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Creating a Mantel: The Easiest Fireplace Upgrade

Adding a mantel is an easy upgrade for any home and adds incredible warmth and depth to a room in just hours. I will outline 8 easy steps to get you a professional looking installation of a rugged mantel that will hold almost anything, including a TV (if it isnt wall mounted already). Also, just imagine how beautiful your Christmas stockings will look when they are hung with care on your hand made matel! Have I convinced you to give it a try yet? If not, one additional incentive about our projects is that you don’t need to own all the power tools in the world to get them done. For the most part we will MacGyver our way through this with just a hammer, Miter Saw (also not totally necessary as you can make the hardware store do it), Glue, Orbital Sander (again don’t need to buy this and can hand sand everything - though it does make life MUCH easier), and some clamps. We have built in links on this step by step instructions so pay attention, these links will be your guide if you are unsure of what I am explaining. At the end there is also a link to download the actual plans for the build.

  • Step 1 - Buy Your Tools and Materials

I am showing how to build the 48" long and 8'' deep Mantel. This is the shortest, but probably the most common size. I also have plans for a 60" that you can use. You can also make the mantel different depths, I chose 8'' because of the cost effectiveness using common boards. If you want to make this any deeper, for the cost I would look at using Plywood. I recommend getting 3/4" plywood ripped down to the length and depth you like (this will bring cost down drastically for a deeper mantel). For 8" deep mantel the cost is about $40 using common boards (if building the 60" long, 48" is about half the cost).


Tools required:

Miter Saw



Nail Punch




Sanding Disk

Material required:

1X8 Common Board - Length 96" (8') - qty of (2) is required for all projects except for the 48" and shorter

1x6 Common Board - Length 96" (8') - qty of (1)

Stain/Finish (pick your color and type)


Color express

White Wash

Polyurethane (Polycrylic)






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  • Step 2 - Measure your Material and Cut it to Length

Cut your Materials. If you don’t have a miter saw, don't worry, you can usually get your hardware store to cut it for you. Just download the complete plans at the bottom of these steps and you can print your material cut page.... Isn’t that easy! Or if you are tech savy, just bring your smart phone with you and zoom in and give them the dimensions.

  • Step 3 - Sand Splintered Edges and Any Major Defects

I used to skip this step until I finally got tired of all the slivers and extra work that I had to do at the end of the project to get to the hard to reach areas. I only make this a separate step because I have found it to be a time saver.

  • Step 4 - Glue and Nail the Top, Sides, and Front

Here we want to work across the material choosing the best-looking part of the wood to be facing on the outside (front) and top) of the mantel. I tend to choose wood that is knotty and has some inclusions because it looks the best when it is stained (for the rustic loo). We will start with the side of the mantel and glue and clamp the wood into place so that it is flush with the top and the ends. We want to make them secure with our clamp by clamping the seam. Nail in the first two nails and leave the heads exposed. We will bury them later because we may need to adjust them in a couple of hours when we are done (doesn’t that feel good that we will be finished with this project in a couple of hours!). Next, we will work across the face of the mantel and the next side repeating a similar process. Remember to work on clamping as we go to ensure that we are keeping the boards tight and flush.

  • Step 5 - Glue, Nail and Clamp Again!

Flip, Glue, Nail and Clamp. Pretty much repeat the above steps but on the bottom.

  • Step 7 - Nail on the Back

This is is the last actual build part and also can be omitted depending on the design on your fireplace. This part adds a little depth to the mantel because it appears to wrap the fur out of your fireplace. You can also use this to wrap your stone that may be used to accent your fireplace. For this part, you will want to make sure that (1) your mantel is long enough to wrap anything and (2) that you have cut your pieces to fit what you are wrapping. Again this can be omitted if your mantel is smaller than the fur out. When you have verified the opening needed and cut your pieces, glue and nail them on. This current plan shows a 40" opening for the fur out or tile.

  • Step 7 - Bury Nail Heads, Putty, and Sand again!

This is the part where you need to decide how you want the mantel to look. If you choose rustic.... good news, this is easy because less is more! What I mean is that making the ledge look rustic is easy because it is less intensive in prep for stain and finishing. If you choose a clean and sharp look, this takes more prep. As you make your decision on finish, don't forget to consider the following questions: Do you want square edges or warn looking edges? Do want to make it look like it has been dinged and gouged? Are you looking for the appearance that this has been through the lumber mill? If so, these are techniques that we will do with the sander or a wire well. Do you want the nail holes shown? Filled? We will do any or all of these before we stain or lacquer. So depending on your finish I have links on this site to help you try and achieve your desired look. You will want to make sure that you bury your nail heads before sanding, so take that nail punch you just bought and drive the nail heads about 1/16" under the surface. After this is done, take your wood putty (stain-able or paintable) and fill any imperfections and fill any holes and gaps (unless you want a rustic look of course). Sanding the putty does not have to be perfect because you get to sand this after it dries. When the putty dries, you will want to sand smooth your putty/filler to give you the desired look you are going for and also get rid of any high spots. The putty is stain-able but it could be slightly off on color.

  • Step 8 - Stain, Paint, or whitewash

There are so many colors to chose as the options for stains and paints are limitless. Depending on what you want to do, I recommend you try out your finish on scrap piece of material (if you are anything like me you may have 1 or 2 scrap pieces after some projects). Stains react differently to each type of wood and also to imperfections on the wood. I really like stains because they bring out different colors and textures of wood than most paints. For stains, my best advice is to test it first, then try it on your mantel. Do not let the stain set to long before wiping off your first coat. This is because you will see if this is the tint or color that you want. If it is, apply a second coat and let it set a little longer. The longer the stain sits, the darker it gets. Do not let stain dry on top of the wood. What this means is that you will want to wipe off any excess after it has set for your prepping time. One trick to use is that when you are wiping off the stain, wipe in the direction you want to pull the color or hue to. The longer you wipe and work it, the darker it will get. I usually always use a cloth when I wipe. One other tip is wear gloves! Hopefully you did a read all of this article before you started working on your shelf and didn't get stain all over your hands. If you have never used stains before, hopefully you become a fan. If not, there is paint and paint can dress up anything if you chose the right color. Paint is pretty straight forward, and like stain, test it first so that you can see how it is going to dry. I always recommend multiple coats to get good coverage and also bring out the true color of the paint. After your paint/stain has dried chose an appropriate top coat for what you just applied. Since this mantel might have plants on it, or someone might think to put a drink on it, use a good clear coat. A little trick I learned is be sure to apply at least 3 coats and lightly sand with a 180 or higher grit between the first and second coats. And... that is it! You have a beautiful new mantel that will impress everyone. Good luck on your build, and remember, we are here for you if you need any support along the way!





Click on related post for the mount for the Mantel and Floating Shelves!

If you have any questions or comments please let us know. We are always striving to be better and supply you with the best content to make projects easy and affordable. If you have any project ideas or something you would love to build or have built and want to share please contact us and we will do what ever we can to help. Stay tuned and Lets Keep Improving! Jeff

#DIY #EasytoBuild #HomeUpgrade #Freeplans #Mantel #under25 #Under50

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