The fireplace mantel was originally created as a functional element to catch smoke as it comes out of a firebox chamber. Today, though, a fireplace doesn’t need a mantel to function properly; it is mainly for decorative use. A fireplace mantel shelf is a great decorative upgrade to your living room, or any other room, and is an increasingly popular choice among style-conscious homeowners. The great news, too, is that a mantel doesn’t need a fireplace! You can install a mantel to use solely as decoration and a focal point in a room.

Reclaimed Wood: The Perfect Material

Brand-new wood can get the job done, but it lacks the rich history, beauty, and character reclaimed wood brings to a project. Because it is naturally aged and weathered, reclaimed wood has a unique look that’s hard to replicate in new materials. Another reason to use reclaimed wood for your fireplace mantel is so you can repurpose rare wood species into a new, original piece for your room. Some of the more exotic and rare woods (such as hemlock and American chestnut) can be obtained only by sourcing vintage wood. When you choose reclaimed wood for your wood mantel, you create something that cannot be mass produced or duplicated anywhere!

Reclaimed wood mantle.

Installation Steps

Installing wood fireplace mantels can feel intimidating, but many homeowners are able to do it themselves. Here are the general steps:

    1. Determine the best height for your mantel. If your wood mantel is merely for decorative purposes, pick a height that fits the scale of your room and is pleasing to the eye. If your mantel is going to be paired with a working fireplace, make sure it is far enough above the firebox so it isn’t a fire hazard. This is usually at least 12 inches, but possibly higher depending on the depth of your mantel. Before calculating the height, refer to your fireplace manufacturer’s manual and/or consult with your local municipality on the proper codes.
    2. Determine the center of your fireplace, or focal area, and mark the center of your wooden mantel so it is centered and fits in the space properly.
    3. From these two measurements, hold a long level to the wall and draw a line so you can make sure your mantel, once installed, does not slant to one side.
    4. Here is where the fun really starts — mounting your fireplace mantel! Whether it is for a fireplace or not, it will be larger and heavier than just a reclaimed wood shelf. So, you want to make sure it is well anchored, not just to your wall, but to the support structure behind your wall.

Important: Use lags or heavy-duty screws to make sure your mantel is secure (as many as you can)! Use a hammer drill and bit to bore into the masonry first. If your wall is made of stone, brick, or other masonry, drill holes directly into the masonry at equal intervals along the level line you drew. Then, insert a masonry sleeve into each drilled hole and screw a lag into each masonry sleeve. If your backing is not made of stone or brick, locate the wall studs and drill lags directly into the studs.

For a mantel with decorative brackets:

  1. Using brackets to hang your mantel is a great choice. With so many decorative options, this is a way to really showcase your style. Choose your style, and then choose brackets that are the appropriate size and weight to hold up your mantel. A general rule is that they should be about two-thirds of the mantel depth.
  2. To install, follow directions 1-3 above, then mark where your brackets should go. Consider how far apart to place them to make sure they are evenly distributed under the mantel. Drill holes into the wall and use lags to secure the brackets to the wall. If you are installing your fireplace mantel into masonry, add masonry sleeves into the drilled holes before screwing in the lags.
  3. Once you situate your wood mantel onto the brackets, screw the bracket into your mantel from underneath to secure it.

For a floating mantel:

  1. A floating mantel is beautiful because of its simplicity. However, we still recommend using a bracket to hang your mantel. For this, you will want to use a floating mantel/shelf bracket. This device fits securely behind your mantel (although you will need to carve out a niche in the back) and will become invisible once installed.
  2. To install, follow directions 1-3 above, then mark where your bracket, or brackets, should go (it will be one or two long brackets that are connected to the wall). Drill holes into the wall and use lags, or heavy-duty screws, to secure the bracket or brackets to the wall. If you are installing your fireplace mantel into masonry, add masonry sleeves into the drilled holes before screwing in the lags or screws.
  3. Drill holes into the back of your mantel to match the diameter and positioning of the rods on the floating bracket you have secured into your wall. Then, slide the holes in the back of the mantel over the rods. You may need to push firmly and use a mallet to (carefully!) pound the mantel into place.

Please note: These are merely examples of how you might approach installing wood fireplace mantels. If you are uncomfortable with any step in this process, we recommend you connect with a professional.

Decorating Wood Fireplace Mantels

There are as many ways to decorate wood fireplace mantels as there are people in the world! To start, think of what must be on the mantel and how much space you have. If a television will be on your mantel, it will probably take up most of the space. You can then simply populate your fireplace mantel shelf with smaller accent items. If you have room on either side of your TV, add some taller items like candlesticks or photos. Negative space is important, too, so don’t overcrowd the surface.

wooden fireplace mantel attached above fireplace sitting beneath tv

If your mantel is purely decorative, you can use anything that fits. Mirrors, family photos, plants, flowers, candlesticks, or souvenirs are some good examples. Arrange them in a comforting, eye-catching way.

There really is no wrong way to decorate a fireplace mantel shelf. The best thing is to just use what you like to look at and what pleases you most. Since your mantel is the centerpiece of your room, you will see it every day, so make sure you include items that make you happy.

Where to Find Reclaimed Wood Mantels?

Materials for a reclaimed wood mantel or reclaimed wood shelf can be found almost anywhere. Make sure you source your reclaimed wood mantels from a reputable company that has a proven track record of selling high-quality products and kiln-drying them to remove moisture, stains, and bugs. At Vintage Wood and Forged Iron, we personally source reclaimed timber to ensure its quality and prepare the wood for its next use. We offer a large variety of wood at our lot in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and our wood stock continually changes. Contact Vintage Wood and Forged Iron; we’re sure to have what you’re looking for!