Whether you have an existing fireplace that you’d like to update, or you’re installing a new fireplace as part of a remodeling or building project, a mantel gives that fireplace character and charm. It’s the main stage where precious family photos and mementos are displayed. It’s an extension of you and your lifestyle.
Your WE LOVE FIRE® dealer has an impressive line-up of mantels. Several will probably catch your eye and would look great in your home. However, if you have a desire to build your own wooden mantel, keep reading. We have several details that you will need to keep in mind as your project moves forward.
CLEARANCES ARE CRITICAL
Other than mounting a mantel firmly on a wall so it doesn’t fall, the most important thing to remember about a wooden mantel are the mandatory clearance requirements. Whether it’s a gas or wood fireplace, clearances refer to the distance from the top and sides of the fireplace opening to anything combustible, including a wooden mantel.
Fireplace mantels can be made from solid wood, MDF board or laminated plywood. All are combustible. Fireplace clearances to wood mantels, or anything that can burn, are not optional. Clearances must be maintained. Because of the stains and sealants often used in wood, mantels without proper clearances will overheat and can actually get hot enough to ignite and burn.
ALL clearance requirements must be followed to the letter! It is absolutely critical that you follow the clearance requirements for your specific fireplace model. This information is readily available and clearly outlined in the owner’s manual. If you need some help, just check with your WE LOVE FIRE® expert.
Regardless if it’s a gas fireplace or a wood-burning model, mantel clearances will vary from one fireplace to the next. Spend some quality time reading the owner’s manual for your fireplace. Understand all installation requirements including those for a combustible mantel. Checking for any specific local codes that may apply would also be a good idea.
An important reminder that we’ve mentioned before; as with all clearances, not just mantel clearances, “more is better”! Add two or three inches on to any clearance requirement. If the manufacturer says 6”, nothing wrong with 8”. If the requirement to combustibles is 18”, go with 20” or 22”. You get the idea. It’s sort of like that chocolate dessert your favorite sister makes: MORE IS BETTER!
WHAT SIZE OF MANTEL IS RIGHT?
You will want the mantel to look “proportionally correct”. Consider the size of the fireplace, the finishing material around the fireplace, the size of the room and the ceiling height. In the majority of cases, most mantels are five to seven feet long. Barn beams or large timber or log mantels are sometimes larger, but most mantels are usually about six feet long.
The depth of the mantel, that is the distance from the wall to the front edge and sometimes called a “shelf”, is normally less than 10”. Most are in the range of 6” – 9” deep. A 1” x 8” board, regardless of species, is actually ¾” x 7¼”. Lots of do-it-yourselfers use a 1” x 8” for the top “shelf” of the mantel. It is important to note that there is a direct relationship between the depth of the mantel and how high above the fireplace the mantel is to be hung. This sketch is from an owner’s manual and shows the depth/height relationship for this specific fireplace.
In terms of building the mantel itself, we’re not going to give you detailed plans for three dozen mantels or tell you how to cut, glue, nail or finish it. If you’re considering building your own mantel, we’ll assume you have the skills and equipment to do just that. We can comment though, that many wooden fireplace mantels are roughly 6’ long, 7¼” deep and between 5” – 12” in height. However, we would like to provide assistance with a proven, quick and easy way to solidly mount a wood mantel to the wall.
The first step for hanging a mantel on the wall is to make a mitered hanger board. Maybe call it a wooden bracket or a “cleat’. It’s a mitered board screwed to the wall. The same mitered board is mounted upside down to the back of the mantel. The idea is for these two mitered piece to “mate” together, so the mantel can be literally be hung on the wall. If you are not familiar with the concept, we suggest you watch this short video https://youtu.be/nfrTde02CCA.
Rip a 2” x 4” lengthwise, at an angle. Secure one piece to the wall. You will need to make sure you’re screwing the mitered wall bracket to solid framing members or studs in the wall. Simply screwing into drywall or using plastic anchor sets in the drywall will not provide enough strength for the weight of the mantel.
You will need to carefully measure the mounting height of the mitered wall bracket. Remember the manufacturer’s minimum mantel clearance requirement for your fireplace is measured from the bottom of the mantel, so adjust the mounting height appropriately for the wall bracket. This height will depend on the specific depth and height that you made your mantel and the manufacturer’s minimum clearance requirement.
Before mounting the wall bracket, drill holes through it at the stud locations, to prevent the wood from splitting. And, make sure that the wall bracket is perfectly level!
The other “mated” piece is screwed to the back of the mantel. When the two pieces are hung, or joined together, they fit snugly and the mantel is held tight to the wall.
Any wooden corbels, a wooden breastplate of some sort or wooden side legs, should be mounted to the mantel before the mantel is mounted to the wall. Once this is done, the mounting or hanging procedure is essentially the same as outlined above.
If you’re using wooden legs on either side of the fireplace, the height and side clearance requirements of these legs in relation to the mantel mounting height must be taken into consideration. This will determine the width of the mantel as well as the height of the wall bracket.
In summarizing, make sure you check and understand the mantel clearance requirements for your specific fireplace. Securely mount a mitered, hanging wooden bracket or cleat on the wall at the appropriate height. Make sure the mantel bracket on the wall is level. Then screw the mate of the hanging bracket to the back of the mantel so it can be hung snuggly on the wall.
WHAT ABOUT ELECTRIC FIREPLACES?
Mantels for electric fireplaces can be installed using the same techniques as described above. However, the heat from an electric fireplace is substantially less than the heat from a gas or wood-burning fireplace. Regardless of the heat being top vented or bottom vented from the fireplace, clearances really are not an issue with an electric model. The specific mounting height for a wooden mantel for an electric fireplace can be done wherever the home owner prefers.
As always, it goes without saying that your WE LOVE FIRE® dealer is ready to answer any questions you have and to help in any way.