DIY: $10 Custom Wooden Backdrop Mount

Do you have painted canvas backdrop, or other textile, that you use for portraits?

Why clamp it up to a crossbar (and crop the top) every time you use it, when for about $10 you can build a permanent wooden mounting bar that begs to be included in the frame?

Such was this morning's project.

Back in the Day

When I was a kid, my parents owned a furniture store in Eustis, Florida. Once a year, a mom-and-pop portrait photography outfit came through and set up shop on the showroom floor.

I was in middle school at the time, maybe 11 years old. This was my first ever exposure to a professional photographer. I thought it was really cool, so I would often volunteer to help out. A few years later, they handed down one of their painted canvas backdrops to me.

It was pretty worn (and dated) but I quickly repainted it because I loved the feel of the canvas and the mounting bar they had built for it. I used my repurposed backdrop for many years before passing it on to someone else.

Fast forward 40 years, and I have just had the same thing happen again. My friend Sara Lando just gifted me a beautiful canvas backdrop she painted and used for a portrait project. It is brown and rustic and lovely in a way that I could never make myself.

But it is just a piece of painted canvas. So today we are going to make the same DIY mounting bar that I learned about so many years ago.

What You'll Need

Nothing here is expensive, and you'll probably have most of what you need already laying around the house. The total supply list is:

• Two 1x2 boards, as straight as possible, with a length equal to the width of your backdrop (Note: in retrospect I think I would swap one of these board to be a 2x2. The holes would have more depth for the stands.)
• Wood glue
• Wood stain, if you like
• 5 or 6 wood screws, 1 1/4" long (choose 2" screws if using a 2x2 for the bottom board)


• Drill
• 5/8" bit (a cheap butterfly bit works fine)
• Some "A" clamps (like the ones you probably already use to clamp the canvas to a crossbar)
• A small bit for pilot holes and a philips bit for the screws

That's it. Of the entire list, the only things I had to buy were the two boards and the small packet of screws. The rest I scrounged from the utility room. So my out-of-pocket cost was under $8.

Prepare the Wood

Sand the boards to smooth the ends. Then, with the wide side up, sand the lengthwise right and left ridges on one side. Which is to say, if the board is laying on the ground you'll have crisp edges along the bottom and rounded edges along the top.

Do this to both boards. This way when we join them together, sandwiching the canvas, it won't stress the canvas when we roll it up.

Next, on one board, drill a 5/8" hole a couple of inches from each end—and a third hole in the middle. Do this on one board only. This will receive two light stands (at the ends) or also mount to one light stand in a pinch (in the middle).

Lightly sand the edges of the holes to get the splinters out.

Optional: Stain the Boards

Here's my thought. The top edge of the "board sandwich" is going to be visible. So I want it to look nice and to compliment the backdrop. So I stained mine. You may choose otherwise.

Wait a day for the stain to dry thoroughly.

Assemble the Mounting Bar

We are about to sandwich the canvas between the boards. There are a couple of things to watch out for here.

First, roll the canvas up as evenly as you can. You are going to marry to this rolling job permanently, so you don't want it to be at an angle.

Second, make sure you sandwich the canvas with the painted side showing correctly. Because that would suck if you got it wrong.

In the photo shown above, the closest board has the crisp (unsanded) sides up. The canvas, next to it, is unpainted side up as it unrolls. The far board is crisp edges down, so I'll just lift it and set it down on the sandwiched canvas later.

Dry fit the canvas to the bottom board, making sure it is nice and straight when close to the roll. Keep that straightness working for you!

Glue it

Run a fat bead of glue down the near board. Fit the canvas to it. Run a bead of glue on far board and complete the sandwich.

What you now have is a glued sandwich, upside down from the orientation in which it will be hung later when in use. The crisp edges are inside the sandwich, the slightly rounded edges are on the outside.

Make sure the painted side of the canvas (if yours is painted) will point out as it hangs down from the sandwich with the bottm board drilled to receive the stands in final use. Be certain about this, because you can't fix it later.

Screw It All Together

Using the A clamps, secure the sandwich together. Then drill pilot holes through the board with the light stand holes, making sure not to poke all the way through. I put masking tape on my bit to be a guide.

After the pilots are drilled, screw the sandwich together. You have an extra 1/4" (+ canvas thickness) of wood compared to the length of your screws. So if you like, you can countersink them a little to keep the screw heads from stressing the canvas when it is rolled up later.

Use a wet rag to clean up the excess glue while it is still wet. Do it for all the edges. But it is especially important to clean the front edge between the top board and the exterior painted canvas. Because that will show in your photos if you include the top edge of the backdrop.

Finally, after it is dry, use a razor or scissors to clean off the excess canvas from the top of the sandwich.

Usage Notes

Here it is again. You can see there is a wave in the canvas, which is going to happen because the canvas will always have some internal warping.

You can minimize this (if you like) by keeping a set of cut-to-length flat moulding strips and some bulldog clips for the bottom. Just sandwich the bottom strip of the canvas between the two strips and affix it with some bulldog clips.

It is best not to do this permanently, because the canvas is going to change with time and humidity. So you'll want to be able to straighten the bottom edge before clamping.

As you can see, the top mounting bar looks great—definitely camera ready. And the bar also serves to keep the canvas straight when rolled up in storage.

All in all, not a badly spent $10.

This post is part of Strobist's DIY Series, where you'll find dozens of lighting-related projects for budget-conscious photographers.


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