Polystyrene or not?


SGF, Supreme Grumble Framer
Apr 8, 2004
Hi all,

I recently received some very nice and inexpensive poly moulding samples.

I have always been a framing in wood or metal purist but these mouldings and price are very nice.

I pride my shop on only quality materials but I have often seen threads on here involving poly issues.

I don't know if I would be swayed by a post or two but was wondering aproxiamtely how many shops offer poly, good and bad experiences and what do you think of the holier than thow attitude of "If it ain't wood or metal it's crap"

No shop I ever worked in used it but was only curious about the rest of the worlds opinion.

Thnks to all repliers.
I had to order some for a customer who was set on matching a piece he had framed years ago at another shop. I swore the entire time I was doing the project and vowed the stuff would never enter my shop again. Not that I'm a framing snob, but then again maybe I am, nothing but quality product for my customers.

My two cents!~

From 5 feet away most you can not tell if it is real wood or poly!~ The finishes have gotten very very good!~ It would have to be a choice & if you are willing to set up for it!~ Plenty of ventilation and the get more ventilation!~ It is a must!~ Just like wood there is some quality wood and there is some that warrants the fireplace!~ Poly is the same!~ It would depend on the market you are going after on whether they are just looking for eye appeal or long term value!~ Good luck remember if you do again ventilation that stuff will kill you!~ I think Ron and some others will bear me out on this!~
Absolutely no poly here. I can find no pluses to adding it to my line but lots of reasons not to.
I found the original products (Emafyl) to be OK for smaller projects, but lacked in strength.
The newer products from Korea are a blend of polystyrene and wood fiber and are much stronger.
They cut easily, join nicely, and you never have to worry about warping. I even did a bit of modification on one profile, cutting the inner and outer detail off then gluing them together to make a glue-on frame for a medicine cabinet.

Just because it is plastic doesn't mean it lacks quality. The finishes are getting better, and the profile choice is expanding. I don't think it'll be too long before we see plastic substrates for more sophisticated hand finished frames. Economics and the decreasing supply of premium wood will see to it.
Remember, your vehicle's plastic bumper is the latest incarnation of a log lashed to the rear of a wagon.
Wally-You are so correct. We had the same snobbish, elitist point of view that we hear way too often. And we too, had tried early generation emafyl with less than satisfactory results.

But, then,at Vegas a few years back I was having dinner with a couple of well repected, quality drive framers and guess what? Up jumped the devil, they both used it as a part of their line. (Wally, do you remember who the other guy was? Oh, that's right it was Jim Miller)

Thatwas all the endorsement I needed

If you look in virtually any hotel that has been remodled in the last five years, you will see it

For those that wish not to carry this as part of a well rounded product line good for you-it's your business

For the rest, it fits a very important part of our line and too ignore it for no more reason than elitist reasons might be a little short-sighted
I can remember not so long ago all you could buy were leather shoes…….and I not that old…….

A few years on man made polymers and materials account for a whopping 85% of the shoe market in this part of the world……some of those man made TOP Designer trainers/shoes are now selling for up to Euro €500+ a pair in Ireland……..

In fact I read an article in last Sundays paper which said that Trainers/Man Made shoes are now the standard street shoe…..and that there is a new line of trainers on the way which will try and recapture the sports market…..

Oh……can you buy any production car with a traditional bumper/fender made of traditional chromed steel……..I would lay a wager that all top of the range cars now have bumper/fender made of man made polymers….including the new Rolls Royce Phantom……….now that car spell tradition and quality for me……

I would also wager that modern man made polymers are a more environmentally responsible
Originally posted by stshof:
Absolutely no poly here. I can find no pluses to adding it to my line but lots of reasons not to.
Would you state the reasons not to?

