Mantel Photos

Starting at the end and working backward.  I finished building the majority of our mantel the other day.  I used Google’s free application, SketchUp, to crystallize the final design.  The original mantel looked like this:

Kelly came up with the idea to replace our old oil furnace with a highly efficient Mantis gas fireplace.  When we decided it was the right thing to do, we also rearranged the whole living room.

Once we improved the living room layout, part of which involved purchasing a flat screen, I proceeded to build a structure around the old brick chimney/fireplace. I didn’t mention it when I posted about building the structure how I tied into the wall framing and the mantle top.  I basically screwed 2x4 legs into the wall framing.  The legs each incorporated two 2x4s tied together in an L-shape with some 1/2” plywood to give me enough room to run 2x4 horizontals across the front of the chimney.  Then I built a couple of rectangles out of 2x2s so that any plywood facade could be tied into framing.  Here’s what I started with the other day:

Next, I used 18 gauge 1” nails (as I recall) to attach bead board and some finish grade plywood to the sides and top center of the mantle.  I had a good supply of bead board I had purchased during the summer for prototyping the exterior soffit (but then abandoned using bead board thus leaving me with a surplus of 1 1/2 4x8’ sheets) so I decided it would help distinguish the columns I was envisioning on the right and left.  Here are some links to the soffit project (my post; Kelly’s post) and looking back I see that we need to post the final caulked and painted photos because the finished version looks really good.

Taking down the mounted TV was a definitely a 2-3 person task but I managed to not throw out my back or make a $900 mistake when I brought it back down off the wall.  Ever since I had mounted the TV I had been a bit nervous about it not crashing off the wall so getting it down and knowing I was going to build a much stronger backing was a real motivation for getting this project underway.  Once the TV was down there was no going back because God knows we couldn’t survive another day without watching The Closer :-).

Here I have the 3/4” cabinet grade plywood fastened to the wall with screws and 12 gauge nails.  I’ve started nailing in the MDF 1x6” across the top of the mantle and on the base, 1x4” and 1x3” legs on the left column.

Before I attached the legs, I had to build out from the 2x2 and 2x4 structure at the edges around the fireplace flange so that I would have a single plane to attach the MDF.  When I previously fastened the plywood, I left a buffer of about 1/2” so that I wouldn’t have to cut the plywood perfectly so that it would be flush with the outside of the mantle and the inside (near the flange).  I ripped down (using my table saw setup) some MDF 3/8” strips to get me close to the plane I wanted.  This helped me get flush in three dimensions (with the plywood and into the fireplace opening with the plane of the 2x2s).  It’s hard to see but when your strips are very small, MDF splits pretty easy when you hit it with a nail so I switched over to staples.  One split I had to rip out and put in a small piece (Robert had a name for this practice/piece but I can’t remember it at the moment).  While my work wasn’t perfect, I decided it was good enough and pushed on.

Before remounting the TV I put 1/4” bead board across the breadth of the plywood backer.  I needed to cut one sheet into two 42” tall sections so that the beads would line up vertically and so that I could use the lap edging that adorns the long sides of bead board (the lap edging allows you to butt the long side of the sheets together so that the joint just looks like another bead).

If you made it this far… thanks!  Now go back to the beginning and hopefully you’ll appreciate the final (almost) product.  After I re-attached the TV mount, Kelly helped me get the TV back on the mounting arm.  Fortunately for me, she came home at the perfect time—all of the construction was done and I was starting to sweat bullets that I couldn’t get the weighty TV back on the the mount by myself.

To finish the project I need to run some more MDF vertically toward the ceiling from the top of the mantel.  In my mind this will carry the outside lines of the two columns up toward the ceiling and emphasize the chimney.  We also need to finalize how these legs will someday tie into crown molding: so there is a horizontal detail at the very top of the bead board (where it meets the ceiling) that still needs to be worked out.

Thanks for reading!

