How to Make a Fireplace Mantel

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Build a decorative mantel to frame your fireplace.
Build a decorative mantel to frame your fireplace. (Image: Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

A mantel adds a decorative frame to your fireplace and a place to hang Christmas stockings. In addition, the mantle provides shelving space for figurines, knick-knacks and books to read by the fire. You can purchase and install a ready-made mantle or build your own to save money and exercise your creativity.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw
  • ¾-inch-thick veneer plywood
  • 1-by-5 wood board
  • 1-by-1 nailing strip
  • 2 plywood cleats
  • Philips screwdriver
  • Integrated baseboard molding
  • ¾-inch shoe molding
  • ¾-inch astragal molding
  • 1-inch-thick crown molding
  • Utility knife or miter saw
  • Hammer
  • Finishing nails
  • Wood putty
  • Sandpaper
  • Latex primer
  • Latex paint
  • Level
  • Chalk
  • Shims
  • Masonry nails
  • 2-by-4 wood board
  • Hammer drill with ¼-inch carbide tip
  • Finishing screws
  • Edge molding

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Building the Mantle

Measure the top edge of your fireplace opening to determine how long to cut your mantel’s breast and leg pieces.

Cut a plywood breast piece as wide as you want the top of the mantle to be and as long as the fireplace’s top edge plus 4 feet, using a circular saw. This will give enough clearance around the fireplace opening to adhere to fire codes.

Have a helper center the breast piece 1 foot over the fireplace opening. Measure the distance from the bottom edge of the breast piece to the floor on each end of the breast piece. Measure the distance from the top edge of the breast piece to the floor on each end.

Cut plywood legs 1 foot wide and as long as the distance from the bottom edges of the breast piece to the floor, using a circular saw.

Cut plywood returns 2 inches wide and as long as the distance from the top edges of the breast piece to the floor, using a circular saw. Cut two 1-by-1 nailing strips as long as these returns. Cut two 1-by-5 pilaster pieces as long as the returns, minus ¾ inch.

Cut a plywood shelf 1 foot longer than the plywood breast piece, using a circular saw.

Place the breast piece horizontally on a flat surface. Place each leg piece perpendicular to the breast piece on opposite sides so that the long edge of the leg pieces are flush with the short edges of the breast piece.

Center a plywood cleat over each of the seams connecting the breast piece to the leg pieces. Screw the cleat to the plywood using 10 wood screws in a double-X formation.

Place the 1-by-1 nailing strips vertically along the legs and breast piece, ¾ inch away from the outside edge. Screw the strips in place and screw the plywood returns against the nailing strips so they are perpendicular to the breast piece. Screw the returns in place.

Center the pilaster pieces over the front of the mantle so they extend from the bottoms of each leg to ¾ inches short of the breast pieces’ top edge. Nail these pieces in place.

Cut baseboard trim to fit around the bottoms of the pilaster pieces, astragal molding to fit across the bottom and top edges of the breast piece and crown molding to fit around the top of the breast piece. Cut shoe molding to fit across each ¾-inch edge of the shelf piece. Depending on the molding material you choose, you can cut the molding with a utility knife or a miter saw.

Nail the molding in place, using finishing nails. Center the shelf on top of the breast piece and nail it in place with finishing nails.

Fill the nail and screw holes that will be visible once the mantle is installed with wood putty. Evenly sand the mantle, then prime and paint visible areas as desired.

Installing the Mantle

Center the mantle around your fireplace opening, and use a level to verify that the top shelf is even. If the mantle is uneven, place shims under the lower leg until the shelf is level.

Draw a chalk line around the mantle and remove it from the fireplace.

Measure the distance from the bottoms of each leg up to the bottom edge of the plywood cleat attaching the leg to the breast piece. Cut two 2-by-4 pieces according to these measurements.

Measure the length of the breast piece between the two nailing strips. Cut a 2-by-4 piece according to this measurement.

Place the 2-by-4 leg pieces vertically just inside the chalk outlines representing the outside edges of the legs. The 2-by-4s will hold the mantle’s legs to the wall. Drill four evenly spaced pilot holes into the brick underneath the 2-by-4s, then screw them in place using masonry screws.

Place the 2-by-4 breast piece horizontally just under the chalk outline representing the outside top edge of the breast piece. Attach the 2-by-4 to the brick wall using the same method used to attach the vertical 2-by-4s.

Place the mantel over the 2-by-4s and secure it in place, using 2-inch finishing screws.

Cut edge molding to fit on the inside edges of the mantle, using a utility knife or meter saw. Nail the molding in place with finishing nails.

Fill the new screw and nail holes with putty and paint over them to match the rest of the mantle.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you decide to tweak this design, be aware that national fire codes mandate 6 inches of clearance between the edge of the mantel and the edge of the fireplace opening, with an additional inch of clearance for every 1/8 inch that the mantel projects past the fireplace opening’s level.

References

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