Wood mantels are mostly aesthetic. They add charm to any room and are almost always used in conjunction with either a fireplace or some type of heating stove. They are varied according to home design. Some are elegant with Victorian styling, some are rustic, some are rural with basic designs.
Recognize Victorian mantels by large spindles, crown molding, overlay or flutes. Large spindles are often used on the corners to promote a stately look. Order or purchase them from home supply stores. They range from about 4 inches in diameter and can have any amount of dips, square shapes or twisting, carved features. They are typically placed at both corners of the horizontal mantel. The basic structure of the mantel is most often made from high-density particleboard, fir or hardwood lumber. Victorian mantels are usually trimmed with ornate crown, cove or dentil molding, or a combination of all three. Thin overlay materials can be added or fluted columns, which are a series of 3/8-inch wide channels parallel to each other routed into particleboard or hardwood.
Rustic mantels are made from almost any large beam or plank. Some of them are planks complete with bark on the front or large rough-cut beams. Obtain this type of beam material from a lumberyard or sawmill. It's OK if they're cracked or have large knots -- defects add to the charm. Other rustic mantels are made from weathered beams that you might find on a farm. Purchase beams like these at flea markets or even from home supply stores. They are typically gray and may have lots of cracks, splits or gouges. If they're stable, they'll work fine for a rustic appearance. Other rustic features are gained by beating any beam with a chain, or cutting bevels on the edges using a chain saw or large chisel. For this type of mantel, start with a fir beam purchased from a lumber yard and customize it to appear rustic.
Rural or Plain
Simple mantels for rural homes are typically built using high-density particleboard, fir lumber, hardwood lumber or even hardwood plywood. This type of mantel consists of three rectangular boxes; one for each leg, and one for the mantel. Trim simple mantels with typical moldings that you use throughout the home, such as ranch-base or baseboard moldings. For a more exclusive appearance, add small 1/2-inch wide trim molding around the perimeter of the mantel or vertically up both sides of the legs. Stack one or two pieces of molding together to create a custom look, or add some custom routed edges to the pieces before assembly. Particleboard mantels are typically painted with enamel paint or colored varnish or lacquer, while hardwood mantels are usually stained and coated with clear top coat.
Corbel braces work well on just about any style of mantel. Corbels are triangular pieces that appear to hold up the mantel. Some are functional, but most are simply for aesthetic purposes. They are often very ornate, with carvings or scrolls with any number of designs including animals or gargoyles. Some corbels are simple square boxes, some are plain with French curves on the front. There is a style for every mantel design. Make your own corbels from fir or hardwood lumber, or purchase them online or from a home supply store.
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