form straight to the saw. The gage then automatically slides into place to cut moulding to those exact measurements.

Lance Affolter, manager of Art & Frame Gallery’s frame shop, noted that the shop is still working out the system so that its point of-sale software transfers the measurements successfully. The gage and saw work perfectly, he explained, but he and his staff are still working to integrate their software with the electronic gage. “We love the sliding gage, and once it talks to our software it will be phenomenal,” said Affolter.

As with any innovation, framers who want to bring the latest equipment into their shops should prepare for a time of transition, Affolter said. Eventually, being able to transfer framing data from the soft ware to the equipment “will be common in most frame shops,” he added.

Good Ideas, Good Choices

No matter what additions framers consider, they should keep their enthusiasm for any equipment in balance with its usefulness over time.

“I have a collection of framing equipment ‘trivia’ that I define as a group of things I bought but did not need,” said Parker. “Among this group is my favorite 12-pound, solid brass V-groove cutter. I set it up once and cut two V-grooves. I never touched it again. But I do keep it, maybe to add to a museum collection someday!”

With the hundreds of products available to the framing industry, making the right choice requires some homework. Besides manufacturers’ Web sites and brochures, two other valuable sources of information are available to framers online. With PPFA membership, framers are eligible to participate in Hitchhikers, an online e-mail forum where framers can ask for product reviews from others already using the equipment. Likewise, The Grumble, at www.thegrumble.com, is a free forum that brings framers together from around the world to exchange ideas.


American Picture Framing Academy, 888-840-9605

Cassese, 33 1 64 42 491

The Fletcher-Terry Company, 800-843-3826

Frame Square Industries, (877) 289-8760

Hoffman Machine Company, (631) 589-6322

ITW, AMP, 800-322-4204

PAM Fastening Technology, 800-699-2674

Pistorius Machine Co., (631) 582-6000

Low-Tech, Low-Cost Ideas

Although large equipment can translate into significant productivity gains in a frame shop, framers can also improve their shops for just a few dollars through the addition of low-tech, yet creative, ideas.

“One of my favorite low-tech tools is the mirror I’ve hung over my design counter in the gallery,” said Melanie Howe of America’s Heartland Gallery in Kansas City, Kan. “It’s hung at an angle so my customers can look up and evaluate the design options with a perspective that more closely resembles how they would see the art on the wall.”

An added bonus, she said, is that even though the art is facing her on the counter, the mirror shows it to the customer right-side-up. “I get lots of comments from customers about how clever and helpful that little ‘tool’ is,” said Howe,

Ralph Fahringer of Fahringers Framing Gallery in Ellsworth, Maine, also has hung a mirror above his design counter and notes that it serves as a subtle selling tool. “The customer looks up and is always impressed with the clever way of being able to see the whole package,” Fahringer said.

Reginald Warkentin of the International Picture Framers School said he has several favorite low-tech tools that make things easier in a frame shop. “First, make your own glass cleaner out of one-part rubbing alcohol to four parts water. It’s the cheapest and best glass cleaner you’ll ever use,” he said. “Second, buy the white vinyl Magic Rub eraser, available at art supply stores. It doesn’t smear, so if you get a mark on a paper surface, you can erase it easily.”

Warkentin said a simple burnishing tool, such as the ones sculptors use to work with clay, can repair a mat overcut. Just cover the overcut with a piece of paper and rub over it with the rounded edge of the burnishing tool. “It gives the illusion that the fibers have been rejoined,” Warkentin explained.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group