How to Buy a Solid Wood Mantelpiece

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How to Buy a Solid Wood Mantelpiece

A solid wood mantelpiece serves decorative and functional purposes. It can be a focal point that enhances the interior design of a home, giving it a distinctive class and character. A mantelpiece made of quality hardwood lends the fireplace frame a timeless look. The mantel top doubles as a display shelf for tasteful décor. A few select art pieces such as antique statues, prized collectibles, lovely vases, or family photos are shown off to best advantage on a mantel shelf.

About the Mantelpiece

The mantelpiece owes its existence to the Middle Ages. It started out as a chimneypiece that worked to catch the smoke through a hood positioned over the grate. Through the centuries, functional embraced the ornamental. Embellished framework, some with ornately carved designs, was added. In some cases, the frame not only surrounded the fireplace, it was made to extend all the way up to the ceiling. Mantelpiece is now a catch-all term that may refer to the fireplace surround, mantel shelf and decorative accessories. The table below gives simple definitions.

Fireplace surround or mantel

The frame including the shelf and trim pieces around the fireplace

Mantel shelf

The top ledge of the mantelpiece

Mantel kit

A do-it-yourself set with instructions on how to construct a mantel. The kit provides semi-finished pieces for assembly and may allow a customised version.

Characteristics of a Solid Wood Mantelpiece

Solid wood remains a popular choice for mantelpieces. The inherent characteristics of wood give a mantelpiece a classic and endearing appeal. The solidness of wood provides an enduring quality to a mantel, making it an heirloom item for posterity. Quality wood ages gracefully. Proper drying and finishing methods, care and maintenance will preserve the wood and keep its sheen. The versatility of certain types of wood can transform a mantelpiece into an intricately carved masterpiece. The wood can be painted or stained to show off its natural grain to a burnished glow. On the other hand, the wood beams can just retain their rustic, unadorned simplicity. Wood offers a warm, cosy ambience to any room. The material is, of course, highly combustible, so buyers must comply with local fire safety regulations on fireplaces and mantelpieces. Aesthetic considerations include the wood species and quality, as well as the artwork of the mantelpiece.

Types of Wood and Finishes

Hardwood types make are incredibly well suited for mantelpiece material. Wood selections for a mantelpiece include cherry, oak, cedar, mahogany, maple, pine, and poplar, among others. Mantel shelf kits are available in semi-finished states, giving the buyers choices regarding the design they prefer to match their fireplaces. Vendors also offer buyers a whole range of options, with many combinations of wood types, stains, and paints. Finish options come in a variety of shades from the lightest to the darkest. Sample colours include white, clear, golden oak, cherry, ginger, red mahogany, vintage, chocolate, all the way to black.

Wood Mantel Manufacturing Process

It’s smart to invest in excellent quality hardwood, particularly for homeowners who intend to stay in their residence for their lifetime. Before making a purchase decision, enquire or research about a manufacturer’s production processes. Kiln drying the wood reduces the moisture content to a minimum. Mantels have to endure high heat temperatures, which can result in splits and cracks. The kiln drying process provides a controlled environment for splitting to occur in the preparation stage, preventing further damage to the finished wood. The sharp edges created from cracks and splits are then sanded to a smooth finish. Several layers of oil are applied for protective coating. Manufacturers that practice industry standards in their operations produce high-quality mantelpieces requiring low maintenance after installation. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on usage and maintenance. With proper use and basic care, the mantelpiece will continue looking its best for many years.

Mantelpiece Styles

Mantelpiece styles may be classified into categories such as traditional, antique, contemporary, modern, rustic, art nouveau, or art deco. They may also be labelled according to the design tradition of past eras. Classic mantelpieces possess a vintage yet elegant appearance. A Victorian mantel is typically made of dark wood and presents the formal style of the period. The piece has an elaborately carved design that’s rich in details. The country look calls to mind a rustic-style fireplace mantel in a cottage or log cabin. This type of mantelpiece may be constructed of wood beams or logs in their natural unassuming state. Possibly, the wood may also have been salvaged from a discarded door or timber remnants, acquiring a new lease on life as a mantelpiece. Rustic timber makes an ideal mantel shelf for a rural home, blending with its façade and decor. The wood type and mantel style should complement the home’s architectural style and interior design, within the owner’s budget. Another factor to take into account is the latitude surrounding the fireplace and the wall space next to it. A mantel must be just the right proportion to the hearth and the room, neither coming up short nor dominating them. While a tasteful mantelpiece holds its own important place in a room, it should enhance the overall look, and not be too conspicuous as to overwhelm everything else.


A mantel may be customised, adjustable, or a ready-to-install DIY (do it yourself) kit. Whatever the option, an essential step in the project involves taking accurate measurements of the fireplace to determine the proportionate dimensions of the wood mantelpiece. Wood fireplace mantels are available in standard and made-to-order sizes. A mantel shelf should cover the entire breadth of the fireplace. It is better for a mantel shelf to extend a bit beyond, rather than fall short of alignment with the hearth’s width. Learn about the local fire codes and recommendations for fireboxes. Due to the combustible property of wood, fire-safety regulations require standard measurements, for example, the clearance height from the top of the hearth opening to the shelf. If it’s a replacement mantelpiece, one can easily take the measurements of the old one. For an entirely new set, the vendor can recommend the best proportions for a perfect match between the mantelpiece and fireplace. The following tables show the required measurement information.




Firebox Opening


Width, height, depth

Width, height

Width, height



Other Measurements



Length, depth

Overall height Body width Depth of return Leg width

Width, height

Mantelpiece Installation

Vendors or manufacturers offer helpful advice on the correct way to install the mantel. Depending on factors such as weight and dimensions of the wood mantelpiece, several fitting methods may work. However, the most efficient and safest way is to heed the recommendations of the manufacturer or seller. The retailer or manufacturer may also provide the service as part of the package. For a complicated project, it’s best to leave the job to a professional builder or fireplace installer. Ultimately, it’s cost-effective, time-saving and hassle-free to let the experts handle the installation.


Wood mantelpieces are available in a variety of styles, from simple elegant lines to elaborate designs. For the average consumer, a complete mantelpiece may be considered a major purchase and requires serious consideration. Before purchasing a mantelpiece, conduct research and comparison shopping. Compare types and prices, visit showrooms and browse manufacturers’ websites. Check out the mantelpieces installed in the homes of friends and colleagues. Ask them about maintenance and other issues; what works and what needs changes. Seek advice from builders and interior designers about the best type of mantelpiece for the home and hearth. A quality mantelpiece is an investment that adds beauty and increases the value of the home.

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