ultimate guide to stretcher bars and their profiles

If you have chosen to stretch your own canvas - selecting the right materials is paramount to creating a beautiful canvas to work on. Although the canvas is highly important as it is the surface you will create your masterpiece on, the bars that you stretch the canvas on are just as crucial for determining the final product! In this informative blog, we will take you through everything you need to know about stretcher bars and their profiles.

What is a stretcher bar?

Stretcher bars are the foundations we use when putting together a stretcher frame that stretches a canvas painting or blank canvas. Stretcher bars are often made from plain timber or kiln-dried wood or fine pine. Here at Bird & Davis, all our bars and pieces are made from fine pine sourced from sustainable forests. Stretcher bars can vary largely in size across the width, length and heights that are there to accommodate different canvas sizes. Typically, you will find most stretcher bars (including ours at Bird & Davis) feature a flat backside which allows you to staple the canvas on, and then typically have a slanted front with a higher edge. This flat backside is integral to the stretching process as this is used to be stapled on, and the canvas is stretched so that it floats over the slanted front and touches the outer rim only. This helps the canvas to stay taut and provides a strong foundation that holds the canvas together and allows you to focus on creating or showcasing your masterpiece! It also helps prevent a pesky ridge from forming when the canvas comes in contact with the bar when the brush pushes the canvas towards the bar as you paint. 

What are stretcher bar profiles?

When we refer to a stretcher bar profile, we are referring to the width, depth & the raised edge or bevel of the stretcher piece to which the canvas will be stretched over. The depth  is the measurement of how far the canvas will protrude from the wall when hung as a painting.  This can easily be found in our stretcher bar profile section for you to take a browse.

What if I'm stretching a large canvas? 

If you are stretching a very large piece of canvas, you will need to choose thicker bars for strength, which is why you find the thinner bars aren't available for the larger sizes. 


cross centre bars stretcher pieces

What are cross/centre bars used for? 

If your stretcher frame is large, it is a smart idea to use a centre bar, which is a bar across the back which will add additional support to the frame. A centre bar can be used at any size, as long as there is a slot in the bar to accommodate it. For this to fit, it is vital to use a centre bar that fits the stretcher bar. Here at Bird & Davis, this is easily shoppable as we have centre bars to match our stretcher pieces - just check out the dimensions to be sure. Alternatively, two bars can be used in the middle - also known as a cross bar. To create a cross bar, simply pick the centre bar and half bar of your chosen stretcher frame dimensions. However be sure to note that the dimensions of both the centre and the half bar are actually smaller than the frame itself, but they are labelled as the size that will fit the rectangle to make it super simple to shop for. For example, our best-selling 32mm Gallery Stretcher Pieces can only be used with our 32mm Gallery centre bar and 32mm half bar.

All our centre bars here at Bird & Davis go across the width of the stretcher frame, whereas our half bars go across the length or the largest length. For example, a 120cm x 90cm would require a 90cm morticed bar and two 60cm half bars. Online you may only find set sizes centre and half bars but rest assured we can make any size you need. Just give us a call.

What are wedges used for?

Wedges or 'keys' as they are sometimes referred to can often be overlooked within the art world, but these little wooden corner triangles are a godsend for tightening up any of your canvases - new or old! It is common for older paintings to loosen over the course of time which is often caused by natural changes in the environment such as humidity or temperature. However, these nifty tools can also be used on new pieces of work or when you've just finished stretching your canvas to give it that final finishing touch and want to tighten it to perfection. Wedges can be inserted into the canvas bars before painting or after, however once inserted they should be left in as a permanent fixture helping to support the overall structure of the canvas. 

Our top tip for stretching with nails:

When using old techniques like stretching with nails, it is imperative to put wedges into the stretcher frame with a push fit, not using a hammer. This will help keep your stretcher frame from going out of square or moving when stretching using nails. 

The Ultimate Guide To Stretcher Bars & Their Profiles

Shopping stretcher pieces and profiles at Bird & Davis 

Everything at Bird & Davis is made to order, which is why we don't have any stretcher frames pre-made. We can cut all bars to size and this can be as exact as you like - so if you need a bar cut to any specific measurements - e.g 27 3/32 , then our team of experts can do this for you!


Our best-selling stretcher profiles are as follows: 


19mm bevel - This is our standard size and most popular profile for most of our customers - this is our bread and butter of stretcher profiles!


19mm raised lip - The raised lip profile has a raised lip to keep the canvas further away from the bars.


32mm bevel - This profile has a more prominent bevel because of the overall depth. The wood itself is thicker in depth making it sturdier for larger sized frames/canvases. 

The benefit of our raised lip bars means that it is far less likely to touch the bar, meaning you can paint with ease without worrying about marking the canvas! Of course, this is also down to personal preference, and you may find you prefer working with different profiles for different sizes. Every artist has a different process!


Want more?

Be sure to check out our blog - The Ultimate Guide To Assembling a Stretcher Frame across all sizes for a detailed step by step guide to putting each frame together. Or, check out our informative guides to assembling stretcher frames across different sizes on Youtube here


If you want a custom stretcher frame built to specific dimensions, check out our highly popular Build a Stretcher service. We also offer bespoke On Site Stretching, where we can attend your property and remove and re-stretch any piece of artwork onto either your existing frame or a brand new stretcher frame. Find out more here.

Still puzzled? If you have any questions on this, please drop our friendly team a line at info@birdanddavis.com, or pop into our store where we are always more than happy to take you through anything you need guidance on, across anything from stretcher frames, painting solvents to easels, or even just a chit chat! 

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