So you want to build a fireplace mantel for your home? So what is involved and how do you go about it? What’s the difference in a fireplace mantel and a mantel shelf?
The “mantel” term has evolved over time. Today, a mantel is that “frame” that consists of a horizontal piece across the top, often in some form of shelf, and legs or columns attached to the ends of that shelf and running down the fireplace wall, ending at the hearth or floor. If you only have the horizontal piece, it’s attached to the wall with a mounting board and is most often referred to as a mantel shelf, though some still call the shelf a mantel as well.
If you’re generally considering decorating ideas, note that mantel shelves are also used in places other than a fireplace. They make statements for your decor simply used as a highly decorative shelf. They are sometimes used alone or in groups of two or three. Line them up or offset them for different and often dramatic effects.
If you have the necessary sources of materials, skills, and time, you can make your own fireplace mantels or shelves. They can be very simple to very fancy, maybe even have milled or hand carved surfaces. Most ornate models are beyond the skill level of anyone short of a true craftsman. You need a way to connect the legs or columns to the shelf. You have to mount them all to the fireplace wall. Get the height at the minimums to meet fire codes. You want to make the house beautiful and keep it safe.
Note that this project is at the level of furniture making or cabinetry.
Most fireplace owners go for hardwoods to get an elegant look. The grains and the rich tones they provide make for warm tones and a work of art. Don’t expect to find this kind of wood at your normal building supply house. Look for one that supplies materials for cabinet makers or wood workers. It won’t be cheap. High quality hardwoods go for a high price.
An alternative that suits the majority of do it yourselfers is to purchase a fireplace mantel kit. You can pick from a variety of materials. If you want a painted surface, kits made from MDF and fiberboard are available on the lower cost end of the price range. If you want a rich, warm stained surface with the beauty of the unique and natural grain shining through, you can pick from a variety of hardwoods, including cherry, oak, mahogany or walnut, to name a few.
A large number of styles are available. If you have contemporary, traditional, craftsman or bungalow, there are multiple models to match. You don’t always need to match periods or styles as an accent piece can play well in a style where you normally wouldn’t see it. Think of a rustic, hand-carved mahogany shelf placed into an environment of pale beiges, chrome and leather. It might just be a gorgeous eye popper.
You may provide part of the labor needed for a finished product as well as save some money in the process. It’s a tradeoff. Some items are available unfinished. Most are available as sanded and ready for paint or stain. You can also purchase most of the mantels or shelves completely finished with multiple coats of Minwax.
You’ll usually need to provide the mounting board that goes onto the wall. The board itself is usually a 1”x4” board with an edge cut at a 45 degree angle. Fastening the mounting board to the wall depends upon the wall type. You’ll provide those fasteners.
Wood fireplace mantels kits come in a wide range of prices. Under $200 can get you MDF material that is primed and ready to paint. Premium models suitable for staining come in solid hardwood and can be bought as unfinished, pre-sanded and ready to stain, or totally finished. These models begin at less than $350. Prices for the deluxe items in high end hardwoods, such as oak, cherry, or mahogany start below $600. Very ornate mantels start at under $2000 and go up to as much as several thousand dollars for hand carved models.
Install your new wood fireplace mantel and see the room come alive. That old tired fireplace will take on a new life when you decorate it and make it uniquely. Add vases, portraits, statuary or family heirlooms on top. You don’t have to tell anyone how much of the work you did, just that you did it. They’ll be impressed.