How to stretch a canvas

The painting training has shimmied into the dark arts – with worrying rooms full of hammers and sharp implements and the smell of rabbit skin glue and death in Watership Down. This Monday night was spent stretching my own canvas, which is both easier and harder than it sounds. Intellectually, it’s not difficult, but for the stringy-armed…well…owh.

I thought I’d share the a bit of a How To. Then I can look it up when I inevitably forget.

Here goes.

To stretch a canvas, you will need:
A decent floor space.
Two pairs of stretcher bars. So, if you want your canvas to be 18″ by 30″ you will need to get two 18″ bars and two 30″ bars. Best place I can recommend is Jacksons online. They will send them out to you, and they are likely to be cheaper and a whole lot more reliable than the ones you would turn out if you tried to butcher a tree yourself.
Canvas. This comes in all types. Get it pre-primed and save yourself hassle. You can buy a roll of it, if you’re sure you know the kind of grain you’re after.
A staple gun. And staples, obviously.
A staple extractor, for when you get it wrong.
A sharp craft knife.
Something to put on your floor so you don’t dent your canvas or get smut on it. We just got a bit piece of thick fabric.
A hammer.
A set square.

Below is the method. Additionally I’d recommend you do all this to good music, so you can’t hear the sound of yourself failing to work the staple gun.

1. Slot your stretcher bars together. One side of them will be flat and the other will be beveled. Make sure all the bars have the flat side the same way up.

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2. Check your corners are straight with your set square. If they aren’t, give them a tap with the hammer. Don’t whack them hard because you’ll dent them.
3. Lay your formed canvas frame on the floor.
4. Get your roll of canvas and lay it out to work out the size. You want to leave a 20cm margin around the outer edge of your canvas.
5. Get your craft knife and cut that out.
6. Get a cup of tea.
9. Now, lay the canvas, primed side (white side) down on the floor.
10. Put your frame on top.
11. Sit in front of the frame length and turn the edge of the canvas over at its centre. You want to staple it in the centre of the length of the frame.

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12. Head to the other side of your frame. This is the bit where you need strong arms. Pull your canvas, stretch it, so it’s taught with the other side – the part you have already stapled. Grip it and staple the direct opposite side.

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13. Now, do the same for the centre of each of your width bars.
14. Return to your longer sides and begin working your way out – stretching and stapling evenly, so you reach the corners of your canvas at the same time.

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15. You can tap in any proud staples with a hammer if they sit proud to stop them going anywhere.
16. Cut excess canvas off in a straight line.

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17. Then you need to do a bit of origami – so you have a nice box edge, with the canvas folding over the same way on each side.

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18. In theory, you should now have a taut canvas. You can tighten it up a little more by wetting the back of the canvas and by slotting in the nifty canvas wedges that come with most slats. They fit in at the back of the corners.

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