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How to Repair a Gilded Plaster Picture Frame

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A Damaged Plaster Frame

A Damaged Plaster Frame

I love to buy old picture frames, well because I like old stuff. I am especially fond of those old gilded plaster frames. They set off my landscape prints really well. The only draw back is that ones in good shape aren't cheap and the ones that are cheap are in poor repair.

Oh woes me, what's a poor girl to do? Go to the library of course. While there, I found a little book that told of ways to repair miscellaneous collectibles. And guess what I found in this little book? Yep, you guessed it. How to repair damaged gilded picture frames.

But Can I Repair and Restore the Picture Frame?

After reading through the instructions, I said to myself, "I could do that". And I did. In fact, my repairs were good enough to allow some of my better frames to actually be sold on E-bay a few years back.

I just finished restore a really old frame that has been on my "to do" list for a long time.

6 Steps to Repairing Your Picture Frame

1. Clean the Frame

2. Soften Up the Clay

3. Make the Mold

4. Mix the Plaster

5. Make the Replacement

6. Smooth the Mold Until It Fits

One Pack of Modeling Clay

One Pack of Modeling Clay

Abrasives to Smooth Edges — I tend to use what I have on hand

Abrasives to Smooth Edges — I tend to use what I have on hand

Tools and Supplies Needed

These are the only tools and supplies that you need to get the job done:

  • One Pack of Modeling Clay
  • One Container of "Plaster of Paris"
  • Chopsticks and Disposable Cup for Mixing
  • Water
  • Non-Stick Cooking Spray
  • Abrasives to Smooth Edges
  • Wood Glue
  • Gold Leaf Paint
  • Small Foam Brush

This Is Where We Begin

This is a picture of the frame after the plaster mold has been glued in place. It may look a little rough now, but wait till you see the fully restored frame.

Close up of Damage and Repair in Place

Close up of Damage and Repair in Place

1. Clean the Frame

  • Place the picture frame on a flat surface and wash it down with a little soap and water. Do it gently. use only enough to get it clean because if the plaster gets too wet, it will get soft. If you still have the glass in it, use that blue tape to mask around the edges. (I like the blue stuff because it comes off easy and doesn't leave any of itself behind). Let the frame dry completely.
Clay Softened and Ready To Go

Clay Softened and Ready To Go

2. Soften Up the Clay

  • Now take the modeling clay and soften it up in your hands so can be easily worked. The clay will be used to make a mold of the undamaged parts of the frame so the damaged parts can be filled in.
Making the Mold

Making the Mold

The Mold of the Frame Scroll Work

The Mold of the Frame Scroll Work

3. Make the Mold

  • The first thing to do is to thoroughly spay the part of the frame being used to make the molds with cooking spray. Take a piece of the clay and make a small block with it. Then flatten it till it reaches a size that will cover the plaster decoration. Press in over the section and press really hard. Remove the clay. Now you have the mold for the missing parts
  • It will take a little practice to get molds that will be the right size. They must be thick enough to duplicate the design but thin enough so that you don't have a really thick molded piece. If the molded piece is too thick, it won't match the rest of the frame. Eventually, you will get the hang of it and get a clay mold that will be a good fit.

4. Mix the Plaster

  • Mix up a small amount of plaster of paris in small container. I like to use clear plastic disposable cups. Add the plaster of Paris. I don't measure, I just put in what looks right. But depending on how much frame there is to repair, 1/4 to 1/2 a cup should be more than enough. Add the water and little at a time, stirring well. Here is where I use the chopstick. The plaster of paris needs to be thin enough to pour easily but not watery. If it is the consistency of pancake batter, it will be just about right.
  • Mixing the plaster is the trickiest part because if you stir the plaster to hard it gets full of bubbles and these bubbles will harden in the mold ruining it. When you have smooth, bubble free plaster that is about the consistency of pancake batter, its time to get rolling.

5. Make the Replacement

  • Now, spray the molds again with the cooking spray. This makes the plaster easier to remove from the mold. Pour in the plaster. Now here comes another use for the chop stick. Use it to level the bottom edge of the mold. You want it to be as even as possible so it will fit snug onto the frame. Now let it dry overnight.

