A mantle makeover can completely transform the look and feel of a fireplace, taking it from basic builder’s grade to a stunning focal point featuring natural, rustic live-edge wood. With some simple upgrades, you can create a mantel that becomes the star of your living room. Here’s an overview of how to conduct a mantel makeover using beautiful reclaimed wood.

Evaluating Your Existing Mantel

Before beginning your makeover, take time to evaluate your current mantel. Note the width, height, depth, and any distinguishing characteristics. Examine the construction quality and materials used – is it a basic wood-stain grade from the builder or a higher end material like marble or granite? Don’t immediately discard your existing mantel if it’s in good shape structurally. Refinishing or resurfacing it with new wood can give it an entirely fresh look.

Consider the style and architecture of your home. Does your new mantel need to adhere to a certain aesthetic? Make sure to choose materials and a design that complement your space rather than compete with it.

Selecting Your Live-Edge Wood

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make during a mantel makeover is selecting the type of wood. Live-edge wood slabs with naturally occurring bark edges are stunning. Consider wood species like:

  • Walnut – Rich brown hue with elegant grain patterns
  • Maple – Subtle grain with light tan coloring
  • Oak – Dramatic grains and knots with brown/black tones
  • Cedar – Reddish hue; aromatic and lightweight

Examine the types available to you. Look for a slab with character – one with interesting bark edges, knots, veins or color variations. Also ensure the shape and size suits your existing mantel opening.

Preparing the Existing Mantel Surface

Once you’ve selected your live-edge wood, prepare the surface of your existing mantel. Remove any decorative trim or boards first. Sand the mantel surface down to remove any gloss or paint sheen. This allows the new wood to adhere properly.

Fill any cracks, holes and imperfections with wood filler. Sand once dry. Then apply a primer coat to the entire surface. This provides a base layer for your new wood to bond to.

Installing the Live-Edge Wood

First, dry fit your slab by placing it on the mantel without adhesive to ensure it fits properly. You may need to trim the edges. Apply adhesive (construction adhesive works well) to the back of the slab. Carefully situate it centrally on the mantel surface.

Use finishing nails around the edges spaced a few inches apart to securely adhere the new wood. Make sure nail heads are slightly below the surface. Fill holes with wood filler and sand smooth when dry.

Finish by applying a protective sealant like polyurethane. This protects the natural wood from heat damage. Apply 2-3 coats with light sanding in between each layer.

Additional Mantel Makeover Ideas

  • Add floating shelves on either side for display space
  • Incorporate other reclaimed woods like barn siding as accents
  • Install new mantel legs or corbels for added support
  • Add a fresh coat of white paint to walls around fireplace
  • Update fireplace doors or screens to complement new wood
  • Use river rocks, bricks or tile for a new hearth surface
  • Showcase the new wood by removing non-essential decorative items

FAQ About Mantel Makeovers

What kind of wood should I choose?

Opt for naturally weathered, reclaimed wood with unique grains and textures. Popular choices include oak, maple, walnut, cedar, pine, hickory, or fir.

What tools do I need?

Basic tools include a drill, nails, hammer, saw, wood filler, sandpaper, clamps, adhesive, and sealant. You may also need a sander for smoothing surfaces.

How do I prep my existing mantel?

Remove any decorative trim or boards first. Sand the surface, fill any imperfections, apply primer, and make any needed size adjustments prior to installing new wood.

Should I completely replace my mantel?

Not necessarily – refacing or resurfacing with new wood slabs can often give you the look you want without fully replacing the existing frame or construction.

How do I finish the wood?

Applying protective sealant like polyurethane is ideal after installing live-edge slabs. This protects the natural wood from heat and moisture damage over time.

What if I don’t have carpentry skills?

Consider hiring a carpenter or woodworker to install the new wood slabs if you lack experience with carpentry finishing work.


Upgrading your mantel with natural, live-edge wood can take your fireplace from tired builder’s grade to an eye-catching rustic focal point. With some strategic planning, material selection, preparation, installation help if needed, and finishing, you can execute a mantel makeover that dramatically enhances your space. Take time to find the perfect wood slab for your vision, and implement additional accents like floating shelves, new tiles, or fresh wall paint to complement your stunning new mantel. With this simple makeover, you can completely transform the look, feel and functionality of your fireplace area.