I'll share three pluses: 1) It allows more gross profit percentage with a lower retail sale price, 2) On the basis of appearance alone, customers often select one of our half-dozen polys from a wall of 2,000 samples, and 3) It cuts & joins a lot like wood.
Do you have to have special blades? Can it be repaired if a corner breaks loose?
Just curious because I've been thinking about carrying some. I'm getting REAL tired of warpage.
Way back when they first showed up, I was afraid of them. It gets really hot here and they didn't support the weight of the glass/art. I figured if I had to start replacing them with wood because of customer complaints, I'd be out of business! So I put out my snob sign - I will only sell quality wood frames - no poly. I reevaluated later when the product improved but decided I have plenty of fine mouldings to sell without going there, the glue reeks and my ventilation isn't that great, and my chopper blades hang up in it and create a bad join. Those are my major reasons. Now I have a question, please! Why do you only have 6 polys out of 2000 samples? :D ;)
You say you "Pride myself in quality".

Forget poly ... it's junk ... anyone who says diffently is just trying to justify the lousy product that it is.

....and I'm sure lots will come back saying how wrong I am ....

Bottom line: ... poly = junk.
Like Gumby said, from 5 feet away it's hard to tell if it's plastic or wood. When I was at the Decor show, I looked at several booths that offered "extruded" moulding & Emafyl and quite frankly, they were very good looking and I could see using them for contract work or where price was an issue.
Actually, when it comes right down to it, how many of your customers really care what material the frame is made of as long as it looks good in their home, and the package that it is in (mounting - matting - glazing, etc) is designed to protect & enhance their artwork.

On the flip side, I am concerned about structural integrity - so, I would definitely not recommend plastic moulding for large works of art over 16x20.
Case in point: Just today I had a gentlemen come into our shop with a nice looking, large (28x38) 3 1/2" wide frame that held a double-matted Turkey Federation limited edition print that he purchased at a dinner/auction a few years ago. It had fallen off the wall because the half inch screw that held the hanger in place pulled out of the plastic moulding. Both bottom corners (that were v-nailed) were broken & the glass shattered - (luckily no damage to the print) and he had no idea that the frame was plastic

Anyway, he's having us re-frame it with a nice oak (real oak) frame.
Now, understand that I have no agenda on changing anyone's mind. If you do not want it, no problem

Also understand,we use it about 10% of the time on custom and 60-70% on our preframed art.

So,with that let me say the following:

We probably cut 10-12 polys a day as well as all other woods. We cut all frames for the next day at same time (I'm sure most framers cut many more frames per day than we). Never have noticed any smell or odor; don't have any special ventilation system, use the exact same blades.

In essence, we don't do anything differently for wood, metal or polys

Size limits? None yet

We frame a lot of preframed art (important in our biz) and we do many over 36x48 types in plastics. We also use glass in them. Another thing I learned from my learned friend, Jim Miller, is to use Wall Buddies.

Again, I am only speaking from personal experience, but in the last two years (or so)we have never had a single piece returned because it fell of the wall or a corner separated. I realize that we probably don't do near as many pieces as most of the detractors, but it has to be in the thousands

Maybe we just are lucky, but I will personally guarantee one thing: In todays market, if you are going to sell preframed art (especially oversize)this product line allows you an opportunity to compete.

Carry it-don't carry it-it's no difference to me.

I just don't understand why those against it are so fiercely against it

My suggestion? Try some, make sure you get wider stuff for bigger peices (sounds like the same decision as wood) and go through a couple of hundred feet and experiment

I've been aound long enough to remember the same resistance to metal when it first became popular
Originally posted by McPhoto:
...a nice looking, large (28x38) 3 1/2" wide frame...It had fallen off the wall because the half inch screw that held the hanger in place pulled out of the plastic moulding. Both bottom corners (that were v-nailed) were broken & the glass shattered...
Poly and wood are completely different materials. The framer who expected one 1/2" screw to support a 28x38 frame badly misunderstood the plastic's characteristics.

However, with proper fitting and hardware, a 1-1/2" wide poly moulding would be structurally suitable for a 28x38 frame. Several years ago I built a 36" x 48" frame out of 1" poly, just to see if it would work. It's still hanging.

It's OK to not like poly mouldings. But it would be wrong to expect them to perform the same as wood; framers who know how to work with poly have little trouble with it.

And it would be wrong to assume that what may be the fastest-growing moulding material in our industry is the same as it was last year -- or last week, for that matter.

