My husband will be the first to tell you that I have a running list in my head of DIY projects for our house.
We moved into our home several years ago and although it was move-in ready, there have been a lot of projects on my to-do list to make it truly ours.
So, when I came up to David several weeks ago and said that I had an idea for our fireplace, he was not the least bit surprised.
I’ve always loved how warm and inviting a wood beam mantel looks. But, the more we inspected our existing mantel and how it had been attached when the house was built, the more we worried that trying to take it off might damage the brick.
And even though the existing mantel was a wooden beam, stripping the paint off would be insanely hard and messy (especially since removing the mantel was out of the question).
Instead, we decided to box around our existing mantel to create a faux beam look while using the structure of the old mantel to support it. I’m beyond happy with how it turned out — and insanely thankful for a handy husband. 🙂
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Materials we needed
- 1×10 whitewood boards (any type of hardwood will work, but we chose this because it was inexpensive)
- 1 1/4 inch brad nails for airgun nailer
- Titebond wood glue
- Ratchet bar clamps
- Minwax Interior Wood Stain in Honey and Special Walnut
- Minwax Polyacrylic in Satin
- Plastic drop cloth
- 220-grit sandpaper
- Tack cloth
How we created a faux beam mantel
Since this project will vary depending on your existing mantel setup, I’m not going to outline highly-detailed steps and measurements because this certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of project.
But, hopefully showing you how we tackled this project on our own mantel will give you an idea of how to accomplish something similar in your home with the right adjustments to fit your needs.
1. Measure, measure, and measure again
We started by measuring out the existing mantel since the new mantel box was going to slide on over the top of the old mantel. We measured out the length, width, and depth and then added an allowance for the thickness of the board.
2. Make the cuts
After we had our measurements all sorted out and the wood purchased, we used my father-in-laws table saw to cut the boards. We didn’t want to see any square edges, so we mitered the corners at a 45 degree angle to make a nice, clean box.
3. Assemble the box
Next, we assembled the box. We added wood glue to all of the edges and then nailed them together with an air nailer. We clamped the edges with ratchet bar clamps and let them sit overnight to make sure they were good and secure.
4. Cut out the notches for the corbels
Once the box was completely assembled, it was time to cut out the notches for the corbels. Since our corbels sit further back on our mantel and don’t go all the way to the edge, we decided to slide the box on halfway so we could mark exactly where the corbels line up on the assembled box.
We still had our measurements to check against, but this ensured that everything lined up just in case the box wasn’t completely square.
We also measured the depth of the corbels and marked the notches with a square ruler. Using a jigsaw, we cut the notches out of the mantel.
5. Stain the wood
Next, we moved on to staining the wood. Using a scrap piece of wood, we tested a bunch of different stains, but landed on a combination of “Honey” and “Special Walnut” by Minwax. We rarely ever use just one stain on anything we do — using multiple colors can add so much depth and richness to the wood.
6. Clear coat the mantel
After the stain had dried for 48 hours, we moved on to adding a coat of polyacrylic. You could probably apply the polyacrylic layer after 24 hours, but sometimes if you apply the polyacrylic too soon, there’s a chemical reaction between the stain and the polyacrylic that will cause the stain to lift out of the wood and rub off.
So, to play it safe, we waited the full 48 hours to apply the clear coat. Apply a thin layer using a paintbrush and wait for it to dry. Don’t use a foam brush as it will create too many air bubbles.
Pro-tip: We chose polyacrylic over polyurethane because polyacrylic is less likely to change the color of the wood stain. And, since our mantel wasn’t going to be seeing any high traffic, we weren’t worried about the durability of the clear coat.
7. Sand the mantel
After the clear coat has dried, you’ll notice that it leaves a bit of a gritty texture (and you may even see a few bubbles). To get rid of this, you’ll want to use a very fine sandpaper to sand your mantel. We used 220-grit sandpaper.
Use tack cloth to get up the dust and then apply another thin layer of polyacrylic. Once it has dried, sand again.
We applied two total coats of polyacrylic (sanding after each one), but you can apply more if you want your mantel to have a little more shine to it.
Pro-tip: You can even use the back of sandpaper to smooth out the texture.
8. Slide the new mantel into place
Here comes the fun part — seeing all of your hard work come into place! Slowly and evenly guide the new mantel on over the old mantel.
As we were putting the new mantel on, we noticed that a few spots were sticking since the old mantel wasn’t completely square. We used a belt sander on the old mantel to sand those tricky spots down.
Pro-tip: Our mantel was a pretty snug fit, so we folded up a towel and used a rubber mallet to hammer the mantel into place. The folded-up towel kept us from creating dents in our new, beautiful mante.
9. Tack it in
If your mantel fits very snug and feels secure, you might be able to skip this step. Ours fit so tight over the old mantel that we weren’t sure we’d be able to pull it back off in one piece. 🙂
However, if you want to secure it to the old mantel, feel free to do that with a air nailer to give it that extra stability.
10. Decorate and enjoy
My favorite part…the decorating! You hard work is complete and now you get to make your fireplace uniquely yours.
We are so happy with the way this project turned out! This fireplace and mantel DIY was a relatively simple project in our home, but made such a huge statement.
What do you think of the transformation? Let me know in the comments below!
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