How's your August going? There's been lots happening around here but I wanted to stop in and give you an update on my hardest DIY project to date.
If you remember, when my parents came for their last visit, my Dad and I decided to tackle the final missing piece on our renovated living room wall.
Do you remember the circa 1965 living room wall that was here when we moved in?
A very weird combo of thick rock, tile and sheetrock.
After I finish painting the mantel—this fifteen and half foot wall will be almost done and I promise to share the steps involved in transforming this wall.
But for now I’ll focus on my biggest DIY project to date.
Big for me because:
1. I’ve never built anything before.
Big for me because:
1. I’ve never built anything before.
2. I’ve never even cut a piece of molding on my miter saw before this project--- but once my Dad left for home--- I was on my own to trim out the entire mantel.
This is the mantel I had in my previous home. I paid a professional to build it.
I'm showing you this because it illustrates how the house you live in really dictates the design of something as creative as a fireplace mantel. I loved the traditional, classic molding I picked for this one, but now that we live in a beach community my vision for this home is very different.
This house is more cottage, with lots of plank walls and rustic touches.
So for my DIY mantel I wanted to incorporate this old wood remnant with its intricately carved seashells.
It was one of those "I have to have it but-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing-with-it purchases from an antique store years ago.
Here it is lying in my dining room--it's been literally lying around this house since we moved in here.
In my previous home I hung it in our Master bedroom.
And while it looked fine, it wasn't until we moved so close to the beach that I finally 'knew" what to do with it.
Don't you think it would add character to a mantel?
So before my Dad arrived, we had one of our strategic planning sessions over the phone:
Me: “Dad, have you actually ever made a mantel before?”
Dad: “No. But I can make a box, and that’s basically what a mantel is.”
Me: “Hmm… Ok. Sounds good to me.”
Yep, that’s basically our DIY attitude in a nutshell.
Although I do have to confess that my Dad –age 75—didn’t retire from his rigorous sheetrock job—until he was sixty, and along the way he’s renovated his entire home by himself with skills that he explains away with four simple words,
“It’s just common sense.”
That’s my Dad.
The first question I had to deal with was the size of this mantel.
After a lot of measuring and a lot of staring at the wall, I decided to keep as much of the white painted bricks visible as possible, and I sketched out a picture for my Dad after we got our measurements.
I still had no idea about the final look, what kind of molding I wanted etc...
All I knew was that I was designing it around this piece of old wood that I hoped we could cut into without it falling apart.
We headed to Home Depot and the local lumber yard and returned with a sheet of quarter inch plywood and 1x4s to build the frame.
My Dad was right. We basically built three boxes. One on top. And two skinny sides.
First things first. Finding the center of the fireplace for a 2x4 that we would use to attach our mantel. I watched him drill the cement screws into the brick because I was too chicken to drill into my pretty bricks. In my view, there was no room for mistakes.
"Dad, aren't you nervous drilling into brick?"
"Oh come on. What's to be nervous about?"
One important design decision was figuring out the space for the top of the mantel. We have the sliding barn doors above that made the final measurements crucial. Can you see the crack where the brick ends?
At this point I was still thinking of only one thick piece of wood for the top.
Here's a picture of the side frame being checked for snugness. Our level was constantly with us.
Since the brick stuck out from the wall, it left a gap between the box and the wall at the ends.
So we added a piece of wood to close the gap behind the 'box' for easy attachment.
This gap also meant the bottom and top pieces of the frame had to be notched around the brick.
I left that for my Dad.
To strengthen the 'frame' for our main box we used pieces of 1x4s.
Once it was ready, we slipped the first plywood box over this frame and secured it with screws and nails
We went through the same process for the sides.
We added plywood pieces underneath and to the sides of the boxes to add size and give it cleaner base for the paint and molding to follow.
If you notice, I decided to use rougher wood pieces because of the weathered remnant I was using.
Even though I would be painting everything white, I wanted the old textured wood to (hopefully) blend with the 'new' wood once painted.
Which brings me to the wood remnant and the practicality of using it on our mantel. As we discovered, it was REALLY old wood. And someone had pieced it together on an uneven plank that we had to dismantle in order to cut and fit it for our mantel.
It meant we had to rebuild it on a new piece of plywood so we could install it on the front of our 'box.'
My Dad was amazingly patient handling the delicate pieces and he's the one who put it together again. I helped him realign the carved seashells but it's weird how maternal (yep-that's the word) I felt about this old wood. I actually cringed when he cut into it with the table saw.
(excuse the dark IPhone pictures)
We had to remove a big dent out of the middle and reattach it. Here's a photo before it was in one piece again--I had primed the plywood and we already installed a pine top-and I wanted to see the remnant size against the box.
Remember, I still had no idea how I was going to trim it out, and if you've ever gone to the molding/wood section of a lumber yard or Home Depot, you know what I was facing.
Once we attached the remnant we were still dealing with the construction part. And there was a space at both ends where the remnant ended.
After a lot of staring at the empty space and looking at trim options, Jim walked in and asked us why we just didn't run a 4x4 all the way along the sides.
Bam! That was the answer.
Are you starting to see a mantel here?
We also solved another problem along the way.
Remember the gap on top where the bricks end? Well we still had a glimpse of the gap showing even after we attached the simple pine top.
What to do?
We measured again and found room for another piece of wood on top. Ta daaaaa!!!
After this picture there was a lot of sanding and caulking and filling nail holes. But I won't bore you with all those details, and if you're still reading along I thank you.
Next time I'll show you my first-ever molding job that I tackled after my Dad left.
I'm happy to say that this DIY mantel is done and waiting for a final coat of paint.
And I can't wait to show you!