Resistance to poly mouldings reminds me of the resistance to "junk" Japanese cars in the 1970s. Yes, they were junk at first, but to say they improved would be an understatement. European and USA car makers are still trying to catch up with them.

Within a decade, I think custom framers will be using more plastic moulding than wood moulding. Not only because plastic quality will improve, but because wood quality will continue to decline.
Whoa. 28x38. Even I wouldn't have put a 1/2" screw eye into that frame and ....

What. Was my sticker on the back.... oh never mind.

Actually, in all seriousness, I would have used a 4-screw rail and #4 wire.

Which, I think would also work on a 1" poly.

As Jim pointed out.... we used to refer to those first Toyota Corolas as sh*t-boxes, now I drive a Prius and in September I'll be buying a newer Prius...and the Ford dealer is a customer and really wants me to buy his Escape Hybid.... but he understands that I want all the wazoo flash-bang hi-tech stuff that American cars don't have for under $50,000.....

And so there are polys out there that look like a LaMarsh $35/ft, or under $4.... and I'll probably end up with a poly or two in my house....

Just not over the Vertical Grain Fir Mantle. :D

Question: Those new poly/sawdust mouldings; what do you glue them with?
Ive been fascinated with these questions wether to carry poly or not. We used to carry an all-wood profile line before these polysterene salesmen showed up on our storefront. They may be junk to some( the black cored mouldings are actually recycled rubbish), but they do have some good points. Newer poly samples like those poly-wood fiber hybrids are almost comparable to wood in strength but 70% less costly to customers. Poly never warps and is definitely pest resistant. Better plastics and increased applications to almost everything seem to have created a following for these “ clever imitations”. Wood will always be superior to polysterene but it would be hypocritical to say that theyre increasingly taking up space on our sample display, ( and also in our gallery). Customers almost always value wood over poly but they end up choosing the plastics instead.

Standard polysterene is joined using PVC solvent cement but this tend to produce gaps on the outer edge of the frame because of the slower tacking properties of the solvent.

We now use commercially produced cyanoacrylate adhesive (instant glue) in joining the frames on the table PRIOR to underpinning, this makes for virtually no gaps and ensures that the mouldings are well profiled against each other.
Baer, solvent glue...like airplane glue, only comes in much bigger tubes. I did put some together with Mighty Muck just to see...worked great, and no glue hangover.

Just did a 1/4" PP beveled mirror in a 3 1/2" profile poly. Outside dimensions 39" x 61". screwed 1/8" Masonite panel to back and used metal cleat hanger. Strong like bull.

I have my samples, probably about 30 of them, strategically placed between the AMCI and the Max. I don't identify them as being poly, and they get as much attention as the other two lines. The designers I work with love 'em...we both make better margins and they get the look and the happy client.

As far as handling characteristics are concerned, the newer poly/wood fiber blend mouldings don't cut as well with the chopper as the straight poly mouldings did, but they cut very well with a saw as long as a fairly quick cutting stroke is used. You can cut them with a chopper, but I have found that you need to make much smaller bites.

I've done a few experiments with the poly and poly/wood fiber products and find that if the join is done properly (poly solvent glue and pressure) that the chances of breaking the joint is greatly diminished. Usually the rail breaks before the joint does.

I was a little surprised by the Grumblers supporting poly.

I will experiment a little on pre-framed art and some stuff for my house before I show anyone at the counter (cheapskates).

Any glue recomendations?

Thanks again to all, positive and negative.
If you reserve poly mouldings only for "cheapskates", you may have the wrong idea.

I suggest you price poly mouldings at more than your usual markups for wood. Most of mine are at 12x or 15x cost; a few are at 20x, and a few are at 8x. But overall, I sell them at about 20% less than similar-looking wood mouldings, and earn at least the same profit dollars on each sale. This pricing strategy is one reason my COGS is under 18%.

If you present polys as "cheap" -- or if you think they are and try to mask that mindset -- they will not sell as well as if you understand and talk about their advantages. For example; no warping, consistent finish, environmentally friendly, recycled material content, lightweight, more chemically stable than wood, lignin-free, and better than wood for preservation framing.

