Number 5B: Framing maps and prints

Hans Kok

The following description continues where IMCoS Bulletin 5A left off, namely, with a map properly attached in a passepartout or as compared to the protection provided in alternative storage, for example in a drawer of a cabinet. Thus, the rarer or more valuable the map, the less likely it will be a candidate for exposure to everyday ‘wear and tear’ in the household. Framing by a professional framing shop may be a better choice than a DIY job (assuming they know how to treat old material). It might also be cheaper than if you have to buy tools and material just to make one frame. There are variations on the method described below of course possible.


* Glass cutter

* 4 simple clamps made from steel springs or equivalent clamps

* Pair of cutting-pliers

* Ruler or folding rule

* Cutting device for paper and cardboard as applicable

* Saw (electrical or otherwise) with extremely fine teeth capable of sawing an angle of less than 45 degrees

* a stapler / tacker to attach the backing board; use of nails is possible instead


* Material for the frame itself, mostly wood. It may be plain wood or a wood-base material with veneer glued onto it or plastered. This is available in standard sizes of about 250 cm or about 8 ft in length from framing shops or DIY outlets. The frame should not be too narrow, as adequate stability depends on the size of the area that can be glued.

* Wood glue, to join the parts of the frame and keep it firm. Optionally, some special nails with small heads to secure the frame parts against the risk of possible glue deterioration. Modern glues are very good, so nails are used less now than some years ago.

* Float-glass pane of adequate dimensions, minimum 2mm strong. The larger the frame, the stronger the glass should be. Normal float-glass has a kind of greenish tinge to it; special white glass is available (as used in museums); this is about four times more expensive. Normal glass has excellent definition, but may mirror other furniture in the house, especially lights at night. Non-reflective glass may be used (costs about three times as much as normal glass); it has slightly inferior definition, especially when both sides of the pane are non-reflective. Most expensive is the glass pane which blocks ultra-violet light (about five times the price of regular glass). As such it is normally only considered for valuable maps indeed. The white glass used in museums also provides fairly good protection against UV rays. For maps larger than double folio size the weight of the glass pane becomes a factor. Perspex is much lighter and although it also detracts from optimum definition, it might be the only alternative to prevent the frame from becoming unwieldy.

* Fixture material, such as stranded wire and a couple of attachments to hang the frame onto the wall. Special wire is available to hang paintings; when doubled, it will not slide and draw itself tight without clamps. Other steel wire types need to be clamped. Perlon wire is also quite suitable (diam. 11/2 mm) as it stretches somewhat to equalise the load.

* Acid free cardboard to use as a filter in the frame.

* Sheet of end cardboard to be tacked onto (not inside!) the reverse side of the frame. Barrier board is best.

* Small nails to be driven into the frame to fix the passe-partout/mount inside, unless a special stapler/tacker is available.


The correct sequence is to make the frame, then cut the glass to the exact dimension required and finally cut the cardboard. Before putting everything together, clean the glass pane carefully on both sides, using a household glass cleaner. It pays to insert the glass pane into the empty frame and fix it in place with a few small nails. Then check that the pane is completely clean (especially the inside) from fingerprints, dust and small hairs, etc. Re-clean as required, remove the nails and continue to assemble the unit. Non-reflective glass should be mounted with the non-reflective side outward; it is hard to see which side is which, but it can be felt. Panes which are non-reflective on both sides are easier and thus cheaper to manufacture. The one-sided version, however, gives a better definition.


The frame on the inside should measure about 3 mm more than the size of the passe-partout/mount. It is important that the opposite sides of the frame are exactly equal in length (to about one half of a mm). Otherwise, the angles, cut at 45 degrees, will not form a rectangular frame and also the cross-section area for the glue is reduced, impairing the stability of the frame.

Hand-sawing the frame lengths is hard to do accurately and having to do it at a 45 degree angle makes it even more difficult. In a framing shop the frame is not normally sawn off, but cut off using a special machine. My recommendation would be to order the frame lengths from the framing shop already cut to the correct dimensions. This will also prevent damaging the plaster or veneer of the frame with the teeth of the saw. Glue the frame using wood glue and clamps. Drying time is about one hour. Use the optional nails as desired, driving the heads down below the surface of the frame. Fill in the small holes and touch-up with a compatible colour (difficult on frames with a glossy finish) or a touch of varnish. Adding one or two tacks across the seam while still clamped also helps to enhance stability.

