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Home Improvement: Build your own Fireplace Mantel & Hearth (craftsman style)

I am FINALLY finished putting pictures together from the Fireplace makeover we did MONTHS ago.  I was waiting for the floors to be finished, and then waiting for one last piece of trim, and then, well…..the whole book writing thing.  Crazy, I know.


But, at last, I’m ready to share pictures of this little jewel that’s in our home.


Lucky for us, my brother Greg and his wife Dana were visiting a few weeks after we purchased the home (back in April), here to help install new doors and do a little painting.  However, those darn doors hadn’t arrived yet, so, Greg said he was up for anything.  Yeah, he shouldn’t have offered because I began sucking his brain for design help, as we put my fireplace vision onto paper…….and then transferred that into wood.  Oh. My. Heart.  I’ve been in love with our fireplace ever since. :)


You may remember seeing little sneak-peeks of a corner here or there, when I shared my Tiling Tips.



But here’s the full reveal of our full fireplace and mantel, which measures a whopping 135 inches wide and 68 inches tall.  Yeah, she’s a big ol’ masterpiece……but she’s lovely.  And we adore her!!!!  (There I go again, giving inanimate objects a gender. Ha!)

**No decorations atop her ledge yet……..but very, very soon, I’m sure! :)




The biggest reason the mantel is so huge……is because we were transforming the large rock fireplace/mantel that was there before. 


And oh good grief, I almost forgot what this space used to look like until posting this picture.  I’m so glad we figured out to make it more “our style”, which has been a lot of “craftsman” types of lines and details. 





And in case you’re wondering, even though about 4 months has passed, I still walk in here and practically melt.  I love, LOVE how it all turned out! :)  (Especially when I think about how much money we saved doing it ourselves!)





The curves, the clean lines, the “craftsman” style, the refreshing white……..ahhhhhhh, I still can’t believe the vision in my head actually came about.





The hearth only sits about 5 inches off the ground but it’s the perfect little detail……..and a nice place for little bums to sit! :)





And remember how I installed the glass tile?  It really sparkles in the background.





There are still several things to do to make this room complete…




But it’s mostly done.  And puts a 3-mile-wide smile on my face every time I see it.  Thanks Greg and Steve, for hammering this thing out, while I held nails, offered my opinion, and took pictures.  We make a great team, right?! ;)



Want to see how we put our Fireplace Mantel & Hearth together??



First of all, every home is a little different, so there’s no way to tell you exact measurements and such.  However, sometimes it’s nice to see every step taken, and then make adaptations for your specific measurements.  And in true ‘Ashley fashion‘, I took a trillion pictures (yeah, probably too many)!!  But I hope it helps you see that truly, you can really tackle this in your own home too.  So, hurry up and GO FOR IT!!!!!


Like mentioned above, my brother was in town and helped us tackle this project.  He was the brains behind the measurements and the brute behind most of the construction.  So glad he was here to teach us rookies a few things!  (Thanks Greg!)


Oh, and as far as SUPPLIES goes, I used:

  • 2×4 pieces of wood
  • Sheets of MDF (3/4 inches thick)
  • 2 1/2 inch wide slats of wood (1/4 inch thick)
  • 3 inch tall crown molding
  • 1 1/2 inch tall crown molding
  • Shims
  • Level
  • Wood Filler
  • Caulk
  • Mouse Sander (or sand paper for sanding by hand)
  • Electric Saw (miter saw and table saw)…..unless you want to do everything with a hand saw, which is possible.
  • Drill/screws
  • Hammer/nails
  • Nail Gun/Brad Nails

**The supplies you use will vary, depending on your mantel/fireplace size and aesthetics that you’re going for.


First of all, if you have a rock face, tile front, wood detail, etc…….. it’s time to tear it down.  You don’t need to tear down the whole structure (unless you want to and it needs to be removed to achieve the look you’re going for), just the surface of it.  And in our case, it was a lot of rock, cement, and wire mesh.  A complete mess!! (If you have carpet you’re keeping, be sure to throw down a drop cloth.  This part is messy!  We tore our carpet out….)



Also, if you have a hearth, tear that down too.  If you can keep the structure beneath the tile, rock, etc…..go for it.  However, it may not be the exact shape/size that you need to create your new fireplace/hearth.  Determine that before ripping it out.


Then, tear down any wood pieces of trim that sit below the actual mantel.  More than likely, you’ll have a piece of crown molding sitting under there, giving it that graduated look of coming outward.  Tear that sucker down!



Then, use a utility knife to cut through any existing caulk around the edges of the flat piece of the mantel that sits against the wall.



Then pry that up too.



Using a crowbar works really well……but don’t do what Steve did.  If you are anchoring against drywall, be sure there’s a stud behind it…….otherwise, this will happen.



