I started stretching my own canvas this month. I’ve stretched two so far. It’s so much more economical to stretch my own than to buy pre-stretched canvases from the Art store! It’s taken me a long time to start doing this, though I knew it would be cheaper in the long run. I’m sharing my experience with this because no one could tell me all that was involved before I started looking into stretching my own.If you’re reading this and you’ve done this before – please share any experiences or advice!
For one thing, since I live in Kitchener, Ontario, the closest art store to me is the Waterloo Art Store. It’s easy enough to get to but it’s not as affordable as a big art store like a Curry’s. There’s a Curry’s close to Cambridge and since I don’t have a car it’s a bit of a trek to get there (2 bus rides). Because of all this, I ended up getting pre-primed canvas and pliers from Waterloo Art Store and my gallery width (2”) stretcher bars from Curry’s. Now that I know a little more about what I want, next time I’m going to try ordering the bars from Curry’s online and continue buying the canvas at my local art store.
Stretcher bars – 2 (width) + 2 (length) + cross braces where necessary
The finished canvas size I was trying to make was 24×36”. I had two 24” and 2 36” stretcher bars. I didn’t buy a cross brace, but now that I’ve done it, I definitely will buy a cross brace next time. My second canvas came out as a parallelogram instead of a square. Not cool.
Staple Gun & Staples
I used ½” heavy duty staples and comfort grip staple gun from local hardware. Make sure when you’re at the store you hold and try out the stapling mechanism because I had to buy a second staple gun because the first one was so hard to use because the size of my palm. Paying extra for the more comfortable ones – definitely worth it.
Calculate how many feet/meters you need for the finished size you want, adding in enough canvas so that it can wrap over to the back of the frame. I left an extra couple of inches excess on there to make pulling easier. I bought pre-primed canvas last time around. It was really hard to stretch. Next time I’m going to buy unprimed canvas.
Canvas Pliers & clamps
It’s arguable whether you need the metal pliers to help pull the canvas taut. I got them because I’ve pulled with my fingers and I’ve pulled with the pliers and the pliers end up with a tighter result. 1 or two clamps help keep things taut while you put down one tool and pick up another.
Hammer to know together the frame and to hammer in the staples at the back of the canvas.
- Put together the frames at their corresponding grooves. Put in the cross brace during assembly. I’d recommend using a cross brace if the stretcher bar has a slot for one. I didn’t on a 36” piece because I didn’t think it would be necessary and the frame didn’t remain square. Knock the corners together with a hammer. Use an L ruler or level to make sure the frame is square. Put a couple of staples on the backside of the frame where the pieces come together. I considered gluing the corners, but I want my canvases to be un-mountable for transport.
- Lay the canvas out on the floor and then rest the assembled frame over it, checking what size is needed. Cut the canvas to necessary length.
- Look at the grain of the canvas and try to keep it square with the frame. Clamp the canvas to the frame on one end of the canvas.
- Position the canvas and frame in a way that you can manipulate. Put a staple on the back of the frame where you had the clamp. Use the canvas pliers on the opposite side of the frame and pull the canvas tight over the back side of the frame. Put in another staple. Hammer in the staples if they don’t go in properly.
- Repeat this on all sides of the frame, alternately clamping, stretching and stapling. After stage of one staple each side, for second stage quarter remaining space. Repeat until there is about 2” between each staple. Stay off the corners of the canvas by 4-6”. Keep stretching until your canvas hums like a drum when you tap it.
- Assemble your corners by folding the canvas. And stapling on back. I stretched this part with my fingers before folding and stapling. I did it like you would gift-wrap something. I think some people make a cut and fold the edges, but I don’t really like the look of that.
Next time I do this I’m going to get a couple more clamps and staple my frame better. As I mentioned before, next time I want to use unprimed canvas. It took a lot of arm strength and cursing.
Found this link that explains an alternate technique I’m going to try.