Note: The frame depth is normally greater for paintings than for prints and maps.

Where there is too much excess depth, filler cardboard needs to be used. Measure the inside of the frame to determine the dimensions for the glass pane. About 2 mm of space is needed on each side; do not forget that the glass-cutter may add or detract 2 mm, when drawn along a guide. Wet the glass pane with household glass cleaner for better cutting; cut on a flat surface, using a sturdy guide. Exert sufficient pressure onto the guide to keep it from moving. After the cut, lifting the pane slightly from below will normally result in a clean break. Watch out for the sharp edges!

Where frame depth (normally about 1 cm) requires use of a filler material, acid-free cardboard would be ideal. Watercolour paper is recommended, as this will absorb humidity without letting it through to get at the map. The special nails can now be driven into the frame. Do not use a hammer, frames are made of soft material: the nails go in easily when pushed with the side of a pair of pliers. Dedicated tools exist, which are very handy: they are basically staplers / tackers which shoot forward instead of downward. They cost about US $50, but they are not really necessary. Place a nail every 5 cm (two inches). Half the length goes into the frame; the other half keeps the map in place. Press the layers firmly, while inserting the nails. The backing board, sized only marginally smaller than the outside frame dimensions, can now be tacked onto the rear. To prevent the wood from splitting, tacks should not be too long. Taping over the frame to the backboard will seal the residual open space remaining and will help keep out the humidity.

Hanging on the wall

Assuming the map will be on the wall for a considerable period of time, we need to look into the risks, if any. Some risks relate to the location itself, some to the quality of the attaching fixtures. Location causes problems such as fading of colours in direct sunlight, paper turning brittle and/or brown, effects of heating and/or ventilation and secondary effects in damage because of falling off the wall; breakage of the glass pane, cutting the map, damaging the frame, hitting other valuable items, etc. Consequently, the location should be selected with care: no direct sunlight, no humid outer walls, not above heating outlets, accounting for possible use of air-conditioning in the room, etc.

To keep frames off a potentially humid outer wall, attach the carrying fixtures about 15 centimeters (6 inches) from the upper side and glue two small spacer cubes at the lower rear side of the frame. Instead of spacers, two slices of cork, e.g. from a wine bottle will do nicely.

Secondary damage may be avoided as far as possible by selecting the proper materials. Basically, any item in the chain may fail in time: the string or wire may break or come loose, screws may rust or become loose. The same applies to the fixture on the wall; rails may get loose, attachments may give out, and so on. On the principle that no two things will fail simultaneously, the solution would be to provide a double system, with any single system being able to carry the load. The best option would be to use material which is flexible such as nylon or Perlon wire (of the fishing line type), provided they are UV lightproof. Should one wire breaks, the remaining one would take the load without delay with minimum impact load. These wires are invisible in daytime with only faint shadows at night when lights are on.

Easy adjustment to achieve a level condition on the wall is very handy indeed; it is not easy to prepare wires which have exactly the same length after cutting, let alone having to compensate for beams and ceilings that may not be truly horizontal.


  1. Easy to adjust to level position
  2. Hole(s) in the wall
  3. Single failure: frame will come down
  4. Single failure: frame will swing sideways but not come down
  5. Single failure: frame will stay in place
  6. Continuous single wire(s)


Note 1. An interesting way of framing would be to mount the map without any passe-partout/cardboard mount, directly between two panes of glass. The space between map and frame will be transparent and makes for a pleasant effect. The wall texture and colour should be compatible.

Of course, the map margins should be perfect, as they will be visible in toto. Glue is to be applied to the reverse side of the map only; both panes to be fixed in the frame by means of a strip all around attached to the frame.

Glass panes may be replaced by Perspex.

Ventilation space between the two panes is necessary.


Note 2. Preparing a small folder with map details (cartographer, atlas, date, provenance, etc.) might be a good idea. Many years later you might not remember the details; the folder may be taped to the reverse of the map frame.