Have you ever seen a fireplace mantel made from an old barn beam? It’s pretty amazing! We start out with gray, sometimes rotting beams from old barns all over the American Midwest. Most of our material comes from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The United States was generally settled from east to west, so we’ve seen beams that date back to the 1830s in eastern Wisconsin, but most of the beams we use in our mantels are from the late 1800s.
About 10 miles from our workshop was the edge of the Big Woods, the same woods that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her Little House books. Our workshop is in the prairie. Around here, people had to harvest their wood from “wood lots” down by the river, or bring it in on the train. At the edge of the Big Woods, we find many barns made out of hardwood, but they’re usually composed of about 70% American elm, which doesn’t make particularly nice furniture or mantels. Our customers want oak, so we’re usually hunting for those beams. About 80% of our mantels are made from white oak.
We love giving these old barn beams a new life as fireplace mantels. They add a touch of warmth and character to any home.
Once we have our barn beams, we spend a lot of time hand sanding them. We use orbital and small belt sanders, but we avoid big sanding machines because they can easily remove the old character and give the wood a modern look. By hand sanding, we can choose what gets removed, what gets accented, and just how we want the mantel to look.
We also never power wash the beams because we don’t want to introduce new water into the wood. Once we’ve sanded the mantel to our liking, we apply a hard wax oil finish. Hardwax oils are expensive, but they provide the best finish for our mantels. They’re durable, repairable, and give the wood a nice natural feel.
I love watching our customers in the shop feeling the old wood and making that connection with a piece that’s been in a barn for over 100 years. It’s pretty cool.
We have lots of fireplace mantels that are pre-finished and ready to ship. We can cut these down and reduce the price. We can also make custom mantels. We work very casually in that we’ll finish up a beam or two. If you like one, great, you can buy it. If not, we’ll put it up for sale for someone else. No worries. To see pre-finished mantel beams on-hand, see – Mantel Beams for Sale and Mantel Shelves for Sale, For inspiration, see also Mantels with Metal and Customer Photos.