DIY Hand Hewn Barn Beam Mantel
Hand Hewn Barn Beam Mantel – DIY instructions
How do you turn a barn beam into a mantel you ask?
Have no fear Cat-ska-teer this project is easier than it looks.
In this project we will walk through the process of making a hand hewn barn beam mantel for your working or decorative fireplace. A reclaimed barn beam mantel can bring a ton of character to the room and finishing one is easier than you may think. In this project I will show you how to protect wood without changing color and allow safe durable finishing without sacrificing the natural color and beauty of the beam.
Why install a barn beam Mantel?
Our fireplace was closed off by the previous owners but given its central place in the living room it was natural to put a TV on it. The “shelf” that the prior owners installed was heavily marked up and sat on a significant angle. We always thought barn beam fireplace mantels looked great and strongly disliked the pretend crooked lack of barn beam shelf that we had. In fact, we kicked the idea of barn beam shelves around but decided to go with a simpler look.
You can imply I love cats and working on projects with my kid, but here’s a new nugget for you – I loathe wires, hate ’em. I have ripped entire walls apart just to hide the smallest of wires. You might call this a bit over the top, strange even – but let’s remember, you’re the one on a website called the CraftyCatsman 🙂
The saggy shelf, paired with the inability to hide any wiring was enough to drive even the most passive person up a wall (without a laser pointer).
It was time for a real, legit mantel. The cost to buy a finished barn beam mantel was sickening to me and so I decided to finish one myself.
The trick is finding the right piece of wood – let’s dive in.
Thoughts: Was finishing a hand hewn barn beam with it?
As with most of my projects, I learned as I went along on this one. The biggest fear that I had was how to support the weight of such a large beam. Thankfully, the old fireplace provided a bit of extra stability. This project was absolutely worth the effort. It became a central focal point on the 1st floor.
I am typing up parts of these instructions two (2) years after completing this project (we live somewhere else now!). Just yesterday, my three year old Daught (Ayda) saw a picture of this living room and talked all about the mantel. She was just a baby back then but the project stuck with her (look closely at the below pic and you will see a baby monitor).
Notice behind the barn beam mantel is a catio. We really prettied that catio up after this build. Two levels with two heated cat houses. We don’t just loved Dalle Digitally created cats 🙂
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Finding the right Barn Beam
Before we go ripping things up let’s make sure that we find the right piece of wood. I said the word Hand Hewn Barn Beam a lot because, well – that’s what I used. This does not mean that you need to do the same. Any piece of wood with character can serve this purpose. I have seen slab wood mantels that look just as good as barn beam mantels. A rustic fireplace mantel gives a lot of charm while a white oak barn beam gives a more sleek and stylish look. The ultimate design is up to you, let us help you hang it (safely!).
Hand Hewn Barn Beams provide a level of depth and character that few pieces of wood can match. When you finish a barn beam all of the history pours out of it. Unlike many other projects, our goal is not to sand this thing smooth, we want to live in those nooks and crannies and let the fire or ambient light of the room bounce around inside of them.
What is a hand Hewn Barn Beam
Hand Hewn Beam history: Hand hewn beams were fallen logs, hewn into shape using a tool similar to an axe (an adze), this tool had an arched blade at right angles to the handle and was used for cutting or shaping large pieces of wood. Yeah, think about that next time you rip lumber through a table saw that cuts like butter.
This is what gives these beams their character.
Hand Hewn Barn Beam Overview
Finding a hand hewn barn beam with the right character is everything. As mentioned in a bunch of my posts, I always suggest starting with Facebook marketplace. It is a phenomenal place to find unique pieces of wood.
The problem is, true hand hewn beams can get pricey – even when they are not finished. If you find that hand hewn beams are too expensive then consider alternatives.
Some slab wood options:
- Walnut – finish is refined and sleek
- Maple – bright with pops
- Spalted Maple – Harder to finish but the results can be stunning
Note: I am going to continue to reference this mantel as a barn beam mantel but replace “barn beam” with any of the above options in your mind as I go through these instructions 🙂
Prep the Area
Lets break some stuff
Fun fact: We took a circular saw to the wall and literally ripped across the entire length of the old shelf. We did this while our 6 month old slept right upstairs and to our amazement, she slept right through it.
