Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Mantle

Although I really didn't expect it, I have to say that this was probably the most intensive project I've done of the recent batch. Though the basement redo was probably a bigger undertaking all told, this one project had more detail and thought required. On the surface it seemed like it was going to be really straight forward but as I peeled it apart, the challenges presented themselves.

The fireplace and mantle as it has been since we bought the house, dark and dismal.

Like many projects, getting started was the hardest part. I designed, measured, re-designed and so on, over and over. It finally got to the point last Monday where I simply gave up and started building stuff. Of course, I made mistakes that soon presented themselves. The entire day Monday was pretty much spend scratching my head and making scrap wood out of lumber I'd paid good money for. Finally I had some workable uprights to start with. Of course, in hindsight, I did it all wrong in terms of building the frame. You can't build a square box and expect it to fit in these cases. Lesson learned for next time I guess.

Upright supports added and anchored to the wall. The frame to which the rest will be mounted.

Tuesday I was bound and determined to make some progress and finally cut some baseboard and got the uprights of the frame built and installed. From there I had to decided what I wanted the face to look like. The big challenge was how to cover the support bricks for the existing rough granite mantle. I toyed with a number of different ideas including multiple rows of crown molding to build the face out and at the last minute switched to what I thought may be a easier solution. I'm not sure that was actually the case but I rolled with it choosing to simply box in the bricks all together with MDO plywood and then decorate the box with various pieces of molding stock.

Face attached and brick supports boxed around.

That was where the detail work came into play. The detail work involved numerous pieces of molding cut at precise angles. Before I could get there though I had to deal with the actual top which would case in the granite mantle itself. That included building a 3 piece MDO base plate that was templated to fit around the many brick surface changes of the face. I then built a 2" wide lip piece out of MDO which I attached to the lower plate. This added stability and tied the 3 separate pieces together, along with some biscuit joints and loads of wood glue. The actual mantle top, which I made from 3/4" poplar, would then affix to the lower via the lip, perfectly encasing the big chunk of granite for all eternity. After that, some more molding would band the outer edge of the entire piece and both tie it together and finish it off.

More trim work and getting the scalloped upright facing on.

That part worked mostly fine, except for one lapse in attention where I made one incorrect miter cut on the banding molding. Fortunately I was over on the angle versus under but I'd already nailed it into place and had to trip the angle by hand. Fun times. Nothing a little bondo can't fix. Luckily I used my Ryoba saw and lots of patience followed by some hand sanding with a block and got it to the point where it looked fine from the bathroom.

The last part was the trim, which took more than a day for me to complete. Although less than ideal, I used the miter saw in the basement and took the finish nailer upstairs for assembly. That meant at least one trip down and back up the stairs for each cut. Some times I was able to get multiple cuts done at once but other times it took multiple trips. I figure I probably went down and back up the flight of stairs 75 times a day for 3 days in a row. Excellent cross training I guess.

The construction done it was time for the finish.

Thursday afternoon I finished up and got after the pre-paint prep work which included filling all of the finish nail holes with filler and caulking all of the joints. This is miserable work that I don't wish upon anyone. Well, maybe on some people I can think of. After that the first coat of paint, which exposed the fact that I still had a bunch more prep work left to do. We did a group MTB ride Thursday night and let me tell you, I was beat. The previous week was a big one ride wise and coupled with the hard effort Tuesday and a non-recovery effort on Wednesday, my butt was dragging.

Yesterday I did some more prep work and hit the whole thing with a second coat of paint. It is to the point where I can live with it for now though I still need to caulk the edges that meet the walls and then paint both the walls and mantle. I can still do a little more finish prep and put another coat on the whole mantle, but I think that will wait for another day.

Done for the time being. A nice gas or pellet insert would look really nice there.

All told, it took most of a week to complete. This is why I don't get paid to do that type of work. The result is passable to my eye, which granted is probably more discerning than most. I say that because I know where all of the flaws are. The big thing is that it makes a huge difference to the room, changing it exactly the way we had hoped. It is much brighter and cleaner looking and gives a good bright focal point where before there was a dark void.

Mission accomplished. On to the next project.

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