How to Remove a Painting from a Frame

Sometimes it is necessary to reframe a painting due to its value, uniqueness or in order to transport it compactly. Instead of throwing away the work of art, removing and reframing can give a picture a renewed display time.

Steps

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    Assess the damage to the painting. If serious, you may need to hire a professional restorer.
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    Examine the front and back of the frame. Determine the method of attachment. Removal is reversal of assembly.
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    Note which staples go to which part of the assembly.
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    Remove staples, nails or screws from back of frame. It is not necessary to take out the staples holding the stretcher bar itself.
    • Use pliers to remove the staples if they don't come out easily. Continue around the back of the picture.
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    Carefully wedge in the screwdriver to get a grip on the spline.
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    Remove the spline from all the way around the painting.
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    Pull any staples/nails found holding the canvas to the frame, being careful not to rip the canvas material too much. It may need to be re-attached to another stretcher bar if the current one is not reusable.
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    Gently push the canvas backward or frame forward to separate from each other.
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    Slowly poke under the canvas. The wood stretcher bar holds the canvas giving it shape. There is a crevice into which the spline used to fit, pinching the canvas taut. This is the same principle a screen door uses.
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    Continue around the edge of the frame/picture. There may be many years that the canvas has been pressed folded. It is not glued to the wood, but may be stuck slightly.
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    If transporting, carefully roll up around a foam cylinder and place in sturdy carton. Wrap loosely so paint does not chip and break off.

Tips

  • Some canvas art is actually adhered directly to the inside back of the frame.
  • If the painting was framed before it was completely dry it could have adhered to the frame. In some cases it takes a full year for oils to dry. Use care separating the painting from the inside back of the frame to avoid pulling the paint away from the canvas. There may also be an indentation in the paint where the frame had been. Be sure these indentations are covered with your new frame.

Warnings

  • Also keep in mind that if the painting is directly up against glass, (which it should not be if framed correctly) that it might be stuck to the glass. Be very careful separating the two.
  • Whenever rolling a painting on canvas, always roll with the paint surface on the outside of the roll. Rolling the paint surface inwards causes the paint film to compress, and can cause it to visibly crack apart when unrolled. Rolling the paint surface outwards will cause the paint surface to crack apart, but the cracks will fit together neatly when unrolled.
  • If the artwork is old, or of great value; you may want to hire an insured expert trained in properties of ancient paint to do the job.
  • Keep the canvas on its support (stretcher bar) unless there is a compelling reason for removing it. There is risk of damaging it while removing it. Plus, the painting may be damaged when re-stretched later. Many paint repairs can be done without removing it from the supports.

Things You'll Need

  • Flathead Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Hammer
  • Foam core cylinder (Optional for transporting).
Using hammer to force screwdriver under staple to leverage it away from stretcher bar and canvas.

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