Dear Internet, HERE’S How to Build a Fireplace Mantel

Hers.

It finally happened.  The Internet let me down.  I had to check outside to see if any swine had sprouted wings or if the American Girl store was suddenly frozen over (for those of you who have never been in an American Girl store, it’s the closest thing to hell I’ve experienced).  Thankfully, the world wasn’t ending but I was concerned that Chris and I had DIYed ourselves into territory even unknown to HGTV.  Is that even possible?  But let me start at the beginning.

Presenting, our fireplace.

Not bad.  Nothing to brag about either… meaning a change was needed.  I wanted more of an “oh-la-la” pop and less of a “Hello!  70s flashback” pop.  The mantel was getting lost in the wall of brick.  We needed to do something to make it stand out.  Case in point- the Where’s Waldo mantel photo below.  Seriously, where is it?

I hunted around for mantel ideas and determined that a white wooden mantel is just what the mantel doctor ordered.  It would accentuate the mantel and tie in with the design of the rest of the living room.  I just love the crisp white look and something that would look substantial against the brick.  Here are the examples I rounded up from Pinterest.

         

So, the hunt was on.  How were we going to tackle this project?  With one of two options:

  1. Buy a pre-made mantel, demo the brick, and install the mantel in its place
  2. Make our own mantel and build it over the current brick mantel

I think we all know what option we chose but humor me for a moment.  I began pricing out pre-made mantles.  I found two options I really liked from FireplaceMantels.com.

   

Not too shabby.  They only offered a stained or unfinished version so we’d have to purchase an unfinished wood and then paint ourselves.  Not too difficult.  Then I saw the price.  Starting price around $250.  And then you have to consider the cost of time and money to demo the bricks.  Ummm no thanks.  I looked more closely at the design and knew Chris could do something equally as great, probably better, and we could truly have a custom mantel for a fraction of the cost.

I started scouring the Internet for helpful how-to’s on how to build your own mantel.  That’s when I discovered… Nothing.  Zilch.  ZERO RESULTS!  My first thought: holy cow, I had stumped Google.  My second thought: maybe there’s a reason no one’s ever tried to build their own mantel over an existing one.  But, seriously?  NOT A SINGLE RESULT?  Dear DIYers everywhere, I’m shocked that none of you have catalogued building a mantel and posted it on the Internet for my creeping eyes to find.  Step it up people.

Now, how to break the news to Chris?  Chris has recently determined that anytime I start a sentence with, “Hey, Chris, I have an idea,” it doesn’t bode well for him.  All I can say is thank God for father-in-laws.  His parents were in town for a visit and his mom and I decided to go fabric shopping.  Unbeknownst to me, Chris had mentioned my idea to his dad.  I guess it sparked his interest enough that when his mom and I came home from our shopping trip, the mantel had taken form.  Key learning- obviously I need to go shopping more often.  Look what magical things happen as an outcome!

This project ended up being a tad more difficult and lengthy than I originally thought but it was so worth it!  Pop is an understatement!  And we saved quite a bit of money.  We ended up spending about $80 on materials AND the mantel required no demo.  Not too shabby compared to the other $250 option.

His. 

As an avid DIYer, I think the most frustrating things people say is that they wish they knew how to do that stuff, that they could never do that stuff because they’re not handy, or that they wished someone had taught them how to do all that stuff, etc. It’s true that most of what I know, I learned from my dad- as he worked on projects around the house, he taught me how to do stuff, too- and he learned the same way. About ten years ago, though, we were replacing some water heaters and he was showing me how to solder copper. I finally asked, “how do you know all this stuff?” Much to my surprise, he said that he didn’t, and that he had looked it up on the internet. I recently found out that my grandfather used to go to the library and take notes on all the stuff he needed to know for a project (he’s probably the most dedicated DIYer I know- he’s 84 and still replacing his own garage doors).

I mention all of this to highlight a point- that no one “knows” how to do these things, and that you can only be taught how to do so much- at a certain point, you have to make your own way and teach yourself, which is exactly what happened with my last project.

Julie decided that she didn’t like the brick mantel, and that we needed a white one instead… but of course, she didn’t want to paint or remove the brick. On top of all that, she didn’t want to drill into the brick in any way, and wasn’t really sure she would like a white mantel. So, of course, that meant I had to build a removable mantel. My dad and I built one while Julie and I mom were out shopping one day, but it turned out that we apparently had two very different concepts of what this thing was supposed to be, and I ended up having to start all over.

The first attempt:

Maybe people just don’t build their own mantels or something, but I found absolutely nothing online about it. No how-to. No before-and-after. No “that was like that time I built a mantel”. Nothing. I was flying solo on this one. Now, this is where true DIYers prevail- I was at Point A (no mantel) and knew where Point B (mantel) was, but no directions on how to move between the two, which meant that I had to carve my own path.

