Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fireplace Makeover Part 2: Yummy Mantel

Catch up on Part 1!

Here's where I left off last time. I had just finished the tile and was ready for the FUN PART (I like woodworking, can you tell?)! This post is long, so buckle up.

For the materials, we decided to go with a combination of MDF for the face and poplar wood for the trim. Both materials are paint-grade, which will give us a super smooth surface once we paint everything.

We just barely got away with using one 4'x8' sheet of MDF, which we had ripped into long boards at the hardware store, then when we got home we ripped them up even more. For this, I got to use my new toy, the Kreg Rip Cut!

Board has already been ripped. I'm just showing you how it works.

This thing is seriously fantastic. I've always run into problems with ripping large boards on my own, and table saws scare me (um, hello unprotected blade sticking up in the air that I'm supposed to slide my fingers near, no thank you). This Rip Cut guide attaches to most circular saws and has a built-in ruler, so no measuring is required EVAR! It took some calibrating, which the instructions are very clear about, but once we got it set up, it worked like a dream. Basically there is a right angle guide (you can see it on the right-hand side below) that slides along the edge of the board, while the blade cuts at the specified width. Awesome straight cuts most of the time (obviously if your guiding edge is not straight, you'll have issues) and added confidence when using your circular saw!

If you're still confused, here's a video from the manufacturer.

As you can tell, I'm super excited about my new toy because it opens up so many new possibilities!

So back to the project. Once again breaking out the Kreg Jig tool for the joinery.

You're looking at the backside below. The trickiest part was making the front boards as flush as possible We did a pretty good job, but it did require some sanding.

Using a jig saw, we cut some notches at the base to allow for the floor/tile difference.

Then we brought it upstairs for a fitting only to discover that, like a dum dum, I had forgotten to account for the thickness of the tiles on the sides...damn. Commence surgical removal of unnecessary mass. 

Yes, this was our setup in the living room. It was dusty, it was precarious, and I never, never, never recommend trying to cut a straight line with a jig saw, even with a guide. It is a huge pain in the ass and required reconstructive surgery later. You'll see in a bit.

At this point I'll refer you back to the original drawing.

The inside and outside trim are 1"x3" and 2"x4" respectively. This is a problem because the actual dimensions of most boards sold at the hardware store are not the same as their nominal (pre-dried) dimensions. For instance, a 2"x4" piece of lumber is actually 1.5" x 3.5" (sneaky, right?). Additionally, these boards often have rounded edges, and that just wasn't going to jive with my clean-cut plan.

Luckily I know a place, which I sourced my wood from for my floating shelves in the last house. To my delight, MacBeath Hardwood also has a location in San Francisco (yay!), so I scurried over there to find what I needed. Of course, I didn't find exactly what I needed (they didn't have any widths less than 6"), but thanks to my new Kreg Rip Cut toy, I decided to buy boards wide enough to make into smaller boards.

Eesh, sorry about that little bit of Photoshop vomit, I got carried away (and it was a really boring photo).

Boards came inside where I glued and screwed them in place through the rear. Boy, that sounds dirty.

All was going well (except the part where I dropped the entire mantel and it almost landed on my leg/foot/couch...this is a two-person job people, learn from my mistakes) until I attached the top piece of trim where I discovered that it was a smidge higher than the frame. I had already screwed/glued the vertical pieces that supported it in place and was in no position to pry them off for a shave and risk damaging them and the frame. So I bought a bench planer and went to town.

A bench planer is used to level uneven surfaces by shaving off very thin pieces at a time. It can sometimes be faster than sanding, but in general it's great for achieving a level surface unlike my orbital sander, which can sometimes create wavy surfaces if I'm not paying attention. A belt sander would probably work for this application as well, but this bench planer was way cheaper (plus I felt like a bona-fide woodworker craftswoman type person; it was awesome).

Look how nice and flush it is, and all those fun curls!

Boom, now we're outside ready for some sanding. I used wood filler on all the joints and dents, then sanded them smooth.

Here's the anatomy of the reverse side.

As I mentioned before, that messed-up jig saw edge needed some reconstructive surgery, because not only was it really ugly and uneven, I also cut too much off by over 1/4" so there was a big gap between it and the tile. I remedied this by sanding it even, then gluing a dowel to it and sanding the dowel to a taper. Hard to explain; look at the pictures.

My dad always said "you can never have too many clamps".
I clearly do not have enough clamps.

Now that the mantel was ready for installation, it was time to take care of a few details inside. I trimmed back the baseboards on both sides. I bought this saw for $2 at a garage sale, and it's come in handy a surprising number of times considering the amount of power tools I own.

And this weird empty junction box was serving no obvious purpose (any ideas?) so it had to go.

I pried that sucker out, which was more difficult than I anticipated because of these GIANT M-FING nails that were hammered into the brick chimney holding the box in place.

Since there wasn't a nearby stud to attach a new piece of drywall to, I used a scrap piece of wood as a backer. I clearly lack drywall-screw-installing skills, but that's what drywall mud is for! I also opted not to use drywall tape because...well, I don't own any and I was feeling lazy.

