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How to Stretch a Canvas

If you’re a starving artist, save a few bucks, hone your carpentry skills, and stretch your own canvas.


  • Step 1: Pick a size Decide what size canvas you’d like to build. Write down the width and height of the canvas.
  • Step 2: Cut wood to size Using the miter saw, cut your 1 by 2-inch wood to size by trimming your lengths of wood at 45 degree angles.
  • Step 3: Cut trim to size Repeat the same process for the ¼-inch, ¼-round trim.
  • Step 4: Sand pieces Sand down the cut surfaces of your pieces gently and briefly to remove stray bits and particles and provide a good, even surface.
  • Step 5: Join two pieces Put a dab of glue on the cut faces of two of your 1 by 2-inch pieces and join them together to form a right angle.
  • TIP: Use the carpenter's square to make sure your joints are square.
  • Step 6: Mop excess glue Use the damp rag to mop up any excess glue that pushed out of the seam at the corner.
  • Step 7: Repeat for all corners Repeat the process for the other corners.
  • Step 8: Fasten joints with staples Drive 3 or 4 staples perpendicular to and straddling the seams to fasten the joints of your canvas together. The product is your stretcher bar.
  • TIP: If your stretcher bars are large, cut angled braces to attach to each corner for support.
  • Step 9: Glue trim to canvas Carefully place the ¼-inch, ¼-round strips on to the glue so that the slope of the round trim is facing the inside of the canvas, and the ¼-rounds and 1x2-inch wood are flush on the outside.
  • Step 10: Nail trim to stretcher bars Carefully tap the finish nails through the ¼-round strips and into the 1x2-inch parts of the stretcher bars. The ¼-round trim will elevate the canvas off of the stretcher bars, so that the stretcher bars do not affect the painting.
  • Step 11: Push nails below surface Use a nail set or another nail to push the finish nails below the surface of the wood to prevent it from tearing the canvas.
  • Step 12: Set aside to dry Set the stretcher bars aside to dry for a couple of hours.
  • Step 13: Set canvas face down Set your canvas out flat and face down.
  • Step 14: Put stretcher bars on top Set your stretcher bars on top, with the ¼-round strips in contact with the canvas.
  • Step 15: Pull canvas up Beginning with the right side of the stretcher bars, pull the canvas up in the middle onto the back of the stretcher bars and staple it down with a staple running parallel to the stretcher bar it's fastened to. Pull firmly.
  • Step 16: Repeat on each side and corner Repeat this on each corner and side.
  • TIP: Do not pull so tight that the stretcher bars bend out of square. At this point, you'll have funny corners sticking up into the air.
  • Step 17: Repeat above staple Pick an area a few inches above your staple and repeat Steps 14 through 16 over again, moving toward the corners.
  • Step 18: Pull material on corner to side Go to the bottom right corner, pinch the canvas in your hands and pull the material to one side or the other.
  • TIP: Generally you pull toward the long side of the stretcher bars.
  • Step 19: Fold material down back Fold the material back and around the stretcher bars as you would when folding and tucking in a sheet on a bed.
  • Step 20: Fasten material Fasten the material to the back of the canvas with a couple of staples.
  • Step 21: Repeat for corners Repeat Steps 18 through 20 for the opposite corner, then the adjacent corners.
  • Step 22: Cut excess canvas The back probably looks a little sloppy, so use scissors or a craft knife to cut away excess canvas.
  • FACT: The famed Austrian painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser almost always stretched his own canvas.

You Will Need

  • 1x2-in. lengths of wood long enough to form the perimeter of your canvas
  • 1/4-round lengths of trim
  • 1/2 to 5/8-in. carpentry staples
  • A staple gun
  • Wood glue
  • Finish nails
  • A hammer
  • A miter saw or box saw
  • Raw canvas
  • Medium grit sandpaper
  • A carpenter's square
  • A damp rag
  • Scissors or a craft knife
  • A large
  • wide
  • and flat work surface
  • like a clean floor

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