WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Fireplace Mantels

Fireplace Mantels
by Mario Rodriguez

Taunton Press: 2002
Paperback, 153 pp., $19.95
ISBN 1-56158-385-5

     After seeing Rodriguez' excellent 'Traditional Woodwork' (reviewed below), I expected his new volume on fireplace mantels to cover traditional, historic examples of the American hearth. No so. His new book covers a wide range of types, from a simple colonial shelf above a framed fire box to a highly ornamented Georgian mantel with decorative applied moldings. He presents fireplace mantel designs in Federal, Arts and Crafts, Mackintosh, Victorian, Greene and Greene, Art Deco and Contemporary styles.
     Detailed color photographs and line drawings illustrate each type's construction and assembly details, with shelf and cornice details of built-up moldings that simplify what looks like a complicated assembly. "While designing and building the mantels," Rodriguez says, "I tried to keep one goal in mind: the finished product should definitely appear more difficult and complicated to build than it proved to be during construction."
     There is a great deal of woodworking advice in this book that can be applied to other projects besides mantels. In constructing his Arts & Crafts mantel, for example, Rodriguez laminates two 3/4" layers of plywood for the main top shelf, then wraps 3/4" layers of plywood around that core, three sides fully mitered on their long edges for a seamless wraparound. He illustrates how to use a sacrificial tablesaw fence, burying the angled blade slightly, so the extreme corner of the bevel-cut plywood edge is not cut through. This leaves the surface veneer intact, and allows 'overcutting' the mitered edge to test for fit, with room to recut the edge without altering surface dimensions of the workpiece.
     The author then shows how to attach support brackets that appear to jut out from the wall below the heavy mantel shelf. In reality, they are thick laminations hung below the shelf on a sliding dovetail. A recess is created at the back of this thick mantel shelf by the outer wrapped layer, and this recess fits over a full length cleat attached securely to the wall.
     The Mackintosh mantel has tapered pilasters, a massive curved frieze, and beveled supports that are moved through a thickness planer on a stationary L-shaped jig. The Victorian mantel illustrates pyramid moldings cut on the tablesaw, square rosettes set on the diagonal as a design element, and a main shelf built up in three tiers and decorated with applied moldings.
     Rodriguez fully covers fireplace anatomy, material selection and joinery techniques, and installation of a mantel. He shows in every case, how to hide fasteners and prepare in the planning stage for a clean installation. He also includes design variations in joining vertical panels, cornice designs, and structural conception in contemporary settings.
     Any of these projects can be completed with the clear, step by step directions included, or the design elements and techniques used in an original construct. All necessary jigs are explained and there are many useful woodworking techniques shown here. Another excellent 'how-to' from a master craftsman.

. . . Barb Siddiqui