Mantle Shelf Complete

mantleWith the completion of the mantle shelf, the family room is now complete.  I’m quite happy with how the mantle turned out, this picture (shot at night with no flash) doesn’t do it justice.  The cherry wood was stained with two coats of  American Walnut Minwax stain, to match the rest of the trim in the room.  Three coats of Wipe-On Poly were then put on to protect it and give it a bit of a sheen.   I really like the Wipe-On, as it is incredibly easy to use and leaves a great finish.  However it is quite expensive, and I’ve read it is just regular oil based poly that has been thinned down.

Mantle’s almost done


After alot of careful planning the mantle shelf is just about finished.   Once it was all planned out, the acutal building wasn’t too difficult.  I cut the boards down to size, used a buddy’s planer to surface the boards, followed by a bit of hand sanding.  The assembley was easy enough although a pair of errant shots with the nail gun made life a bit difficult.  It looks great as is, but to protect it (and because the wife wants it to match the rest of the trim) I still need to stain it and put some poly on it.  I was hoping to have it be strong enough that a little kid could hang off it, but since its a 9″ board cantilevered straight out I’m not sure its that strong. It will however easily support anything we’d want to put on it.

Mantle Shelf Design

mantle-mockupsThe design for the mantle shelf started many months ago when we first were figuring out what we wanted to do to the fireplace.  Jess and I decided that we didn’t want a full mantle as that would be too formal for the family room.  Instead we decided that we would just do a relatively simple mantle shelf.  Jess had a pair of little pre-made knick-knack shelves and we decided to get something similar to those.   Therefore I cut a 2×4 to the right size, and bolted it to the wall before we put up the stones around the fireplace, and then pretty much forgot about the shelf until everything else was finished.

With the family room just about complete I started lookign into shelves, and found that although I could find some that we liked online, they weren’t going to be the right size, and were extremely expensive.  I gave it some thought, and after realizng it was basicly just going to be two boards with a piece of molding on the front I decided to build my own.   The first step was to build a mockup showing that I could get something decent looking.  Thats the one on the left, which I slapped together in a few minutes to make sure that Jess and I were on the same page before I went and bought some wood.  After I bought the wood I then had to figure out how to put it all together without any obvious fasteners, while still being strong enough for a little kid to hang off of.

I built the 2nd mockup to try out some different techniques, as well as to determine the proper spacing between the various parts.  The final design I came up with was a 3/4″ board with a 45 degree bevel on the front.  I then screwed through that into the molding, and also through the back of it into the top board.  This provided a stong joint with no fasteners showing.  To support the board, I cut a 4×4 down to about 3″ thick,  and screwed through that into the top.   The bottom was then screwed into this board as well, so that the only visible fasteners would be on the underside, in the back, where no-one would acutally see them.

Mantle Shelf Pt-1


To cap off the fireplace we needed some sort of mantle.  We decided taht a traditional mantle would look to formal with the stone we had chosen to surround the fireplace, so we instead decided to use just a mantle shelf.  After a bit of searching, and lots of thinking I decided to just build one myself instead of trying to buy one.  So the other day I went out and bought some nice cherry wood to build it out of.   It’s a pretty simple design, basicly just a shelf wrapped with crown molding.  The molding was initially a problem, since I don’t have a shaper to make my own.   After a bit of searching I was able to find a company in Ohio, Baird Brothers,  that had some beatuiful cherry molding that was actually pretty cheap.  Of course UPS charged more than the molding cost to ship it, but none the less its a great looking piece of wood.  Now its just up to me to assemble it and figure out how to attatch it to the masonary wall.

Fireplace Door

Since we decided not to mess with the firebox, nor replace the rather ugly gas logs, we got a nice door to cover it instead.  The door with its tinted glass looks a lot nice than the bare fireplace did, and hides the old brick as well.   Choosing a door was a bit of a scare.  We first went to a specialty fireplace store, and while they had some very nice doors, the cheapest was at least a grand.  Far more than we were looking to spend.   Fortunately,  Lowes had a handful of doors for around $250, and we liked this one just as well as any of the far more expensive ones.  I’m finding that this is frequently the case, a specialty store will have a better selection, however everything is an order of magnitude more expensive than Lowes, and the quality doesn’t seem to be significantly better.  Installing the door over the stone veneer was a bit tricky, but I was able to screw it directly into the brick without to much trouble.

Cutting Trim

I’ve been a bit lax in working on the family room lately, for a variety of reasons.  Firstly we moved the couch and the TV into the room, which of course meant that I could now relax and enjoy my new skylights.  Second, the new TV season has come around and laying on the couch watching TV just seems like more fun.  Regardless last night I finally got off my duff and starting working on the 2nd part of the trim work.  This includes the extension jams for the window, as well as the trim that goes around the pass through to the kitchen.  It’s all been cut, sanded and has a coat of stain on it now.