Instead, ALWAYS place a piece of wood behind your crowbar before using the wall as leverage.  Ooops.  (We made our mantel a little higher, so that was covered up. Whew!)



Now, it’s time to sketch an actual design.  (This is where my brother worked his silent calculations and put my vision onto paper.)  Putting your idea down onto paper will help you visualize the whole project, but will also help you see exactly how much wood you’ll need.



Now, if you’re making a hearth, that needs to be put together first.  Decide on how far out you’d like it to come into your room and create a structure out of 2×4 pieces of wood.  Two long pieces along one side and shorter pieces hammered between them, 18 or so inches apart.  If you lay your 2×4’s on their sides, it will make your hearth 4 inches tall, plus the height of the wood that will go on top.  If you want it any taller than this, you’ll have to build the structure up taller.  But, I just wanted a little one, barely off the ground.



Place your hearth structure on the ground.  (If you’ll notice, I’m dealing with an inset, so the heart doesn’t sit flat against the wall.  So each end of the front 2×4 extends about 4 inches beyond where the back 2×4 sits.  This just helps the hearth wrap around the front of the wall where the inset begins.



Now, cut a piece of MDF sheet that extends 1 1/2 inches beyond the 2×4 structure, around the sides and front.  (If you have a funny shaped wall or inset like I do, be sure to cut around the shape of the wall!)



If your MDF sheet isn’t long enough to extend the full length of the hearth, you’ll need to two pieces to fit together and will cut the ends that fit together at a 45 degree angle.  This will ensure a nice looking fit together.



Screw the one side in first, right into the 2×4’s down beneath.



Then, place the other piece on top.



After screwing the other half in place, sand it down to mesh the two pieces together.  (You’ll fill with wood filler later, so don’t worry about cracks.  Just make sure the pieces are level.)



You can now screw the hearth into the floor and wall, securing it nice and tight in place.  However, we still had hardwood to install, which were a 1/2 inch thick.  So, we flipped the hearth over and placed strips of MDF (3/4 inch thick) along the bottom.  This would raise it high enough to still be able to install hardwood floors (and allow a space for the floors to expand and contract) but also kept the hearth up to the height that I wanted, without losing a 1/2 inch once the floors were installed.  If you’re installing hardwood, set the MDF strip along the front back about an inch.  This will give your hardwood floors some space for movement.  (ALSO, you’ll be placing another strip of MDF along the face of this section, hiding the 2×4, so don’t worry about sliding your hardwood too far under this opening, if applicable.)



Flip your hearth back over and into place, and then screw your hearth into place into the fireplace wall and floor.  If you allowed for a gap along the bottom to insert your wood floor or carpeting, it’ll look like the image below. (I forgot to take a picture of this before moving on, so ignore the black lines, because I stole a future picture to demonstrate this step, but didn’t want the image to confuse… you’ll have to deal with the black scribbles. :) )



Now, it’s time to create the shallow columns on either side of the fireplace.  Remember when measuring, that these won’t go all the way to the top of your desired mantel height……they will sit below the bulky horizontal section of the mantel.  Create the structures for the two vertical columns out of 2×4’s, the same way you created the hearth.  But place two 2×4’s flat along the back of the structure, giving the structure a bit more depth, but also giving the columns a nice surface area to attach them to the wall.



Screw them to the wall, with the added 2×4’s flat against the fireplace.



Create the exact same structure (but longer in my case) that will lay across the top of the fireplace and sit on top of the 2 vertical columns.  If yours is long like mine, it’s best if there are two people helping; one to hold it in place and the other to drill.



Now, cut pieces of your MDF sheet that cover the surfaces of the columns and top section, one section at a time.



Until everything is covered.



Be sure to cover the outside edges of your columns and completely cover all 2×4’s. 




Just be sure that you sink each of your screws, all throughout this project.  (Which means that you push the screw in further than the surface of the wood.)  That way, you can fill with wood filler and hide all the holes.




Most likely, you’ll be putting full strips of MDF along the outer sides of your columns.  But, because of the shape of my wall cutout and where we placed the mantel, we just put narrow slats of wood on the outside edges to give my outer edges a smooth finish (and to cover the small amount of 2×4 that was showing).



Then, along the front surfaces of my columns, we placed 2 1/2 inch wide slats of wood along all the edges.  On the inner edges, we placed 1 1/2 inch wide slats of wood along the edges.  (The columns were wider than they were deep, that’s why we used the different sized slats.)  Then, we butted the side edges of the slats that met along a corner edge, and nailed them in place.



My slats of wood were only about 4 feet long, so we had to piece them together so that they would cover all the edges of the columns.


