Make a Mantel Shelf
I have to admit something: I love this project.
When I first designed it, I didn’t think I’d like it this much, but after Theresa and I built and installed two versions, I fell in love with it.
I suppose the first reason I like it is that it looks good—it’s one of those few projects that’s more payoff than investment. It’s got power and lift and appeal. I like that.
The second reason, and maybe this is because I’m a bit of an iconoclast, is that this design short-circuits one of my preconceived notions about mantel (or mantle, as it’s misspelled sometimes) building, which is that a good mantel has to involve several million different molding profiles, raised panels, furniture-grade joinery—and every brain cell I’m not using for basic life functions.
What I also like is that this mantel-shelf is a winner in myriad applications. It’s a home run as a rustic yet refined mantel surrounding the hearth. Or, you can use it as a decorative shelf bringing mass and detail to a blank wall, indoors or out. What I also dig is that it works as an upgrade for your own home, a design solution for home-improvement contractors, or as a low-cost, high-benefit design focal point if you fix and flip houses.
The whole thing is made from Fypon’s urethane beams and corbels from their new Southwest Collection. The rest is a 2-by-4 ledger board, fasteners, adhesive, caulk and paint.
Fypon’s Southwest Collection is a series of urethane timbers and accessories designed to look like rough-sawn or rough-hewn timbers and parts—and they really do. Plus, the material works like wood, which means you can use your regular tools to machine it. What’s more, this project is very “site” friendly. In other words, you can build the entire mantel in your shop or outside (like we did) and only disrupt the finished location for installation and paint.
For something that provides such a big visual impact, installing it is very low impact.
Start At the End
The first piece of information you need before you can begin laying out the pieces and parts is to know exactly where you want the finished shelf to go—left, right, up and down—and what its proportions are.
If it’s working as a mantel, you’ll want the shelf and corbels to extend proportionally past the left and right sides of your hearth. As a rule of thumb, 6 inches between the edge of the hearth and the inside edge of the corbel is a good place to start. I’d also come about 8 to 12 inches from the top of the hearth to the bottom of the mantel/shelf. This creates a proportional reveal.
You also want to make sure the corbels are proportional in height to the shelf’s length. For example, we trimmed about 5 inches off our corbels to get just the right look. All this is determined by the location you’re installing it in and the timber’s length. Before you head to the shop to cut the pieces, locate where the top edge of the shelf will be, and mark a centerline. We’ll use this control point again during installation.