Split Log Fireplace Mantels

Tips and techniques for log peeling, seasoning, and installing for a split-log mantelpiece. February 17, 2006

I have received a lot of calls for split log fireplace mantels over the past two months. I have been building custom surround for years (through my shop and a local fireplace store) and also have a line of set surrounds, but I never have done a split log. How long do you need to let them air dry or can the drying process be sped up using a dehumidifier? And how are they attached to the wall? How do you get the bark off? (I can't let the sawmill use their debarker because it will also tear up the wood.) I got a price from my local sawmill for cutting them, so that part is no problem.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
This a project that requires a little advance planning. You need to use logs that have been dried for awhile. We cut and keep them in stock and never use them for the first year or so. Cut them in the spring and the bark will come right off. We use several methods for removing the bark. My personal favorite is the drawknife. If you are in a hurry, go ahead and use a pressure washer. Again, you may have better luck if you contact someone who has a stock of these already cut and dried. As for attaching the logs, you will need to provide adequate blocking. We usually mount ours prior to the stone being laid, thus the stone helps support the logs.

If your logs are harvested in the fall, it can sometimes be pried off in one piece. You may still be able to with some species now, but it will get harder in the winter. If you can get it started up, something like a flat nail bar will do a pretty good job, although contact with steel will cause a black reaction in some woods. I have made some barking spuds for my own use out of plastic, but you will get pretty good results with a hardwood 2 X 2 sharpened like a chisel just jamming it in and levering off of the bevel. If it is on too tight, sometimes it is easier to just knock it off with a hammer. Strike it about 3" back from an edge at about a 45 degree angle toward the edge with a 20 oz. textured face hammer. It will shear along the cambium, and come off in hand size plates. This only works on thick barked trees.

Here's a link to a site that makes good quality bark spuds. The one pictured at the bottom is the only one I've ever used and have ever even seen in Maine. As stated, peeling logs that are cut when the sap is running in the spring is very easy and quick. I take one swipe with a draw knife full length, then remove the rest with a bark spud. The only times I ever peeled logs that weren't cut in the spring, it was a draw knife all the way, which is hard work. Some people prefer the look you get with the draw knife though.

The advice on a bark spud is invaluable. I highly recommend both spuds and drawknives. We use them daily and would be lost without them. Added information for securing the mantle to the wall is as follows. First, make sure you have plenty of blocking to screw to. Then attach a metal plate to the rear of the mantle with a slot large enough for a screw head to fit through. Then place a screw (large one like a log hawg or log boss) into the blocking and then simply hang the mantle on the screws (similar to a French cleat). The log corbels are mounted in a similar fashion. An alternative is to countersink the screws from the front and then plug, making the plugs look like a part of the log.