Tips for Painting a Fireplace Mantel

Updated on March 26, 2020
Matt G. profile image

Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.

An antique fireplace mantel I spray painted white.
An antique fireplace mantel I spray painted white.

DIY Fireplace Mantel Painting

Decorative fireplace mantels are usually stained and varnished, but with the paint-everything-white trend continuing, you might be wondering if it's possible to paint your wood mantel white too.

You can prep and paint a fireplace mantel the same way you would for stained cabinets, interior trim, or doors. The preparation and painting process is a lot easier for painted mantels. Most of the fireplace mantels I've painted were made of oak, with the exception of the pine mantel featured throughout this article.

Painting Oak Mantels

Painting an oak fireplace mantel white involves a little more work than a closed grain wood species like pine. Oak is super grainy and often requires a special filler to fill the cracks in the wood before painting. You would follow the same preparation process outlined in this article, followed by one to two coats of grain filler.

A good product I've used many times for filling oak mantels and cabinets is Aqua Coat grain filler. This product is a clear gel that you spread over the surface in thin layers before priming, or in between prime coats. I use an expired credit card. In thin layers, it sands easily and dries hard.

One of my mantel painting projects. From dark brown to the color Extra White (Sherwin Williams).
One of my mantel painting projects. From dark brown to the color Extra White (Sherwin Williams).

Preparing A Fireplace Mantel for Paint

Changing the color of a painted mantel is a fast and easy process. The only prep work needed is surface cleaning, a good scuff sanding, and your paint. Unpainted mantels take more time to paint. These are typically finished with stain and varnish, and paint alone won't stick to the surface good without sanding and priming. The first step is surface cleaning.

Cleaning Your Mantel for Paint

Mantels often have candle wax on them, dirt, and soot, all of which can cause adhesion problems without cleaning the surface. The selection of paint prep cleaners can be quite confusing for someone who's never used one.

Some cleaners promise to de-gloss, remove grease, or strip off the existing finish. Many products I've tried though have done nothing more than leave a problematic residue on the surface that needed heavy rinsing. TSP is a good example.

I've used lots of different cleaning products for painting, but the one I use a lot is the Dirtex powder cleaner in the red and white box, not the multi-purpose spray can version, which is a different product. The powder version works great for cleaning woodwork you're painting. Dirtex doesn't leave heavy residue behind like TSP does. You should still rinse the surface with clean water.

Sanding vs De-glosser

I'm not a fan of using chemical de-glosser as a substitute for sanding, and to be honest, I haven't found a product that dulls the surface as good as my electric sander. Nobody likes sanding, but sandpaper creates microscopic crevices in the surface of the wood that primer latches onto for a stronger bond.

Sand your mantel after cleaning, using 220-grit, or 180-grit sandpaper, with a random orbital sander for the top. The sander I use is the Makita random orbit sander. If you have other painting projects in the house, this sander is very useful for sanding cabinets, doors, and shelving too. I like using 220-grit sandpaper because it's less likely to scratch or damage the wood. You can use the same grit between coats of primer.

For sanding tight grooves and rounded parts of the wood, use sanding sponges for detailing, or a folded piece of sandpaper. The purpose of sanding is to dull the varnished surface to give it some tooth, not to grind it down to the bare wood. When using an electric sander, there will be more airborne dust, even if the sander has a dust collector. You should wear a respirator and either cover your furniture with plastic, or move it out of the room.

Caulk and Patch

Gaps in between adjoined pieces, or where the mantel meets the wall, should be caulked with a good paintable caulk. White acrylic caulk is best. Spend a couple extra dollars and buy good caulk so it lasts longer. Make sure the caulk is totally dry before priming.

Patch holes and wood damage with a quality wood filler. For large holes and damage, use Bondo wood filler. This stuff dries harder than concrete with minimal shrinkage. It's a two part filler that dries in minutes. I use this product for cabinets and woodwork. Use a putty knife to apply the filler in a very thin layer for easier sanding.

A fully prepped mantel after I sprayed the final coat of enamel.
A fully prepped mantel after I sprayed the final coat of enamel.

Priming and Painting a Mantel

After you've sanded and prepped the surface, there will be dust everywhere. Wipe everything down with a tack cloth, or use forced air from a compressor to blow it off the surface.

My preferred method of painting mantels and cabinets is often airless spraying, but you can get beautiful results brushing and rolling too. Setting up the sprayer and the masking involved is sometimes overkill for a small mantel, but when you're painting one with lots of nooks and crannies, like my project pictures featured in this article, spraying is a big time saver. Spraying gives you a smoother finish when done right.

Brushing and Rolling Mantels

For mantel tops, cut in the rear edge where it meets the wall, using a 2 to 2 1/2-inch trim brush. I really like Purdy paint brushes, namely the XL series, but Wooster and Corona have good brushes are too. The best paint brush is one with soft bristles and angled to make cutting-in easier. Don't use a cheap brush, or one that's designed more for cutting in walls. A good brush will lay off the paint smoothly without leaving heavy brush strokes in the finish.

The best paint roller nap to use on a mantel top is 1/4-inch. For a wider mantel, a 6-inch, or a 9-inch roller, will reduce overlapping and visible roller marks in the dried paint. I really like Purdy White Dove rollers, or the Contractor Series, White Soft Woven, from Sherwin Williams. Both rollers are lint-free. When rolling, roll only in one direction, working from one side to the other. Never start rolling in the middle.

Use An Airless Sprayer

I used my Graco GX-19 Finish Pro to spray paint the pine mantel featured in this article. I use this sprayer for most of my fine finishing projects, including cabinets and trim, using the green Graco fine finishing spray tips. You can even rent a sprayer and practice on some scrap wood before shooting your mantel.

Use the 3M hand masker to mask off the walls around the mantel with masking paper and plastic. I cover the fireplace brick very carefully with the white masking tape from Sherwin Williams and painter's plastic. White masking tape sticks to fireplace brick pretty good. Blue tape will fall off.

The Best Primer and Paint for A Fireplace Mantel

For stained and varnished wood, either oil-based primer, or white shellac primer, are the best choices. Either one creates a bleed-resistant seal and sticks well to prepped wood. If the surface has already been painted, you may or may not have to use primer. When painting over oil paint, you should definitely prime first with a latex bonding primer before applying the new paint.

The best paint to use is acrylic enamel, or oil-based enamel for durability, but the problem with oil is it dries really slow and your white paint will turn yellow over time. Benjamin Moore Advance is a popular water-based product that a lot of people like, but I've used Pro Classic acrylic enamel for over twenty years with good results, including the fireplace in the pictures. Two coats in the semi-gloss finish is very smooth and washable. The paint dries to the touch in a few hours. I recommend two coats of primer and two coats of paint, sanding in between prime coats.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Matt G.

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)