Monday, February 13, 2012

DIY Shadow Box Frame Tutorial

 I came across this fabulous 100-year-old feather fan from Europe and wanted to really showcase and protect it. If you want to do what I did with a feather fan, please buy only vintage feathers. Just because ostriches can be bastards doesn't mean they should be killed. Besides, how lame is it to frame a cheap factory fan with no history?... I like to imagine mine was used by a turn-of-the-century drag queen. Scandalous.
Anyways, I don't know if you've noticed, but ready-made shadow box frames come in a very limited number of sizes, depths, and styles. And custom ones can be pretty pricey. Here's how you can make your own shadow box frame.

You will need:
1. Nail gun or hammer & nails
2. Miter box & saw (Stanley makes a good set for about $15)
3. Staple gun & staples (I used both 1/2" and 9/16" staples)
4. Decorative molding for the frame
5. Wood for the sides (I don't know the specific name for the type I used is, but I found it in the same aisle as the molding. I used 1/4" x 4" x 4" pieces of poplar, which is pretty deep)
6. Foam core boards
7. Fabric to cover the foam core (I just used a thick cotton twill)
8. Paint for the sides and decorative front
9. Wood Glue (I used Titebond)
10. Clamps
11. (optional, but highly recommended) A large, metal T-square
12. (optional) Plywood for the backing, in which case you'll also need an appropriate cutting tool
13. Hanging hardware of your choice
14. Whatever you need to mount your piece in the frame: nylon string, push pins, etc)
15. Pencil and Exact-o knife, to mark wood and cut foam core

Step 1. Figure out what size box you want and use the wood strips to make that. Make sure your corners are nice and square.

2. Now we're going to cut the decorative frame with the miter box and saw. Remember that each corner is made of two pieces cut at a 45 degree angle (should be marked on your miter box) I measured these by lining the pieces up on the box, one at a time, and marking where the longest cut would be.

3. Apply the wood glue and clamp the decorative frame pieces to the box, wiping off any excess glue before it dries. I did each piece individually, rather than gluing at the corners to create a frame and then attaching it to the box. If you have wide decorative molding for the frame, you could probably do it that way, but I didn't have any room for error since mine was so thin.

4. Paint your box and frame. I just used interior latex on the box and Krylon 18 kt Gold Leafing Pen on the decorative part.

5. Cut your foam core board with an Exact-o knife. Measure from the inside of the box. You could probably just trace it.

6. I went ahead and mounted my subject at this point (that's what she said) Here's the back of the foam core. I stretched the fabric over the board and secured it with regular staples, which I would remove later when I put it on the plywood with the staple gun. That's nylon string and tape holding the fan on. Took forever, but I got to catch up with the whole third season of "Misfits" while doing that part.

7a. If you're only using foam core, you're almost done. Just pop it in the back, attach the hanging hardware and there you go.

7b. If you're backing with plywood behind foam core, cut the plywood to fit exactly behind the box. Check that it matches up nicely before moving on.

8. Remove the temporary staples from the fabric on the foam core board, and place it over the plywood. Stretch the fabric over the plywood and use the staple gun and 1/2" staples. Unless you're using a particularly thin plywood, those shouldn't poke through the front.

9. Now line it up on the back of the box and use the 9/16" staples and gun to secure the plywood to the box. Be very careful that the staples go straight into the wood and not at an angle, because they will poke through.

10. Attach your mounting hardware and you're done. 

Now, my frame doesn't have glass. If you want your shadow box to have glass, you could order a custom piece of cut glass/plexiglass (which is what I will eventually do), or buy an existing frame and just place it on top of the rest of the shadow box. Or if you're frickin crazy, you can cut some glass yourself. I thought about this, but I don't think I could rock an eye patch. Unless it was like bedazzled and shit.


  1. Hands down the most glamorous shadow box I've ever seen! Bravo!

  2. Oh, I love this project and the result! The feathers are ultra-fab and completely your own! WEll done,girl!

  3. Great idea! Very chic looking shadow box!

  4. oh wao!!! this is fantastic! You are handy!

  5. Love this! I always kind of forget about shawdow boxes, but this if fab! Newest follower :)

  6. This is wonderful, Jessica. Thanks so much for posting this. I will have a try : )

  7. Great job on the shadow box! I love the fan- what a fabulous accent piece.


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