Fireplace Surround and Mantel - My First Major Project

  • Advertise with us
Project by Heath posted 11-25-2008 08:26 PM 46308 views 5 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

So I’ve just about completed my first major woodworking project and thought I would share some pictures.

The house we’re in now has a fireplace in the living room, but it was ugly. There’s a brick hearth, but the fireplace itself is surrounded by tile and there is no mantel (a fireplace is just incomplete without a mantel!). The tile was installed quite sloppily. There’s a groove cut into the tile a couple inches from the edge that looks like it was cut with a dull rotary saw and no straight edge for a guide. One of the tiles on the left side sticks out from the wall about 1/4” further than the other tiles. Seriously, I don’t know why they even tried if that was the best they could do.

Here’s the “before” picture. This is what I started with.

I chose to use 3/4” thick MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) for most of the project because it’s cheaper than real hardwood and I felt there was a pretty good chance I would screw something up and if I did, it wouldn’t be a costly mistake. I would have preferred a natural wood finish to the project, but since I used MDF, I decided to paint it. (I’ve read about staining MDF and I may experiment with that later, but didn’t want to do that for this project.) Since this is my first real major project, I looked at it as a training exercise. Maybe in a year or two I can go back and redo it with real wood that can be stained instead of painted.

I started with two simple box columns on either side. The columns are assembled with simple butt joints – no fancy joinery. The screw holes are counter-sunk so they can be covered and hidden with spackle. Because I’m covering up the tile instead of ripping it out, I couldn’t screw the columns directly to the wall. I thought about using Liquid Nails and gluing them to the tile, but I want to be able to remove it all if necessary (or if I redo the project). So I used a couple of “L” brackets at the top of each column to attach them to the wall. The brackets will be covered up by the mantel piece.

In that second picture, you can see the gap between the left column and the fireplace caused by the uneven tile. I’ll cover that up that gap later with some trim. The gap between the column and the wall on the left outside is even worse. Unfortunately, because of the bad tile installation, there’s not much I can do about it other than cover it with some trim.

For the bridge beam between the columns, I used two pieces of 3/4” MDF glued and screwed together (from the back so I didn’t have screw holes to cover). I removed the outside wall of the columns, screwed the bridge beam to the inside walls of the columns, then replaced the outside walls. I used two shower curtain tension rods to support the weight of the bridge beam and hold it level. My wife held it all steady while I attached it to the columns.

At this point I was ready to attach the mantel. This was the only piece that was real wood. I used the straightest 2”x12” I could find at Lowes which I then cut to length and trimmed the width down to 11”. We like a big mantel and this certainly does the job. I also used “L” brackets here to attach the mantel to the columns and bridge beam. This kept the mantel level and made attaching it easy. I didn’t have to drill through the top of the mantel or drill at an angle from underneath and the brackets will be hidden later.

I didn’t put much effort into sanding the mantel. I just went over with some 150 grit sandpaper on my electric sander. I also put a decorative edge on it with my router (and a borrowed router bit). While I was sanding and routing, my wife put a base coat of paint on the columns & bridge.

After painting the mantel, we were so impressed with how well it looked, that we couldn’t help putting some stuff on the mantel and lighting a fire!

But, it’s still not finished yet! Next came all of the trim and molding. I put crown molding all the way around the underside of the mantel. This turned out the be the hardest part of the whole project. That crown molding almost kicked my butt, but I finally showed it who was boss. I then put some baseboard around the base of the columns, and flat trim on the face of the columns and the bridge beam to give it a little decorative touch.

I still have some final touches to add. I’m going to put some quarter-round trim along the inside of all of the flat trim, and I still need cover the gaps between the columns and the wall (you can see the edge of the tile behind the column in the picture above). I still see all the little imperfections and they drive me crazy on one level, but overall I’m very satisfied with the outcome and proud of the work I did. The total cost of the materials was under $100, but I bought a few new tools that put the total spent on the project just over that amount. It took me three weekends of work, but it was time well spent. I learned a lot and had fun doing it. Having done it once now, I could probably do it again in one weekend.

We still have a lot of work to do in that room otherwise, but I think the new fireplace surround and mantel went a long way into making the room more inviting and cozy. I took a “before” picture of the overall room before I started, but I forgot the take the same “after” picture. When I do that, I will post the two for comparison.

-- "I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." - Pablo Picasso

7 comments so far

View mtnwild's profile


4047 posts in 4609 days

#1 posted 11-25-2008 08:58 PM

Very nice, much better.

-- mtnwild (Jack), It's not what you see, it's how you see it.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5300 days

#2 posted 11-25-2008 10:37 PM

This came out really nice!

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View trucker12349's profile


92 posts in 4567 days

#3 posted 11-26-2008 12:15 AM

who says simple can’t be beautiful. great job

View PetVet's profile


329 posts in 4569 days

#4 posted 11-26-2008 01:11 AM

I think you and your wife should pour a glass of wine and sit and admire your handiwork. Very nicely done. You will be glad you used MDF, as you are going to have fairly extreme temperature fluctuations around the fireplace, and MDF is very stable. Thanks for sharing.

-- Rich in Richmond -- Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 4802 days

#5 posted 11-26-2008 05:28 AM

Looks good! I like the trim work. Thanks for posting.

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View jim1953's profile


2744 posts in 4923 days

#6 posted 11-26-2008 05:38 AM

Wow what nice job like the trim work

-- Jim, Kentucky

View Mike Gilbert's profile

Mike Gilbert

31 posts in 3184 days

#7 posted 09-08-2012 04:54 AM

I really like your design, i just built a mantel for my own fireplace this weekend using your same design but scaled down for my smaller fireplace. Thanks for the great idea

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics