13 Tips When Buying Old Picture Frames For Refinishing

13 Tips When Buying Old Picture Frames For Refinishing

Kathryn Wright
Sep 21, 2010

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)

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