However, we mixed up a few steps because of time and what we wanted my brother to stick around to help us with, before he left us with the rest to finish ourselves.  It would have been easier to place the top flat piece of wood (where you can set your decor, etc) on the top of the mantel first (which is down below a few pictures), then install the upper crown, then the slats of wood.  However, we were running out of time and knew we could install the flat piece ourselves but wanted help with the crown and slats.  So, we worked backwards a bit.  So, ignore the order but use the pictures as a reference for each step.


Anyway, after placing some of the slats, we installed the upper crown molding, even with the top of the very top of the mantel.



Be sure to create side pieces that wrap around the corner of your mantel.



Then, we finished placing the slats of wood, along the sides of the columns and upper section of the mantel.  But also added a piece of wood towards the upper section of the two vertical columns, to continue the line of the horizontal slates of wood.



We continued to use the 1 1/2 inch slats of wood along the inner edges of the columns, along the sides.  Along the back sides that touched the base of the fireplace, we shimmed some slats of wood back there to keep some space for tiling later on.  I didn’t want the tile to hide this back piece of wood, so shimming it helped push it forward a 1/2 inch.



Be sure to add slats of wood along the top and bottom of the inner section, but match them with whatever size was used along the front of the column (2 1/2 inches in our case)…….so it has continuity.



At the very top of the columns, where the meet the horizontal section of the fireplace, add your shorter crown molding…..which adds a little bit of fancy right here! :)



Now, like I said before, you may have already added your top flat piece of your mantel…..but we worked backwards.  But, if you were doing this first, it would work the same way.  If you’re just adding onto a fireplace base that was already there, you don’t need to do this.  We were adding onto an existing base but decided to make it taller, so we nailed some narrow pieces of scrap wood to our wall, giving the flat piece of our mantel something to rest on.  If you find yourself needing to do this too, be sure that the pieces nailed into the wall are level with the front of your mantel (the 2×4’s and the MDF) and also that you’re nailing into studs.  And then for extra support (and because our flat mantel piece would be so big), we stacked some 2×4’s on their sides and placed it on the existing base that was already there, to help give support to the raised flat mantel piece.  You most likely won’t be putting anything too heavy up on your mantel…..but you never know.  Might as well make it nice and sturdy.



Place a level along the top, making sure all supports are level….



…..and add shims where needed.



Then, cut some of your MDF sheet to fit right on top, overhanging the CROWN MOLDING a full inch.  (If you haven’t put your crown molding in place yet, you’ll have to calculate how far out your crown molding will sit and add an inch to that.)



If you have a funky cutout to work around, measure carefully so that your MDF fits nicely around all corners.



Along the back near the wall, place shims back there to create a tight fit.  (Walls are very uneven, so there’s no way to get an exact fit back here with your MDF.)



Then, drill your sheet of MDF in place, screwing them into the wood at the front and the back…….and in the center if you added extra 2×4’s like we did.  (Just be sure to mark where they are first.)



And lastly, cut some strips of MDF to be attached under the lip of the hearth.  Attach with your nail gun (or by hand) along the front and side of the hearth.  (Sorry, no pictures….but you can see it in the finished pictures.)



Now, it’s time to fill all holes with some wood filler and putty knife.



However, for the smaller holes, I prefer to use my finger, especially along the crown molding.  But it’s totally up to you. :)



Once the filler is dry, sand it down, nice and smooth.



And if you had to piece MDF together for the top mantel piece, fill with wood filler, let dry, and then smooth it all out as well.



Once you’re done sanding, vacuum up as much as possible.  Then wipe with a damp cloth to get all of that dust off and then let dry.  However, if you don’t want to wait for the wood to dry (after wiping it with a damp cloth), using denatured alcohol on a cloth will make the cloth damp enough to attract the dust but dries instantly.



Now you’re ready to caulk.  Oh, caulking, I love how you hide all those gaps and itty bitty mistakes.


And in case you didn’t see it, here’s an example of a before/during/after shot when I trimmed out my windows and then caulked and painted them.  Good ol’ caulk.



I did the same exact thing with the mantel.



However, because there was quite a bit to caulk, I used this caulking tool some of the time, and my finger the rest of the time……to smooth out the lines of caulk.



But here’s my secret.  A bowl with a bit of water and some wet paper towels.  ALWAYS keep your fingers (or your tool) wet when working with caulk because it keeps it smooth and easier to work with.



Then, smooth out those lines with your wet finger or tool.  Then re-wet your finger/tool, and repeat.  After every swipe, I wipe my fingers/tool on the wet paper towels and continue on.  If your caulk is looking bumpy……just really wet those fingers and smooth it out.  Just be quick about it all, because caulk starts drying pretty quickly.


Don’t forget to caulk around the back edges of the mantel, where it meets your wall.



Once all your caulk is dry………paint everything!  And then paint a second coat!!  Then all your wood and molding will melt into each other.


And you will have one GORGEOUS mantel and hearth!!



Ahhhhhhhh……love this thing.





Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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