I recently had the opportunity to design and build a colonial-style mantel. The homeowner had removed the earlier woodwork and glass doors and had a tile hearth and marble slip installed. I spent some time looking through my collection of books on the period, and had my supplier fashion router bits for two of the profiles I wanted to use; I got the rest from a stock multi-cutter that I already owned.

After making all the pieces in the shop, I started installation by attaching plywood backing to the brick with masonry screws, using a plumb laser and shims to get everything in the same plane (see slide show). Next I installed the foundation layer - five separate pieces of 3/4-inch MDF, with mitered L-shaped returns on the vertical end pieces...

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