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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 you are sitting around the beautiful, warm glow of a fireplace during a cold evening.

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 decor and gives an aesthetically pleasing focal point to your living room.

This step-by-step tutorial is here to show you how to make a fireplace mantle. This can be for an existing fireplace you already have or a fireplace that you are planning to install. We will show you how to build a fireplace mantel shelf to decorate in any way that you see fit. We’ll also show you how to attach a mantle to a brick fireplace if your home already has a brick fireplace to work with. Let’s break down further exactly what this tutorial will cover.

In this post, you will learn:

  • Quick Safety Tips – This will cover some important safety tips that you should practice whenever taking on a DIY project.
  • Collect Inspiration – Where to look for inspiration before building your DIY fireplace mantle.
  • Do Your Research – The importance of research so that your DIY fireplace mantle project goes smoothly.
  • Fireplace Surround Kit – What is a surround kit and should you use one?
  • Fireplace Insert – The importance of leaving space in your mantle for a future electric fireplace insert.
  • Electric Fireplace – Benefits of electric fireplaces and why one might be best for you.
  • Materials – Different materials you may be working with.
  • Tools – Different tools you may need.
  • How To Make A Fireplace Mantle – Constructing your fireplace mantle.
  • How To Build A Fireplace Mantel Shelf – Adding a mantel shelf above an existing fireplace.
  • How To Attach Mantle To Brick Fireplace – How to get your new mantle 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 right into this tutorial and beginning your home makeover journey, there are a few important safety tips that we need to cover.

Anytime that you are working on home improvement projects, like building a new faux fireplace or working on a fireplace makeover, it’s important to wear proper eye protection. It’s all 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 especially important when you are 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 mantle to look like before you jump into building anything. First, figure out the interior decorating style you currently have, and then look for fireplace mantle designs that will work well with that.

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 mantle 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 mantles. 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 kinds of 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 like you saw in a picture of the old house on Instagram? 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 all of these questions before you begin. You should also look up plans and specific tutorials of construction techniques depending on the type of mantle 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 off point for people that aren’t quite as experienced building things like a fireplace mantel. These kits either come pre-built, or with very little construction necessary. You can find surround kits on Amazon and other websites. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous and have some experience under your belt, building a mantle from scratch can be a very rewarding challenge.

Leave Room For A Fireplace Insert

If you don’t currently have a fireplace, make sure to leave proper space for something like an electric fireplace insert. These can be installed directly into the firebox below your mantle. If you know exactly what electric fireplace insert you will be using, make sure to look up the manufacturer’s website to see the dimensions you need to leave below your mantle.

how to build a fireplace mantel shelf

Why You Should Consider A MagikFlame Electric Fireplace

An electric fireplace is the most cost-effective way to keep your home warm compared to wood-burning and gas fireplaces. They don’t require a chimney, venting, or additional construction. To install one all you need is an electrical outlet.

MagikFlame is a great brand when it comes to electric fireplaces. To get 30 different ultra-realistic flickering flames, we use next-generation flame holographic technology. To accompany the visual aesthetic of the flames, one of our electric fireplaces also produces incredibly crackling log sounds that make you feel like you are sitting in front of a real fireplace. If that wasn’t enough, MagikFlame also produces 5,200 BTUs of heat with their built-in heater. Learn more about how MagikFlame is built.

They have several different electric fireplace options for all types of home situations. If an electric fireplace sounds like it might be a good fit for you, check out the MagikFlame electric fireplace buying guide.

Materials

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

  • 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 thicker 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 off point for your mantle, there is a good chance that it includes some fiberboard in its construction.

Tools

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

  • Power Saw – This will save you time compared to cutting wood by hand and will help you get very clean cuts.
  • Brad Nailer – This nail gun uses very thin nails that leave very small nail holes that are easy to cover up.
  • Router – If you want any kind of intricate linework on the wood of your mantle, you’ll need to use a wood router.

How To Make A Fireplace Mantle

When constructing your fireplace mantle, 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 make sure 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 use sandpaper thoroughly on all wood pieces 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 mantle shelf is pretty simple compared to a more traditional mantle. You simply need a large piece of wood that you’ve picked out 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 will certainly make it 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 mantles.

How To Attach Mantle To Brick Fireplace

To attach a mantle to brick you will want to use French cleats. 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 then attach your mantle to the wood cleats instead of the brick itself.

The cleats are usually cut at an angle to help grip the angle-cut back of the mantle. 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 while constructing your fireplace mantle, 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 mantle.

By taking your time and paying special attention to details at every step of the process, you are more likely to have ended up with 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 mantle is built, you will need to work on the finishing touches.

Make sure any excess glue is carefully scraped off of seams. Ensure that enough coats of oil, finish, or paint are applied to the wood and it is allowed to dry thoroughly. Double-check the sturdiness of all joints and places where the mantle 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. You can finish the wall with a faux stone or brick pattern using stick-on templates. For a classy, modern look, you can use shiplap boards painted to match the room. Or you can stain the shiplap with a finish to match your mantle for a more rustic feel.

Once everything is done, clean the area thoroughly. If any paint has dripped unexpectedly, now is the time to make sure things look immaculate. You also want to vacuum up any remaining sawdust off the area, especially in the tiny spaces between the mantle and the wall.

After the area is clean, now it is time to decorate your fireplace mantle.

Decorating Your Fireplace Mantel

Unless you are going for an incredibly minimalistic look where you want the shapes and lines of the mantle to be the main focus, you’ll likely want to decorate your mantle and fireplace area. There is no point ruining all of your hard work to build a wonderful mantle if you don’t put the same care into choosing proper decorations and placing them so that they are pleasing to the eye.

For starters, many people decorate their mantle with an anchor piece. This will be the largest piece that you decorate your mantle with. This can be a piece of art, a recent family portrait taken by a professional photographer, or even a large mirror. A mirror works especially well if the mantle is in a smaller home or room. Mirrors help open up the space and allow them to appear larger than they actually are. No matter what your anchor piece is, it is usually either placed on the mantle in the center, or hung on the wall just above the mantle.

Consider bringing some of the beauty of the outdoors into your indoor space. If you grow any flowers outside of your home, you can cut flowers regularly and display them on the mantle in one or more vases. This adds a lot of color to the room and gives off a pleasant smell. If this is something you think you want to do, make sure to plant different flowers that bloom in different seasons of the year.

You can add some interesting lighting elements that complement the soft glow of the fireplace. A couple of wall sconces look great hanging above either side of the mantle. Be sure to use warm bulbs. A harsh white light bulb can be distracting from the atmosphere that a fireplace sets. Instead of wall sconces, you can place candles directly on the mantle. You should match the color of the candles to other colors in the room. It’s also a good idea to choose scented candles if you want to make your home smell wonderful.

Lastly, if family is important to you, consider placing several family photos along the mantle in small picture frames. Just make sure to keep them dusted regularly.

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