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DIY – Photo Blocks

February 17, 2010

I am definitely not a carpenter.  I am so not a carpenter that when I tried to fashion my own picture frames a few years ago, I caught two of my fingers in a table saw.*

So when I decided that I wanted to follow the new wall art trend and mount a few new pictures to a blocks of wood, I preceded with much caution.  I also did everything I could to have the guy at Home Depot do the woodworking for me.  I was almost successful. 

The Project:

I have this narrow wall in my home that is near our front door, right between the kitchen and a hallway.  I wanted to hang some pictures and install some decorative wall hooks under them to create a nice, homey entryway. 

We live in a rental house, so we are inundated with white walls.  The bedrooms are painted in some light pastels, but even these look white most of the time.  For a person who loves decorating and bright colors, this is just torture. 

Since I did not want to overwhelm all of those white walls with millions of picture frames, but I still wanted to fill the space,  I decided to go with photo blocks.  They are visually more interesting than picture frames, and they have a matt finish and no glare.

Then, I just had to figure out how to do it…

Materials:

Picture (I love the square look, but it can be any size.)

Wood cut to the same size as your pic, or slightly larger (I went with a quarter inch border on each side.)

Sand paper, or other sanding device

Wood stain or paint

Painting materials: brush, sponge, paper towels, etc.

Photo mounting glue

Mod Podge or varnish (I did not actually use this on my blocks.  I wanted the matt look, but I would certainly recommend it to keep the pictures secure and free from damage.)

The Process

1. The artwork: I found these adorable bird mixed media prints from Urbanbird, and trimmed them so that there was no white border.

2. Then, I headed to Home Depot for my materials.

I used a wood plank that was 6 inches wide.  (Note: Wood is actually half an inch shorter than the dimensions say, so I ended up with a plank that was 5.5 inches in width.  I did not know this the first time I headed to buy materials, and ended up with rectangles instead of squares that were shorter than the width of my pictures.  Back to the store I went to repeat the whole process.)

They may be able to cut the wood into square blocks for you at the store.  It really depends on how small you want the blocks.  The place I went to could not cut them as small as I needed, so they cut them to 11 inches and I had to cut in half.

3. Sand the edges of the blocks smooth.  I would love to know better sanding tips.  I just used regualar old sand paper.  Since I’m just using them for my own home, I was not too concerned with beautifully rounded corners. 

4. Coat the blocks in whatever wood stain or paint that you choose.  I used two coats of black wood stain.

I did not even paint the backs of my blocks because I knew I wanted to hang them.  Many people love to put these on a desk or shelf.  If this is you, it would be better to paint both sides.

5. Spray the back of your photo with mounting glue, and carefully adhere the photo to the block of wood.

I did not spray the wood blocks, only the picture.  Spraying the blocks would have left a messy film on parts that the picture did not cover.

7. If you choose to coat your blocks with varnish or Mod Podge, complete that step next.  Like I said before, I opted not to do this.

8. Attach hanging apparatus to the back of the blocks.

Make sure you measure carefully if you are hanging multiple blocks.  I needed the hook in the exact same place on all four blocks so that they would be level and even when I hung them on the wall.

Those of you who know more about woodworking may want to drill a hole in the back of the wood for easy hanging.  This is beyond my ability, but I would love to know how to do it!

9. Hang pics!

I finished off the look with three decorative wall hooks from Anthropologie.  They were a bit pricey, but well worth it.  I have never been more in love with a hook!

Things I Learned and Near Disasters:

1. Wood is actually a half inch shorter than the demensions would lead you to believe!  How frustrating.

2. Do NOT try to rinse out your paint brush covered with wood stain in your bathroom sink.  I came dangerously close to permantly staining the sink black.

3. Black wood stain will eventually come off your skin, but it will be eventually.

4. You must overcome the fear of a saw before you use it, or you will lose a finger, possibly for the second time. 

5. I probably should have just bought the wood blocks from FauxKiss!  Projects always seem to end up costing me more money than it would be just to buy the dang thing.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!  Also, if you have any tips, I would love to hear them.

