Custom Wooden Mantel Design
Designing mantels and building them is one of the more fun projects for many craftsmen I think. A mantel project can add quite a nice touch to a home considering the time and cost to make one. What I like about a mantel project is the endless design possibilities.
One of the first considerations before designing your mantel is the clearances from the firebox horizontally and vertically. These measurements can be gotten from your local permit office. They will also have specifications on the depth of the mantel shelf. The depth of the shelf will vary according to the height above the firebox. The higher the mantel shelf above the firebox, the greater the overhang allowed. Of course the firebox is the opening to the fireplace. The width and depth of the hearth will be specified as well. If you are purchasing a metal fireplace the manufacturer will have clearance data enclosed in the installation instructions. After you know the clearances permitted, you can begin to design your mantel masterpiece.
I have become a fan of Google’s Sketchup software program for designing in 3d. There is a free version which is quite powerful with a short learning curve. A 3 dimensional Sketchup drawing will enable you to get a feel for what the finished project will look like and will enable you to avoid some of the pitfalls of working without a plan. I highly recommend it.
As I said above, the possibilities are indeed endless. The first thing to consider is whether you want a mantel shelf or mantel surround. A mantel surround is a mantel shelf with legs that touch the hearth and so “surround” the firebox. A mantel shelf will rest above the firebox. Among the basic possibilities of a mantel surround are,
• Pilaster mantel surround – the legs are rectangular shaped and often simulate rectangular columns
• A round column mantel surround – round columns are used instead of pilasters between the mantel shelf and hearth. Some people opt for double columns on each side of the hearth.
• Split column mantel surround – the round columns are split and fastened to the flat base between the mantel shelf and hearth
These are some of the basic shapes, but a book could be written on different mantel styles. There are Victorian mantels and Federal mantels and Georgian mantels and a host of styles relating to historical periods and geographical areas that go well beyond the scope of this short article.
A mantel shelf will be simpler to design and build because the legs of the mantel surround are eliminated. A mantel shelf can be as simple as a board with a crown molding below.
Part of the design process is deciding on the embellishments to use to adorn your mantel. Some of the considerations are corbels (sometimes called brackets) typically used to support the mantel shelf. Rosettes, scrolls, drops and centers are applied wooden pieces to attach to center panels and pilasters panels. These nifty wooden “onlays”, as they are sometimes called, provide decoration in the flat spaces of the mantel.
Two other considerations for you masterpiece mantel are,
• Finishes – stain paint or glaze are the most often applied finishes.
• How to attach the mantel – this should really be considered at the beginning so that the attachment mechanism can be built into the backs and sides during construction. A popular attachment method is the “French Cleat”.
A well designed and executed mantel surround can create a wonderful touch to your home much like a staircase, entryway, or cabinetry. Fortunately there are many beautiful examples that can help to wet the creative juices. After you settle on the basic shape, draw it out and plan carefully. The more specific the plan you have, the greater the likelihood of a successful implementation.
About the Author
Kim Vedros is a professional woodworker and owner of
Architectural Wood Designs
, an ecommerce store specializing in hand carved wooden components for home.