6. Smooth the Mold Until It Fits

  • After the plaster has dried, remove it gently from the mold. Now comes the hardest part of the whole process. Use an emery board, a small screwdriver or a sharp blade (you will have to find what works best for you). The big the piece of plaster, the bigger tool you will need. All the rough edges and the back of the piece need to be smoothed out. If it is a little too big to fit neatly into the spot to be repaired, just keep shaving it down until it fits.
  • Don't worry about making an exact fit. Once the frame is painted and hung, it will be really hard to see where the damage was.
  • Make sure that the surface of the frame is clean and dry. Put a little wood glue on your finger and spread it over the area where the plaster piece will go. Do the same for the back of the plaster piece. Put the plaster piece into the spot and it's done.

Pictures of The Repaired Frame

Below are the pictures of the repaired frame. It compares the damaged and undamaged parts of the frame. It is only upon close inspection that the replacement parts can be seen. On the wall, they are all but invisible.

Repaired Corner

Repaired Corner

left corner

left corner

Close up of Repair

Close up of Repair

Undamaged Scroll

Undamaged Scroll

Repaired Scroll

Repaired Scroll

Finished Frame

Finished Frame

I am back

Because my grandkids are almost grown and the coronavirus limits my to-do list, going to see if I can pick up where I left off.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have a really ornate frame on a large mirror. The plaster is cracked and some pieces have fallen off. What do you use to fill cracks?

Answer: I just use a little of the plaster of Paris use to make the replacement pieces. Once it is dry, I sand it smooth.

Question: A moulded plaster of Paris frame is cracked right across in three places. It is not damaged enough to need replacement molding. Is wood glue suitable?

Answer: I just seal with a little of the plaster used to make the mold.

Question: How do you match the old patina on the new piece?

Answer: I just repaint the whole frame.

Question: I have a late 19th. century gild picture frame for a picture measuring 40 inches by 80 inches, the frame has been taken apart, it did have nails to keep it together two and two and a half inches very thin nails, which I can't find and I am concerned that hammering the nails in, will cause harm to the frame. Could I use superglue to stick the frame together? The frame has the loops for the rope to hang the picture on the two uprights of the frame.

Answer: I have no experience with the repair of the frame itself. With my knowledge of old things in general, I am not sure if superglue is the answer. I would suggest checking out places that sell architectural salvage to see if they sell the size nail you need. Also, check for what they call brads at the hardware store. They are nails used in putting up paneling or by upholsterers. If you must use glue I recommend gorilla glue and clamping the frame.

Question: What do you seal the new plaster with?

Answer: I just seal with wall primer.

Question: I need to repair long narrow chips along the side of my plaster frame can I just use plaster of Paris to fill in the area that is missing?

Answer: That's what I do.

Comments

Maria Cervantes on September 07, 2020:

Thank you for your tutorial on old frames. My question is, Can I use Bondo to fill in The cracks on my 1940's Gilt frame?

Elizabeth Morewood on October 02, 2017:

I have a couple of old gilt framed pictures (1820s) and in places bits of the frames have fallen off. I have the pieces but please, how ccan I get them to stick back in place?

Jay Scott on August 03, 2017:

Please don't use water on any art- paintings or picture frames . American picture frames are generally made with

Composition ( Compo) elements, not plaster. Water will swell the gesso layer and can cause mold . Clean dirt with a soft brush ,then wipe surface with mineral spirits - petroleum based cleaners only.

Fine frames should be repaired by a professional , using compo material.

Renate Bob on July 05, 2017:

I tried plaster of Paris, but it's so soft even when it hardens, that the details are easy to

Lose. I'm

Wondering if adding wood glue to the water will make it better to handle.

Kathy on January 23, 2017:

I have a antique picture frame and the corner broke off how can I reattach it I have looked and looked I have the corner just not sure how to put it back.

jane cooper on January 17, 2017:

Thank you! I'm going to try it.

Bill on January 13, 2017:

Enjoyed your post. Have used epoxy wood in repair jobs. Exact replication of pattern is tempting and have thought about using molds, but have enjoyed sculpting the missing pieces. Mix and stick to cleaned wood/plaster and sculpt away. Have about 20 minutes before sets up too much. Trim excess almost immediately. Water on fingertips helps smooth out fingerprints. Also, could use bondo. Can add less hardener to prolong set time. Do final trim before completely hardened.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on November 28, 2016:

I always just repaint the whole frame. I have found it hard to try and match the old paint or gild.

Elizabeth Gamble on November 28, 2016:

If trying to figure out the best painting solution for my repairs. The frame I am repairing is a large plaster cast gilt one which I think is painter. I would like to match the paint,or Chou led I just paint it all? I can send a photo if you tell me how to get it to you?

Ray on September 20, 2016:

Ray.

