Building your storied mantel

A mantel, which was originally part of a series of architectural mouldings found at a restoration store, adds instant character to this brick fireplace. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Today we’re going to be deciding on how to build our mantel.

Essentially, a shelf becomes a mantel when it’s placed over a fireplace.

When a mantel is supported by two column-like moldings placed on either side of the fireplace, this three-piece unit adopts the more elegant designation of “mantel surround.”

In an effort to simplify things, avoid formality, or guide the style of one’s home towards that of open space contemporary, mantels, as opposed to mantel surrounds, are becoming the decorator’s choice for accessorizing the wall space occupied by a fireplace.

So, with your lonely mantel now expected to bear a large portion of the decorating weight, becoming one of the key components to this accent wall, ranking second only to the fireplace itself, your mantel will need to provide impact.

For this to happen, the mantel is going to require two elements: size and character.

Size can be achieved either by building the mantel to the desired dimensions, by special ordering a solid piece of lumber, or by revitalizing an old barn beam into service. Building a mantel is easy, or like they say, only requires money.

Basically, any mantel found on Houzz or in a decorator’s magazine, can most likely be duplicated by your local building supply dealer’s bath and kitchen cabinet division, or by a local carpenter familiar with this type of finishing artistry.

Custom-made mantels are beautiful, but they usually don’t have any extended value, and carry even less of a story. Unless of course the mantel was made by some aging artisan who recently passed away, which like a piece of art, could elevate the mantel’s value.

Or, ‘legendary story’ value could result if the cabinet maker should have suffered a gruesome beheading after he slipped while trimming the mantel with his radial arm saw. In such a case, the customer would certainly benefit from the added value of their mantel having a history, and a warm, gather-around-the-fireplace type of story to recount to the little tykes on Christmas Eve.

Otherwise, a custom mantel is a rather nondescript piece of work.

So, with aging cabinet makers on their deathbed not so easily found in the yellow pages, if your mantel is to impress, then the option of solid wood might be the next best choice.

Because B.C. fir is readily available in practically any length or dimension of lumber, the fir specie is an excellent choice for a mantel. Besides the freedom to order a mantel in the desired girth, choosing B.C. fir also allows the homeowner to match the colour and grain pattern of their mantel to that of any other wood beams and pillars in the home, enabling the decorator to establish a real continuity of style and texture.

B.C. fir can be ordered with either a rough-sawn or dressed finish.

A rough-sawn look is the resulting finish of the original log being pushed through the band saw at the mill, and offers the customer a straight, but “furry” type of texture that includes splintering and saw blade marks. Rough-sawn finishes fit right into a rustic type of décor, or serve well to contrast in a contemporary setting.

Dressed refers to the fact the lumber has gone through a planer, and has been rendered smooth to the touch.

Other than made-to-measure and solid B.C. fir options, old lumber can serve as the perfect mantel. Beams from one of the seaway locks, old industrial pillars from the cotton mills, or the posts used in the 1870 last community hanging of bad boy Alfonse “le méchant” Papineau, all carry yesteryear’s charm, and make for great storytelling.

Otherwise, the fun thing about using old lumber is that you become the story teller, which is considered fair game in the home décor biz.

Concerns regarding old lumber? Look for any embedded nails or bolts before cutting. And, the paint on these older beams likely contains lead. So, sanding will require using extreme precautions.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

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