Archive for the ‘ projects ’ Category

Fireplace mantle surrounds provide one of those settings in a residence where your creative imagination is put to good use. Fireplaces, like stairways and cabinetry provide a unique place to focus the attention of both homeowners and guest. With this is mind, I have put together a series of graphics to help my customers with design ideas for their fireplace mantels. I have listed these mantle surround graphics in three different categories and so will post these in separate posts.

In this first post I will illustrate a few design ideas for the mantel surround with columns. Remember to observe your local fire codes for the clearances necessary for home safety.

Column Mantel Surrounds

Column Mantel Surround

Column Mantel Surround

The mantel surround shows a full round column or leg (It happens to be a Greek type column but many turning profiles are possible). This type is possible if you have a lot of room to work with. Since the columns are full round, the mantel shelf will accordingly protrude out into the living space quite a bit. Makes for a beautiful show doesn’t it.

If you don’t have enough room for a full column mantel surround you might want to consider the split column
mantel surround. See below. This design doesn’t protrude as much into your living space. I should add here that these drawing are very simple and really no ornamentation is included but certainly possible. For example, hand carved scrolls or centers would look really nice in the center section of the mantel.

split columns mantel surround

split columns mantel surround

Corbels would also be a possibility particularly on the split column mantel surround.

A variation on a theme which I particularly like is the wrap-around mantel surround. See below.



You need a lot of room for this surround. Note that the columns in this version are three quarter turns. Or another way of saying the same thing is that a one quarter section is cut out of the columns.

And lastly, another variation of a theme is to leave the surround part off altogether with the face (brick, stucco, etc) of the fireplace exposed. The connecting points on this surround is the mantel shelf and the plinth blocks of the columns.



This surround has double columns which is a possibility for the other surrounds as well. Are your creative juices going yet?
And finally this column mantel surround is one I built for a friend several years ago. The columns are six inches in diameter X 50″ high. They are salvaged cypress turned with a barley twist. We first wrapped the old unsightly brick with plywood panels and then added the mantel shelf and columns afterward.

spiral column mantel surround

spiral column mantel surround

For further reading you may find these resources helpful:
Fireplace Surrounds
The Balanced Mantel: 10 Ideas

I should add at this point hat there are highly ornamented moldings that are made of wood. See below. These are not made in a molder (at least not the final product). They are hand carved – typically overseas. And therefore they are quite expensive. Which brings us to the last comparison that I will discuss.



Polyurethane moldings are quite a bit less expensive than wood moldings. This is more true as the moldings become more wider. The difference is more pronounced too if the comparison is made with hand carved wood moldings. An 8 ft piece of hand carved wooden crown (see above) would go for about 300.00 on the retail market. A similar size in polyurethane would cost around $50.00.

One last obvious difference that I should mention is finishing. Wood is certainly more suitable to staining than polyurethane. Polyurethane can be stained but the grain pattern must be simulated during the finishing process. As good as your finisher might be it is doubtful that he will be able to make a stained piece of polyurethane molding look as nice as a stained wooden one. Of course, if you are going to paint anyway this is a moot point.

Installation of wood and polyurethane moldings is very similar except the latter is usually installed with construction adhesive and a few finish nails. Caulking, painting and puttying is the same for both.

And so what are the differences? A high degree of ornamentation is possible in polyurethane moldings that are not possible with wood moldings because of the the fact the the polyurethane is poured into a mold. However, because of the physical constraints of the polyurethane molds, shorter length moldings are the norm. Polyurethane moldings can be had at most 8 – 12 feet in length, whereas sixteen foot wood moldings are not uncommon. On the other hand, where wood moldings can be purchased at longer lengths, polyurethane moldings can be had in wider widths.

This is due in part to the fact that wood molders are typically not capable of molding wood wider than about 9″. Wood moldings become much less stable in those widths anyway (probably why molders are not made any wider). Wood has a tendency to cup, warp, twist and check. The wider the wooden piece, the more apt is wood to do so. Polyurethane, on the other hand, is much more stable and so widths of over sixteen inches are possible. It is less likely that polyurethane moldings will “move” after installation. Wood moldings can – especially wider pieces.

16" wide polyurethane crown molding

16 inch wide polyurethane crown molding

So in summary at this point:

  • Wood moldings are typically longer than polyurethane moldings.
  • Polyurethane moldings can be wider than wood moldings.
  • polyurethane moldings can have deep ornamentation – wood moldings do not.
  • polyurethane moldings are more stable – less prone to cupping, warping, etc.

polyurethane crown molding

Since I sell both ornamental wood moldings and polyurethane moldings on one of my e commerce sites, I thought I should write a comparison review of them. If you are considering purchasing one or the other perhaps this will help you in making a decision.

Wood has been the material of choice for moldings and other building products for centuries and really millennium. Wood has been plentiful, durable and easily shaped. In agrarian societies it has been the material of choice for these reasons. With the advent of industrial societies and technological innovations, however, other materials have presented themselves to capitalist as an alternative to wood. This has been the case in particular for polyurethane moldings used in residential applications.

The distinct advantages and disadvantages of wood and polyurethane becomes clearer by understanding the respective manufacturing processes for each.

The process for making wood moldings begins with a “blank” length of wood typically square on all sides. This blank is fed into a molder (apply named) which is simply a series of cutting “heads” that cut the blank into the final shape. The cutting heads have the final shape of the molding ground into them cutting head knives.

Polyurethane moldings, however, begin with a liquid composite being poured INTO a mold. And so the manufacturing process dictates the basic differences of both types of molding.

These balusters went to a home in Aspen. I wanted to go to help with the installation but the contractor said I wasn’t needed. Oh well – maybe next time. These are large 2 1/2″ balusters that I think came out very well. I posted an image of the newels that went with this project but will post again.

large stair balusters

column newels

Some time back I had a request form a customer to add an ivory “button” to a newel cap I was making for his stairway newel. Of course I couldn’t use ivory and was unsure of what to use. I had read about “vegetable” ivory or tagua nuts from South America that had a similar look and feel to ivory. These proved to be not so easy to find. Most of the tagua nuts were already carved into someting or other before they arrived in the US. The larger nuts (which is what I needed) were even harder to find. So in the end I decided to use Corian. Corian is what the DuPont Corp. developed for solid surface kitchen counters years ago. I found a small piece locally at a solid surface counter company. I think the final product turned out nicely.

By the way, apparently it was traditional in some area of the country to add an ivory piece to your newel cap when the mortgage on the house was paid off. If you have heard of this from your neck of the woods I’d love to hear from you.

corian topped newel cap

corian topped newel cap