To strengthen the corner mitres joints, place sponge packing in the edge of the frame and using a sash cramp carefully pull together. ( If sash cramp not available, wrap a small diam. rope around frame and pull together ). Drill a hole through the edge of the timber base and glue a short length of small diam. dowel through the joint. Be careful not to place the dowel in the plaster moulded section as this could cause further damage. Sand flush and paint. Invisible finish.

Irene on August 25, 2016:

More on how to paint gold leaf on repair

Jean on August 08, 2016:

Thank you!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on May 20, 2016:

I would need to see a picture of the frame but I am thinking that to duplicate the curve try 1. spay the frame with cooking spray. 2. put the plaster in the mold. 3. press the mold and the plaster to the frame curving it as you do. 4. Let dry and remove. That should duplicated the curve of the frame.

freyda on May 19, 2016:

the missing gold leaf is actually a leaf on the part of the frame that is curved so the plaster mold is finished on the wrong side of the curve, it is like a belveled part of the frame. when I made the mold correctly, It is too solid to use, the leaf is curved correctly, but now I have a solid piece of plaster of paris...

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on February 06, 2016:

Glad I could be of help. It is such a simple fix. Good luck and let me know how ii comes out!

Debbie on February 06, 2016:

Thanks I am off to Walmart to get my stuff. I got a great deal on a frame for $3 and could not pass it up. It has 2 little places I know I can fix now thanks to you and your info. It makes my money spent look really good now.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on February 03, 2016:

I use a place on the opposite side of the frame and then turn it upside down.

Pat on February 02, 2016:

Any thoughts on how to do a mirror or reverse mold. The frame I would like to do is missing some leaf detail on one side. The undamaged side is opposite.

Doug Ernst on August 04, 2015:

Why doesn't the spray oil or oil from the clay mess up the ability to repaint the frame?

Doug in Sandy Eggo

nancy on July 31, 2015:

If I didn't want to go through the process of making molds all around the frame , how do I prevent further breakage of ornate pieces? Should I brush wood glue all over the frame then paint when it is dry?

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on June 18, 2015:

To get the plaster make it thicker just add more plaster to the mix. This should make it harder when it sets up. If you are applying the plaster directly to the frame make sure the area is clean and dry.

Mike on April 16, 2015:

I need to repair a thin layer of plaster on a frame, how do you make the plaster harder and that it will stick to the frame

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on March 24, 2015:

Sorry to take so long to reply but I have been under the weather. Just an FYI. the knees are the first to go. I am so glad that my method has proved so successful for everyone who has tried it.

Trapso on January 19, 2015:

What a great, articulate post! I collect old picture frames at yard sales, antique shops, etc. I have a mitre saw and so I can take a large frame hand cut it to size for a smaller picture. I was staying away from old frames with damage such as you describe feeling that they were not repairable. Now I can get those as well and fix them up. I took a limited edition print we had purchased and made a frame to measure and did some repair on it. Looks great and at little cost compared to a framer who would have charged over a hundred dollars. Another thing you might try is a product called RubnBuff. It comes in a variety of colors and I have used it for restoring/repairing. Look it up on the internet!

m on December 24, 2014:

well I figured it out. I used burnt umber, black and umber and made a mix tat perfectly matched the old dirt in the cracks. I brushed it in and wiped it off and you are right it looks amazing. I tackled an entire width of a frame that was missing the bottom half of the plaster. The frame also curved so it was long and arched. What was I thinking??? However, it turned out really well and you can't even tell if you don't know that it is repaired. I can't believe I did that.

m on December 17, 2014:

what do you use to make the repair match the dirty parts that are darker? Antiquing was? If ound a 1966 article on it that used spackle and said to use 1/4 c picture varnish and 1/4 t burnt umber and 1/4 t raw umber oil paint to glaze it and then wipe it off. Thoughts?

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on September 10, 2014:

Thanks for the question Kate. I didn't spray paint the frame. I purchased a gilt paint from my local hardward store and used a foam brush so I wouldn't have to clean it. When you use it make sure to do so in a well ventilated place.

Kate on September 06, 2014:

Hi Reddog1027, Thanks for this tutorial! Quick question - did you spray paint the whole frame once you were finished fixing the broken parts? The finished products has so much shine! All you mention in the beginning is washing it... did you wash and repaint or just wash?

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on December 11, 2013:

Thanks for the complement Icandoit54. I read this in a little book I checked out of the library and gave it a try. It was so easy that I thought others would be looking for this kind of info. Glad it worked .

