Fireplace mantels crafted of wood are beautiful works of art. Some look complicated, have intricate profile carvings and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Others are simple in design, little more than a shelf made from a rough-cut piece of timber and set into the brick, stone or wall. If you're up for the challenge, you can build your own mantel, mount it yourself and decorate it with knickknacks, photos or art.
Basic Box Mantels
A box mantel is simply a box made of 3/4-inch-thick wood. The top, bottom and sides all fasten to the face piece of the box, making the joints less visible. The rear piece is usually made of lumber that is 2 or more inches thick. It is mounted to the wall and the box mantel is fastened to it.
Measure the width of the fireplace and choose a mantel width that overlaps it enough to provide a balanced look that is pleasing to you. The depth (front to back) should be enough to hold anything you want to put on it. A narrow depth on a large fireplace or a deep depth on a small fireplace may look out of place. Experiment with various widths and lengths of lumber to help decide on a width and depth.
Use 1-inch stock lumber (actual thickness is 3/4 inches) for the front, sides and bottom of the mantel. Cut a single piece that is as wide and high as the front of the mantel will be. The top, sides and bottom will fasten to this. See the illustration for details.
Fit all the pieces together and make any final adjustments. Glue, clamp and fasten using 1 1/2-inch brad or pin nails. Allow the glue to dry and do a final sanding before staining and sealing the wood.
Cut a thick (2-3 inches thick) back piece to fit snugly in the box. Mount it to the wall with screws into the studs or masonry work. Apply glue on the top, sides and bottom. Slide the box over the back piece and secure with 15-gauge or larger finish nails. Large mantels may need support until the glue dries. Stain or paint the new mantel to match your decor.
Extending the top piece over the front and sides of a box mantel allows crown or cove moldings to be added. Use base moldings above and/or below crown and cove moldings to add additional decorative profiles. The large mantel in the illustration is built up using two pieces of crown molding, one piece of bed molding and four pieces of base molding with a second, smaller box to put the bottom moldings against.
There are many moldings that can be used, including quarter round, half round, fluted casings and columns. An alternative to putting mitered corners on moldings that wrap around the box is a cornicelike shelf support. Use a cornice support at each end and butt the moldings up against it. Yet another option is a half round fluted column that appears to hold the mantel in place.
Build the box mantel, but extend the top over the front and sides enough to accommodate the moldings you want to use. Extending the top by 3 inches allows enough room for 3-inch cove or crown to be fastened underneath. An additional piece can fit between the bottom and the wall. Use a second box to build up the mantel even more. Bed molding looks and installs like crown, but is narrower and is good for a smaller overhang or to install over a piece of base.
Cutting the moldings will be easy with a miter saw. Measure the exact width of the box and cut outside corners that fit exactly. Measure back to the wall and cut the other outside pieces. Cut base and other flat moldings lying flat with the table angle set to 45 degrees. Crowns, beds and coves should be cut on a 45-degree angle with the wall edge against the fence and the top edge flat on the table.
- Trim Carpentry and Built-Ins; Clayton Dekorne; 2002
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