Monday, August 8, 2011

DIY Mantel Time.

Oh boy have we done a lot of stuff to our living room since this inaugural home improvement post of yore. This weekend we channeled our inner Young House Love and built a big chunky mantel for our fireplace.

I really wanted a beat up piece of reclaimed wood, but they're heavy and dirty, or expensive and I'm not up for heavy lifting, getting too dirty, or spending a lot of money. Alas, I found a tutorial on Pinterest and convinced Joel that even though my carpentry skills are limited to building a really crooked toolbox for a college stagecraft class, this was beyond do-able.

So the first big hurdle was the size of this bad boy. We have an oddly shaped fireplace - it's tall but not all the way to the ceiling and very wide.  In order to satiate my desire to explore every possible option, we taped off the sizes we were considering, stepped back, and over-analyzed.

Mantel Building
This here's the "Long and Slender."

Mantel Building
Then there's what I like to call "Eraserhead."

Mantel Building"
And last, but not least, "The Compromise."

If you couldn't tell, I preferred option one, Joel preferred option two (and we had already purchased the 6 foot boards). But we ultimately decided that we needed something that would extend out on either side to achieve some balance, and something a little slimmer since the top of the fireplace is already pretty tall. This is where a cardinal rule of home-improvementing comess into place: do not throw away a receipt from Home Depot until your project is finished and you've lived with it for a while. Luckily, we've already learned this lesson and had no trouble exchanging our 6 foot boards for 8 foot boards.

After cutting down our 8 foot boards (1 inch by 6 inch in case you're curious) with a miter saw that was luckily, though temporarily, left in our garage post-floor installation by my parents, it was time to - pardon the language - beat the crap out of the boards to add some years to them.

Mantel Building
I also think we should get some street cred for taking care of this business on a 109 degree day. Thanks for nothing Oklahoma summer.

Mantel Building
We banged the boards up with hammers, a chain, smacked them with a bag of nails, dragged screws across the surface and used just about anything we could to rough - CLAP - them up. Please tell me you get the Hans and Frans reference.

Mantel Building
ANYWAY, we used the hammer to imprint everything from screws and hooks to a metal paint roller into our future stocking-holder. We also just used the hammers by themselves.

Mantel Building
The end result was something like this. After that, we gave everything a good sanding with a high-grit sandpaper to soften the edges and keep us from getting splinters and wiped off the wood-dust with a clean, dry rag.

Next it was time to stain.
Mantel Building
Insert unpaid Minwax advertisement here.

Mantel Building
We brushed on thin even coats with $.99 foam brushes, let them soak in for 5 minutes, then wiped off the excess with a dry rag. We repeated that to get it a bit darker then let our boards dry for a couple of hours.

Mantel Building
Two hours later, we had these.

When it was time to actually build, we used wood glue in each seam, clamped the pieces together, and hammered in nails to hold things together. We found that the nails were almost entirely invisible which was awesome. After all, we wanted this to look like one solid piece of wood.

Mantel Building
Yes that is old furniture, a.k.a. future re-upholstery projects, stacked up as a makeshift sawhorse.

Mantel Building
We also cut a couple of pieces for the ends, and some of the same size to tuck down inside to brace things.

Next we hid the seams on the ends with iron on wood veneer. It irons on just like those stupid decals we all put on t-shirts in the mid-nineties. Only you don't need wax paper and it doesn't look tacky. Just iron it straight on, trim the edges with an exact-o knife, and sand down the edges and you're done.

Mantel Building

Mantel Building
We also used a little bit of stainable wood filler on the top and bottom seams. We just rubbed it in by hand then sanded it down. After that we let everything dry (wood glue, wood filler) and enjoyed our Saturday night.

The next morning, we gave the whole thing another coat of stain to get it just a shade darker and things got a little tricky. After about 6 hours the whole thing was still sticky. It may have been a combination of a rainy day and too-thick application, but after 15 minutes of soaking, the stain was sticky and difficult to wipe away.

We set up a box fan in the garage to speed the drying process, then consulting our dear friend Google for answers. We ended up wiping the whole thing down vigorously with dry rags with the hope of soaking up any stain that was still on the surface, and we used a little rubbing alcohol on the really stubborn spots and it seemed to work really well.  An hour later, everything was dry and we were able to roll on a single coat of polyurethane to seal the deal.

Hanging this big ole thing was a little more difficult than we had anticipated. We nailed a 2 X 4 inch piece of wood into the studs on the wall (also learned it's better to just spring for the $20 stud finder after a couple of , oh snap that's definitely not a stud moments), then hung the mantel on it, nailing down from the top. The hard part was getting the 2X4 on the wall in the right place. Our first attempt was so crooked that I did not even take a picture.

We realized that our mantel was not totally squared off, and the dimensions were hard to measure absolutely. I had an idea to try something I spotted on YHL today for hanging mirror and lo and behold IT WORKED.

Mantel Building
Originally those little scraps of paper were taped onto the backside of the mantel with little wings of tape hanging out so they could be stuck to the wall. Since our 2X4 fit perfectly inside of the hollow edge of the mantle, I marked our right and left corners with little holes, stuck the papers to the wall, and pulled back the mantel to several slips of white paper with guide for the 2X4 on it. I should also note that everywhere I say "I" here I mean "we." I couldn't exactly snap photos of the whole process since it took two people to hold the 6 and a half foot beast up.

Mantel Building
Here's a close up of the guide after we simply nailed the piece of wood on it.

The mantel fit right over it, we screwed down into it from the top and TA DA, there you have an instant mantel.
Mantel Building

Mantel Building
We love the finished product and I can't wait to get some more artwork to sit on top of it.

Mantel Building
And yes, that's the most awesomely comfortable new sectional ever. Last week we said good-bye to our too-small tan micro fiber college sofa to accommodate this awesome piece.

Mantel Building
And there you have it. We've still got lots to do in this room  - find a less conspicuous entertainment center, square coffee table, artwork, etc. etc. but wow does this room feel so much better than it did when we moved in. If you need a reminder of how far it's come - just revisit the salmon carpet.