Floating mantel

Although most new homes won’t have a fireplace these days, woodburning stoves remain popular in many older as well as some more recent properties. Many period houses still have an open fire, and if you’re a woodworker producing plenty of unwanted offcuts, either this or a woodburner makes a lot of sense. It’s always been traditional to have a mantelshelf above the fireplace, somewhere to keep a candlestick or two before the days of gaslights or eventually, electric lighting. These days, however, it’s an obvious place to display those treasured family photos and birthday cards, not to mention festive Christmas stockings!

As its name suggests, a mantelshelf is simply the horizontal part of a mantelpiece surrounding the fireplace. Some mantelpieces could be very ornate, and you’ve only got to visit a few of the grand National Trust properties around the country to get some idea. The fireplace and mantelpiece would often be the focal point of a grand living or reception room, so it needed to reflect the owner’s status and wealth – a chance to show off a bit – from elaborately hewn marble or limestone to exquisitely carved mahogany, walnut, oak or pine.

In Georgian and Victorian times, cast-iron and slate became popular materials, too. In less wealthy residences, the mantelpiece would often be simpler – perhaps no more than a shelf fixed above the fireplace. Function, rather than statement, was typical of farmhouses and cottages in rural areas, so these would often make do with a heavy timber beam.

Floating shelf
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to have a fireplace to add a mantelshelf. They can look just as effective across an alcove, even above a flatscreen TV mounted low on the wall. After rebuilding a fireplace and installing a new woodburner some 18 months ago, a planed length of oak was all I needed to complete the work in my living room. Unless you’re going for a rustic look, you’ll need to prepare your timber first – my oak finished at 145 × 45mm. You could make a couple of matching supporting brackets, though for a neater, minimalist look it’s easier to fit the mantel as a floating shelf. A dense timber such as oak will be heavier than softwood, so check your selected fittings can take the weight. These will also limit the depth of your timber; too deep – front to back – and there could be some movement. I used steel floating shelf brackets from BespOak Interiors – www.bespoakinteriors.co.uk – which are unique in design.

The fixing screw is offset from the barrel, so you can tweak the timber at either end to get it dead level. These offset brackets also help overcome the problem of their fixing holes not quite lining up, a common problem when drilling into masonry. My oak was 1,300mm long, so three of BespOak’s long multi-wall brackets were more than adequate to support the weight of my mantelshelf. Barrel length of these is 120mm, while 80mm versions are more suitable for shallower shelves. It’s worth mentioning that when fitting a mantelshelf above a woodburner or open fireplace, it must comply with relevant Building Regulations. Critical measurement here is the minimum distance from the stove for any combustible material, which must be at least 300mm. Easily achieved, it’s more of an aesthetic choice when deciding on the height. I chose to install my mantelshelf at 1,170mm above the stone hearth.



1 Mark the height of the mantelshelf on the wall. Combustible building materials – such as timber – must not come within 300mm of a woodburner


2 These floating shelf brackets consist of a 12mm steel rod with detachable offset screw. The threaded end fits into a solid wall via a plug


3 Mark the position of each floating shelf bracket on the rear of the oak. Bore 12mm holes with an auger bit, using a small square for accuracy


4 Remove debris and check drilling depth by inserting a bracket into each hole. Tape around the bit acts as a guide to warn you if drilling too deep


5 Insert rods into the rear of the shelf and mark screw tips against the wall. Using a masonry bit, drill 10mm holes for the plastic plugs provided


6 For extra strength, adding resin fixing to each hole is recommended, especially if slightly oversize. After squeezing this in, tap the plugs into the wall


7 Insert a bracket into each plug, driving it home with a 10mm spanner until the end of the rod is tight against the wall. Then allow the resin to dry


8 Slide the shelf onto the brackets, tapping gently from the front with a hammer. Make sure you use scrap wood to prevent denting the surface


9 Check the shelf with a spirit level. The advantage of BespOak brackets is they can be adjusted with a spanner to get the timber dead level


10 Routing a small, decorative chamfer along the front edges and ends adds the finishing touch. Check the depth setting first on scrap timber


11 Sand all exposed surfaces with 180 grit abrasive. Lightly dampen the oak to raise the grain, then lightly sand again by hand


12 Vacuum to remove dust, then apply a suitable clear finish such as oil or polyurethane. I brushed on two coats of Osmo semi-matt Polyx Oil


The completed floating mantelshelf in oak
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