A word about appearance: Most of the newer wood mouldings have shapes and faux finishes that could be easily duplicated on nearly any material -- including extruded polystyrene.
Here are a few tips:

1) Cut poly mouldings just like wood. If you use a saw, run it through the material quickly. If you use a chopper, cut in several small bites.

2) If you sand your miters, do it on a manual sander; an electric sander would melt the plastic.

3) Use cyanoacrylate glue and V-nail or pin as usual. Always put mechanical fasteners in the miter joints, and I suggest steel. Thumbnails can be used if you rout the slots very quickly, but the plastic inserts add little strength to the corners.

4)When fitting, fill the frame's depth with filler boards and unify the structure with strips of 2" clear polyester packing tape (3M "Super Strength" at Sam's Club) placed all around the back perimeter, directly over the fitting points. Burnish all pressure-sensitive tapes. Joining the frame to its contents eliminates flexing of the plastic and makes a very strong assembly.

5) Use WallBuddies or another multi-screw hanging system, which reinforces the frame and does not stress it. Screweyes are not advised.
Jim makes a great suggestion in his selling technique. Too often many framers view everything through that extremely narrow prizm of their own preference.

It's the customer that counts, really

If they perceive that wood is a "quality" product, then by all means, sell it.

If they feel that $350 masterpiece was more than they wanted, perhaps a cheaper wood or even a poly might be a great alternative.

Comparing a $350 no sale to a $250 sale at Jim's CoG sure sounds like a sweet deal to me.

We stock 34 SKUs of poly and it sure rounds out our offerings nicely
I too was a purest framer for many years and wouldn't think of offering "plastic" mouldings to my customers. And I have no idea how many customers never came into my shop because they may have heard that I only carried the high end wood mouldings and didn't have any "bargain" mouldings to choose from. I added some box offerings and got good response to them. Then I added just a few MDF mouldings for variety. Also good response and a few new customers shopping for value rather than quality.

Now I am temporarily working at a BB (a guy's gotta eat, ya know) and their main offerings consist of Chinese MDF's and Poly mouldings and readymades with a few woods thrown in. We are SNOWED with work in a rather small town!! If I had half the business this chain brings in I would have to hire help!

This has radically changed my rationale of thought on what to offer customers. As Bob has said many times, a $150 sale is worth much more than a $300 walk-out involving the same labor. Because when the customer walks, he/she still needs framing done, they just don't choose to have YOU do it any longer. They will walk into the nearest BB and see a moulding or a ready made that fills their needs (which sometimes is simply to put little Johnny's first artwork on the wall) and it is half your estimate! The sale is almost automatic for the BB framer.

I can't tell you how many people have walked into the shop where I have worked for the past 2 months and have spent good money for some of the cheapest made mouldings/readymades and taped on images and regular glass. And these people aren't all blue collar low income, they are doctors, lawyers, building firms, interior designers, store owners, and many of the consumers that you have thought, "Hmmmm, I wonder where they got THAT framing done?"

I am considering opening a new frame shop in a strip mall presently under construction and I can assure you that there will be some serious re-thinking of my business strategy and offerings along with some adjustments to my markup on many of the materials I offer. This elitest attitude that so many of us have is just killing framing in certain areas of the country and the BB's know it. They simply step in and offer what the people in that area are looking for and you see the frame shops drop to the wayside like flies. Since this BB came to the area I am in (just over 2 yrs. ago) there have been no less than 6 frameshops close or the framers retire. That isn't guesswork, that is cold fact.

I will still offer high quality and I will still be my own worst critic of my work but I will be looking at bringing some of these customers that are spending untold millions at BB's into my shop. Their money spends every bit as well as the high end consumer and I intend to grab as much of it as I can before I hang up my point driver.

If I were near Framerguy I would hug him……

Tom’s post has to be just about the ALL TIME most enlightening post on the Grumble that I have ever read….

What a wonderful way to research a new shop which will suffer all the ravages and competition from the BB’s

Tom my friend whether by necessity or planed you working for a BB is going to give you some of the most valuable research you can obtain for your new venture………..not in a million years would I have thought to go and work for a BB prior to thinking about opening a new shop….WHAT a line of research…….well done my friend.