I knew what a mantel looked like, so all I had to do was put things together in the proper dimensions and I’d have one. The problem, though, was that Julie wanted it to hide a substantial amount of brick, meaning it would have to be quite a bit larger than most. On top of that, I had a limited width and an even more limited depth when compared to the overall height. Another issue was that while the brick was stair-stepped in the front, it was flush from on the sides, so I could only stagger the width by a certain amount.

Staggered front, flush sides:

I thought I was done at this point. According to Julie, I was only halfway there:

So I started with a board. This would ultimately define my overall dimensions, as it ran the length of the fireplace and limited me to a 12″ depth (any more and it would have stuck out awkwardly into the room. Next, I fitted some crown around it to hide the first layer of brick- it sat flush with the board in the front, but there was slight overhang on either side. It was already looking like a mantel.

Next, I nailed some casing trim below the crown, and I had completed my mantel- or so I thought. Julie wanted at least one more layer to hide more of the brick, but I was running out of lateral space. I managed to find some VERY thin wood, so one more layer was possible. Once I got it nailed together, I displayed it on the mantel (get it? HA!). I excitedly showed Julie our new mantel and, true to form, the first words out of her mouth were simply “it needs another layer.” Doh! After finally losing that battle, I was scratching my head as to how to build another layer on the side, as I was completely out of room. Eventually I came to the realization that I’d have to actually stack another piece of the thin wood (as opposed to staggering it). How do you put two pieces of wood together without using nails? Simple: glue and staples (yes, you read that right- I stapled my mantel together like a third grade art project).

Hers.

Um, excuse me?  Staples??  This is the first I’m hearing of this…

His.

   

Anyway, I finally had the stupid thing constructed. I didn’t want it to look like a third grade art project, so I had to do some real prep work before painting. I sanded every edge and corner, caulked every seam, patched every nail hole, and even blended the seams held together by those damn staples. I primed, sanded, painted, sanded, and painted again, and was finally done.

Putty and paint makes a boat what it ain’t!

   

Look how much wood is on this stupid thing!

All-in-all, I’m pretty satisfied with how it turned out. I built a removable mantel without any real guidance, and it actually looks pretty decent. Best of all, though, I don’t ever had to hear “we need to finish the mantel” ever again.

And now, for everyone needing a mantel building 101 guide, we’re about to make your day.  Here’s a guide showing what kind of wood we used for each section of the mantel which will hopefully help in your quest for building your own mantel.

I claim thee… MANTEL!

After Pictures.

            

P.S. Like the awesome vintage scale I bought Chris for his birthday at a random antique store on the side of the road in Bastrop, TX?  We’re obsessed.

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34 Comments

Filed under Living Room

34 responses to “Dear Internet, HERE’S How to Build a Fireplace Mantel

  1. Eilis

    I am SO impressed! It looks great!

  2. Reese

    OH thanks!!!! We might use this!!!

  3. POP & GAGA O'Shea

    Chris and Julie, this really is a professional job. You young folks really do work well together. You both have good ideas and work to carry them out. Job well done.
    POP & GAGA

  4. DO or DIY

    Thanks everyone! Glad you liked it!

  5. Maria Farquharson

    Thanks for the info, I am planing on making a mantle for my brick/ stone fireplace and this is just what I needed

  6. Jen

    Wow! This looks amazing! We have the same stair step bricks that I have always wanted to replace with a mantel. Quick question, how did you attach the mantel to the brick? Masonry screws and a bracket? Any details would be great, thanks! I can’t wait to have my DH install one…

    • DO or DIY

      Hi Jen,

      We weren’t 100% sold on the idea of the white mantel when I built it, so it’s actually fitted over the existing brick and isn’t secured with any fasteners. It’s every bit as stable as if it were tied down with masonry screws, so no reason to drill into anything unnecessarily. It might have been easier to fasten some of the trim directly to the brick, but we love to ability to remove and reinstall the mantel at will.

      -Chris

  7. scott n

    Hi, looks great ! Can this go a step further ? My funny little honey not only wants a new mantel, she also wants it to wrap around the edges with a return to the wall. She also wants legs that return to the wall. Any ideas?

    Thanks Scott

  8. DO or DIY

    Hi Scott,

    I suppose you could get clever and modify it any particular way, but ours basically has a “floating” look. I’m sure we could have given it a more traditional look with posts on each side, but it would have been a lot more work and probably not as simple to pop on and off the brick.

    -Chris

  9. Love it!….. I have a exactly same fireplace.. and I plan on completely covering the upper brick from mantle to ceiling and lower on each side with MDF board- creating a kind of – shell to fit over entire fireplace-in which I will attach lots of molding & crown molding- including your mantel idea to create a traditional transformation , I might cover the hearth with a tile leaving the lower part of the hearth brick -painting entire new fireplace shell in white. THANKS for sharing your mantel idea!!!

