During one of my shows I had a couple come visit me and ask if I did any custom built in work. They were interested in a live edge mantle for their home. During a visit to their home we talked about the scale this mantle should be and about material selection. We decided that a red oak mantle would tie in perfectly with the existing wood work. Now came the fun part, finding a slab that we could build the mantle from. Slabs are not as common in the wood working world as square edge boards so the hunt begins. Our local lumber supplier had a few slabs that we looked at, but at 2″ thick they were not big enough to proportion well as a mantle, so a visit to my local saw mill was in order.
As a woodworker this place is hard to visit without buying everything in sight, so I stare at the ground and ask about 3″ thick red oak slabs. After sending some pictures to my clients we select a nice 3″ thick white oak slab that was dry and ready to be worked. Pieces of wood this big are not in my day to day routine so finding a tool to be able to cut this down to size took me back to the tools of my grandfather, literally. I used my maternal grandfather’s Disston hand saw to get this job done and a nice workout too.
Now at a manageable size the build begins. All pieces are rough cut oversized and are allowed to acclimate to their new size. Wood this large can contain internal stresses from drying that cause twisting and bowing when you start to cut them apart. The design of the mantle was left to my creativity, and this evolved once I started working with our selected slab. Working with a slab is as close to working with the tree as I can get. The individual character of that tree comes through begging to be shown off. This particular slab has spalting on the edge, creating some distinct colors and patterns.
The biggest challenge with this installation was dealing with the returns on both sides and how to hide the method of fastening. First problem to tackle, how to mount this around the fireplace. This was solved with a cleat that is rabbeted into the back of the mantle itself. Second problem, how to attach the returns to the live edge face of the mantle. With a little help from Festool, floating tenons make for a very strong joint. Here are two more photos showing some of the behind the scenes work of the milling and installation. If you have an idea of something you would like built I would love to help bring them to life