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Fireplace Mantel Shelf Ideas

Updated on July 5, 2011

A mantel shelf is an economical way to improve your home!

We will take a look at the various options surrounding building, buying and installing fireplace mantel shelves. Fireplace shelves are easier to install than a full mantel and can easily be installed in an afternoon with a minimal amount of tools. Let's take a look at the options for choosing, buying and later installing your brand new fireplace mantel shelf.

Fireplace Mantel Shelves

Fireplaces being built these days may not look as grand and lovely as ones from the past. Wood stoves and fireplace inserts have largely taken over and while more economical, they lose on the traditional beauty of a traditional fireplace. To improve upon that, more people are considering the addition of mantels or mantel shelves.

A brick fireplace is often one of the central features in a living room, so why not spruce up one of your house's best features? Redoing a fireplace is one of the best returns for your dollars.

If you have a fireplace without a mantel or mantel shelf above it, a fireplace mantel shelf is an affordable item that can be a major accent piece added to the room. Fireplace mantel shelves are wooden ledges or shelves that can be used to hold decorative items such as pictures, candles, small statues and vases. They can be installed instead of a full fireplace mantel for less cost and less work. Fireplace mantel shelves can dress up an existing fireplace in minutes. A mantel shelf can also be a replacement for an original fireplace mantel.

What's the difference in a mantel and a mantel shelf? Essential the mantel shelf is only the horizontal portion that attaches to the wall above the fireplace. For a mantel, think of this shelf with legs or columns extending from the bottom of the shelf to the hearth or floor, kind of like a picture frame for your fireplace, only the hearth is the bottom piece. Sometimes a full fireplace mantel is more than you want or need. Sometimes you need the decorative shelf for an area of your home other than above a fireplace. Mantel shelves are not just for having above fireplaces any more. They can add character in a wide variety of places in your décor.

The choice of your mantel shelf not only depends on your house but also on the type and size of your fireplace. There are classical and traditional designs as well as modern fancy designs. Wood fireplace mantels are made from mahogany, oak, birch, maple and pine, to name a few. Less costly options may include fiberboard and other lower-cost materials.

If you're really handy with tools and do it yourself techniques, you could build your own fireplace mantel shelves. That would be cheaper but a lot more labor. Finding the right materials could be a challenge. Fireplace mantel shelf kits start at under $200 for quality materials. The prices go up as the craftsmanship, tooling and sometimes hand carving are added in. For ornate pieces, prices could go up to a couple of thousand dollars.

Fireplace mantel shelves may feature both hand-carved and machine-honed elements that create the perfect blend of craftsmanship and quality manufacturing. The shelves may be made of many materials though. Fireplace mantel shelves are generally built using hardwoods for durability and long life. Selections include pre-sanded and unfinished fireplace shelves or you can choose pre-stained shelves in beautiful finishes like Cherry, Fruitwood or Mission Oak. There are many wood shelf options in a variety of widths, both finished and unfinished. Unfinished shelves can be painted any color by the customer. There are also rough hewn log mantels for a rustic cabin feel.

More About Fireplace Mantel Shelves

All of these fireplace shelves are easy to assemble and install. The average homeowner with basic do it yourself skills can install their own mantle shelf in an afternoon. The tools and supplies needed for a mantel shelf kit installation are typically a hammer, level, electric drill with a Phillips bit or a Phillips screwdriver, a 3/16" drill bit, a little wood glue and, optionally, a stud finder.

The National Fire Code has a set of guidelines for fireplaces but it is good practice to also check on your county's particular ordinances. Look up the building inspections department under your county's name and give them a call. Otherwise, the National Fire Code requires that your mantel be a minimum of 1 inch away from the edge of the firebox for every 1/8th inch that it comes out from the wall.