Best regards

Thanks again all,

Jim those tips will help alot.

When you mark it up are your doing 15%-%20 as the entire job or just for the cost of the frame. (I'm asking is there the usual costs for the labor and everything else tacked on to that)
Tom-So glad to hear you are well and planning again for your own shop.

If you need any help, contact me.

I always thought you were pulling a sled uphill with the typical outmoded thinking that many refuse to change.

These big behemoths do numbers beyond most people's comprehension. It doesn't mean to clone from them, it means to cherry pick a nugget here and a nugget there

I am with Dermot in his appraisal of your reformation
Gosh I am a snob...but now hearing people like Jim, Bob, Dermot, and my bald headed friend speak of this stuff and how it is making a mark on the industry...got to say I am rethinking things. I thought well if I had a place maybe one or two of those hidden under the counter in case we have someone that could not afford the typical wood/metal frame job. Now I see what Jim is saying, "Use a buying advantage as a selling advantage." Bobs words (sorry if it is not completely correct sir), but it is actually laid out there to see what he means.

It is funny sometimes you resists what you don't know. And what you know, you don't really have a clue about. It is very dangerous not to know what and how things are changing right on top of your fitting table.

Patrick Leeland
Hello all and interesting post. I have used a little Omega poly and have been very pleased. Was wondering what companies Bob and Jim were using for their poly? Thanks.
Received my free samples from JJ Moulding this past week and have had several positive interactions with Megan already.

So far they have displayed some of the best customer service that I have encountered with a supplier and I haven't even placed an order yet.

I complained about Bendix when they messed up, so it is somewhat of a good feeling to have gotten involved with such a customer care oriented company like JJ Moulding. (No I do not have anything personally at stake concerning JJ, I just appreciate a company that knows the right thing to do)

Megan thankyou for the help.
I contacted them through...jjmouldingltd@yahoo.com
Originally posted by JbNormandog:
...When you mark it up are your doing 15%-%20 as the entire job or just for the cost of the frame...
COGS (Cost of Goods Sold) is basically the acquired cost for materials only. Labor & overhead are not included.

The point of the previous message is that poly mouldings do not have to be sold cheaply. Indeed, our profit continues to increase.

Try not to think of plastic mouldings as being cheap or low quality. Many of them are not anymore. In some respects, Poly is superior to wood -- especially when the wood is warped, or so soft that it crushes with normal V-nailer clamping pressure.
I've bought polys from several sources, and keep finding new ones with better mouldings.

JJ is at the top of my new-best-source-to-try list. I have their catalog and a few profile chips. Corner samples will be ordered very soon, and I'm looking forward to dealing with these friendly folks.
No problem JbNormandog we are glad to help you
I am so happy to see such an overwhelming response to your post. It's great to see open minds to polystyrene and such great tips on how to use the material. It is really all about expirementing with different techniques. Thank you again grumblers!
I tried these about 10 to 12 years ago and it wasn't pleasant. As a matter of fact, I still have a couple 10 foot lengths around. They are and inch and a half wide and about 5/8 or 3/4 deep and I can take the length and touch the two ends together. In general, are they still this way or are they more rigid now?
The samples I received and other pieces from JJ Moulding look and even feel like the typical characteristics of wood. Rigidity is not a problem with these.

Jim thank you for the helpful information. I am going to sell and treat this addition just the way you said. It is going to be perceived the way we present it. If we present it as a new quality equal in some aspects to wood and possibly a litle bit better priced the public won't really care as long as their artwork holds up in the long run.

The Toyota analogy got me thinking. (A die-hard GM customer myself bought a Toyota Forerunner a few months ago). Is this what old timers went through when metal frames made their first appearance?
Can you post the info on JJ Mldg? Thinking of joining the Big Rush! (the leather shoe thing resonates with me...)

Look three posts above yours to a Grumbler MeganB.
She was the VERY helpful person that helped me "convert".

I emailed her at ... jjmouldingltd@yahoo.com