How I Create Art - The Build ProcessWoodshop NewsWoodworking

Building a Fireplace Surround and Mantel

Building a Fireplace Surround and Mantel

After finishing up my last project, a custom staircase and handrail, the customer asked me back to design and build a fireplace mantel for them.

Here are some of the specialty tools I used on this build. (affiliate links)

Video Recount 

Fireplace Mantel

Today I’m building this fireplace mantel

If you watched the last video you saw me build a custom staircase and handrail.  The client liked the newel post so much that they wanted me to build them a fireplace mantel in the same style.

I started out ripping the stiles roughly to width along with the sides of the mantel as well as the inner panels and sent them all through the planer, and planed them to various thicknesses I needed.

I am mitering the sides of the mantel to the front stiles.  Before rough cutting these pieces I spent some time selecting the parts of the boards that had similar grain patterns and coloring so when I put the miters together it would look like it was one piece of wood, and unless you really inspected it you would never know I had mitered them together.

When I ripped those long miters I set up a feather board to help keep them tight to the fence.  This helps a lot to ensure the miter closes up with little fuss along the full length of the stock.

I used blue tape to tape the parts together as a hinge so I could fold it into place after spreading the glue.  I did not tape the full length.  I left a space every few inches so I could see the point of the miter to ensure that it was staying in place and closing up tight.

Once I spread the glue and folded it up I used some more tape to keep it folded in place while the glue dries.

When I originally cut the stock of the miters, I left it a little long just in case one of them got out of square or I screwed up the miter somehow.  Now that the component is assembled I ripped the stile to its final width as well as the sides of the mantel.

I also left them a little long so when I glued up the miters I could slide the parts back and forth a bit to try to match the grain.

Now that it’s assembled I squared one end on each piece and then set a stop block up to ensure they would all end up the same length.

All that was left to do for the main structure of the legs is to cut the rails to width and length and assemble them to the stiles.

To join the entire piece together I used the smallest domino I could find.  If you don’t have a domino and are looking to build a similar fireplace mantel, there is no reason why you couldn’t use a biscuit jointer for this, or even a mortise and tenon.  However, the stock is about 3/8” of an inch thick for the reveal so it would be a pretty small mortise and tenon to cut.

To make it a little less awkward on this long skinny piece, I clamped it in my vise to hold it in place while I cut the mortises.

To make it a little safer to cut the mortises on the little rail pieces, I just used one against the back of the other to add some additional stability while I cut the mortises.

Since I’m gluing end grain to long grain I made sure I spread the glue on the domino as well as in the mortise to insure I won’t have a joint fail.

For the header piece, the build operation was much of the same as for the sides of the mantel.

I jointed a straight edge to go against the fence of the table saw, and then ripped a miter down the side.

Then the glue up was much of the same as before.  A little blue tape to hold the miter together as the glue dried.

I added some plywood cleats to the legs so I would have something to nail the header to.

Then I did a mock up so I could take exact measurements for a filler strip that the cove molding would be attached to.  I didn’t shoot video of making the filler strip but you will see it be installed later on.  Basically it was a 3 inch board with mitered returns on the ends leading back to the wall.

Now it was time to make the cove, I just routed the tip of a board so I could get the profile.  Then at the table saw I set up a dado blade to remove the bulk of the material.  This reduces the load at the router so in the long run will save a little time.  It also reduces the chance of blowing out a big chunk of wood while routing.  I ended up doing a horizontal pass and a vertical pass to remove most of the waste.

A lighter pass at the router typically produces a cleaner cut, and since it is safer to router a bigger piece with less chatter than a small piece.  I used a wider board than I needed and router a profile on each side.

Then back at the table saw I cut the cove free.

I changed out the router to a round over bit and used the same process to cut some quarter round to go around the base of the legs.

Be sure to have your push stick ready though.

Now for the top shelf, which is the final piece I needed to make before staining and installing.  I used the same nosing bit as the stair to create the bullnose on the shelf.

I started out by cutting the profile on the end of a board to help me find the right angle to set the blade to reduce the bulk of the material as before.

Then it was just a ripping off the excess and routing the profile

Final Step was to miter nosing and install it around the shelf.

Now out at the jobsite the plan is to attach those plywood cleats to the wall to give me something to nail the legs to.  I’m just putting them in place inside the legs to help me find where they needed to be located on the wall.

I left the inner panels out of the legs so I could reach through with my drill to mark the exact location and drill holes for some mollies to attach the cleats to the wall

Once I had the cleats attached to the wall, I pulled the legs off and attached the inner panels by nailing them in place from inside the leg

Then I put them back on the cleats, but before nailing them in place I installed the header to be sure I had a tight fit between the legs and header

The next piece is the filler strip, and this piece is just here to create a little reveal and for the cove molding to be attached to.

Then I put the top shelf on and took a few minutes to be sure it was centered, and attached it by nailing it from the bottom  to hide as many nail holes as I could.

Now I’m down to the final trim.  I started on one end and worked my way across installing the cove.  For the final trim, I used my headless pin nailer, no holes to putty.

Then the final detail on the leg.

Here is the finished mantel, a nice clean design that goes perfectly with the staircase newel posts.


I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.