Depending on whether you're adding a ledge above your fireplace or installing an elaborately carved wood kit, your installation steps will vary.
Prefabricated mantel kits typically come in three or four pieces that you will need to attach to each other, then to the wall. Start by removing the fireplace doors and laying down a drop cloth to catch wayward screws, nails, wood shavings and debris. Hold the new mantel against the place in the wall where you want to install it and draw a line across the top with a pencil to mark the height. Then find the studs and mark their location on the line. From here, follow the directions that came with the kit. Most will have you drill bolts or brackets into the studs to attach a backboard, then the mantel façade, along with the legs, lintel and mantel shelf.
If you're customizing the job, don't forget to install a backboard with wood glue and a drill or a hammer to help secure the mantel against the wall. Ask someone to hold it to make sure it's flush against the wall. As you attach your mantel pieces, use a level to ensure they're even so you don't end up with crooked lines.
When you're done, step back, admire your handiwork and figure out the right spot on the mantel shelf for that picture of Mom.
Hoping to install a mantel on your stone wall? Head on over to the next page.