(Image credit: Apartment Therapy )

Old picture frames are abundant in thrift stores, flea markets, church sales and garage sales, and they can be a wonderful money-saving resource for the green-minded art collector. Picture framing is something that we all try to get just right, and while a good framer can help you find the perfect fit, it can be quite costly compared to refurbishing a fabulous piece that might otherwise go to waste. Here are a few tips on what to look for, what to avoid, and ways to fix damage.

General Tips:

  • Go shopping with a purpose: know what pieces you need frames for to help pick the right frame and to help avoid purchasing “impulse” project frames.
  • Bring an image of the piece you intend to frame: again this will help you pick the right frame, and prevent you from returning home with a pile of wrong frames.
  • Don’t worry about broken, chipped or cracked glass: a custom framer can replace the broken glass at a very reasonable price.
  • Don’t worry about minor scratches or small dents: These can easily be filled and refinished
  • Frames with Artwork: If you do find the perfect frame with artwork still in it, it’s probably worth doing a google search on the artist before throwing out that Ansell Adams print…

What To Look For:

  • Look for wood frames: wood frames are the easiest to refinish, even better if they are unfinished, raw wood or a matte finish.
  • Check the back of the frame: again look for wood, as this will make it easy to add hanging hardware such as hooks for wire.

What To Avoid:

  • Metal or ceramic frames: these frames are very diffcult to refinish and often difficult to add hanging hardware to.
  • Enamel, or gloss finishes: these finishes will be difficult to add a new finish.
  • Laminate frames: Laminate is very diffcult to restore or refinish


  • Don’t be too ambitious: start simple and look for a simple frame that requires minimal repair and get comfortable refinishing frames to start. This is will build your confidence and prevent you from getting discouraged about used picture frames.
  • Easy Antiqueing: A super quick and easy fix for a slightly scratches and scuffed frame is to rub a dark acrylic paint all over the frame. It fills in the scratches and gives a natural looking antique finish
  • Always wear a mask to sand your frame down: some older frames were finished with toxic or lead paints.
  • Be creative: look to your local craft fair look for cool finishes and patinas, or try adhering fabric and paper to get the look you want.

(Image: Refinished Pine Frame from DA Custom Frames)