How to Choose the Right Barn Beam Mantel For Your Home

February 24, 2018


Warm and inviting, a great fireplace can become the central design element in a home. Barn beam mantels are not only attractive, they also have a story to tell. Reclaimed from century-old barns and structures, this old wood is given a second life and will live on to tell more great stories in your home. If a reclaimed barn beam mantel could talk, imagine what it would have to say. From early pioneers staking claim to a piece of land where the reclaimed wood beam was originally harvested to decades of use as structural support essential to holding the rigidity of a structure through tough winter snow loads, this wood has lived on.

With options ranging from the texture of the wood to the color of the finish, as well as picking a size that will be in scale and look great, there are plenty of details to consider to make your barnwood beam one-of-a-kind. Use our helpful guidelines to get started with choosing a piece of wood that will be the centerpiece in your living room.

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Choosing the Right Size Mantel

When deciding what size will be appropriate for your home decor and space, it is important to determine what your goal is. Buying a barn beam mantel that is too small will not look right while choosing a mantel that is too big will have an overwhelming feeling and not work either. Generally speaking, the scale is important and it is a good idea to mock it up and get a feel for what looks best.

Dimensions: Face Height and Depth

Choosing a size that will be in scale with the room, as well as the fireplace, is an important decision and should be considered before picking a mantel. The face height and depth of a mantel is largely determined by the size of the room it will be in.

Larger mantels with face heights that range from 8 inches to 10 inches are better for larger rooms with higher ceilings. For smaller spaces, we would recommend choosing a mantel that has a face height of 4 inches to 6 inches.

The depth of the mantel should also take room size into consideration. If there is going to be a lot of traffic around the fireplace and it would be difficult to squeeze between the mantel and another piece of furniture, consider choosing a mantel that doesn’t protrude too much into the space. The typical mantel depth is anywhere between 10 and 12 inches, but we carry sizes all the way down to 4 inches.

Length

There are many opinions regarding the length of a fireplace mantel. Some homeowners want the mantel to span the full wall, while others like it just larger than the firebox. Our recommendation is to choose a fireplace mantel that is 12 inches longer than the fireplace box. Most barn beam fireplace mantels are square and can be cut to almost any length needed. Using scrap pieces of cardboard is a good way to create a mock-up that will help visually when determining the right size mantel for your application.

Height of Mantel Installation

When considering the height of a wood fireplace mantel, it’s important to plan for any items that may be hanging from or placed on the mantel in the future. Based on most housing codes and recommendations from the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), the bottom of the mantel should be at least 12 inches above the top of the firebox. Then, add an inch to the distance for each inch the mantel protrudes from the wall. So if your mantel is 8 inches deep, it should be installed 20 inches above the firebox. This is to ensure that any flammable materials, including your new wood mantel, are a safe distance away from the fireplace.

Fireplace Mantel Appearance

When it comes to texture, the first place to start is understanding how the reclaimed barn wood was originally created. Hand-hewn barn beams are the oldest beams and showcase the true craftsmanship of the past. The original craftsmen felled the trees with an ax and skillfully created a square beam by hand, giving these beams a more rustic appearance. Rough sawn beams and lumber were created using a rough sawmill and retain the original saw marks left by the mill giving them a more refined rustic look. Oftentimes, reclaimed barn beams also have features like nail holes and mortise pockets that add even more character to these rustic fireplace mantels

Finishing a barnwood mantel is optional and can enhance the look and create a more consistent color tone. Using natural waxes is a very traditional way to finish and protect the original patina of the barn beams. Wax finishes are available in a variety of traditional colors and can be touched up easily if needed. While it is common to leave the barnwood mantel unfinished and show the natural patina found in the piece of wood itself, you can also finish the mantel using a wax finish to enhance the look. Wax is a great option due to its natural feel, as well as the ability to touch it up should it ever get a dent or scratch. Common colors of wax are dark brown, clear and whitewash.

Installation

Another factor to consider once you have chosen the perfect barn beam to become your mantel is installation. Adding matching corbels or metal brackets is a good way to complete the look and create structure for the mantel to sit on. Another option is to directly attach the mantel to the wall or fireplace using hidden brackets. This will create a clean look that provides a floating mantel appearance. Installing a floating shelf mantel typically requires heavy duty lag bolts, and while we admire diy-ers, we’d recommend hiring a professional for product installation. 

Sometimes, it isn’t possible to install a solid wood mantel due to the heaviness of the piece, but don’t let that keep you from your dreams of having a reclaimed wood mantel! Our faux wood mantels are still made from real wood, but are hollow and only a portion of the weight of a solid wood mantel. Faux wood mantels can also be used to hide unattractive cords or cables. 

Pick a Reclaimed Barn Beam Mantel

Picking a barn beam mantel is a decision that is not only rewarding and fun, but one that will enhance the look of any fireplace and be enjoyed for many years to come. Whether you choose a hand-hewn beam or like the look of a little more refined rough sawn beam, it is sure to become the centerpiece of your project and be a focal point in your living room. Contact the experts at Elmwood Reclaimed Timber for help with any additional questions. We have years of experience regarding all manner of wood products and are happy to help!

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