It is pretty amazing to see some of these old barn beams become fireplace mantels. We start out with gray, sometimes rotting beams from the old barns that dot the American landscape. Most of our material comes from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The United States was generally settled from East to West. We’ve seen material dated back to the 1830s on the Eastern side of Wisconsin, but the Western edge of Wisconsin and the Eastern side of Minnesota (near Minneapolis) generally dates back to the late 1800s. Much of the land in this area was opened up via land grants from Lincoln around the Civil war.
About 10 miles from our workshop was the edge of the Big Woods. If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you’ll be familiar with the Big Woods, and, of course, the Little House on the Prairie. We’re out in the prairie, where they had “wood lots” down by the river to harvest their wood. Or they brought in the wood they needed on the train. At the edge of the Big Woods, we find many barns made out of hardwood, but they are usually composed of about about 70% American elm and the balance is a mix of red elm, ash, and oaks. It is kind of tough because American Elm does not make particularly nice furniture or mantels. It’s not really what our customers desire. In general, we’re usually hunting for the oaks. As you look through our work, about 80% of our mantels are made from white oak.
To make our mantels, we take these old beams from the barns. We spend a great deal of time hand sanding the mantel with orbital and small belt sanders. We don’t use big sanding machines because it would be too easy to go through the old character and into almost modern looking new wood. By hand sanding, we get to select what gets removed, what gets accented, and just how we want the mantel to look. We never power was the beams because we don’t like to introduce new water into the wood. After we’ve done the sanding just right, we apply a hard wax oil finish. Hardwax oils are expensive, but they provide the best finish for our fireplace mantels that we’ve found in our over 10 years of experience. The finish is durable, repairable, and provides a nice natural feel to the wood. I always enjoy watching our customers in the shop feeling the old wood — making that connection with a piece that’s been in a barn for over 100 years. It’s pretty cool.
In this collection of pictures, there’s an original old barn, a couple pictures showing the big beams in the barn as well as a couple pictures of the resulting finished mantel at our shop and then in its final home.
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 were 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. We ship mantels nationwide. Most ship via FedEx for just $65.