Our DIY Mantle; Start to Finish
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
If you've been following our Instagram stories, you know that this mantle has taken quite some time! Today, I walk you through why we chose to DIY our mantle, how we did it (step by step), and a cost breakdown of the entire project.
Why the heck we MADE our mantle instead of buying one like a normal person:
Since we tackled our fireplace renovation back in February of this year, I have been on the hunt for the perfect mantle. The hardest part about mantle shopping is it seems the most efficient way to shop for them is online, but I was having the hardest time not seeing these mantlepieces in person! The review pictures didn't seem to match the product images and the reviews were always mixed. I finally ordered a faux wood beam mantle ($300) that seemed like it would work in the space...
...but I quickly realized the darker stain didn't mesh with my design like I thought it would and the size was a little off.
By this point, we were neck-deep in our kitchen renovation and I was super pregnant so after spending hours hunting for and purchasing what I thought was the perfect mantle and finding out that it was far from it was a little desensitizing. I decided to put the mantle shopping on hold until the holidays.
Well, October was approaching and I still didn't have a plan! My only "plan" was to have a mantle installed before Christmas so we could properly hang our stockings! Ha! It was time to get a move on.
I stumbled across this stunning mantle from Cottage Beams on Instagram and just HAD TO HAVE IT! It was "the one."
But, unfortunately, the company doesn't ship to the US. I was devastated. I kept thinking, "If I can't have it, I guess I'll have to make it! How can I recreate this?" And that's how this shopping activity turned into a DIY project!
I went to a custom woodwork shop (Porter Barn Wood in Phoenix), showed them the picture of the beam I wanted to recreate, and picked out a beautiful piece of wood…
…and got a quote for $1,000 to do a custom mantlepiece. Which, for the professional custom work that they would be doing, was a fair price. But, I was determined to keep this project under $300. A friend who had been keeping tabs on my projects referred me to a local reclaimed woodshop in town, Coast to Coast Barnwood! I went out to their shop and found a beautiful piece of wood with incredible history...
It was from an old 1920's log cabin in Gilbert, AZ. and the wood was originally from Salt Lake City, UT. I brought it home and realized I mismeasured and actually needed a 6' beam, not a 5' beam. Ugh!
I went back to the shop to exchange the beam for one with better dimensions. My only criteria was a 6’ long, 6" by 4" (give or take) beam, it had to be somewhat level, and it MUST have knots! After digging around and working with the employee, we found the right one! He cut it to size and gave me the extra wood to practice on!
It was impossible to know what the beam would look like after being sanded down, but I knew some knotty character could never look bad.
Spoil-Alert: Don't judge a book by its cover! The beam I picked was straight up ugly and old. I mean, talk about “rough around the edges”- pun intended! I had no idea what was under this dirty ol' front, but it turned out to be absolutely stunning with such beautiful coloring!
How We Made our Mantle from Scratch
Sander (I used a Ryobi Random Orbital Sander)
60 grit and 220 grit sandpaper
Mounting rods (Here's the one I used: EVALD Floating Shelf Hardware)
Leveler (You'll want a long one! At least 2 feet)
Drill with bits the width of your rods
L ruler (not necessary but it helps if your beam is even remotely squared off)
Step 1: Sand the crap out of your beam
I started with the 60 grit to get all the raw edges shaved off. It took about 40 minutes of sanding on the skinnier sides and at least an hour on the wider sides.
Needless to say, I went through a LOT of sandpaper!
Check out these before and after’s! it’s incredible what some sanding can do!
For a few days, I couldn’t decide which side of the beam I wanted to be my front face. Since the beam is a rectangle, I had to decide if I wanted a 4” shelf and 6” face or a 6” shelf and a 4” face.
The 6” shelf allowed more room to decorate on top of the mantle, but looked too skinny from the front, and a little too heavy from the side (considering my fireplace surround only protrudes 6” from the wall).
The 6” face looks proportionally perfect, but the 4” shelf provided less functional space to decorate the mantle top. Although, the 4” shelf didn’t look so too heavy from the side! Another pro, is that the 6” side was the prettiest side by far; so many beautiful knots and the coloring was phenomenal!
After much deliberation, I decided to go with the 6” face and 4” shelf. A friend who has a 4” shelf on her mantle reassured me it was plenty of space to work with. I was so relieved to hear that because I LOVED the look of the 6” face. It was much flatter and seemed to fit well with our fairly flat fireplace surround and flat TV - it would all look proportional.
Now that I knew which side of the beam would be my back, I began rounding my edges with the sander. I'm not sure how a professional would recommend doing this, but I just ran my sander around the corners and apply as much pressure as possible until I got the roundness I liked.
After that, we want to get the beam smooth to the touch! No slivers! We do that by sanding the whole beam again with 220 grit sandpaper. Keep sanding till everything is smooth to your liking.
If you want to take it one step further to get this beam as smooth as a baby's bottom, you'll want to "rais the grain." This is where you spray the beam down with a spray bottle and then sand it with 220 grit paper one last time. Whenever water is applied to wood, it makes the fibers swell, thus "raising the grain." So, when you sand the beam after applying water, it's sanding down all those tiny raised grains. After it dries it will be even smoother than you could imagine! (It's kind of like shaving your legs in cold water. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about!) I learned this little tip from another friend who's been keeping tabs on this project and reached out to me on Instagram! I love when that happens!
