Author Topic: Mantel Makeover  (Read 1022 times)

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Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 476
Mantel Makeover
« on: October 22, 2020, 11:58 AM »
I've been working on making over the mantel in my living room.  The existing mantel is a decidedly un-sexy painted shelf, essentially.

Here is a photo of it from when I first bought my house:


I assure you all that the walls have been since painted and the cardboard removed.  :-)

The approach I wanted to try in this instance was to do the modification without demoing what is already in place.  The reasoning for this is that I have been disrupting the house for extended periods of time for nearly 5 years now.  Since I work full time, projects take a while for me to finish.  Since I am easily distracted, projects will sometimes pause in the middle for a month or two while I attend to something else my brain has prioritized.   So, my strategy in this instance was to do an overlay on the mantel shelf using veneers and then to build an overmantel using frame and panel construction.  The style is kind of an arts and crafts/craftsman style.

For materials, I wanted to use rift/quartersawn red oak.  This is will match up with the stairs, which are only about 10' away from this. I prioritized riftsawn figure for most of the wide parts and limited the quartersawn to the frame on the overmantel.  While there is some mild flecking in the panels, the grain is mostly straight.

The first priority was to take some red oak veneer and lay it up on 1/4" mdf.  This went relatively smoothly. I haven't been getting great seams directly off the veneer saw lately ( I think I need to spend more time sharpening it) so I shot the edges using my low angle jack plane. These may be some of the best joints I've ever obtained.  :-)   I then taped the joints using standard veneer tape.


And here's the panel after removing the tape:


Of course, it's about the easiest conditions for hiding the joint, with all the comb-like figure.  However, red oak can tear a bit during cuts, so I do think the shooting board was a good idea.

The other thing you may notice is that there is significant bleed through of the glue through the pores.  You probably also notice the glue is dark brown. This is by design.  For glue, I used the better bond glue from Veneer Supplies.  I went with a dark glue because I expected a good amount of bleed through and plan on filling the pores with a dark stain later on.  I was concerned that if I used a white glue that some pores would end up getting blocked and it would be too difficult to remove the glue from those.

A nice thing I learned during my prep work is that the better bond glue can be removed from the surface pretty easily by way of a maroon scotchbrite pad and some water.  I didn't observe any negative impacts to the bond even after flooding the surface pretty well, although I did not let it sit for a long time before wiping off.

The next thing I did was work on getting my finishing schedule worked out.  The veneer and the solid wood are quite different in their color, despite being of the same species. The veneer was almost straw colored while the solid wood had a pinkish tinge.  My strategy was to use a base coat of dye to help bring things closer together and also give the wood a little age.   I ended up going with this mix:
1oz water, 20drops transtint medium brown, 1 drop transtint honey amber, 1 drop transtint orange.  I don't have any photos of what this looks like yet.

Over this, I applied shellac and then a glaze of General Finishes Java gel stain, wiped on in circles and wiped off with the grain shortly after.  Another coat of shellac seals this in.


At this point, I didn't really document my steps for cutting out the overlay.  Of some interest is that the front portion is 1/2" thick MDF and that I have glued 1/4" solid edging to the substrate so that I can shape the edge a little bit.

As of this weekend, I've prefinished the panels, assembled the frame, and attached the overlay pieces:


This weekend I'm going to hopefully begin putting the dyes and stains on the overlay portion. The overmantel is only leaning on the wall at the moment. There is a hollow in the wall on the left that I may decide to float out.  On the other hand, I could caulk it and the only one who will care and notice will be me.  :-)

One item I'm still undecided about is whether to add any trim to the top of the overmantel.  I considered doing a 1/2 round molding and perhaps a cove at the top. Part of the issue in this case is sourcing - finding appropriately sized cove in red oak around here has not been a success. I'm not tooled up for making my own 2" tall cove. I could veneer some pine cove, but I've never veneered a molding before and it could end up being quite the undertaking.   I'm open to suggestions here. :-)

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Offline ear3

  • Posts: 4204
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2020, 12:59 PM »
Great work so far -- the rift grain really does make it easy to align the grain and make a seamless panel.

In terms of DIY coving, do you know about the table saw method of doing large coves?  There's a lot of videos out there, so I'll just post the one uploaded by Woodworker's Journal:

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Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 476
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2020, 01:10 PM »
Great work so far -- the rift grain really does make it easy to align the grain and make a seamless panel.

In terms of DIY coving, do you know about the table saw method of doing large coves?  There's a lot of videos out there, so I'll just post the one uploaded by Woodworker's Journal:

Yes - I've seen the tablesaw cove cutting method.  I'd try it but for one problem - no tablesaw :-)  My mantel is at least kind of based on a design Mario Rodriguez had in his book.  It does exactly what you mention - cut the cove by running the material across the saw at an angle.   

Offline jobsworth

  • Posts: 6724
  • Festool Baby.....
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2020, 10:15 PM »
Looking goood [big grin]

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 476
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2020, 12:02 AM »
Some progress on the Mantel.   I finished trimming the front edge flush with the top and got some finishing steps completed.

No process shots of the trimming, but I cobbled together an offset flush trimming base w/ two pieces of 3/8 MDF and some screws.  It worked pretty well except for the last few inches, where the base couldn't get in tight enough. Some time with a chisel and a card scraper got everything flushed up.

