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Help - fireplace mantel with access panel

7631 Views 18 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  ADHDan
I'm building a mantel to fit over my fireplace between my (nearly complete) built-in surrounds that. I left a gap between the built-ins and the wall, and I pre-ran a bunch of cables (a/v, usb, Ethernet, speaker, power, etc.) so that as I put in my entertainment equipment I can keep all of the wires hidden. Most of them will run from the left cabinet into the mantel, with the speaker wire running through the mantel, up behind the left cabinet, and then through crown molding so that I can hide speakers across the room.

All of this is background for a simple question: what's the easiest way to build a box mantel (no or little underside profile) with a hidden panel (or panels) on top and/or in front, so that I can get inside to fish wires as necessary? Here are some pictures that I'm modeling my mantel on:

Property Wood Hearth Wall Gas

Property Bookcase Shelf Shelving Interior design

Ideally, I'd like some way to be able to lift the entire top of the mantel out so I have full access to the inside. I like the look of the boxy trim in these samples, plus I can use the trim to leave a lip at the top to hide the gaps necessitated by having a removable top.

And for reference, here are some pictures of what my built-ins look like:

Property Wood Interior design Grey Flooring

Wood House Building Shelving Floor

Does anyone have ideas or design plans for something that would work well and be relatively easy to construct? Thanks!


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Hollow with hinges. Seen quite a few the way. Looked easy to be
What would be the best hinge for this application? European-style hidden hinges that let the top open outward? Or maybe a piano hinge that lets the top drop inward? Either way I'll need an inconspicuous pull. I'm just wondering what the simplest way to do this is - I don't want to overthink this. (And also I'm not particularly well-versed in hinges.)
I think hinged joints are hard to pull off. This mantel will be in plain view, so I would build a solid box. Just leave an open channel at the back of the mantel to use as a wire chase. Cover the chase with a "T" shaped molding to match the rest of the box. Cut the "T" molding into 2 pieces, which will leave a hole behind the TV for the wires to emerge. You can use self-adhesive foam weather stripping for a snug friction fit.

The effort you spend hiding the wires pays off in droves. It will be a really clean install.

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The more I think about it, you might just be able to drill a hole in the top of the mantel, and fish the wires through with a flexible rod. I have used "Fish Sticks" successfully to run AV wires. It is like a fish tape, but works better. You can find them in the electrical dept. at home improvement stores.


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I really like the removable molding idea. I'm not quite sure what I might need to install down the road, so I'd like to give myself a little more wiggle room than a fishing hole, but a fairly snug piece of removable trim should work great. Thanks!
I would cut a rabbet around the inside of the trim that is wrapped around the top. In that dado, I would fit a piece of 1/4 plywood with a couple n52 rare earth magnets on the underside, so you could create a handle out of anything metal. The n52 magnets should easily have enough strength to lift a piece of 1/4 ply that size, but obviously test it first!


Rabbet, not a dado! :). Sorry!
I'd make a faceframe on the front and a panel to cover it. Then just fasten the panel on with false front clips and rollers. We do it all the time for tub panels when access is desired to the pump and electrical.
I have use SOSS hidden hinges and when closed they are totally invisible and very strong.
For a hidden panel you can get by with some really small ones.

They are available from a number of sources including Amazon.
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Hmmm, new issue: how to mount the mantel if the top is not fixed? I was going to screw a cleat to the wall to support the mantel, but with a drop-down top I'm not sure how to do that. Maybe instead of making the top my access point I make the front my access point. Should I put the front on hidden hinges so it flips up? That would give me access to the full interior of the mantel, and I could just drill whatever small holes I might need in the top down the road.
Underdog, I like the simplicity of your idea. I've never done a false front before - can you give me a little more description and/or point me to the hardware? That seems like an even better idea than a hinged front panel.
Alternatively, maybe a modified version of Joe's suggestion might work. I could make the front with two or more frame and panel segments (like in the first picture I posted), using 1/4" plywood for the panels and seating them in rabbets in the frames with magnets to hold them in place.

I could use a forstner bit to drill circles in the back of the panels to seat some RE magnets, and drill in from the back of the frames (leaving maybe 1/8" to 1/16" of material) to seat the mating magnets behind a thin layer of wood - so that the bond isn't strong enough to risk pulling through the epoxy. I'm thinking that it might be too difficult to get a precise gapless fit with pull-out frames, but that could be solved with some bead or other small molding glued (only) to the panels after they've been seated in the frames.