Then Boyfriend helped me bring the mantel in and hopped off to work, leaving me without a helper to hold it while I installed some anchoring studs. Luckily I had one stud installed earlier, so to prevent another crushed-by-mantel incident, I came up with this highly sophisticated sling.

I seriously felt like a genius because I was able to noodle around with the anchoring studs without having a heart-attack every time the mantel wobbled. The anchoring studs themselves are attached to wall studs. It's a little hard to describe, so here are some arrows and stuff.

Then I scooted the mantel into position and used a countersink bit to drill some holes where the mantel would attach to the anchoring studs on the top and sides. Making sense?

WOOHOO the mantel was finally secured and not to be moved!

Then, in a moment of conservation guilt, I decided to reuse an old magazine instead of painter's tape (since there was a small gap all around where the mantel met the wall, it was easy to slide in). DO NOT DO THIS. There's a reason painter's tape was invented, and that's because it stays attached to the wall, and not to the freshly painted surface where it might wrinkle and adhere to the paint, making it impossible to remove. Just...use the tape.

Primer, two coats.

Here's a tip you'll want to pay attention to. I used a white enamel paint (Sherwin Williams "Extra White"),  which is a semi-gloss. Semi-gloss and gloss finishes are notorious for being streaky and uneven, which is exactly how my first three coats turned out despite using a smooth foam roller. I felt super frustrated and defeated, so the mantel sat like this for a few weeks. Boyfriend finally did some research and discovered an additive designed especially to solve my problem. It's called an "extender" or "conditioner" and basically waters down and increases the drying time of latex paint, allowing it time to level out and blend together nicely. Which is exactly what it did in two more coats. I. Love. This. Stuff.

I wish I had a before/after to show the difference in the sheen, but sadly I forgot the before. Just imagine it all splotchy and annoying, and totally the opposite of this:

SO PRETTEH. I used the foam roller again, which always leaves a bit of a subtle "orange peel" texture, but I can live with it. It's the price I pay for not wanting to tent off the whole living room and break out the paint sprayer.

Speaking of which....

This part was pretty fun. I very carefully taped off the edges of the tile and taped some plastic over that, and basically created a little spray room inside my fireplace. I used two cans of Rustoleum's High Heat paint which is supposed to withstand up to 1200°F and went to town on that grody brick.

We had to tape back the plastic in a few places to keep it from getting sucked up the chimney. There are some serious updrafts going on in there (is that normal?), but on the upside, it made venting the paint fumes a non-issue.

The tent worked flawlessly and we were left with this beautiful crisp edge.

Ok are you ready for the reveal?? First, a before picture to jog your memory:


I still need to get a custom piece of floor trim for the hearth and add some finishing touches around the edges, but I'll get to that in another post that isn't a million pixels long. For now we're just enjoying actually having a nice fireplace to show off, and not something we try to cover up with a plant.

Oh, and in totally related news, at least, in the world of Feng Shui, I got a job! As much as I scoff at this particular form of geomancy, I can't deny that maybe this makeover was related.... Maybe I'll just chalk it up to a happy coincidence. Anyway, more about the job later! (Hint: it's in Interior Design!! Here's hoping that I'll get to say "so-long" to VFX for good!)

Update: Check out the final installment, Fireplace Makeover part 3 here!


  1. I was excited to see this post in my Blogger Reading List. What a difference! Gorgeous transformation. :) Congratulations on the interior design job; it's neat to think that this blog has become something like a work portfolio for you now. =D

    1. I know, it took me forever to get this post up. I was mostly waiting to finish it completely, but that wasn't going to happen any time soon, so I decided to put the rest in a "Part 3" post.
      Thank you for the kind words! I'm very excited about the job and I hope it sticks :)

  2. Such a cool DIY fireplace makeover! Staring at my super ugly fireplace in the middle of our living room and feeling so inspired--really great job. Great photos and descriptions--and you made me laugh lots--love the blog!

    1. I'm so glad you liked it all! I worry about the posts being SO freaking long sometimes, but hopefully the details help someone out down the road.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. it looks sooooo good... but am commenting because I am so excited for you on the job because of feng shui... I was just talking to someone this morning about the massive impact feng shui has in our lives (and yes, it's 2014 and I am reading this, lol)

    1. Thank you Wendy! I have since moved on from that job to another great job, but the fireplace still looks great :D

  4. I know it's 2016! But, just found your blog - NICE! I too want to re-do my fireplace, but have one question:
    I Googled the Rust-oleum High Heat Spray and found - "Do not use in areas directly exposed to flames (e.g., inside of grills or fireplaces)."
    How is this spray working for you? After reading this, I am "afraid" of using it on the inside of my fireplace! BTW - nice job! Thanks a bunch.

    1. I saw that too when I bought the paint! I figured it was their way of covering their asses should something go wrong with the paint in high heat areas, because they have a GRILL image directly on the can!
      Regardless, I never intended to light a fire in my fireplace (ironic, I know) after redoing it, so I can't really say if the paint holds up. Sorry about that!
      Good luck!