Stretching a Canvas

Stretching a canvas is a rather simple task, provided that you know the simple steps.  First, we'll cover the materials needed, and then the process:

These are the materials needed for stretching a canvas.  Even though we prefer linen, it can be expensive.  A happy alternative is pre-primed cotton canvas. The tools you need are:

  • Stretcher strips:  They can be made or bought at the store.

  • 90 angle ruler.

  • Staples or tacks.

  • Staple gun or hammer.

  • Canvas Stretching Pliers (see picture below)

Assemble the stretcher strips choosing the best corners; that is, the sides that are truer and without chipped edges, on the same side.  This is the side that will come in contact with the canvas.  By doing so, we are preventing the formation of wrinkles or crevasses that form on the edge of the canvas.  Before you start attaching it, make sure that the corners of the supports are at a 90 angle.  Use your ruler to check for true 90 angles.  Adjust if necessary.   You may staple across the joints to keep them from shifting while stretching the canvas.  Next, you need to cut a piece of canvas that is 1 1/2 to 2 inches larger than the stretcher strips. Once all these steps are done, you are ready to begin adhering the canvas to its support frame.  Keep in mind that the staples or tacks go on the sides of the strips.  (see figure at bottom left)
Now we are ready to place the canvas on the stretcher strips.  The proper sequence to follow is the most important aspect of stretching a tight, wrinkle-free canvas.  Start with point 1, stretch across at the opposite side to point 2. You will notice a large wrinkle appears across.  Next pull from point 3 until wrinkle on that side disappears.  Pull to point 4 until wrinkle on that end disappears also.

The next steps are similar to the ones already done, but this time we pull toward the corners as indicated by the graphic.  Once points 5, 6, 7, and 8 are finished, pull toward the corners as well for points 9, 10, 11, and 12.

Depending on the size of the canvas, start attaching staples or tacks between points until they are spread about one inch apart.  Last, fold and staple corners neetly.

We have saved to address in more detail an important tool until this point for a very good reason.  The Canvas Stretching Pliers can be fount at many art stores.  One of the problems we've found is that because it has a square shape, it is difficult, if not impossible to be used at any angle except 90 angles, thus preventing us from stretching the canvas toward the corners.

The solution is to round these ends to the round shape shown in the picture.  Since this tool is made out of steel, make sure a qualified person performs the transformation using a bench grinder.  Please, use eye protection while using this tool.  Your eyes are your most important tool!

This is the end of Stretching a Canvas.


Graphics by Santa Maria Studio. All Rights Reserved. 2003