Then it was time to apply the dye.  I had some already mixed up, but needed some more.  So I carefully measured out the mix and combined it.  I think the old stuff may have had a little bit of the water evaporate as this looked a little darker to me.  Shouldn't be a problem - the Java gel stain kind of dominates the colors and homogenizes things pretty well.


In this photo you can see that the bottom looks a little blotchy.. it's just wet in some spots.  Even applying the dye has changed the appearance of the mantel considerably, though.  I was a little tempted to just put some finish on and call it a day. :-)

This afternoon after work I scuffed the solid wood parts with a maroon pad and wiped on two coats of 1lb cut super blonde shellac.  This seals in the dye and also seals the wood so the gel stain functions more like a glaze and doesn't sink in too deep.  I always like this part because the wood starts to take on a little more life.  The dyes look pretty dull after they dry.



Now I wait until tomorrow at the earliest to scuff the solid with 180 and then apply gel stain.  I am a little nervous about this part, only because a few of my test pieces seemed to be way lighter on the quartersawn parts than the riftsawn.  Scuffing the QS seemed to fix it on my test pieces, but until I'm done with it, I'll be a bit antsy.

In the meantime, I looked into some more options for a molding for the top.  I could consider doing a straight molding like a craftsman style crown.. or I could keep pursuing the cove.   I did find some cove molding router bits with a 2.25" diameter, so I could probably make this work on my router table.  I really wish some of the local shops did have a stock cove molding, though.  Especially since I only need 6ft or so. 

Offline Bob D.

  • Posts: 2188
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2020, 05:54 AM »
Looks real nice. A great improvement over what you started with.

As far as topping it off what about a dental molding? Here's a shot to give
you an idea but drop out the coves as they don't jive with Craftsman style.

Maybe finish that with a piece of 5/4 QS laid flat that projects out a couple
inches over the dental mold.

It's a table saw, do you know where your fingers are?

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 476
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2020, 08:54 PM »
As far as topping it off what about a dental molding? Here's a shot to give
you an idea but drop out the coves as they don't jive with Craftsman style.

Maybe finish that with a piece of 5/4 QS laid flat that projects out a couple
inches over the dental mold.

I associate cove as being specific to Craftsman style, to the extent that any crown type molding might be used at all.   To me, Dentil is more of a Georgian/Queen Anne style.

At any rate, what I ended up doing was to consult a book of drawings of craftsman interior details.. in there is a nice little built up molding of cove and a beveled flat piece on top.  The proportions were a little ungainly for my purposes, so I scaled it back a little bit until it looked right to me.


Since I had used up most of my oak, I ended up going to the home store and buying some off the rack s4s stuff.  It's not the best in terms of straightness (more on that in a second), but I was able to select for grain and got some decent rift/quartersawn stock out of the lot.  The price was about .10 / lft greater than the lumberyard but I saved about an hour of driving time.

I ripped this down with my tracksaw and bandsaw to some approximate lengths and then ran it through the planer to get more precisely parallel final dimensions.  I glued a 1 7/16" x 3/4" backer piece to a 5/8 x 11/16" piece and when the glue had set, I cut a cove using a 3/8 radius cove bit on my router table.  The larger piece had the benefit of keeping my fingers a little further away from the bit.

Then I ran another piece 1" x 3/4" at the router table w/ a 15 degree chamfer bit.  This piece is to sit on top of the cove. I glued this in place, shimming out the back to get a good reveal on the front of it.

Lastly, I cut a 1/8" rabbet along the backer piece.  This will help register the assembly to the top of the mantel and enable me to put some screws through the top.

This is what the profile looks like at a miter:


I'm happy with this.  It's the right scale for the relatively small room and it feels like a good fit in terms of the style.

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 476
Re: Mantel Makeover
« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2020, 09:13 PM »
I was able to stain the shelf and the rest of the mantel this week. This was the part that had me most anxious, as I had previously run into some inconsistent results between the veneered and solid parts.

All in all it went well.  I began by taking the upper part of the mantel down to the basement to finish it on the bench.  It was a little easier to get at the crevices this way, and I could use my light to make sure I had even coverage.


One thing that really struck me was the difference in the grain of the rails vs the styles.  The rails are a lot busier in terms of the graining. I had to repeatedly check to make sure I wasn't somehow applying the stain differently in each spot, but I think it's just 1) the difference in the wood and 2) the direction of the viewing angle. 

then I put it back on the mantel so I could try to match it with the rest of the staining.


By the way - this is the other stained woodwork in the room I'm trying to match to:


(the speakers are speedsters, for the audio-curious)

This went mostly well, although staining the underside was a pain.   Where I ran into trouble was the very front.  For whatever reason, I kept getting lap marks or taking too much off.  Eventually I wetted a towel with mineral spirits and wiped off as much of the stain as I could:


This didn't really remove all of it but it evened everything out.  It darkened it some, but it was a shade lighter than it should be. I let that dry for two days before coming back for another try. In this case, I thinned the gel stain w/ a little mineral spirits and wiped it on without removing any.  Instead, I used the applicator to pull the stain in the direction of the grain until it was even.  I think this worked out better.


So that's another weapon in my amateur arsenal if the stain doesn't work out on the first go. I'm pleased with it.. it doesn't stand out so much now and I also was able to put a little heavier stain on a couple spots where I had used CA glue and the color was uneven in favor of not having much color.  It blends together now.

Next up will be sanding/dyeing/sealing/staining/sealing the crown molding and the legs of the mantel and hopefully getting it all installed.