*This actually happened, but thankfully, I only nicked the ends of my ring and middle finger on my left hand.  Everything grew back normally, despite my fear for the loss of my wedding ring finger.  Who would ever want to marry some girl with half a ring finger!?!

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2010 12:38 pm

    Awesome! I would love to post on my blog!

  2. Katie permalink
    February 18, 2010 6:22 pm

    I would love it if you posted this on your blog! I’ll send you an email :)

  3. March 9, 2010 10:02 am

    great job! I found your blog through FEST. I often mount my photos on wood blocks as well. I started out having my husband cut the blocks for me, as you are learning, it’s a time consuming process with the cutting and the sanding. I now use these: http://www.dickblick.com/products/american-easel-wood-painting-panels/

    They work well! Question for you. Have you tried using the ModPodge on top to protect? I often print my prints with a metallic finish so I’ve been hesitant to do that, thinking it might damage the finish. Guess I just need to bite the bullet and sacrifice one for a trial and error! My blog is over at http://happyshackdesigns.blogspot.com . My wordpress account is for my Studio Mothers group blog.

    Kelly

  4. Katie permalink
    March 10, 2010 7:11 pm

    That wood panel link is awesome! Unfortunately, I need some smaller ones (4×4) for a project I’m working on, and they don’t sell them that small!

    I haven’t tried it with the modpodge yet. I would just test it on some scrap wood and a photo. There’s no way around it; you just have to give it a shot and see if it works! Let me know :)

  5. May 12, 2010 11:04 pm

    Hey Katie – thanks for sharing your process! This is something I want to try this summer so this will be a good guide to go off of!

    • Katie permalink
      May 13, 2010 1:09 am

      No problem, preetalina! Feel free to contact me if you decide to give it a try. I fined tuned the process and added some coatings so that I could sell a version in my shop. Lot’s of tips for you if you need them!

  6. September 2, 2010 5:56 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!! Can’t wait to get started.

  7. September 8, 2010 1:01 pm

    I do block mounting daily andI have to say nice article! One thing to keep in mind when block mounting is the adhesive – you want to use an acid-free rubber cement or a cold mounting commercial type product.

    Thanks again.

    • September 11, 2010 4:44 am

      Thank you, Darren. You are absolutely right! I fine tuned the process when I started selling photo blocks in my Etsy store and made sure to use the photo safe materials.

  8. November 12, 2010 4:08 pm

    well, our bathroom sink is always made from stainless steel because they are long lasting .,:

  9. caroline permalink
    December 14, 2010 10:59 am

    i am so glad i found your site!! i am making some photo blocks with pics of friends for the holidays..and i really had no idea where to start other then ordering prints!! haha…
    i went to home depot, and though he seemed annoyed, the very nice wood cutter man cut 4.5×4.5″ squares for me..i dont think the other people in line were to thrilled either…
    but, i wasn’t sure how to glue the photos on..so your post is amazingly helpful! and i’ve looked at your etsy store as well, you have beautiful things, and a great photography eye! have you used mod-podge or varnish now on your blocks? how did that come out?

    • December 14, 2010 11:54 am

      Caroline, I’m so glad it was helpful! Your friends are going to love their gift!

      I used varnish on all of the sides but the front to get a really smooth polished look, and then I used modge podge to attach the photo to the front. I then coated the front with a clear acrylic spray. I did all of the varnishing so that I could sell them in the shop, but for my own personal use, I don’t bother with the varnishing step. It takes FOREVER, and the nonvarnished look is a little more rustic and charming :)

      Let me know how the project goes!

  10. February 9, 2011 6:50 pm

    This is actually something I’ve been wanting to try for several years now. Thanks for the info!

  11. July 5, 2012 5:10 pm

    Great info .. What brand for the acrylic spray and varnish? thanks! :)

  12. Rowena Fanali permalink
    April 14, 2013 7:19 pm

    Really fantastic! I’m encouraged by your clear instruction and inspired to give it a go. Have been wanting to do this for ages. Thanks so much.

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