By Shane Ross
Two years ago we bought a house. In that house was a fireplace. It’s a really nice fireplace, but it lacked something…something important. A mantle. Last year I promised my wife I’d install one before Christmas, so we’d have a place to hang our stockings. I didn’t get it done. Well, the wall that the fireplace is built into is very uneven. As you can see in the pictures below, it’s built with mortar and a variety of rocks
My wife and I researched various ways to install a mantle, and all of them were for walls that were flat and even. Brick walls, or flatter rock walls. So the methods wouldn’t quite work out the same for our wall. I was afraid that the mortar wouldn’t be strong enough, or that I’d drill and somehow cause it to fall apart. We toyed with the idea of somehow suspending it from the with wire, but that didn’t seem to stable. And we bandied about the idea of putting two wood posts on either side of the fireplace and put it on that. We bandied and bandied and before long, I dropped the idea of doing it at all. I didn’t like some of the ideas, and the others seemed out of my skill range (I wanted to make it look good).
A year passed. And then Christmas was approaching again. Again I set my mind to putting up the mantle. I wasn’t going to do it with the posts, nor the suspension cables. I was determined to do it the way one of the tutorials we found online mentioned it. By drilling holes into the wall, putting in metal posts, and mounting the mantle…a single piece of 10×2
OK, so it all starts with the single piece of wood…a 10 inch deep by 2 inch thick piece of lumber. I wanted this mantle to go the full length of the wall, so I measured it and it was 92 inches…just shy of 8 feet. Home Depot sold them in 10 foot lengths…and since I lacked a major power saw to cut it to length, Home Depot kindly has a service where they will cut it for you. That piece of wood was $12.55. I also bought some stain so that it’d match our beams. I got a pint of Red Mahogany for $6.99
I somehow stuffed it into my small Honda Accord (folded down the back seat and ran it from the trunk all the way to the front passenger seat) and got it home. Once here, my wife and youngest kid set about weathering it. This consists smacking it with hammers and rocks and denting it somewhat. I really wish I had pictures of us doing this, but alas, we were having too much fun and no one paused to think about that.
After we weathered the wood, I set about staining it. Sorry…no pics of this either. Needless to say, it looked like a nearly 8 foot piece of 10×2 stained red…banged up a little.
While that dried, I set about looking at the wall to see where I’d put it…find all places I can put the bolts into the wall. I found a height that looked promising, three gaps between the rocks where I could drill and put the bolts. I marked them and headed to Home Depot to get parts.
The bolts that go into the wall are called “anchor bolts.”
When I did my research the various sites mentioned using 7” long 1/2” anchor bolts. When I looked at them, and when I pictured the wall, I didn’t think they’d be long enough. Because the rocks protruded out from the mortar where I needed to embed them. And I need them to sink into the wall a fair amount, and into the wood a fair amount. So I needed something longer. The only longer ones were 10”…and 3/4” in diameter. Pretty thick. I wasn’t sure they’d work…might be too thick for the wood. But, they were the length I needed. I sized them up to the wood they had in the store, and it looked fine, so I grabbed them. And some Liquid Nails, to use to attach them to the wood.
(2) Anchor bolts…$9.37 each for a total of $18.74 (I bought three, but returned one)
Rock Hammer Rental: $45
I let the wood dry a couple days, and then went to Home Depot again and rented a hammer drill and bit to drill into the mortar.
I donned some safety goggles and readied the drill.
I drilled the first hole….and the second…
But then when I got to the third, I noticed that the space between the rocks was too small for the bit. It’s fine for a 1/2” bit, but too narrow for the 3/4” bit. Nuts. Two bolts aren’t enough to secure this. Perhaps if they were on the far ends, but one was on the left, the other in the middle…leaving the far right hanging. Hmmm…now what? I tried drilling into one of the rocks on the same line, but wasn’t making much progress at all. Got 1/2” deep in 10 min of trying. I didn’t want to crack the rock, or break the bit, or both. So I needed another solution.
I figured that I’d need to mount the far end on the wall that is next to the fireplace. I had some “L” brackets in the garage, so I went to get them. When I was looking, I stumbled across something far better. A shelf bracket that we had not used for another project. I used a stud finder to find the stud on the wall, and mounted it:
OK, now to put in the anchor bolts. How these work is you drill a hole, insert them into the hole, and then when you twist the nut, that slowly pulls the bolt out and the metal at the tip of it grips onto the sides of the hole and the tapered end causes the metal clip to expand and grip the sides better. This worked fine for the first one…
But the second one…wasn’t staying put. The metal clip wasn’t gripping and separating. Great, now what? I decided to use the liquid nails to glue it into place. Liquid nails expands as it dries, so that might help anchor it better. Because of this, I decided to use it on the other bolt hole too. So I filled the first one, and then the second. The second bolt still wobbled a little, because the hole had gotten bigger as I tried to get the anchor bolt to fit. It was REALLY wobbly. So I went to the cupboard and grabbed a handful of toothpicks. I squirted glue into the hole…and onto the bolt…and put it into the hole. And then I stuffed in a few toothpicks to wedge it into place. Then more glue, more toothpicks. I really wedged it into place. Now I had both bolts in the wall:
I let this dry for 24 hours, and then my wife and I lifted the wood plank into place, lining it up with the shelf bracket, and the two bolts. Then my youngest kid marked on the wood the location where the bolts would hit. I took it back outside, and drilled two holes into the plank. Brought it back in, applied liquid nails to the bolts, and into the wood, and my wife and I put it into place. Once secure, I attached it to the shelf bracket with two screws. And then stood back to admire my work.
We let that dry for another 24 hours, and then applied some Christmas bling.
And now we have a nice mantle above our fireplace…a beautiful thing that only set us back $89.26.