Icandoit54 on December 09, 2013:

You are brilliant! Usually I'm pretty crafty, but you got me on that one! Thank you. You are exactly right!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on December 06, 2013:

I would use wood filler to fill in the crack as it won't expand and then once dry, smooth on plaster so it blends with the rest of the frame. Hope this helps

Icandoit54 on December 01, 2013:

Hey, I'm looking for advice. I have an old landscape with molded plaster frame. It's beautiful. However the side of the frame cracked from aging and there is a hole in the side of the frame.it is in the square part of the frame on the side so there be no need to mold. Do you think I could just fill the hole with plaster of Paris and smooth off the edge straight. It wouldn't work if the plaster expands as it dries because it would cause the frame to crack again. What do you think?

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on December 05, 2012:

I know it will look great!

Lou on November 28, 2012:

Thanks for posting! This will allow me to fix my Wife's Great Grandmother's frame in time for Christmas!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on November 10, 2012:

let me know how your project turns out!

Ian on November 10, 2012:

That was excellent! Thank you so much. I'm off to do the work.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on October 20, 2012:

The only tricks to the gold leaf is to use in a well ventilated area as it has some very volatile solvent as it's base and use one of the foam disposable brushes so you don't have to worry about cleaning it up with another solvent. the hardest part about this whole procedure is getting the thickness of the clay molds and the resulting plaster piece the same thickness as the frame. Good luck and let me know how it turns out.

graminva on October 20, 2012:

Is there any trick when it comes to painting the frame with the gold leaf? We have received an 83 year old triple mirror with etching but the frame is missing parts and the gold leaf is flecking off in places. Going to show my hubby these instructions before we ruin this antique!!! Thanks.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on September 15, 2012:

I just love it when this hub helps someone else.

Louis on September 14, 2012:

Thanks for your great advice! I have an old plaster picture frame, and I'd love to see its former beauty without shelling out beaucoup dollars. Glad I've found your advice in repairing the frame.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on September 04, 2012:

As always, I am so glad that you have found this hub helpful.

jmb on August 26, 2012:

Thanks so much for this tutorial, I am about to take a big challenge. You have made it easy!!!

Tony on June 10, 2012:

Thanks for the information. I appreciate it..Tony

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on June 09, 2012:

I would just clean it with a damp cloth. A coat of polyurethane would be a better sealer. The water based ones are really nice to work with. Lemon oil contains a solvent and it might damage the paint or the plaster.

TONY on June 09, 2012:

HI, WAS LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ON HOW TO TAKE CARE OF OLD PLASTER FRAMES. HAVE ONE WITH A WONDERFUL PICTURE THAT WAS MY MOMS.SHE ALWAYS LEMON OILED HER FURNITURE BUT I DON'T THINK SHE USED LEMON OIL ON THIS FRAME. DOES IT NEED OIL TO KEEP IT FROM DRYING OUT? WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND. THANKS SO MUCH.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on June 08, 2012:

I didn't oil the frames that I have repaired as I paint them with a gold gild paint. Any oil would keep the paint from sticking to the frame.

Davene on June 08, 2012:

I found your instructions on fixing an old plaster frame. Could you recommend oiling the frame after repair? I know too wet isn't good, but would mineral or lemon oil help? Thanks so much,

Furniture Refinishing Restoration on May 25, 2012:

Thank you for all the information. It was MUCH needed!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on May 02, 2012:

Again, I am so glad you found this helpful.

puckdropper on May 01, 2012:

I am going to use this technique to repair a 100 year old frame my wife and I have carried with us for seven years after it slipped from its' hangers. Thanks for being here, I was suspecting to have use this technique. You confirmed I am going in the right direction. Again thanks.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on March 17, 2012:

Glad you found this hub helpful Alex. If I can do it, anyone can.

Alex on March 17, 2012:

thanks so much I have carried an old frame around with me for years and didn't take the time or information to fix it now I will before every bit of it falls off.

reddog1027 on February 12, 2012:

I just use a little window cleaner spray like Windex. It is alcohol based so it dissolves the oil.

Dee Loris on February 12, 2012:

How do you clean off the spray before you paint the frame?

dave on January 24, 2012:

it takes a lot to impress me and this post has done it. I can fix anything but never tried this altho i have done casting in plaster before.Here's some tips from experience for new and old alike.

you can order casting plaster in 25 kilo bags at a good builders yard far cheaper than craft shop little bags.you can put plaster to the water if job is sealed to stop any bubbles whatsoever forming and tap to level when topped up.I found a gold spray paint called mr christmas "brand" was the best luxury finish you could wish for but not known if still in production based in blackpool.lancs.spraying with black first enhances the finish on gold paint gives a luxurious pro effect.hope this goes on here as its good advice.regards dave.

