Stretcher strips (also called stretcher bars) are typically made of wood, metal or a combination of the two. The different types of wood can range from pine to fir. Whether they are made of wood, metal or both, stretcher strips serve the same purpose. They are used to form a rectangular or square support over which cotton or linen canvas is stretched. Cross braces may be used for added frame support and to help prevent bending and warping. Cross braces also help keep the frame square. In general, standard strips are suitable for lengths up to 48 inches.

1. Construction
2. Design
3. Materials
4. Purpose
5. Cost

Stretcher strips may look the same at first glance, but if you take a closer look, you may notice that the corners are a little different on each. Commercially available prefabricated stretchers are typically constructed with interlocking corners, while French stretcher strips are constructed with a miter joint which is used to adhere the corners. Another stretcher strip utilizes butt joints which adhere to the corners. Instead of interlocking, the joint is glued and pinned into place.

Each type of stretcher strip has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, French stretchers are not permanently fastened with glue or pins, so the canvas can be re-tensioned later, if necessary. However, miter joints are typically weaker than interlocking corners, but they can be strengthened with a spline (slat). In the case of stretcher strips with butt joints, because butt joints are glued and pinned into place, they cannot be altered after assembly. Finally, interlocking corners provide excellent long-term stability.

Tip: Some stretcher strips won’t interlock with any other brand so it’s safe to assume that, in many cases, you won’t be able to mix and match.

According to Ralph Mayer, author of The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, the profiles on the stretcher bar should be slightly rounded. This allows the framer to see and obtain clear edges on images that have precise borders, and it allows the canvas weave to “roll over” the profile rather than snap over a sharp edge which is a major cause of canvas cracking. Rounded edges also help reduce surface friction and they allow for a tauter and more uniform draw.

If you want your artwork to stand the test of time, consider the material. As mentioned, stretcher strips are typically made of wood, metal, or a combination of the two. The level of strength metal offers goes without saying, but wood can be just as strong depending on the type. Some of the most durable wood used for stretcher strips is sourced from:

•Canada, Russia or Scandinavia (Nordic pinewood)
•Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) certified suppliers (kiln-dried, knot free, straight pine)
•Brazil (white pine)
•Canada, Western U.S., Mexico (ponderosa pine)

Wood from these sources and others will resist humidity, warping, rotting, shrinking, swelling, and other potential damage.

Stretcher strips are used for paintings, in photography, for home print projects, embroidery, material backdrops (theater), and more. The type of strips you choose will depend on the project. For artwork that will be displayed in public places or pieces you plan to sell, choosing the most durable strips is the best way to go. On the other hand, home projects may not require as much durability, to strips that are more decorative in nature may be the right choice. For projects such as material backdrops, standard strips may be all that’s needed.

Now this is a tricky one—especially if you’re on a tight budget. But consider this, if you want your artwork to last, choosing higher quality stretcher strips will always pay off in the long run. If you’re working on something more temporary such as a project for school you might be able to cut a few corners, but even then, better quality stretcher strips may be the best way to go. Depending on the type of stretcher strips, the cost may be as little as a few dollars per strip for lightweight, standard strips up to $40 or more for a heavy-duty strip. Inquire within and always ask about promotions or discounts that can help you save money.

Whether you’re working on a collection for an upcoming show, an art school project, or a piece for your home, always start with high quality products. Fredrix’s high quality stretcher strips are perfect for any project. Made of the finest wood, Fredrix stretcher strips are highly resistant to warping and cracking. Start shopping for high quality stretcher strips here to get started on your art project today!