how to build an mdf diy fireplace mantel

[This is Part 5 in my How to Build FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 series.]

One of the design features that make this fireplace surround Federal in nature are the proportions of the mantel top, or hood.

Federal period moldings are marked by finer, more delicate features than their more purely Neoclassical cousins.  And since the friend I made this mantel for loves the Federal period (a relative of his owns a Federal townhouse in Boston), then I made sure the hood had this certain grace to it.

But before I could come up with the proportions for the hood, I had to sketch out the crown projection as shown below.

how to build a diy fireplace mantel

The capitals get their own hood.  Below I’ve worked out what I think will look good.

how to make fireplace mantel step by step

Once you figure out your hood dimensions you can assemble them on a very flat surface using biscuits and wood glue.

how to use a biscuit joiner

Clamping the pieces like this ensured a tight fit.

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I used this cove molding to wrap the hood in because I love how delicately it terminates — good for the Federal period.

diy mantel

I assembled my hood and did some of the prep work, including running my palm sander over the mdf board joints, on a separate work bench.  Then I tested the fit one more time before gluing and nailing in place.

mantel top

diy mantel

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See how far the hood projects from the capitals and frieze?  That’s a very Federal style proportion.

How to build a fireplace mantel diy step by step

You don’t want to use a large crown molding under the mantel.  Use a crown that is smaller, more delicate.  The larger crowns look too bulky, unrefined, top-heavy.

how to install crown molding on fireplace mantel

All that’s left to do now is finish wrapping the crown around the top of the right capital and the installation will be finished.

The appliques in the capitals and center panel I installed after prepping the fireplace for paint.  The same techniques I used to prep this are the same that are outlined in our very detailed How to Paint Moldings page.  So check that out if you need some ideas of how to paint the fireplace.

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Do you see how simple it was to make a well-proportioned, Federal style fireplace mantel?  You don’t have to make yours exactly like this one, you can use whatever moldings or corbels you want to.

how to paint a fireplace mantel

If you have any questions about how I made this mantel, then please ask in the comment section below.  I’m happy to help.

Good luck making your own mantel!

How to Build FIREPLACE-102 Series Posts

1.  How to Build FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 for c. $162.00: Part 1

2.  How to Build FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 Part 2: Make the Pilasters

3.  How to Build FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 Part 3: Make the Collar & Capitals

4.  How to Build FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 Part 4: Make the Frieze

5.  How to Build FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 Part 5: Make the Hood

6.  FIREPLACE MANTEL-102 Gallery