Moulding and finish lumber can be combined in many ways to add personality to a fireplace setting.

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Q: We’re looking for a festive fall project to spice up our home. Any ideas?

A: As October’s chill settles in, it’s tempting to look ahead to warm blankets and cider by the fireplace. But first, you may want to consider a refresh of your home’s coziest corner.

A simple shelf above the fireplace can add a lot of character and visual interest to your home, especially when dressed with moulding.

Moulding and finish lumber can be combined in many ways to personalize your mantel and add flair and finish to a fireplace setting.

These steps can be modified and customized for your home’s fireplace.

1. Start, as always, by planning. Take detailed measurements, noting how far your existing fireplace protrudes from the wall and any uneven surfaces to account for on the surrounding floor. Remember: measure twice, cut once — this will save headaches later.

2. Determine your fireplace’s style. Moulding comes in a variety of profiles, with six prominent styles commonly found in Seattle’s historic homes.

  • Colonial is noted for its Greek and Roman architecture
  • Victorian has rich ornamentation and elaborate millwork
  • Craftsman-style houses feature rugged simplicity
  • Bungalows are well known for their use of moulding in their décor
  • Mid-century modern structures feature clean, minimalist lines
  • Tudor homes have Bavarian qualities and Medieval ornamentation

Create a seamless look by choosing mouldings in your current room style or that complement the exterior of your house for a natural flow from outside in.

3. Build your basic fireplace frame using pieces of medium-density fiberboard or a lumber-like pine, which is relatively inexpensive, responds well to handheld tools and is easy to paint. Plan a vertical column for either side of the fireplace using two boards set at right angles for each column. Cut the boards to length, then attach at right angles using wood glue and a Kreg Jig to hide the screws. (You can also use a nail gun.)

4. Cut a fascia (also called a faceplate) to span horizontally between the two vertical columns. Go with a board similar in width to the lumber you use for your columns, like a 1-by-6. Connect it to the two columns using 1-by-2s on the back side that span the entire width and are screwed into each piece.

5. Add a board flat along the top as your mantel shelf.

6. Add moulding to the top and trim pieces along the sides to embellish. For proportions, try 1.75-inch crown moulding for the sides, 2.75-inch crown moulding along the top, and 2-inch strips of trim to create detailing.

7. Use 45-degree miter cuts for your moulding edges so they can join seamlessly. If you don’t have a miter saw, a miter box is a great alternative — you get the same results as a miter saw with less required workspace.

8. Use corbels on either side underneath the mantel shelf, or rosettes in the corners to create additional visual interest.

9. Fill seams or gaps between the moulding pieces with wood filler, and use caulk to fill the seams between the wood and the wall. Don’t skip this step: It can be tempting to think caulking won’t make much of a difference, but it goes a long way toward making your project look professionally finished.

10. Prime all the surfaces (don’t rush through this step), then paint everything to match.

11. Fix the frame to the wall using anchors or construction adhesive. Remember to locate and mark your wall studs, then attach the mantel directly to the studs for additional support.

Browse online for style inspiration and ideas to make it yours. This project can be completed on a practical budget in a reasonable amount of time.


Todd Dermody works at Dunn Lumber, which is a member of the Master Builders Association (MBA) of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the organization’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to