Congratulations on your new fireplace mantel! Many people purchase an unfinished mantel so they can paint or stain it to match the décor of their home rather than having the factory paint or stain it one of their standard colors. I have found that after receiving their new mantel, many people have questions and want advice on the best ways to go about finishing a fireplace mantel.
Painting or Staining?
The first decision that has to be made is whether the new mantel will be painted or stained. Typically this decision is made before buying the mantel as different wood types and materials are used in producing a mantel based on if it will be painted or stained. Stainable mantels use wood types known for their grain and appearance and solid moldings because the wood’s grain will be visible. Most people who plan to stain wood want the grain as well as other natural “blemishes” to shine through and would never cover those natural occurrences with paint. Paintable mantels use finger-jointed moldings and less-decorative wood or MDF (i.e. Medium Density Fiberboard) because the wood won’t be visible. Once it is painted, it is really difficult to tell the material used—that is why many contractors and homeowners alike choose MDF as an economical alternative to wood.
Installing the Mantel
While it is not really necessary to finish a mantel after you install it, it does make the job easier if you do this while it is on the wall; it is similar to painting any other wood trim. If you finish it and then mar the mantel when putting it up, you will have to repair it. Certainly many people paint or stain their fireplace mantel prior to installing it. It is really a personal preference.
Whether painting or staining I have put together a list of tips below to help homeowners finish their new fireplace mantels.
Tips for Painting Your Fireplace Mantel
- I recommend using a high quality semi-gloss paint in the color of your choice—but any paint that is used for inside house trim is suitable.
- Have different sizes paint brush available. You will want a smaller brush if your mantel has dentil molding so you can get the paint into the small crevices. A larger brush will help you paint faster and avoid stroke marks in the paint.
- Although priming your mantel is recommend, you do not have to. You can simply apply two to three coats of paint.
Tips for Staining Your Fireplace Mantel
- Test your stain color on an inside area of the mantel before you install it to ensure the color is what you want to achieve. (If you will be using a polyurethane finish over the stain, I recommend testing the polyurethane on top of the stain so you can see the final appearance of your mantel.)
- If sanding the mantel, use a fine (220) grit.
- If applying more than one coat of stain, be sure to let it dry before adding the next coat.
- Once your stain is dry, apply one or two coats of polyurethane (satin or semi-gloss is recommended) or tung oil to protect your finish.
Finishing a fireplace mantel is a rewarding experience; once it is done you can see how the new mantel enhances the look of the room.