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How To Build A Mantel

Interior Design & Decorating
By Katie Carlson on Feb 12, 2016
How To Build A Mantel

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The mantel is a decorative framework around the fireplace, and it can include elaborate designs extending to the ceiling. A fireplace mantel is a feature all homeowners either have or typically have a desire to build. It’s a part of the interior design process that’s often fun to decorate and personalize.

Common materials used for the mantel are stone, wood and metals. Homeowners these days aren’t shy about constructing and installing mantels themselves. See why everyone needs a mantel around their fireplace and how to build one yourself. 

Why Everyone Needs A Mantel

Why Everyone Needs A Mantel

A fireplace mantel helps create a cozy and sentimental environment in the rooms where family and friends are most likely to gather. It should be worthy of displaying your most cherished items given that it’s the focal point of every fireplace.

It’s an aspect of your home that you’re encouraged to make your own and showcase your family photos, art and accessories. It’s easy to get overwhelmed deciding how you want your mantel to look, but take one step at a time. The most important aspect is making sure the mantel you choose to build meshes with the rest of your house.

Simple DIY Mantel

According to Ask The Builder, “You also need to decide if the fireplace mantel will be just the horizontal shelf above the actual fireplace or will be part of a fireplace surround.” In the following example, I’m going to walk through how to build a standard lumber and crown molding mantel shelf. This simple, yet sophisticated, mantel will be a helpful guide when you start building your project.

DIY Mantel Materials

Tools & Materials Needed to Build A Mantel


  • Level
  • Screwdriver
  • Paintbrush
  • Crown Molding
  • Trim
  • 2x4 Board (or material you select)

Material options:

  • Marble
  • Granite
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Limestone
  • Fieldstone
  • Ledgestone
  • Concrete
  • Brick
  • Plaster
  • Slab Material

Instructions for Building A Mantel

Building your own mantel is cheaper than having one professionally installed, however, if you’re going to DIY, be prepared to do some heavy lifting. As outlined above, there are many different designs and materials to choose from. I’m going to keep it simple and focus on those of you who are looking to add a little style to your fireplace, but not looking to break the bank, or any body parts.

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Step 1: Mark your Location

As with any home improvement project, you’ll want to document precise measurements for the space you’ll be filling and the pieces you’ll be cutting. Measure the width of the fireplace to locate and mark the center point. Next, measure how tall you want your mantel to sit. Mantles are usually 60" off the floor (DIY Network). 

Step 2: Cut the Pieces

Now it’s time to cut your pieces. The items you need to cut will depend on if you’re building a shelf only or a shelf and surround. If you’re building more than just the shelf piece, then also cut the breast, legs, returns and nailing strips to size.

Step 3: Attach Shelf & Assemble the Mantel

To assemble a single shelf, DIY Network offers up some technical pointers. Start by positioning the mantel brace on the line at the center point. Use a level to make sure the brace is perfectly horizontal. Mark and predrill holes to line up with the mortar joints. Attach the brace to the wall using 10" masonry screws.

Cut a breastplate from a 1x12 board to fit around the brace. Notch out a 3-1/3" opening on the breastplate to accept the mantel brace. Predrill holes near the top of the breastplate and then fasten it to the wall with 2-inch masonry screws.

With 45-degree miter cuts at all corners, place and attach the crown molding mantel to the brace and breastplate with 1" finish nails.

Cut a bottom cap to fit tight to the bottom of the crown molding to give the mantle a solid appearance. Secure with 1" finish nails.

Step 4: Cut & Add the Trim

The trim consists of the decorative pieces that’ll attach to the outside of your frame. Add any additional decorative trim of your choosing to the fireplace mantel. If you’re adding a lot of decorative trim and crown molding, see the detailed trim installation steps on This Old House. Putty all nail holes and allow to dry.

Build Mantel

Step 5: Apply Paint

Sand the entire mantel until it’s smooth. Coat the wood in a coat or two of primer and then paint the mantel with the color of your choice!


With the right design, tools and materials, building a mantel yourself can be done. Remember that it’s the focal point of the fireplace and deserves proper attention throughout the design and decorating phases. If you’re concerned about how much you want to do yourself, start small and build from your successes.

If you’re in the market for a new fireplace before you build your mantel, check out 7 Reasons to Install A Fireplace

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