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How to Use Canvas Stretcher Bars

how to use canvas stretcher bars

If you’re an artist who loves to showcase your artistic skills or finest art paintings on canvas, you’ll probably agree that it takes more than just framing and stacking your art piece up on the wall. It takes a little extra care, some love, and durable framing materials to preserve and display your creative artwork.

Besides, if you’ve worked hard and spent hours, weeks, or even months on your masterpiece, you might as well invest in the best tool to exhibit your art’s beauty. With that in mind, you should consider using canvas stretcher bars.

In this article, we will discuss the primary use of canvas stretcher bars and the significant reasons why they are pivotal for the proper and optimum preservation of canvases. You’ll also learn their different types and the easy ways to use stretcher bars for canvas.

What is a Canvas Stretcher Bar?

As the name suggests, this tool basically stretches a canvas painting or a blank canvas over a wooden bar or a timber frame to secure the edges and prep them for wall display. Typically derived from plain timber or kiln-dried wood, these stretcher bars vary in size in terms of widths, lengths, and heights that will accommodate different canvas sizes.

These bars usually feature a flat backside where you staple the canvas on whereas the sloped front touches only the outer edges. This enables the canvas to stay taut, thereby providing a strong foundation that holds the canvas together. Aside from that, it wards off wrinkles and ridges to preserve the quality and appearance of the painting.

The Advantages of Using a Canvas Stretcher Bar

There are a lot of advantages that back up the prevalent practice of canvas stretching among many artists and art galleries across the globe. Take a look at the following merits:

Optimum preservation: Since these stretcher bars pull the edges of a canvas over a wooden frame under extensive tension, it deters warping and any formation of wrinkles and ridges. As a result, it preserves the quality and appearance of your paintings for a long period of time.

Prepares a new canvas for painting: For a blank canvas, this method leaves a smooth and seamless surface where you can showcase your artistic skills and painting techniques effortlessly.

The ideal way to frame your canvas paintings: Canvas stretching is one of the best and most efficient ways to frame your canvas paintings. It prepares your artwork for further framing using different styles of frames according to your preferred designs. In this way, you can hang your paintings on the wall while complementing your interiors and other aesthetic decorations.

Low-cost framing: If you don’t want to spend a massive outlay for frames, you can use stretcher bars to exhibit your canvas paintings. The advantage of using these amazing wooden stretchers is that you can leave your paintings that way and put them up on your wall for display right away.

3D effect: Although you may opt to hang your canvas painting without a frame, canvas stretcher bars can spruce up your paintings with an artistic and sophisticated 3D effect.

Things You Should Know on How to Use Canvas Stretcher Bars

what is a canvas stretcher bar

If you’re going to try using canvas stretcher bars on your canvas paintings, here are the detailed instructions and some tips to keep in mind.

Tools You Need:

  • Canvas
  • Mallet
  • Staple gun
  • Extra staples
  • Canvas pliers
  • Stretcher bars
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

Step-by-step Procedure:

  • Once you picked the correct size for your canvas, assemble the stretcher bar pieces. Insert each corner to one and tighten all the edges using a mallet or a soft-headed hammer.
  • Unfold the canvas and, using a ruler, double-check the dimensions of your stretcher as well as the canvas you’re using. In this way, you’ll be able to determine whether you have enough thickness to your stretcher bar that the canvas will wrap or stretch around. This gives the canvas a nice trim as well as eliminating any extra flap that might interfere with hanging.
  • Furthermore, this step is imperative if you’re cutting a canvas from a roll or a longer size. The larger the canvas, the thicker the bars. For example, if you’re using a 3/4-inch frame, you need to leave about 2 extra inches of the canvas, so it can wrap nicely around the frame.
  • Place the stretcher against the canvas. Put it at the center, and make sure that the canvas lays on the beveled side, which is the front. Then, the flat side should be facing you.
  • Fold at least an inch of the center of the canvas and staple it with a staple gun. Since it’s the first fold and has no resistance at the other end, you don’t want to pull the canvas too hard.
  • Now that the other side has resistance, use the canvas pliers to pull the other side very hard to give the canvas a strong tautness. Staple it. Do this to the remaining sides.
  • After securing the sides with staples, go back to where you started and continue stapling the center. It is better to staple once or twice on each side rather than finishing one whole side then move on to the next.
  • If you’re going from the center of the planes out and gradually stapling the sides, you will efficiently pull the slack canvas into the corners. Hence, it prevents warping on the surface.The distance of the staples should be about 1 1/2 inches. This is to prevent any puckering in case there are too few staples. Aside from that, you shouldn’t staple at the edge of the canvas as the staple might fall off and the canvas will fray or rip apart.
  • The next thing to do is fold the corners. To stretch the canvas and give it a nice taut, you have to pull down one edge. While doing this, hold the other edge against the bar. Make sure to fold the canvas in half and pull it back to the backside of the frame using the canvas pliers.

You’ll notice that the fabric you’re folding overlaps nicely, leaving a tight and sleek corner. Secure it with a staple and the rest of the corners. Do this on all corners.

What You Should Remember:

Find the perfect size of stretcher bars for your canvas: Stretcher bars come in a vast range of sizes and depths. For the standard sizes, the bars typically range between 3/4 or 1 5/8 inch thick. You may consider these dimensions but you’re free to choose which size or depth best accommodates your canvas and your preferences, especially if you’re planning to display your canvas painting without frames.

Many artists opt for stretcher bars with thicker depths to accommodate a larger canvas. This provides ample depth that stretches the canvas to a rigid tautness.

Don’t let the stretchers sit too close to the canvas: When you stretch the canvas over the stretchers, make sure to leave an additional angled edge to prevent the bar from peeping through the canvas. When the stretchers are visible or sit too close to the canvas, you might end up brushing against the bars, causing painting mishaps or accidental applications.

Consider using keyable stretcher frames: Keep in mind that canvas will expand over time due to moisture absorption. Thus, impairing your canvas from its perfect square shape. This is the reason why keyable stretcher frames or stretcher keys are crucial to preserving its primary structure. These keys allow you to adjust and tighten the canvas should there be any warping or deformities in the long run.


The exceptional tautness of a canvas primarily delivers two amazing results: it gives your canvas a smooth and clean surface to paint on and conserves the quality of your canvas painting. Therefore, stretching a canvas with stretcher bars is a fundamental step that strengthens the foundation of your canvas painting. Not only does it prime your canvas but also preserves the integrity of your artwork.

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