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Here at Ho`ohie Hawai`i, we take pride in every frame that we make. So, regardless of size, each piece is sanded with our handheld orbital sanders, then hand polished with both 400-grit and 600-grit sandpaper, prior to finishing.




"Every cut results in a 1/8" loss of wood."



"Rabbets have to be cut out using a table saw, router, or both."



"Shaping takes several passes with the router. "



"Koa figure, grain, and color can change from one end of a plank to the other, or even from one side of a plank to the opposite side."



Mitre saws need to be calbrated regularly to ensure true 45% cuts.




V-nails can help to keep frames from falling apart when they are bumped or dropped.


use bisquits on larger mouldings
Ideally, larger frames need more than v-nails to keep them from falling apart when they are bumped or dropped.


Each of our koa frames are shaped, sanded, and hand polished to a very smooth surface before oiling, lacquering and/or waxing. We prefer NOT to stain our koa as this would severely inhibit the natural chatoyancy of your koa frame.

It all starts off with the hand-selection of Koa. We personally select each piece for it's grain, figure, color, and density. A typical 1" thick board of 'select' solid koa is about $20-30 per square foot. Shorts, boards less than 4 feet in length, are priced a little lower, while curly koa is usually priced 50% higher. Most boards have one straight side and are between 6-10 inches in width. If a board has no straight side it needs to be planed smooth before it can be cut into strips for making picture frame mouldings. With every cut made lengthwise on a board, 1/8th inch of lumber is loss due to the thickness of the blade. So, a 12" wide board would yield no more than 11, 1-inch strips.

Once the boards are cut lengthwise (ripped) into the desired widths, the rabbet, the cut out where the edges of your artwork will sit, needs to be made. This requires several passes using a router, or two passes with a table saw and another two passes with a router in order to smooth the rough edges left behind by the saw.

After all of this, what you are left with is the raw form of a frame moulding.

The top of the frame, which will be the most visible part of the finished artwork, still needs to be shaped. Shaping takes several passes with the router. Koa's grain runs in many directions so, even with the sharpest of blades, cutting away too much at a time could leave the finished moulding with deep tearouts that could result in considerable waste of this valuable resource from Hawai`i. Just remember this old woodworker's proverb, "slowly... slowly... catchee monkey." Generally speaking, with koa, it is advisable to work off no more than 1/16 of an inch with each pass -- even less with curly koa. The more figure on the koa, the shallower the cut. Remember, a sizeable tearout in the middle of a longer length of koa could leave you with a moulding that is only suitable for making smaller than desired frames, or worse, business card holders.

After the wood has been routed to the desired shape, it needs to be sanded. This is an especially important step to address areas that would be hard to sand and polish once the frame has been assembled. Unsuitable areas of each strip of moulding need to be marked and avoided when making frames. (A 4-foot length of koa moulding may not be suitable for a 4-foot side of a frame due to inherent flaws, splits and tearouts and, therefore, may only be able to yield two or more shorter lengths -- more loss of precious koa.) Each piece also has to be graded and matched in terms of color and grain. The wide spectrum of color, grain, figure in koa makes matching more difficult than one would think. Even when cut from the same piece of wood, koa can vary so much from one side of a 6" board to the next as to make the strips that are cut from opposing sides unsuitable as a pair. Even a frame make from a single length of moulding may not match properly from one end to the other! Working with koa can be tricky and time consuming and the koa framer has to exercise patience. Lengths may have to be stored for weeks, months, maybe years before a suitable match can be found to complete a well-matched, good-sized frame. All of this can add to the cost of producing koa frames. (The average wholesale cost of raw "31" moulding is $4.00 when bought in bulk.)

The next step is to cut the moulding to size. Mitre saws need to be calbrated regularly to ensure true 45% cuts when it comes to picture frames. A difference of 1-degree on each cut would result in a difference 8 degrees at the last corner. This would leave an unacceptable gap in the last corner of the frame and not allow for a tight fitting corner -- rendering the frame unusable or, rather, unsellable. Ideally, the moulding is cut just slightly longer than needed then sanded with a a true 45-degree sanding wheel. If a sanding wheel is not available or not practical for the weekend framer(even the smallest manual hand-crank models cost $170 or more), wrapping a manual miter saw blade with a fast-cutting sandpaper will do the trick.

Smaller frames are usually glued, clamped, then v-nailed or underpinned at the back of the frame to keep the corners from coming apart when bumped or dropped. Lower priced frames in the marketplace often forego the gluing and are only v-nailed, stained and varnished. Few, if any, of the low-end frames are sanded after assembly. Here at Ho`ohie Hawai`i, we take pride in every frame that we make. So, regardless of size, each piece is sanded with our handheld orbital sanders, then hand polished with both 400-grit and 600-grit sandpaper, prior to finishing. Smaller frames, 5" x 7", 8" x 10", and 11" x 14," are truly a labor of love. When you add the cost of the materials and hours involved in making each frame, it's easy to see how the framer makes less than a minimum hourly wage on these.

We have found that larger frames require stronger methods of joining the corners. Along with glue and underpinning with v-nails or wedges, inserting a biscuit between the joints helps to keep them from ever coming apart. We may be one of the only remaining framers on Oahu that will bisquit joint frames. Most, today, simply add more v-nails or wedges.

Koa can be finished several ways. The most common method these days is to simply coat it with varnish, polyurethane, or lacquer. The more traditional way would be to oil it several times over the course of days, even weeks, following each oil treatment with steel wool then completing the finish with a special blend of wax made from carnuba and bee's wax. At Hoohie, our 31 and 33 series of mouldings oiled then lacquered. Our wider moldings are oiled, polished with steel wool, then re-oiled and finally waxed. We don't know of anyone else these days who will go this extra-mile when making koa picture frames, at least, not for the prices we charge.