I’ve been using this sturdy Craftsman tablesaw, that used to be my grandfathers.  My mother tells me that he quit smoking for a year to save up for it, and I figure its getting near to 50 years old now.  I bought a nice new blade for, and it works pretty well, however the blade does seem to wobble a bit.  That means the cuts need a bit of sanding afterwards.  I’m not sure if this can be fixed or not, but I’m going to poke around abit and see.


The last thing to happen with the familiy room before we went on our vacation was the carpet.    Choosing our carpet turned out to be the easy part, finding a place to buy it turned out to be quite hard.   After hearing some bad stories regarding the Lowes/Home Depot contractors, we deceded to get our carpet from a dedicated flooring place.  Our quest began at the closest carpet store, Avalon Carpet, Tile, and Flooring, in Cherry Hill.   There we looked at all the carpet and quickly decided on some SmartStrand carpet from Mohawk.  Everything about this carpet seemed perfect, it felt really soft, had great wear ratings, and was supposed to be very stain resistant.  The SmartStrand fiber is made from corn, so its even more environmentally friendly.  After talking with the saleswoman we got a quote for about $2,000.

This seemed rather expensive to me, but we really liked the carpet so I wasn’t overly concerned.  I did however think that we should go to another store just to check and make sure we didn’t see anything better.  Therefore we went to Kepple’s Carpet in Marlton.  After looking around a bit we didn’t see anything we liked better, and since they had the same carpet, we asked the salesman for a quote on that too.  Well he ran the numbers and came up with about $1500.  I thought this was great, the exact same carpet, and its alot cheaper too!  We were sold, but Jess wanted to think about the color for a little while, so I told the salesman we wanted to think about it.   He seemed to take this to mean it was to expensive, and after offering to show us other options which we declined, he got rather rude and irritating.

Jess and I left with a bit of a conundrum.  We didn’t really want to deal with that salseman, but we also didn’t want to pay an extra $500 for the same thing.  We spent the next few weeks stewing about it, and trying to find another store to go to.  Turns out there really weren’t any other carpet stores in the Cherry Hill area, and the next closest place was like 20 minutes away.  Being from New Jersey I’m used to everything being around the block and I was worried the store that far away wouldn’t want to come all the way down to install the carpet.  We warily drove up to Carpet Dimensions & Flooring, where we met with Rob, who couldn’t have been nicer.  Not only that, but the quote he gave us was for $1100.  We immediately signed up, and he was even nice enough to let us take the sample board home so we could choose a color (we ended up with Cigar Shop).  He came buy a few days later to measure, and then called to schedule the installation.   The guys came by and did a great job with the install, and we quite happy with it.

Electric Skylight Shades

Our family room will be doubling as our home theater. Because of this the lovely skylights that we put in, which do a wonderful job lightening up the room, can also make the TV hard to see or make ugly glares on it. To combat this when we ordered our Velux skylights, we also ordered a pair of solar powered electric shades for them. These were quite expensive, about $300 a piece (only a few dollars less than the skylights themselves) so I hope we like them. We could have gotten manual ones, but they didn’t offer any full light blocking ones, and I think its gonna be really cool to lay on the couch and close the blinds. The shades work wonderfully, completely blocking even direct sunlight (technically I think its 98% but close enough). They were also easy to install, with the very easy to follow instructions, which oddly reminded me of those included in a Lego set.


While I was busy spackeling, sanding, and painting, Jess was hard at work cutting, staining and sealing the baseboard and the door trim.   As soon as I was finished painting, I was then able to install all of the trim in just a few minutes, thanks to my brad nailer.  The trim has two coats of American Walnut stain on it, and then three coats of Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane.  I was very happy with the Wipe-on Poly.  Its extremaly easy and fool-proof to apply, and although it needs multiple coats, it can be done with just a rag and doesn’t show any brush strokes. However it is rather expensive, and after reading up on it, I’ve learned that it is just regular oil based polyurethane thinned with mineral spirits.  Next time I will probably by the much cheaper regular polyurethane and thin it myself.


We’ve been on vacation in Seattle (pictures will be up soon!) for the last two weeks so I haven’t made any updates to the blog.  However before we were gone I was able to paint the family room.  We (and by we I mean Jess, while I smiled and nodded) choose a nice blue color.  I think it looks pretty good, and should look great with the dark brown carpet and the dark wood trim.  It should also keep the room nice and bright, which is a concern since the old room was so dark.  This time around we used the Behr paint from Home Depot.  No real reason than them having a paint chip that Jess liked.  Bonus was that it happened to be on sale when I got it.   So far I’ve used both the regular and the premium Valspar paints from Lowes, as well as the Regal paint from Benjamin Moore.  I think the Regal paint was the best, but the Behr seems next best.