A Guide to Painting Wood Fireplace Mantels

wood mantel over fireplace
  • 5-10 hours
  • Beginner
  • 50-250
What You'll Need
Dry cloth
Claw hammer
Masking tape
Rubbing alcohol
Medium-grit sandpaper
Paint scraper
Wood paint
Painters tool

Homeowners with fireplace mantels should periodically spruce up the mantel, since it is integral to the overall appearance of the fireplace. A fireplace is usually one of the focal points in a house, and its contribution to the interior aesthetics is further emphasized if the accompanying mantel has a lustrous, vibrant exterior. Wooden mantels are fairly common, but they need more regular care and painting than natural stone mantels. Painting wooden fireplace mantels is relatively easy. It's a short project, involving only basic DIY skills. The needed supplies are easily available, and there is no real risk of causing any harm to the mantel or the fireplace.

Step 1 — Getting Started

Prepare yourself with a pair of rubber gloves. Lay sheets of old newspaper over the surrounding surfaces. Remove all showpieces or any other objects placed on the mantel. Inspect the mantel for any old screws or nails. Use a claw hammer to remove the nails or a screwdriver to remove screws. Cover the edges of the wall and fireplace around mantel with masking tape or blue painter's tape. Use a dry cloth to wipe the mantel clean of any dust or debris.

Step 2 — Stripping the Wooden Fireplace Mantel

If the wooden fireplace mantel has been painted before, you need chemical stripping. The uppermost layers of paint can be scraped with a painter's tool. Buy a branded, chemical paint stripper. Apply the stripper solution with a paintbrush according to package instructions. Allow the stripper to work upon the mantel surface for about 15 minutes, or the package's instructions outline. Sometimes there are multiple layers of paint. This is most apparent when the chemical stripper doesn’t seem to strip-off the paint properly and traces of underlying paints become visible. Here, you need to re-scrape the stripped surface with a carbide-tipped scraper and reapply the chemical stripping solution in a much thinner coating (minimal chemical stripping).

Step 3 — Sanding a Plain Wooden Fireplace Mantel

If the mantel has not been painted before, stripping is not needed. You can prepare it for painting with some basic sanding. Sand the wooden mantel with 100-grit sandpaper. This creates a cleaner, paint-friendly surface that bonds better with the primer and the paint.

Remember: Be sure to sand in the direction of the grain of the wood and not against it or in circles.

Step 4 — Cleaning the Sanded/Stripped Fireplace Mantel

Before applying paint to the mantel, remove traces of sanded wood debris or stripper solution. Traces of the chemical stripper are best cleaned with a cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol. For sanded mantel surfaces, wipe the mantel with a damp cloth. This is the easiest way to remove the leftover dust/debris created by the sanding process. Allow the mantel to dry for at least an hour before moving on to the next step.

Step 5—Applying a Primer

Using a paintbrush, apply a single coat of primer. Start from the bottom of the mantel and move upward. Apply the primer in thin layers, moving in one direction, applying with gentle brush strokes. Let the primer dry according to package recommendations before applying paint to the wood mantel.

Step 6 — Coating the Mantel With Paint

painting wood mantel over fireplace

Semi-gloss acrylic paints are a good choice for painting wooden mantels. Using a similar technique, apply a single coat of paint, moving in the direction of the wood grain, with a paintbrush. Allow the first coat to dry. This can take more than 12 hours. Apply consecutive coats depending upon your shading preferences and the package's recommendations.