A Guide to Removing Fireplace Mantels

Date: 19 July 2023

Should you be indulging in a bit of a fireplace refurb there is every chance you will be removing the mantel that currently appears above the fire itself and replacing it with a stunning new fireplace surround. This can be a fairly straightforward job when equipped with the correct tools and understanding what type of fireplace mantel you have. Commonly there are two types of mantels and which one you have will determine how you go about removing it. Whilst some suit the aesthetic of modern gas fireplaces, others lend themselves better to a classic wood burning fire.

Once removed, you can begin the process of getting your new one installed ready to accompany a new fire or complement the one you already have.

Fireplace mantel types

Before you do anything associated with removing your fireplace mantel, you should know which type you have. You will normally have either a shelf mantel or a knockdown mantel. Differentiating between the two is quite easy.

Shelf mantel

A shelf mantel appears just like a shelf and will be held to the wall with decorative corbel braces. Normally they will be made from materials like wood or stone, but they can also be metal or plaster.

Knockdown mantel

A knockdown mantel has more of a structure around it and will have columns that support the weight and add a touch of cosmetic appeal to the fireplace.

When you have discovered which type of fireplace mantel you have, you can begin to assess the amount of work that may be needed to remove it. It makes sense that a fireplace mantel made of wood, for example, will be easier to remove than one made from stone. Now look at the wall the mantel is mounted to. Using the wrong tools to remove the mantel could cause long-lasting damage to the wall itself and make the removal of the mantel much harder. A brick wall that forms part of your chimney may require substantial work to work the mantel free from whereas other walls may not prove so difficult.

Preparation for removing a fireplace mantel

Now you have a clearer idea of the type of mantel you have, the materials it is made of, and the type of wall it is affixed to, you can start planning for its removal.

Firstly, ask friends or family members if they can help. Whilst the task may look easy, the weight of the mantel could lead to accidents as could the way it moves as you attempt to remove it.

With help on hand, you should now assess the tools you need for the job, of course, the mantel type and wall material will determine exactly what you need but as a general rule, consider keeping these tools ready for use:

  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Crowbar
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Power drill
  • Socket wrenches

Once you have checked your tools, lay a dust sheet down as it can get quite messy!

Removing fireplace mantels

Now with your trusty assistant and a selection of tools, you can start but always put safety first. Gloves, a mask and eye protection are essential before you get started. There will likely be lots of fragments that could cause injury as well as lots of dust that could be dangerous to breathe in.

Through your initial inspection, you should have been able to assess what type of fireplace mantel you have but if you have any doubts, ask someone else to give their opinion. Whilst the appearance of the mantel itself should be easy enough, establishing the type of wall it is on may be a little more difficult.

The guidance for each type of fireplace mantel varies slightly so it is important you know which type you have before you brandish the hammer, drill or wrenches.

Removing a shelf fireplace mantel

There are five key steps to removing a shelf mantel and following them in order will ensure a quick and simple removal of your fireplace mantel.

  • Corbel braces will need to be loosened first. Just note, whilst most shelf mantels have them, there are some that don’t. You will notice them if your fireplace has them. They are quite large and will be decorative in appearance. Loosen these by putting the crowbar behind them and pry them forward. Use the mallet to push the bar between the braces and the wall. You may notice that you need to chisel around the screws that attach to the wall.
  • With corbel braces now loosened, you need to remove the fasteners on the mantel. This will be done with your drill or socket wrenches depending on whether screws or bolts are being used.
  • Now that the fasteners have been removed, you can remove the corbel braces. You should just be able to pull them away. Whilst doing so, consider asking the person helping you to hold the mantel. With the braces removed, the mantel could slip quickly and not only damage the wall but injure you as it falls.
  • With the braces now removed, you should only have the shelf itself. It will be weakened with the absence of the braces but don’t let it just fall. Instead, carefully work it from the wall. It should come loose relatively easily but if not, use your crowbar again to help prize it away.
  • Now it is loose enough, you should be able to remove it completely. Just be wary that many mantels are attached with nails to help hold them in. These will be simple enough to pry away. Once these nails are removed, check for any secondary support. If there is any evidence of them, remove that first before taking the shelf off.

But what if you have a knockdown mantel?

Removing a knockdown fireplace mantel

The process for removing a knockdown fireplace mantel is also relatively simple.

  • Start at the bottom of the mantel and work your way up with the crowbar and mallet loosening it from the wall.
  • Whilst it has now been loosened it will still be attached to the wall so look for mouldings that can be removed. Pry these off and you should reveal screws or bolts. If you do, start to remove them. If there are none, you can use your chisel to remove any outer panels that should show screws that hold it to the wall.
  • With the sides of the mantel loosened and any fastenings removed, the mantel shelf can be loosened. Do this by prying it with the chisel or crowbar. If it appears stuck, use your mallet to hit it from underneath. This should help it come loose.
  • Now that all fixings are either loosened or disengaged, pry the mantel away from the wall again. This should work it away sufficiently enough for you to fully remove it. Tilt it downwards and away from the wall using the help of your assistant to take its weight.

Your mantel should now be removed and ready for a new fireplace installation to take place.

Should you be considering a new fireplace for your Surrey home, speak to the leading South East fireplace supplier, Ignition Fires. With a wealth of knowledge built up in our more than 30 years of trading, our team can help you with picking the fireplace that best suits your home. What’s more, we can deliver, install and service it too! Why not browse our selection or visit our Cranleigh fireplace showroom to explore the fantastic range we have in stock? Contact us today to find out more.