Mo on October 25, 2011:

Thanks so much for this Tutorial. I did it and my mirror frame looks great!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on June 23, 2011:

Amanda, here is my suggestions. From the picture it looks as if there is a gouge out of the corner. I would try building it up with a couple of thin layers of plaster, let it dry really well and smooth. Then make a mold of the scroll work on the corner that is kitty corner to the one that needs the repair. You may have to experiment with the level of the background to get it to a point where the scroll work is even with the surrounding areas. Let me know if there is anything I can do.

Carol

AmandaS on June 23, 2011:

Oops here is the picture URL...

http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/43/imag0411y....

AmandaS on June 23, 2011:

Help! Really like the how-to! However, I am stuck! I have a plaster frame that has a broken corner (I have added a link to picture of the corner). The frame does have a matching corner but I have no idea how to go about cloning that corner and making it work in the broken area. Unfortunately the edges of the frame are decoratively rounded adding to the difficulty. I have tried taking a mold of the entire in-tact corner but I just cannot get it. Any suggestions?

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on June 03, 2011:

DannieP, glad you found this hub helpful. Let me know how yours turns out.

DannieP on June 03, 2011:

Very Impressive! I just bought a gilded plaster frame today that is in need of some restoration.

I can't wait to try this technique out and see the results. Thanks for the advice.

Mary Anne on January 12, 2011:

Okay, thanks! I will try it tomorrow. So glad I found this post!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on January 12, 2011:

I have found that making a clay mold is easier than trying to cut the pieces of plaster as they tend to break and crumble. Try the molds first. You may have to make a few to get the look just right.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on January 01, 2011:

I am so glad you found this information helpful. The hardest part of the whole thing is getting a good plaster casting made. If the first ones don't turn out right, just keep tweaking till you get it right.

Amanda on December 31, 2010:

Thank you SO much!! I have been searching the web all morning for this information. You did a fantastic job of presenting all the steps. I'm heading to the craft store, then getting started! Thanks again. :-)

Sandy Jauregui from Sanger on September 17, 2010:

Thank you, you've given me inspiration to try it on some of my old mirrors...:))

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on August 06, 2010:

If I can do it, I am confident you can too. Glad you found the hub helpful.

RGNestle from Seattle on August 05, 2010:

Thank you!!!

My mother has a lithograph and a plaster mold frame which came from my great grandmother on my father's side. It has seen better days and I just began wondering if I should look for someone to repair it or if I should attempt it myself. I didn't know that it was plaster on wood until I found this Hub. Now I know I can do it and your instructions filled in the gaps in my knowledge. I feel confident now that I can make the frame look like new.

Thanks again!!!

Picture Glass Frames on May 19, 2010:

Great hub! I don't have any of these products at home, so it's kind of inconvenient. But then again, I don't own most products that should be in every home... eh...

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on April 19, 2010:

I am so glad you found this hub helpful. Once I read it, I thought, hey I can do that. And I did. And if I can do it anyone can. It's a great way to return a damaged frame back to usefulness.

KathyNE on April 18, 2010:

Thank you so much for taking the time to post such a great source of information! You did a very concise and easy to follow description of the process.

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on April 18, 2010:

I am glad you found the hub helpful, babalooga. It is a shame to let such beautiful frames go to waste when it is so easy to fix them.

babalooga on April 18, 2010:

i searched the net over and FINALLY found theee page i was looking for.

thanks!!! thanks!!! thanks!!!

Christine Mulberry on February 12, 2010:

Wow, that does look like something that's not too difficult to do. Great tutorial!

reddog1027 (author) from Atlanta, GA on January 24, 2010:

Most old frames are held together by nails or small pegs. Over time holes around them get bigger, a little wood putty in the holes may be all it will take.

Wealthmadehealthy from Somewhere in the Lone Star State on January 24, 2010:

This was a wonderful hub!!! So informative and detailed. When I saw the title, I saw gilded frame repair and missed the plaster part...reading to fast...but the whole process of this is really simple....I have a gilded antique wood frame which is very old and coming apart at the corners, no other damage except it is separating there....need to figure out how to put it flush again without damaging it. Guess I should go to the library or maybe google it....thank you for this hub!! I enjoyed it