I've never mounted a mantel before, but I was thinking that for a hollow box I'd just screw a cleat into the wall and build a false back into the mantel so that I could screw into the cleat from inside the mantel itself instead of just from the top/bottom.

I'm really curious to know what everyone thinks would be the simplest way to solve this problem, considering both the access issue and the mounting issue.

Edit: One last idea. Maybe I just skip making any sort of access panel to the mantel, and instead run the cords on top of the mantel and hide them under a hollow piece of trim. E.g., if I'm using 3/4" thick by 1.5" wide trim to frame out the mantel, I just route a hollow down the underside of the back piece of trim, say 5/8" x 1.25" If I need more space for cords, I could route into the top of the mantel where the trim sits to get another 1/2" or so.
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I decided to go with front access rather than top access; because the mantel will be mounted on a cleat I had to leave a 1.5" gap between the back of the mantel and the wall, and since I'll be screwing the mantel to the cleat through the back and down from the top I decided this would make top access more complicated.

So, now I'm trying to decide whether to put the entire front on hidden hinges, make front face frames with removable panels, or do something else. I'd welcome comments on what you guys think would be the easiest way to leave an access point, and what would be the least conspicuous in terms of visible gaps.

On the plus side, the (open-faced) mantel build turned out great. The total gap between the mantel and the bookcases is less than 1/2" (i.e., just enough of a gap to provide wiggle room for installation), and that will easily be bridged by the frame trim.

Property Building Window Wood Interior design

(The mantel is just resting on the cabs; it will be installed at least 12" from the fireplace.)


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If you do a Google search for false front clips you'll see a sort of "U" shaped spring clip that just screws to the back of your panel, and the roller which screws to the inside of the faceframe. Then the clip just pops over the roller, and is held tightly in place for the duration. If you need access occasionally, you just pull it off. I think it works best for overlay applications. I don't know that you'd get it to fit tightly enough if you did an inset. You'd probably have to make a sub-frame.
Here's a link to the clip.
Looking at your picture, you might even just make a full panel across there, and fasten your rollers to the top and bottom of your ply. You might want to put some vertical stretchers in there to stiffen it up though.
Have you thought about neodymium magnets!
Since this is not a CRT, there should be no problem but don't use too many!
Underdog, I think you're the winner. I ordered these last night:

I think I'm going to make a faux frame and panel front (1/4" plywood with frame pieces glued on) and use the door catches to hold it on. I'll put dowels in the corners (only glued into the mantel box, not the front) to keep the face from wiggling.

I gave serious thought to using magnets to hold individual panels inside frames, but this just seems like a simpler and more elegant solution. I think it would be too hard to get a perfect fit for the panels in the frames without using a "filler" piece like a bead, and the rest of the design is all clean and square so I wanted to keep with that motif.

Sounds like that was the best move. Let us see it when it's done!
I would run a piece of 1" EMT conduit the length of the mantle at the back and through the ends of the mantle. Wires will be easy to fish through.
Well, the project is almost done. I definitely overthought the mantel front - the friction fit is almost sufficient by itself, and with a couple of pin-and-roller door catches inside there's no risk of it falling off. All of my wires are fed into the mantel, and the speaker wires are tucked away and run up and over the bookcases. All that's left is to finish the crown molding, touch up the paint, and clean it up.

Current progress (except for some recently-installed crown molding):

Shelf Shelving Interior design Wood Grey

Building Wood Hearth Floor Wheel

Cabinetry Kitchen appliance Wood Floor Flooring

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Current status of crown molding:

Property Building Wood Flooring Shelving

Building Wood House Rectangle Shade

I installed a 1" cleat on the chimney brick at the ceiling line to give me something to nail the molding to (other than stabbing at joists). This also gives me a small reveal (maybe 1/2"), which will help with the fit between the vertical brick trim and the crown. It also leaves me a tiny amount of furring space if I end up putting a white panel over the top brick (perhaps to hide TV cords).

Also, my father-in-law gave me some excellent advice for trimming the inset doors to fit the face frames. In order to shave VERY shallow angles (like, 32nds of an inch) to get perfect fits with (almost) even gaps between doors and frames, he suggested taping a washer to the edge of the door opposite the edge to be trimmed. The washer rode with the door along the fence (I clamped on a fence extension) and kicked the side-to-be-trimmed out by just a hair's breadth. This process let me dial in on the proper amount of trimming for each side of each door - a necessity considering neither of my taper jigs could accommodate this type of cut.

Once everything is done I'll put up better pics as a project on my profile. Thanks for all the advice!


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