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How to Make a Fireplace Mantle

how to build a fireplace mantel shelf

There is no doubt that having a fireplace in your home adds to a sense of warmth, coziness, and community. There is something that feels nostalgic when sitting around the fireplace’s warm glow.

Whether you have a traditional wood-burning fireplace, a gas fireplace, or an electric fireplace, a fireplace mantel is just as important as the fireplace itself. It brings a new element to your home décor and gives an aesthetically pleasing focal point to your living room.

This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to build a fireplace mantel shelf. This can be for an existing fireplace or a fireplace you plan to install. We will show you how to build a fireplace mantel and how to attach it to a brick fireplace. Let’s break down exactly what we will cover.

In this post, you will learn:

  • Quick Safety Tips – This will cover some important safety tips that you should practice.
  • Collect Inspiration – Where to look for inspiration for your DIY fireplace mantel.
  • Do Your Research – The importance of research, so your DIY fireplace mantel project goes smoothly.
  • Fireplace Surround Kit – What is a surround kit, and should you use one?
  • Materials – Different materials you may be working with.
  • Tools – Different tools you may need.
  • How To Make A Fireplace Mantel – Constructing your fireplace mantel.
  • How To Build A Fireplace Mantel Shelf – Adding a mantel shelf above an existing fireplace.
  • How To Attach Mantel To Brick Fireplace – How to get your new mantel to attach to your existing brick fireplace.
  • Taking Your Time – An important lesson when building your DIY fireplace.
  • Finishing Up – Adding important details and finishing touches.
  • Decorating Your Fireplace Mantel – A few tips on how to decorate your new mantel.

Quick safety tips

Before jumping into this tutorial and beginning your home makeover journey, there are a few important safety tips that we need to cover.

It’s important to wear proper eye protection anytime you are working on home improvement projects. It’s too easy for a small particle to fly off during construction, and you don’t want anything damaging your eyes.

Always wear gloves to protect you from sharp edges of the material, protect you from splinters, and protect you from the tools that you use. This is important when working with any kind of power tools while making your DIY fireplace mantel.

Collect inspiration

It’s important to know exactly what you want your new fireplace mantel to look like before you jump into building anything. First, figure out your interior decorating style, and then look for fireplace mantel designs that will work well.

You can search for fireplaces on Instagram, Pinterest, and Google image search. There are also dozens of websites that are dedicated specifically to fireplaces and fireplace mantel design.

If you want something like a rustic mantel, look at wood mantels with more of a country aesthetic. If you want something sleek and modern, look for minimalist mantels. If you want something ornate and luxurious, consider something with crown molding. However, only consider something like crown molding if it is found in other places of the house, or it might look out of place.

Do your research

Once you have found some reference images of fireplaces that you like and want to replicate something similar, you need to do thorough research.

First, you should figure out what materials will be used and what elements you need to build. Are you doing any woodworking in your fireplace construction? Do you want to replicate the look of a stone fireplace? Are you the homeowner where you will be installing this permanently, or is this something you need to take with you when you move?

You need to answer these questions, and possibly more before you begin. You should also look up plans and specific tutorials on construction techniques depending on the type of mantel you are building. Many video tutorials can be found with a quick YouTube search.

Should you use a fireplace surround kit?

Surround kits are a great starting point for people that aren’t quite as experienced building things like a fireplace mantel. These kits either come pre-built or need very little construction. You can find surround kits on Amazon and other websites. Building a mantel from scratch can be a rewarding challenge if you feel a bit more adventurous.

Materials

There are a few main materials you might be working with when building your fireplace mantel:

  • Wood – Using natural wood looks amazing but can require a bit more skill to work with. Choose a wood that fits the aesthetic you are going for, and make sure to use an oil or finish that looks good with the wood. You’ll also need wood glue to help hold the pieces together.
  • Plywood – Plywood is a cheaper, thinner alternative to using natural pieces of wood. These thin wood veneer pieces are a good way to make a non-wooden material look wooden without adding too much additional bulk.
  • Fiberboard – Fiberboard is another wood alternative that is commonly used. If you are using a surround kit as a starting point for your mantel, there is a good chance that it includes some fiberboard in its construction.

Tools

You may need a couple of tools to construct your fireplace mantel. Of course, you’ll need a starting tool kit if you don’t already have one. This should have all the basics like a hammer, saw, measuring tape, etc. You’ll also want wood clamps to help hold your piece together while the glue is drying. On top of this, there are a few power tools that might be useful:

  • Power Saw
  • Brad Nailer
  • Router 

How to make a fireplace mantle

When constructing your fireplace mantel, you’ll want to use a miter joint for both strength of the construction and an aesthetically pleasing look. A miter joint is when two pieces of wood are usually joined at a 90-degree angle by connecting edges that have been cut at a 45-degree angle.

After applying glue to your edges, use your brad nailer or hammer in small finishing nails to secure the piece. Then, use wood clamps where needed to ensure there is a strong hold while the glue dries.

Keep in mind no miter joints are needed if you are building a floating mantel like a large beam mantel. A beam mantel is shelving that floats above the fireplace instead of resting on the ground with legs on either side.

Make sure to sand all the wood pieces thoroughly for a smooth feel and to help bring out the natural look of the grain.

How to build a fireplace mantel shelf

Building a fireplace mantel shelf is simpler than a more traditional mantel. You simply need a large piece of wood and attach it to the wall above the fireplace. Make sure to attach it to studs and not just to drywall or the weight of the shelf may come crashing down.

For an added visual treat and help with the sturdiness of your floating shelf, consider using corbels under your fireplace shelf. Corbels can be made of wood, stone, or metal. You can find corbels of different styles to fit your needs, or you can make your corbels yourself. You’ll want to use at least two, but you can use three for extra-wide mantels.

How to attach a mantle to a brick fireplace

You will want to use French cleats to attach a mantel to brick. A cleat is a piece of wood that first attaches along the brick using masonry screws and adhesive that works with both brick and wood. Once your cleats are secure, you attach your mantel to the wood cleats instead of the brick itself.

The cleats are usually cut at an angle to help grip the back of the mantel. You will need one horizontal cleat for the mantel top, and two vertical ones if your mantle has legs or columns.

You can find in-depth video tutorials of this process on YouTube.

Slow and steady wins the race

Keep in mind, especially if you are less experienced, to take your time and make sure everything is done right. When cutting wood, always measure it twice, and cut it once. Ensure that all of your angles are straight, and use a leveler when needed so that you don’t end up with a lopsided mantel.

By taking your time and paying special attention to details at every step of the process, you are more likely to have a finished product that you are happy with. If you rush the process, you are more likely to make mistakes that will take time, money, and energy to fix.

Finishing details

Once the majority of your fireplace mantel is built, you will need to work on the finishing touches.

Make sure any excess glue is carefully scraped off of seams. Ensure enough coats of oil, finish, or paint are applied to the wood and allowed to dry thoroughly. Double-check the sturdiness of all joints and places where the mantel attaches to the wall.

If you don’t have a natural brick wall, consider what material you want the wall to be behind the fireplace. Using stick-on templates, you can finish the wall with a faux stone or brick pattern. You can use shiplap boards painted to match the room for a classy, modern look. Or you can stain the shiplap with a finish to match your mantel.

Once everything is done, clean the area thoroughly. You also want to vacuum up any remaining sawdust off the area, especially in the tiny spaces between the mantel and the wall.

After cleaning the area, it is time to decorate your fireplace mantel.

 

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