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Mantle Makeover

October 31, 2010

Our latest project was one that resulted in an amazing transformation, but definitely had us wondering about our ambition during the process.  Well, let’s back up a little bit.  Back in the old rental, Chris built a killer mantle to go above the fireplace in the rental.  We didn’t have the right tools (had to use a miter box), and since we were spending our own cash on a project that would eventually stay behind when we left the rental, we made it pretty simple and fairly inexpensively.  My mom (making her debut on the blog in photo form) helped a lot.

And here was the finished product:

Of course, now that we own our own home, we wanted it to look nicer and we were willing to spend a little more on the project.  Here’s what we were working with:

Chris started by drawing a sweet picture of what we wanted it to look like. (Error 1: I missed the part where the mantle was being built to sit on top of the brick.  I envisioned it covering the existing brick mantle). Then he made a perfect list of the materials, and I went to the store with him.  (Error 2: Wife at store with husband, wants to redesign project…still doesn’t realize that the mantle will sit atop the brick).

We go home and start building.

This was a two day project that took well over 12 hours, so I won’t give you all of the nitty gritty details. (I suppose this is also the part where I should share that we genuinely ENJOY trying to guess how long a project SHOULD take, and then if we’ve never done it before, we’ll generally double the estimate.  Needless to say that since we’d done a similar project before, 12 hours was FAR more than we had estimated).

I’ll give you an abbreviated version of the “how-to’s.”

1)     Build a frame if you want to add height to the mantle.  (Our existing brick mantle was one brick tall.  Kinda puny, even for our cozy home.)

Okay…and because everyone makes mistakes, I’ll show you this…the first time we built the frame, we forgot that we were supposed to nail the supports on the outer edges, so when we brought in the frame, it looked like this:

Obviously, from looking at the first picture, you can tell we got the issue resolved by screwing the pieces to the outside like we were supposed to originally.  That was definitely the easiest problem that we had to solve.

2)     Screw some supports into the existing studs behind the fireplace.  Mount the frame to these supports. (Pray that you have a really nice neighbor so that when your stud finder runs out of batteries you can use his, which since he is a contractor will definitely be way nicer than the one you bought at Big Lots).

3)     Begin cutting trim pieces.  In the easiest version, you need a flat piece to go across the top of the mantle, a crown moulding piece to go around the edges, and a trim piece to cover where the two overlap. (We quickly realize that we have gotten too big for our britches, as the moulding that we purchased is so large that it barely fit in our miter saw.  Note: The next day we just learned that we were using our miter saw incorrectly, and that it would have fit just fine had we rotated the saw–see HUGE HINT 1 below.  Ba-ha-ha!).

4)     Cut the pieces on 45° angles.  Start with the piece that will mount the lowest.  That way you can make sure that everything aligns as you “move up.”  This is where we realized that our plans were at odds, as Chris wanted to mount the lowest piece essentially over the brick level.  Upon several quick minutes of yelling conversing he (naturally) realizes that my idea of building the mantle over the brick is a better idea.  In order to do this, since we had obviously (back in step 2) screwed into the studs, we couldn’t move the mantle lower, so that just meant that the whole thing got taller.  Like 4″ taller.  Good thing we have vaulted ceilings!

5)     HUGE HINT: If you’re cutting flat pieces of wood, you can turn the blade of many miter saws on their side to cut the angle rather than holding the piece of wood up and praying your fingers don’t get cut off as you hold the guard up.  Okay—are you getting that we learned a ton of lessons here?

6)     HUGE HINT 2: If you’re cutting crown moulding, which isn’t flat, doing this same thing won’t result in a 45° angle.  You actually need to hold this upright.  When in doubt, check YouTube.

7)     We used a combination of wood glue and finishing nails.

8)     The second to last step was attaching the top flat piece—the mantle piece itself.  (Hope that your ancient house has walls that are square.  Otherwise, you might find yourself sanding quite a bit—in our case, the left side actually sticks out ½ an inch farther than the right side since the walls aren’t square, so we literally had to sand off 1/2 an inch of wood.  Yeah.  We had big smiles at this point in the project. NOT.  Though we were apparently in good enough spirits to continue to document this process with pictures, so it couldn’t have been all that awful.)

9)     Fill the holes, the gaps, and everywhere in between.  Don’t get impatient—wait extra long for it to dry—which we actually did!

10)  Sand away.

11)  Paint.

12)  Give your other half a huge hug since the project is done, and looks amazing!

What do you think?  And…have you ever taken on a project and thought to yourself, “Whoops!  I think we’re in a little deep here!”  If you have, I’d love to know we’re not alone!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Diana permalink
    October 31, 2010 1:57 pm

    Tell Santa that you want a table for your saw so you don’t have to bend over and cut, you know it is much safer that way. Regardless the project is awesome, you did good.

  2. Barb Pond permalink
    October 31, 2010 7:32 pm

    WOW—You two are amazing—the finished project looks like it could have taken much longer than 12 hours–what perfection! It really adds so much to the room and makes the fireplace worth looking at–are you planning to hang stockings? I don’t know if they would work but I have stocking hangers that we used at our old house:) Way to go guys and thanks for sharing!

  3. Terry Cline permalink
    November 1, 2010 3:30 am

    Katie and Chris: Ya’ll should do this professionally !! It looks wonderful send picture when you decorate it.

    Love you both

  4. Jen Pond permalink
    November 8, 2010 10:58 am

    Good job Chris and Katie…It looks great!

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