    • DO or DIY

      What a great idea, Lisa. We debated extended the look to two posts on either side that connect to the hearth but, in the end, decided to just do the mantel. Let me know how your project goes- I’m curious what a full transformation would look like over brick!

      -Julie

  10. I am looking to do something similar over a stone fireplace mantel. How did you secure the mantel shell to the existing mantel shelf? Does it just sit on top? Do you find that to be sturdy enough? Thanks!

    • DO or DIY

      Hi Sarah,

      I wanted the mantle to be completely removable so it just sits on top of the brick. It’s completely level and just as sturdy as the original brick mantle.

      -Chris

  11. Terri

    I thank you so much for this. My husband and I are doing the same thing. In our family room in our basement the people before us decided to brick in a fireplace. You might think good idea. Well they went completely overboard. They proceeded to do the fire place, an 8 foot floor to ceiling brick wall and about 2 feet long on the other side. Oh, by the way, they also bricked in the fuse box so if a curcuit breaker goes bad you can’t remove the front plate of the fuse box. With all this brick it kind of makes the room smaller. They also put the extra morter behind the brick wall so now that needs to be removed so we can recarpet the floor. Again, this helps us so much because like you said I did a lot of searching on the internet and didn’t find anything. Thanks again!!!

    • DO or DIY

      Sounds like the previous owners were a little brick happy, huh? How funny? It makes you wonder what they were thinking, haha!

      -Julie

  12. Dee

    Ohh – this is exactly what I was looking for. Did you attach it to the brick in any way? Or does it just sidle over the brick mantle and rest there? If the latter, is it pretty solid?

    • Dee

      Never mind – I just saw your reply above- the comments were not visible until I posted my own.

      • DO or DIY

        Hi Dee,
        Glad you found it. Yes, we just slipped it over. It worked because the brick is abrasive so it doesn’t slip off but if you were putting it over a more slippery surface, it may not work as well.

        -Julie

  13. cynthia

    This is great, I just had some hardwood flooring put in, and decided I wanted the flooring guys to rip out the tile bordering of the fireplace floor and sides, little did I know I was getting myself into a real project. Now there is some holey drywall and some holes where they pulled the tile off.(hoping there are no bugs in there) After looking into the price of mantels I knew for sure we would have to DIY this one. I am going to use your example here and hope it works the same on drywall…. Any suggestions are appreciated. Thanks for your tutorial. Love your pic with the details on the mouldings. Really helps!

    • DO or DIY

      Hi Cynthia,

      I think in your situation you’ll want to create an “anchor” of sorts, that is to run a board horizontally across the wall attached to the studs (in our situation we had the existing brick mantel and therefore didn’t need any support structure). You could then use the board as a mounting platform for a mantel without doing any major drywall overhaul. As for the holes, you’ll definitely want to patch everything but if you build the mantel right, you can hide everything and won’t have to worry about blending textures.

      Hope this helps,

      Chris

  14. angela

    I ran into the same problem!! I couldn’t find anything about building your own mantel. until you came along and rescued me out of my mantel despair. THANK YOU VETY MUCH!!!

  15. Denise

    This is great news! My gas insert fireplace is encased in a square box made from drywall protruding out 7 inches from the top down the sides to the floor. I’m going to be adding to the top a mantel and hearth and your ideas for the mantel are going to help me with that. Thanks!

  16. This is PERFECT!! I have a skinny little brick mantle and I been wanting one exactly like this for so long. Love the step by step. And I also had the question on how to attach it. Looks like that has been asked and answered.

  17. Thank you for posting this project with such detail! I have a skinny brick mantel shelf that I cannot put anything on and have been dying to “cover” it! I was nervous about drilling into the brick but want it to be stable. Can you tell me what the depth of your original brick shelf was? Mine is very narrow at 4 inches, do you think that is wide enough to support the cover without securing it? Thank you in advance!

    • DO or DIY

      Ours is much deeper- 9″. With a 4″ mantle, you should either secure to the brick or not be able to build as large of a mantle as it will be unsteady. Hope that helps!

      – Chris

  18. Moni

    We ave a stone Fireplace and the previous owner made a “Shelve” out of concrete. I was wonderfing how you attached the AMantel to your stone fireplace wall ??

    Moni

    • DO or DIY

      We slipped our wood mantel over the brick one. If yours is concrete and steady, try to see if it will stand on its own. If it seems wobbly or weak, you should definitely anchor it to the stone.

      – Chris

  19. Jolene

    I REALLY want a mantel and every time I search for what I want, I end up back at your page! Can I ask about how high from the ground the top of the matel sits?

  20. Rhonda

    We made the mantel this weekend…minus the who 1×3 at bottom. Spent $25.00!! LOVE it!

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