Good idea: restarting the mantel to make sure that it’s square and plumb. Bad idea: cutting MDF inside the house without a proper exhaust system. But considering the weather is 5 F as I’m writing this, there was no way I was going to be working outside. The extra time cleaning up the dining room / workshop is worth not freezing.
So on to the new mantels. Instead of making them all ahead time to measurements, we decided a different approach of creating the mantel columns of making them in parts. In order to keep the outside sides plumb and square, we attached cleats made of of scrap wood to the brick fireplace to hold the MDF.
Then we cut the MDF to size with our circular using some of it as a guide (making sure to use eye, ear, and respiratory protection). Ideally, this would have been done on a table saw (such as this one) but we don’t have one yet and it’s not in budget right now and I didn’t feel like driving all the way down to TechShop for only a few cuts.
All of the effort that went into cutting the MDF probably would have been put to better use driving to TechShop, but I did eventually get everything cut to the right width.
The next step was to fit the pieces to the wall to get tight fit. Since the wall isn’t 100% straight, I can’t just align the flat board without there being a gap. In order to fix this, I took a pencil and using the wall as a guide, drew a line from the top to bottom on the board while Hillary held the board in position. This created a curved line that matches the profile of the wall. Using a jigsaw, I cut off the excess material.
This is when I was glad we decided to redo the mantel. The new side fits really well against the wall, and more importantly, is square! Another benefit to using the MDF is that the paint coat is really smooth, although I will probably using plywood for my next similar project. I glued the MDF to the cleat and then nailed it in to hold it in place. Now it’s time to finish up the front and inset pieces and get all the shelves ready to install.