—Matt

Here is my table saw setup.  I’ve been busy trying to put the lid on the window/siding/insulation project that’s been under construction for the last year and a half.  The siding/insulation part that we set out to accomplish is totally done.  All that remains is finishing the trim on the inside of the windows.  This is my first real shot, ever really, of doing finish carpentry and I have to say, I like it.  But what I’m really jazzed about at the moment is the journey so I’ll save showing the actual install until later and start with showing you my old, cheap, nearly given away table saw. 

First lesson I learned along the journey is that I needed my table saw to do a good job.  I bought my saw off a guy for about $10.  At first I was a little worried it might kill me, then I was worried I couldn’t cut a straight line for my life, and now I’m in that special place where it just works (though it still might kill me but it hasn’t yet so I’m not too worried about it).  

Most trim used for finish carpentry comes in 8’-16’ pieces.  Often one has to rip a piece down to size (make a cut lengthwise which produces a skinny and a fat piece).  Sometimes you need to rip a piece of plywood to get two 2x8’ pieces.  The actual table on the table saw is nowhere big enough to support the cutting process in either of these situations.  And as far as I can tell, just a stand to hold up ones table saw costs about $70 (but doesn’t help support materials so really doesn’t buy you much).  What most carpenters do in their shop (at least my buddy Rob does this), is build the table saw permanently set into a bigger table that is wide and long enough to support materials throughout the cutting process.  On the job site, I gather, they have a setup like my pictures show.  The criteria for creating the setup were: (1) it has to be collapsible (or at least storable, and by that I mean not take too much space), (2) it has to create a plane that is in the plane of the table saw table’s plane, and (3), it needed to be cheap and preferably use materials I had lying around. 

On all these fronts my design has been a success: I used scrap wood and some 2x4’s, screws, clamps, and my saw horses.  Here’s some details I couldn’t include in the captions above:

I do use a chair to support long bendy pieces during the first phase of cutting them (i.e. while I still have greater than 2/3 of a cut to make the piece will bend down to the ground if not supported and the back of the chair keeps the bending to just a few inches so that the piece is flat on the table and not arching up and across the table).  I also cut some angles into my drop-in supports so that when the already cut end of pieces bends down a little it doesn’t butt into the support but rides up and over it as if climbing a ramp.  The rests are just little blocks that support the long 2x4 extensions until I clamp them to the main frame; they’re positioned so the top of the extensions are in the same plane as the top of the saw’s table.  The drop-ins rest on rails, just long narrow strips of plywood I had in my scrap pile and screwed onto the extensions.  I have three drop-ins and one cross piece that I actually screw onto the extensions so that the clamps and the attached piece make the whole setup rigid.  Everything just rests on the horses and while I haven’t had any stability problems you have to be careful not to tip the setup over if you’re ripping a heavy-ish piece of lumber.

Not only did I need a table to support the materials I need to cut, I also needed to make straight cuts.  For this I created a feather guide which a quick Google search revealed is a common accessory that carpenters make to facilitate making straight cuts.  I had a piece of 1x4 stock lying around and using my miter saw I cut a 45 degree on the end of the 2’+ long piece and then using the table saw I cut 10 or so 3” cuts along the length of the piece on the 45 degree end.  When clamped down these fins help keep the piece from pulling away from the table saw fence (the fence is basically an adjustable guide that clamps onto the table saw so that you can make a cut of some width ranging from less than an inch to 15” inches or so).  The feather guide has me making great cuts and it also helps resist kickback (some added safety) because the fins help resist forces that would accelerate the piece back towards me (like a projectile).

Table saws are seriously dangerous so do some homework before you ever get started with one.  When I was in high school I saw about an inch of thumb on the woodshop floor because a classmate ran his intact thumb across the blade.  Make sure to have a push stick (the handled one I fashioned is pretty good) and I hear that you should keep the blade guard on too.  Buy a good blade.  And like in so many situations where safety is tantamount, keep serious track of where you’re at: hands/fingers away from the blade, head not directly behind the blade, trip hazards, etc.

-Matt