It's all been leading to this (so far): Live Edge Maple Mantel

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Project by Caleone posted 05-07-2015 12:50 AM 1465 views 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I started out a few years ago with live edge tables and nightstands, and then in my new shop made some outdoor and shop cabinets. Recently (my first post on LJ), I worked into furniture-quality casework combined with live edge. So I guess I have been working my way up to here.

When we bought the home a little over two years ago, we thought the fireplace lacked ‘presence,’ making the firebox look small and giving the impression that the living room was oddly long and narrow. We thought a mantel might be the cure.

I purchased the Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) slab way last fall, intending it for another purpose. It started out just over 13 feet long and 23” wide tapering to 20.” Fortunately, I only had to move the whole thing twice—once from my car to the Someday Shed (about 200 feet), and once from the Someday Shed into the shop (about 25 feet). Once I had it, though, it kept looking at me and insisting it wanted to be something else. That, and every time I looked at a slab large enough to be a mantel, they were expensive enough to remind me I already had one. I’m no dummy.

I built a base to the rough height and projection of the hearth of 2×8 framing lumber ripped to dimension. This was covered (and the casework made from) 3/4” pre-finished maple plywood; the specialty lumber store nearest me had a special on ‘prefinished shop plywood’ for $60 per sheet—really, furniture-grade, 2 fair faced sheets with a few dings and scratches. A heckuva deal and not hard to cut around for what I needed. The casework is dadoed and/or pocket screwed, and the end piece attached to the wall courtesy of five evenlly spaced cleats, which in turn are screwed to studs.

I cut three feet off of the slab, and ripped one edge straight using a scrap board as a guide to my circ saw. It was 10 feet long and 19” tapering to 16” after cutting. The hardest—and scariest—part of this was cutting to scribe around the fireplace. Too big to get close enough to truly scribe, I wound up making a cardboard template and checking against dimension and bevel angle. Measure 137 times, cut once, I guess, because I knew I wouldn’t get a second chance. I got a great tip from another discussion site: I back-beveled my cut by 15 degrees, so the contact between slab and brick was a ‘point,’ rather than a flat face. Cut VERY conservatively, I only had to take about 1/16th off here and a 32nd there to achieve a friction fit. I really sweated it though, not to mention doing a 125 pound power clean every time I lifted it into position. The majority of the slab’s weight rests on the firewood box and end piece, it ‘grabs’ the outer brick, and by placing a trio of pocket holes at 16” intervals I was able to miraculously hit the studs I could not find behind the pre-existing T & G cedar.

The shelves are solid maple left over from my bookcase project, too much warp to fit in dadoes but perfectly comfortable on shelf pins, as are the drawer fronts. After making the shelves and drawer fronts, I didn’t have enough 12” maple to make the third shelf, so I edged glued a new one together, another first for me. You can see the line, but it’s as solid as the solid. The drawers were another first for me, so nothing fancy, just copied from my kitchen and on Euro runners. The smaller one is for newpaper and other accelerants, the larger is bin-sized for kindling, of which I make in infinite supply in my shop. The face frames and trim are VG Douglas fir, ripped down from remodeling leftovers. The cost for the entire project was $90, which of course does not include the slab, and it took about a week to build. I finished the unfinished parts in place with one coat of Danish Oil and two coats of oil-based satin poly for all parts, and one coat of Danish Oil on the slab followed by four coats of gloss, and two coats of satin poly. My wife won’t let me put actual firewood into it, so this weekend I’ll be making fancy peeled magazine firewood. I do love a project.

-- Caleone, Sammamish, WA

2 comments so far

View LoganN's profile


435 posts in 2071 days

#1 posted 05-07-2015 12:10 PM

Its a great look and that mantel came out fantastic! Definitely something to be proud of!

View Caleone's profile


28 posts in 1700 days

#2 posted 05-07-2015 04:35 PM

Thank you very much, Logan! It was extremely fun for me to make, and while it stretched my skills, it went very smoothly. My only regret is that in order to have the mantel at NFPA-code distance from the firebox, it is at a height that keeps most people from seeing the spectacular figure in the slab. Still, when I exceed my wife’s expectation, it is very gratifying. Thank you for looking!

-- Caleone, Sammamish, WA

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