Fireplace Mantel Project

This isn’t normally a home improvement blog, but I have to show Joseph Moore that I have some manly skills too.

Our fireplace, when built along with the house in 1958, was made of rough, re-claimed brick, the kind with chipped edges and black and white paint here and there. (Kind of fun to wonder what buildings they were originally a part of, and how long ago.) I like re-claimed brick, but it had become rather dingy looking from smoke stains and the build-up of grime through the decades.

A year or two ago my wife put the bug in my ear to install a wooden mantel over the brick. The problem was that the surface of the bricks was not flush. Instead, each of the top three rows of bricks extends beyond the previous row by an inch or two, like an upside-down ziggurat. Here’s a photo from a few Christmases ago:


So you couldn’t just buy a pre-made mantel and stick it on there and have it look right.

Aside from chiseling the bricks down to a flush surface, which promised to be extremely messy and which I feared could end in disaster, the only solution I could think of was to build a mantel from scratch. I was damned if I could figure how to do it though. However, after several months of letting the idea soak in, and reading various mantel-building webpages and seeing what kinds of pre-made moldings were available at Lowes, I came up with something that I thought could work. Here’s how the process went.

Step 1: Glued thin boards to some of the bricks to create a more-or-less flat surface on which to glue the pieces of the mantel, since some of the bricks stuck out farther than others, even within the same row. I used Loctite construction adhesive, which worked great.


Step 2: Glued MDF boards onto the third row down from the top to create the bottom edge of the mantel.


Same for the second row from the top.


Step 3: Here I’ve skipped a couple of steps since I forgot to take pictures, but first I attached a wide board to the top of the original fireplace to make a shelf, then attached crown molding to the bottom of the shelf, extending down to the MDF covering the second row of bricks, thereby covering the top row of brick.


Step 4: Attached a decorative strip of molding to the edge of the top shelf.


Step 5: Attached an additional strip of decorative molding over what used to be the third row of bricks. This is called egg-and-dart molding. La-dee-dah.


Step 6: Caulk and paint.



And decorated for Christmas again, just like in the movies.


Of course I see all the flaws in it but my wife says I’m crazy. Some of my family and friends, who have been to our house a thousand times but apparently are not very observant, thought it had been there all along. In other words that it had been built along with the house. Which I guess is a compliment.





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