After all the sanding was finished and I saw the beam in the space, I decided there was NO WAY I was going to taint this beautiful piece with a stain. It just so happened that the natural honey color was the perfect amount of warmth I was looking for AND it match our other wood pieces in the room perfectly. (I can’t use the word “perfect“ enough when describing the wood grain, knots, and coloration of this beam! Ha!)
Step 2: Install the beast
It took a lot of brainpower to figure out how to mount this 50+ lbs solid wood beam. I'll do my best to explain these steps as eloquently as possible. Here we go!
1. The rods we ordered were actually 6" long and our beam was only 4" in depth. So, we borrowed an angle grinder from a friend and cut them down to 3".
2. Tyson held up the beam against the fireplace surround so I could decide how high I wanted the beam to be placed. Once we found the placement, we lined up our laser leveler to the top and I marked the bottom with chalk.
3. We then found the studs. Unfortunately, our stud finder didn't work through our concrete finish, so we used an old photo of the renovation as a reference to where the studs were.
4. We installed our first mounting rod on a stud and in between the laser leveler line (top) and the chalk line (bottom). You'll want your mounting rods to be a little above the middle for weight distribution purposes.
We installed the innermost mounting rod first, then we worked our way out, checking with our long leveler that all of the rods were level with each other before installing the next.
5. We've already determined where the beam will be placed vertically (how high on the wall), now we need to determine its horizontal placement (getting it centered). To find the center, we placed the beam on top of the rods and scooted it until it looked centered. We then measured how much space was on each side and shifted the beam accordingly till it was perfectly centered.
6. Now that we know exactly where the beam will be placed (vertically and horizontally), it's time to figure out where to drill the holes on the beam for the rods to slide into. Keep in mind that because the rods slightly shift when screwing them into the wall, we can't assume all the rods are in the exact same place just X inches apart. First, we indicate each rod's horizontal placement, then their vertical placement. We did this by marking where the rods and plates were on the bottom of the beam (while it was still placed on top of the rods), then transferred those markings to the backside of the beam. We used an L-shaped ruler to get the most accurate markings.
7. Knowing our transferring of markings from one side to the other may not be accurate, we double-checked our work with the good old measuring tape. We measured the distance between our red laser level line and the top of the bracket and made sure it matched the measurement of the top of the beam to where our marking was.
8. Before committing to drilling the full 3" deep holes, we did a "practice round." Tyson drilled shallow divots where our holes for the rods would go. We held our beam up to the rods, matching the divots to the rods - and BOOM! They matched perfectly! Whew!!! I could finally breathe haha.
9. Tyson then finished drilling the full 3" deep holes. One tip is to mark your drill bit with tape so you don’t drill down too far.
(This picture is of our extra piece of the beam that we practiced everything on prior to actually doing it on the real beam.)
He brought it back inside, we held the beam up, lined up the holes to the rods, and slid the beam onto the wall! I say "slid," but we really had to push and bang against the beam to get it on there! The holes we drilled were the same exact width of the rod, so it was a VERY tight fit.
10. Our initial plan to secure the beam onto the rods to ensure the beam doesn't slide off the rods was to drill a screw down from the top of the beam and into the rods. But after "sliding" (with much force) the beam onto the rods, we realized that beam wasn't going anywhere! We tried to pull it off and it take some serious force and coordination to pull it straight off. We decided there was absolutely no need to reinforce this beam.
Let me tell you when Tyson and I did our last push to get the beam fully on the rods and we heard it go, "SHLUMP!" right up against the wall, my heart had never felt so relieved and in pure shock that it worked! Like... it worked! We did it! No instruction, no nothing! We did it all on our own! It was a tsunami of so many emotions! Tyson and I just looked at each other in shock! We did it! I took a step back to take a look and literally started tearing up! I was so happy - it looked INCREDIBLE! Exactly how I wanted it AND SOME!
After taking it all in, I quickly grabbed my leveler and checked how level it was. My biggest fear was that I would be staring at this beam for the rest of forever and it would be slightly crooked haha! Turns out, we couldn't have gotten it more perfectly level than this!
I mean come on - so satisfying.
This installation process could have gone wrong in so many ways. It would be terrible if our holes were off just in the slightest and then we'd have to drill an overlapping hole, or move the rod to another spot and re-do the whole process (or "hole process" if you want to be punny!). The weight distribution is a big deal too! If we were off in our measurements, all the weight of the beam could be resting on one or two rods instead of 4. My heart was racing throughout this whole process.
In light of fully acknowledging how absolutely wonderful this project turned out, here are some photos so you can admire this masterpiece with me:
And now I can’t wait to decorate my mantle with some Christmas attire and finally properly hang our stockings by the fireplace! YAY!!!!
This project was incredibly affordable considering how custom the work was and how beautiful it turned out. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind rolling up their sleeves. Most 6' faux wood beams run about $300, so I was very happy when our cost came out to $208 after all was said and done. Here's the cost breakdown:
$26 mounting rods
Not only was this DIY project cheaper than purchasing a mantle, but the end result was better than anything on the market.
My mantle is literally one of a kind, and it's my kind of mantle! I love it.