Some projects take longer to explain than to do, so I made a video of this project to show how I did it. That’s over on my YouTube channel for those of you who want a more visual tutorial.
But for my blog, here’s a step-by-step of how I turned plain wooden picture frames into colorful and unique frames!
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- Unfinished wood picture frames (I used Wallniture frames in 8×10, 5×7, and 4×6 sizes. I ordered the packs since I knew I’d want to do a bunch.)
- Unicorn spit (In whatever colors you like. I used Navajo Jewel, Dolly Firebird, Violet Vulture, and Golden Gosling)
- A small craft brush or foam brush and small container to mix the stain with water
- A kitchen torch and fuel
- Polyurethane (I used gloss)
Step 1: Unwrap your frames. You want to make sure you’re not going to burn anything other than the wood part of your frame, so take out the back of the frame and the plexiglass front piece. Make sure to set these safely to the side and keep track of any hardware like the hanging pieces of the smaller frames or the metal stands of the 8x10s. Then you should be left with your plain wooden frame.
Step 2: Torch the wood! With your torch lit, aim away from you and burn the wooden frame by following the grain lines. I kept the torch about an inch or two away from the wood and moved the torch along the wood at an even pace to keep the burn even and not too charred.
My biggest tip is to follow one grain line at a time from end to end and not go back and forth, which will cause a spotty pattern that doesn’t look as good. It’s really cool how EVERY piece of wood will end up looking different because of the grain patterns, and the wood does a lot of the artistic work for you. No two will ever be exactly the same!
If your wood doesn’t have distinct grain lines (large sections of my 8x10s didn’t) then you can create patterns by torching your own lines and leaving gaps of un-torched wood. This will give you at least some contrast, and once you apply your color it’s hardly noticeable that it’s not a real grain pattern like the rest of your wood.
You can burn the front first or the sides or the inside edge – the order doesn’t really matter because the torched parts will kind of blend together. (I didn’t do anything to the backs of my frames, but you can if you want.) I found I kept starting with the fronts just because that let me see how it was going to look and I got excited. lol
Random Info: Shou sugi ban is what we generally call it when you torch wood like this for a decorative effect. It’s from a traditional Japanese wood preservation technique called yakisugi. The name means “charred cedar board” which is basically what you’re doing. There’s a lot out there about the confusion between the terms and maybe we use the wrong name based on translations, but if you look up “shou sugi ban” or “yakisugi” on the internet or Pinterest, you’ll see lots of cool examples of how people have torched wood to get decorative looks. Just a little FYI if you want to look up more!
Step 3: Sand if necessary. Once the whole frame is “painted” with fire, let them cool for a minute or two. If any of your wood is rough, give it a light sanding. Same for if you have any parts that are charred. My frames were nice and smooth after I torched them, so I skipped sanding.
Step 4: Stain with Unicorn Spit! I first used the Navajo Jewel normal gel stain, tried not diluting it at all, but it was too thick and I wanted my torched wood to show up better. Like with any gel stain, I was able to wipe down the wet Unicorn Spit and lighten the effect.
From then on, I added a bit of water to the Unicorn Spit, and it went on nicely while allowing my torched wood to show through.
I used a small craft brush, but a foam brush would probably work faster. Again, there’s no right or wrong order as to how you stain your frames. Just be sure that if you drip over any edges, you wipe the drips so you don’t get weird streaks.
I DID have to go over the really torched areas more than once to get the color thick enough. But once it was all dry, even the blackened areas had nice tints of color to them.
For the Violet Vulture, Dolly Firebird, and Golden Gosling, I did NOT add water because it’s much thinner. The glitter in the Sparkling Unicorn Spit adds a cool effect…but I think my favorite is still the normal Navajo Jewel.
I also had a weird personal realization as I was using the red Unicorn Spit. I hardly ever use red in artwork. I’m pretty sure this stems from my grandfather always wanting me to use red (his favorite color) whenever he commissioned me to paint murals of nature scenes for the family’s hunt club. Like, how much RED do you see in nature on a regular basis? Aside from a few flowers, it just doesn’t make sense! So, I passive-aggressively always signed my name in red and called it good. …This may be entirely the reason I don’t like using red in art. LOL
Step 5: Coat with polyurethane. The Unicorn Spit will get weird if it ever gets wet, plus the glitter came off at the touch, so I definitely wanted a protective layer on the frames.
Let your frames dry fully. I waited until the next day just to be sure everything would soak in and the torched wood wouldn’t do anything weird. All was good, though, so you probably don’t need to wait so long.
I applied a special clear, glossy top coat solution that I’ve used on my epoxy projects, but any polyurethane will do the trick. (I just have a ton of the stuff I used lying around extra from previous projects.) I do really like the glossy look on these frames, but a matte finish would work too. If you use the Unicorn Spit with glitter in it, then glossy would work best to be sure your sparkle comes through.
Whatever you choose to add as a protective layer, be careful as you apply it, because the unicorn spit wipes off a bit as you go. Just don’t brush too hard.
Once your protective poly coat is dry, you’re ready to hang or set up your frames! I’m using mine to display some of my (shameless plug) SunnyMommy Creations printable wall art.
My final assessment is that, while I like that the 8x10s came with metal stands, I think the wood grain patterns on the smaller frames look best. I don’t know why the 8x10s seem to be different wood, but 🤷♀️ I also like the Najavo Jewel without the sparkle best, though the brighter colors look cool if you have the right pictures in them.