Proper Finish for Wood Frames : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Printing & Finishing : One Thread

I am preparing an exhibit of Black And White Photographs. We plan on mounting in the traditional white mats with black frames. My wife just got a new miter box and has indicated a desire to make the frames with her new toy.The question is: What type of paint or stain or whatever should be used to finish the wood. I don't want to spend hours printing, washing and mounting archivally only to have the photos ruined by the finish in the wood. I'd appreciate any help & advice you can give. RO

-- Robert Orofino (, May 14, 2000


Any paint oozing solvents is bad, at least in principle. Actually, even wood is not a good idea when it comes to archival permanence. I guess this is why they often use metal frames in museums, and why high-quality papers are usually made of rag pulp (to avoid wood components that might cause discolorations). So you may have to get a new wife.

But things may not be as bad as they seem. When mounted behing a matte, the prints are not in direct contact with the frames. If you exhibit the prints w/o glass, there is probably enough ventilation so that no solvent accumulates, particularly when you make sure the paint has had some time to dry before you frame the prints. (Use your nose to assess this.) Behind glass, the solvent released from the frame may accumulate. You might invent some kind of sealing (such as a mylar backing wrapped around the edges of the glass) preventing the solvent vapours from getting into the air volume between the print and the glass, but this may be driving out one devil with another if you intend to leave the prints in there forever.

-- Thomas Wollstein (, May 15, 2000.

Rag or wood based paper, it's all cellulose, so why not use a cellulose based varnish?

On a practical note. Varnish the wood for the frame before you cut, pin and glue it. It's much easier that way, and you don't get globs of varnish in the corners.

-- Pete Andrews (, May 15, 2000.

... you might, however, experience problems if the wood tends to give splinters at the cuts.

-- Thomas Wollstein (, May 16, 2000.

Cut from the front of the moulding. Then any splintering is at the back.

-- Pete Andrews (, May 16, 2000.

I spoke to a friend of mine that does archival framing and she suggested not to stain what is called the lip, the underside of the frame, just stain the top and sides. With the use of an acid free mat and foam core with glass protecting the photo, there should be no problem. I would also suggest calling a frame shop and asking them about stain and finish. Also make sure you have different grades of sandpaper, a lumber yard will usually have a good selection. Hope this helps.

-- Jane Rice (, May 18, 2000.

>> "don't want to spend hours printing, washing and mounting archivally only to have the photos ruined" <<

Robert, if you're really after the longest B&W print display life, you should probably forget the wood. See Henry Wilhelm's encyclopedic book, "The Permanence and Care of Color Photographs", especially chapter 17, "Display and Illumination of Color and Black-and-White Prints". Also, see Kodak publication F-40, "Conservation of Photographs".

In chapter 15 (Framing Materials, Storage Boxes,"), page 514), Mr. Wilhelm discusses frame materials; warning against wood (especially resinous softwood) frames for B&W photos, "because wood releases peroxides and other harmful substances which , over time, can cause discoloration and fading of silver images.". I didn't check F-40, but believe it specifically cautions against bleached wood.

If you DO use wood, there are a couple references indicating that latex paints are best and alkyd based paints should be avoided (release peroxides on drying).

PS; if anyone knows of any literature supporting use of wood with B&W photos, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

-- Bill C (, May 18, 2000.

Shellac is the best finish for keeping the water vapor in wood in the wood. I would assume, then, that it's the best finish for keeping other vapors in the wood in the wood.

Shellac (after it's dried) is non-toxic. It a resinous secretion from an inset. It's the oldest finish around. I don't know if it's archival, but antiques with shellac finishes have been around a long time.

It's the finish I would investigate.

-- Charlie Strack (, May 19, 2000.

Thank you all for the advice. I am giving every suggestion serious consideration (except for that crack about getting a new wife!):) Thanks again to everyone.

-- Robert Orofino (, May 21, 2000.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