How I build my Painting Supports

I have been building my own painting supports for years. I prefer the solid surface of panel. However, depending on the subject being painted, sometimes I like the tooth of canvas or a smoother cloth like muslin. This demo will show you how to build a cradled panel and also, how to finish it further, into a gallery wrapped canvas panel.

The only negative arguments that I have read about, concerning the archival qualities of paintings done on masonite /hardboard are a) the fear of acid in the wood pulp leaching it's way through the paint layers and yellowing the paint and b) the risk of moisture damage caused when this type of panel is not properly prepared. The weight of panel compared to stretched canvas is also undesirable in larger sizes. In this demo I will give a brief demonstration of how I build a gallery wrapped, canvas covered, panel. The method I use will provide many layers of protection for the top coats of acrylic or oil paint and the structure will be sealed against moisture damage. The weight will be a non issue in sizes less then 36" x 24".


I first cut a piece of panel to the size I want using a 7.25 " electric circular saw. I use a large carpenters square to mark my piece before I cut. The type of panel I use is 1/4 " thick standard hardboard also known as masonite. It can be bought at lumber stores in sheets up to 4' x 8' and as small as 2' x 2'. I like the kind that is smooth on both sides. But, it's not always available. Panels 20" x 16" and smaller tend not to warp, but, larger sizes may ; cradling a panel with 1.5" pine as shown in this demo will assure that the larger sizes will remain warp free for decades or centuries in a proper environment.



I cut the 1.5" select pine to the exact size using my 10" compound miter saw. I have found this electric tool to be very effective at getting 45 deg angle cuts perfect. It's best to under cut the length slightly, then when the sides are put together, it will be easy to slice off another 1/16 th or 1/32" to get a perfect fit.


Before gluing the pine to the hardboard it helps to hold the corners together with temporary braces as shown above. I also tacked the corners with one spiral 1.5" nail. The preferred method is to avoid the use of nails in the final product. It may be possible for nails to work out through the surface of the canvas covered board in the future. If the nails at the corner are going to remain in, then they will need to be countersunk and spiral finishing nails used. Spiral nails are less likely to move once they are countersunk. The nail holes can be filled with wood filler later.


The best product that I have discovered to adhere the panel to the pine is- Lapage's No More  Nails. This type of glue is used in the production of masonite panel doors. The cured glue is so strongly adhered, that the masonite will break first when an attempt is made to separate the bond. I discovered this recently, when I had to modify the length of a masonite bi-fold closet door.




Clamp the wood cradle to the panel and let it set over night.


Remove the clamps and scrape or sand off the excess glue.


Apply wood filler. Let it set a few hours, then sand the edges to create a flush surface.



There should be no ridge between the pine and the hardboard. Any bumps will show in the finished canvas support.


Lightly sand the entire piece front and back. Then wipe off the surface with paint thinner or alcohol to get rid of the dust and any oily or waxy substances.

Apply a couple coats of polyurethane or acrylic medium to the entire board, front and back. This sizing process will seal the wood permanently and will be the first layers of protection on the front and it will be a barrier against moisture penetration on the back. If a masonite panel is sealed in this way, it should last for centuries in good condition. Most home, office and gallery environments today are air conditioned and moisture ingress will not be as great a risk, for your art work, as it was in the past. However the polyurethane or medium will be a cheap insurance against this risk. Another advantage for using masonite panel is the fact that it is not a substance prone to insect damage.


I personally like the idea of painting on a surface that is over 1/4" thick compared to stretched canvas which is only thousands of an inch thick. Evidence seems to point to the fact that most of the cracking in older paintings on stretched canvas was caused by the constant expanding and contracting of the canvas over the years due to environmental changes and the stress of moving the canvas when handling . As more studies are being done by art conservators there seems to be more agreement among them and proof that the ideal surface for a painting is that of a solid support. Masonite/hardboard is one of the best solid support choices when it is prepared properly.

This finishes the first part in creating a solid foundation for a painting. If a smooth surface is preferred and the wrap around idea is not what you want, this support is now ready for gesso priming. Sand the polyurethane or acrylic medium surface with a medium sandpaper before applying the gesso. The rest of the demo will show how I adhere canvas or muslin to the support to create a gallery wrapped look. The advantage of the gallery wrapped canvas is that an exterior frame is not absolutely necessary and many works of art are being created like this today and it can be hung as is.


I did a lot of research on the ideal glue to adhere canvas to hardboard. Many artists prefer acrylic matte or gloss mediums. It's easy to work with and when dry becomes a hard plastic glue. If you paint with acrylics it is the same binder that is in your paint. I like to use up my older medium for this purpose so I can use the fresh bottle in paint applications later.


The canvas I am using in this demo is a light weight tight weave cotton canvas . It is a raw canvas that I washed out with soap and water to get rid of any starch, etc. The washing and drying process preshrinks the fabric. I sometimes use a cloth called muslin , for this cover over the panel because it has a tight weave and is a smoother surface then canvas. The lighter fabric also has the benefit of greater ease in folding at the corners. Before the canvas or muslin is ready to glue it will need to be ironed to get rid of wrinkles. Cut the fabric in a size that will be at least 3 " bigger on all sides then your hardboard surface. You will need the excess material to wrap around the back. Lightly sand the sized surface before the gluing. Sanding the smooth surface will ensure a good bond between the board and the canvas.


Glue the fabric on the flat surface first, using a medium size brush, smoothing it out from the center as you go, to get rid of all air pockets.

Cut off some of the excess material , so that the corners can be glued without too much of a bulge.

The following pictures show how I cut excess material and glued the canvas to the board. It is a trial and error process that will have to be practiced to get right. Use plenty of medium but not too much on the flat surface . Use lots of medium on the sides, especially at the corners.


As it looked before applying gesso. Let it dry over night before applying the gesso.


Apply three coats of gesso. Change the direction of the brush strokes with each coat to create a crosshatching effect. Sand lightly between coats to get rid of any imperfections.



The finished product . This is a 32" by 24" support ready for oil or acrylic paints. The canvas finish has an egg shell feel and look to it.


This is an example of a painting in process done on this type of support. Excuse the bad picture of me.


I hope all this info was useful to some of you. I enjoyed doing the demonstration. I will continue to try new things and if I have a listening audience I will continue to share my findings.