Prod­uct Guide

Man­tel­piece the­ater

Timber Home Living - - Contents -

Man­tels get no re­spect. For most, man­tels are a mere af­ter­thought to the big de­ci­sion about the kind of chim­ney stone. Yet your man­tel can be an en­gag­ing fo­cal point that am­pli­fies the look of your fire­place, both in its own right and to dis­play an ar­ray of items that set the tone for the en­tire room. Man­tels are the ideal fin­ish­ing touch.

Man­tels orig­i­nated as hoods pro­ject­ing above the fire­place to keep smoke from the grate from es­cap­ing into the room. A sim­ple beam above the fire­place also served to hang wet clothes to dry. Today, man­tels are dec­o­ra­tive. For­tu­nately, they’re avail­able in a va­ri­ety of styles to go with or, in some cases, es­tab­lish ev­ery decor.


There are two man­tel con­fig­u­ra­tions: the shelf, which is what we usu­ally think of as the man­tel, and the sur­round, which frames the sides as well as the top of the fire­box.

The shelf man­tel is po­si­tioned right above the fire­box. It’s ei­ther at­tached to the chim­ney with nails or glue or in­te­grated into the stonework. A com­mon built-in ar­range­ment is for two ap­pro­pri­ately spaced pro­jec­tions from the chim­ney to sup­port the shelf.

Sur­rounds gen­er­ally don’t look right with a tow­er­ing stone fire­place but are more at home with fire­places that vent be­hind the wall. They cre­ate a fin­ished look that the chim­ney oth­er­wise would. The sides of a man­tel sur­round can be dec­o­ra­tive, adding curves and flut­ing, some­times even high-re­lief sculpted col­umns.

Tim­ber homes present an op­por­tu­nity to han­dle man­tels by in­cor­po­rat­ing the shelf into the tim­ber frame whose posts flank the fire­place. Don’t overdo it by us­ing the frame to cre­ate sec­ondary shelves, or the re­sult may look like scaf­fold­ing.


The two most com­mon man­tel ma­te­ri­als are wood and stone. The lat­ter en­com­passes a broad range, from rough-cut slabs or raw rock to pol­ished mar­ble with bull nosed edges and corners. The ma­te­rial and de­gree of fin­ish­ing de­ter­mine a man­tel’s price. Man­tels cost from a few hun­dred dol­lars for a ba­sic wooden shelf to thou­sands for el­e­gantly carved stone.

Wood and stone used for man­tels are some­times re­cy­cled, oc­ca­sion­ally from old-growth trees. Of­ten, you can find al­ready-made man­tels in ar­chi­tec­tural sal­vage yards. Re­mem­ber that ex­ist­ing man­tels can be re­worked and re­fin­ished to fit your fire­place.

You can save sub­stan­tially on the cost of your man­tel with ma­te­ri­als from your home or prop­erty. When you clear your

land for your home site, look for tree branches or un­cov­ered rocks that might, with lit­tle ef­fort, add char­ac­ter above your fire­place. An end cut off your tim­ber frame also works well.


Man­tels set the stage for any look you choose for your tim­ber home, from sim­ple to or­nate and rus­tic to so­phis­ti­cated. Mold­ings and de­sign de­tails dif­fer con­sid­er­ably, too. The big­ger and more in­tri­cate your man­tel, the more prom­i­nent it will ap­pear.

Keep in mind that if, down the road, you de­cide to re­dec­o­rate, swap­ping one style man­tel for another isn’t that dif­fi­cult. In many cases, it’s a do-ity­our­self task.


The best time to choose man­tels is when you’re plan­ning your fire­place so you can co­or­di­nate the look of the man­tel with the stone and sur­round­ing wall. You’ll find the great­est va­ri­ety of man­tels on­line. Search us­ing spe­cific terms such as “rus­tic wood man­tels” or “cus­tom stone man­tels.” Just about any term will yield thou­sands of re­sults for your tim­ber­home hearth.

ABOVE: A carved man­tel like this one from Spe­cialty Wood­works Co. brings a touch of de­tail to your hearth. LEFT: A rugged re­claimed-wood man­tel can re­in­force the rus­tic look of your fire­place and serve as a fo­cal point.

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