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How to Mount a Canvas Oil Painting

Mounted Canvas
Michael T. Dennis

Things You'll Need:

  • Tape measure
  • Staple gun with 1/4" stainless steel staples
  • Wood stretcher/strainer, cut to size and joined
  • Wire for hanging (if the painting is to be displayed unframed)


Never measure from the end of your tape measure. Over time a tape measure's tip can become mangled and inaccurate. Instead, make all measurements starting at the 10" mark, then subtract 10 from all measurements.

Original art can be a striking addition to any room, but the task of mounting and framing a canvas oil painting leads many people to just hang a reproduction instead. These instructions will show you how to mount a canvas oil painting so that it is suitable for framing, or ready to be displayed unframed.

Measuring is the first and most important step of mounting a canvas. Lay the canvas on a flat surface with the art facing up. Place weights or heavy objects on the corners if the canvas won't lay flat. Check to see if there are indentations visible in the canvas from having been mounted in the past. Use these indentations as a guide, or measure the length and width of the image using your best judgment.

Measure at several points in each dimension and note all measurements on a piece of paper. It may help to construct a small diagram.

When you think you have an accurate measurement, measure again. Recheck the length and width at a point you have not already measured. Measure the work diagonally, from corner to corner, to ensure that the image area is square. Note your final measurements on your diagram.

Next you will need a stretcher (called a strainer if made to fit into a frame) to mount the canvas onto. If your measurements were an even number of inches, canvas stretcher boards with interlocking corners available at art supply stores will do.

If your oil painting is an irregular size, you may wish to make your own stretcher. This can be done by cutting a length of wood (typically about 1/2" by 2") into four pieces with 45-degree angles at the corners and joining the corners with wood glue and small nails while locked in a vice.

Stretchers available from custom frame shops can be made to your specifications and will cost only a fraction of the price of a frame.

Once your stretcher is ready, prepare your work area. Find a surface significantly larger than the canvas and cover it with brown craft paper or soft, clean fabric. Lay the painting face down in the middle of the work area.

Place the stretcher in the center of the canvas and align it with the image on the other side. Do this by lifting one edge of the painting at a time to determine where the image begins. Continue adjusting until the stretcher lines up with the edges of the image on all four sides.

With the stretcher in place, fold the canvas over one edge of the stretcher and place one staple in the approximate center of the side on the back of the stretcher. Do this on all four sides. Turn the canvas over, being careful to support the corners. Make sure that the image is still centered on the stretcher. If it is not, remove the staples and try again.

Once the image is centered on the stretcher and each side has one staple, pull the canvas taut gently and place additional staples along each side on the back of the stretcher, starting with the center staple and working outward. Place staples about 2 inches apart. Save the corners for last. After every few staples, check to make sure that the image is still centered and is not pulling to one side. If it is, use less force when stretching the canvas.

Once the sides have been stapled, fold over the canvas at each corner and staple the excess canvas over the joint in the strainer (see image). Stapling the corners can be the most challenging part of the mounting, but be patient and try to follow the natural folds in the canvas.

The canvas should now be securely on the stretcher. Its surface should be taut without any major wrinkles, but not so tight as to pull apart at the holes made by your staples.

This canvas is ready to be fitted into a custom frame that can be constructed by adding 1/8" to your original measurements (this additional 1/8" allows for the thickness of the canvas, as well as for expansion of the stretcher over time and as a function of humidity and temperature).

If you wish to hang the canvas mounted but unframed, attach eye screws to the stretcher and run a heavy wire across the back. The mounted canvas will be much lighter than a framed painting, but be sure to use picture hanging hooks on your wall that are stronger than is needed.

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