Updated: May 12, 2021
If you've ever entered artwork into an art show, you may have seen the directive, "artwork submitted must have hanging wire or hooks on back." Here we will be discussing how to use a cow hitch knot to ensure that your strung wire will stay put. Once you can tie one of these, you will never have to worry about your frame falling off the wall due to a faulty wire job again.
2 1/2" Screws (or however deep you can safely screw into your frame)
No. 5 Plastic-Coated Framing Wire
Patience-- it's tough to get at first (well, actually, the first time's easy; it's when you think you've got it and then try again without instructions that it gets hard)
Step 1: Screw in D-rings
To get started, position your D-rings 1/3 to halfway down from the top of your frame and drill in place.
I like to predrill my holes to make sure nothing starts splitting once I've got my hangers in place. Be sure that those D-rings are secure; you shouldn't be able to move them at all.
***Note: Make sure before you start screwing that what you think is the top really is the top of the picture. There's nothing worse than screwing your D-rings, tying your wire, and flipping your frame over only to find you did it upside down!***
***Second Note: Determine how deep your screws can go. Flipping your frame over to find screws poking through the front is a framer's worse nightmare! There's no recovery from that!***
Step 2: Select the Proper Wire for the Job
To best decide which wire you need, a weight estimate is the most helpful. Common framing wire gauges range from 4 to 6. Number 4 is good for anything up to about 25 lbs. Number 5 will handle up to about 50 lbs. Number 6 is seriously thick wire. Unless you're framing a baby whale, you'll probably never use this. It holds up to 100 lbs, I'd say. If you're unsure which to use, always overestimate the weight. Keep in mind, however, that the higher the gauge, the thicker the wire will be, which turns tying your knot into an Olympic event. If you choose No. 6, I hope you have strong fingers!
This particular spool was purchased at Home Depot. You can also find wire online (as with everything else under the sun, though I don't recommend buying ice cubes. All you'd get is a soggy mess, I'd expect!) Whatever you select, make sure that it's plastic-coated; it's easier on the fingers and a joy to touch for years to come. If you skimp and buy regular wire, you'll regret it!
Step 3: Thread Tail through D-ring
Thread your wire up through your left D-ring, leaving about 3-4 inches of tail to work with. If you have too much, you can trim it later. If you have too little, you'll have to start over, so caveat threador: let the threader beware.
Rule of Thumb: use the length of your thumb starting from the base of the palm as a measurement. I've never actually done this, but it sounded good, so I'm saying it. Seriously, though, unless you've got unusually short thumbs, this should be more than enough wire.
Step 4: Fold Wire towards Body
Bend the wire towards yourself, making sure that your tail goes underneath the working wire (the wire still attached to your spool on the right).
Step 5: Thread Wire through D-ring Again
This is the trickiest part (except for maybe cutting the wire; my wire cutters are particularly dull). You're going to bend the wire tail up and over the D-ring, then you pull the tail down through the loop you just made putting the tail through the D-ring. Make sure your tail is on top of the wire loop.
Oh, it's hard to explain; just study the picture.
*Friendly tip: I like to pull the first loop on my D-ring fairly tight at this point; it makes things easier in the next step.
Step 6: Pull Your Tail Tight
You should now have a knot that resembles a sort of pretzel. Double check that both your tail and your working wire are sitting side by side on top of your knot. If it's not, you've done something wrong. Go back and check your work.
**Note: You want to make your knot tight. Framing wire is a bit stretchy and will lengthen over time. As your frame hangs, gravity will tighten your knot for you if you haven't done it yourself, potentially causing your strung wire to reveal itself over the top of your frame. How unsightly! You don't want that! So go ahead, and tighten that knot up.
Step the Last: Wrap that Wire 'Round and 'Round
Whew! You've made it! We're almost done (on this side)! Now grab that tail and wrap it around the working wire.
I personally like to do this 12 times (because 12 is divisible by 1 and 12 and 2 and 6 and 3 and 4; it's a great number!). Yes, my picture only shows 9. So my tail was a bit short, get over it!
You may now cut the wire off the spool, leaving that same 3-4 inch tail you need after you've threaded the other D-ring, and repeat.
Congratulations! You've just perfected the failsafe cow hitch knot! Feel assured in the knowledge that your wire backing will never unravel.