If you are removing an existing mantel then things will likely get messy. It’s okay, just make sure that the new mantel covers what ever damage you cause. For certain wall types, this is also a great opportunity to scope out the inside of your wall. Our fireplace was still hollow, so I used this opportunity to run power (according to code) up the wall and behind the TV – as I said, I hate wires.
If you are mounting on Drywall or Plaster and Lathe then it is absolutely imperative that you identify the location of studs. These barn beams are heavy and you will need at least two studs to properly mount a beam (preferably more).
Prep the Wood
Lets not break some stuff
This build presents a unique situation in which traditional wood preparation is not the most suitable option.
Cutting to Length:
First and foremost – if the Barn Beam is not cut to length then you have a little extra work to do.
WARNING – Authentic Hand Hewn Barn Beams (I don’t know why I capitalized it all) will likely have nails embedded in them, they may be very hard to so. This presents an additional danger when cutting. Do you best to be confirm that you will not be cutting through any nails. Even when you’re certain, there is still a chance that small nail fragments were left behind. Because of this, you should wear eye protection (I know, you do anyway – but for real this time).
Finishing a Barn Beam - Tips and Tricks
I was able to cut my hand hewn barn beam down using my miter saw, it gave the blade a bit of a test. Wood like this needs to be cut carefully, lower the blade slowly and if you have a sliding miter saw then slide it back and forth as you cut. You may need to rotate the beam to get a clean cut. This applies to circular saws as well.
I chose to hammer the nails in my beam sideways, this added to the character of the piece.
If your beam is really dirty then you will likely need to spray it down. Using a garden hose with the highest pressure option (or your thumb) should create enough pressure to blast away dirt hiding in the crevices.
After the spray down, use a bristle brush and scrub the surface with warm water and just a little bit of mild soap.
Spray the barn beam down again to wash away any new dirt that your bristle brush uncovered.
Let the beam dry – preferably out in the sun.
As mentioned above, we don’t want to sand this beam smooth, hand hewn barn beams are prized for the marks left by the adze. If you are using wood that is not a hand hewn barn beam then refer to my sanding 101 page for proper instructions.
For those using a hand hewn barn beam: we want to be able to run our hands down the beam in both directions without fear of getting a splinter. We also want to make sure that all nails are either removed or hammered in deep enough as to not effect the sander. We break the rules a little here because if you want the nails to show then you will likely need to have them sticking out a little bit in some places. Avoid those areas when sanding, you want them to retain their rustic nature and you don’t need to cut up your sanding discs.
It is subjective how smooth the beam should be – personally, I started with 60 grit, then 80, finishing with 120. For this project I recommend using a random orbital sander then finishing with a sanding block to get inside the nooks.
How to Finish a Hand Hewn Barn Beam
Mind your Tung
Now that you can safely run your hand up and down the beam it is time to make this beauty pop.
For this project I decided to use Watco Tung Oil. Tung oil is a safe effective way to seal the barn beam. It adds a layer of protection and even enhances the character of the wood.
Applying Tung Oil is relatively easy and while you can use a rag I suggest using a rag and brush in tandem. The reason is because the brush will be able to get into crevices easier.
How (and where) to apply tung oil
As you can see in the picture , I decided to set the beam up outside, when applying the Tung oil, I placed a few sheets below the working area. I put the face of the beam (the side that you will see from the front) facing upward. This allowed me to focus my application on the three visible sides of the beam. I applied tung oil to the back as well but truthfully it was haphazard (no1 sees it anyway).
- Shake the can thoroughly.
- Get a nice deep dip of your brush and brush with the grain along the face of the beam. Continue brushing along the sides. If you have a sawhorse setup like mine then you can even apply the oil to the back of the beam. It’s okay if the back isn’t perfect, you won’t see it anyway.
- Immediately after brushing, apply a little bit of Tung Oil onto a rag (just a little). Run the rag along the entire beam.
- Wait 15 minutes
- Wipe the entire beam down with a lint free rag.
- Wait 24 hours
- Apply a second coat with the same methodology.
- The more coats that you apply the more of a shine that you will recieve. I applied three total coats but some people recommend a minimum of five coats.
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