When dealing with a new wood mantel, there are two major safety concerns: making sure the mantel isn't too close to the fire, and securely attaching the heavy piece to the wall so it doesn't fall over.

Satisfying the first concern is a matter of ordering a mantel that is sized correctly for your fireplace. The National Fire Code says that all combustible material must be 1 inch away from the firebox opening for every 1/8 inch it protrudes from the surface, with a minimum 6-inch clearance all around. (If stricter local codes exist, these supersede national codes). If you have an odd-size firebox, a stock mantel may create a disproportionate-looking reveal around the opening, so you may have to custom order to get the mantel to look right.

Satisfying the second concern is all about good carpentry. Many mantel-kit companies suggest merely toenailing the piece through the shelf directly to the wall, or even gluing it with silicone caulk. Since neither option is very sturdy, we recommend you attach the mantel to a cleat—a simple piece of lumber securely fastened to the wall. One cleat runs horizontally under the mantel shelf, and the others run vertically inside the legs (most mantels are hollow in back). Then you screw the mantel to the cleats along the back of the mantel shelf and the sides of the legs.
Ask TOH users about Fireplaces

Contribute to This Story Below

    Tools List

    • hammer drill
      Hammer drill with 3/16-inch masonry bit
    • 16-foot tape measure
      Tape measure
    • hand saw
      to cut 2v4s
    • four-foot level
      3-foot level
    • torpedo level
      Torpedo level
    • caulk gun
      Caulk gun
    • flathead screwdriver

    Shopping List

    1. MANTEL

    Comes in a kit with legs, a shelf, and interior trim.

    2. SHIMS

    to level the mantel.

    3. 2x4 LUMBER

    for cleats on which the mantel will hang. Two 8-foot pieces should do it.


    for attaching the mantel to a brick chimney. If the wall isn't brick, use 3-inch decking screws to attach the cleats to the studs.


    to fasten the mantel to the cleats. Finish screws (aka trim heads) have small heads that sink below the surface without the need to drill a countersink hole first.

    6. 4d FINISH NAILS

    to attach the edge molding.


    to fill screw holes.

    8. CAULK

    if you're painting the mantel, to fill gaps where it meets the wall.