Now that you have your mantel shelf, use it as a showcase that complements the fireplace and the surrounding area. Your fireplace mantel shelf ideas are where you have the most leeway in personalization. They're great locations for artwork, such as portrait or landscape paintings, photos and art objects like vases or small sculptures.  Many people place heirlooms there and other things dear to them. Items may be placed on both ends to provide a sense of balance.  Sometimes balance isn't what you're looking for.  Placing a plant on one side of the mantel or hearth with a different item on the other may suit you better. If it's on the hearth, this could be the fireplace tools.

Buying A Fireplace Mantel Kit

An alternative that suits the majority of do it yourselfers is to purchase a fireplace mantel kit. You can pick from a variety of materials. If you want a painted surface, kits made from MDF and fiberboard are available on the lower cost end of the price range. If you want a rich, warm stained surface with the beauty of the unique and natural grain shining through, you can pick from a variety of hardwoods, including cherry, oak, mahogany or walnut, to name a few.

A large number of styles are available. If you have contemporary, traditional, craftsman or bungalow, there are multiple models to match. You don't always need to match periods or styles as an accent piece can play well in a style where you normally wouldn't see it. Think of a rustic, hand-carved mahogany shelf placed into an environment of pale beiges, chrome and leather. It might just be a gorgeous eye popper.

These fireplace mantels and mantel shelves also come in various levels of completion so you may provide part of the labor needed for a finished product as well as save some money in the process. It's a tradeoff. Some items are available rough and unfinished, particularly in the rustic lines. Most are available as sanded and ready for paint or stain. You can also purchase most of the mantels completely finished with multiple coats of Minwax and you can pick out which Minwax color you want.

Once you have the finished pieces, either that you finished or bought that way, all that's left with the full mantel models is to fasten on the legs or columns. The nuts and bolts you need to do that are provided. If it's a shelf with corbels, the mounting of those is the same type of simple operation... more to come!

Fireplace Mantel Ideas

How Do I Build a Fireplace Mantel?

So how do you go about building a fireplace mantel? And what exactly is a fireplace mantel? There seems to be some confusion there as the term has evolved over time. A mantel is that "frame" that consists of a horizontal piece across the top, often in some form of shelf, and legs or columns attached to the ends of that shelf and running down the fireplace wall, ending at the hearth or floor. If you only have the horizontal piece, it's attached to the wall with a mounting board and is most often referred to as a mantel shelf.

If you have the necessary skills, sources of materials and time for the labor, you can make fireplace mantels or shelves yourself. These may range from the very simple to quite ornate having milled and hand carved surfaces. The ornate models are beyond the skill level of anyone short of a master craftsman. You'll need some way to connect the legs or columns to the shelf and then mount them all to the fireplace wall. Be sure to get the height at the minimums to meet fire codes, whether the default national one or an overriding local county ordinance. They don't want your lovely work to go up in flames and take the house along with it.

An alternative that suits the majority of do it yourselfers is to purchase a fireplace mantel kit. You can pick from a variety of materials. If you want a painted surface, kits made from MDF and fiberboard are available on the lower cost end of the price range. If you want a rich, warm stained surface with the beauty of the unique and natural grain shining through, you can pick from a variety of hardwoods, including cherry, oak, mahogany or walnut, to name a few.

A large number of styles are available. If you have contemporary, traditional, craftsman or bungalow, there are multiple models to match. You don't always need to match periods or styles as an accent piece can play well in a style where you normally wouldn't see it. Think of a rustic, hand-carved mahogany shelf placed into an environment of pale beiges, chrome and leather. It might just be a gorgeous eye popper.

These fireplace mantels and mantel shelves also come in various levels of completion so you may provide part of the labor needed for a finished product as well as save some money in the process. It's a tradeoff. Some items are available rough and unfinished, particularly in the rustic lines. Most are available as sanded and ready for paint or stain. You can also purchase most of the mantels completely finished with multiple coats of Minwax and you can pick out which Minwax color you want.

Once you have the finished pieces, either that you finished or bought that way, all that's left with the full mantel models is to fasten on the legs or columns. The nuts and bolts you need to do that are provided. If it's a shelf with corbels, the mounting of those is the same type of simple operation... more to come!

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