Restoration of a 1920’s Mantel

I came upon this mantel in the strangest of ways. Sweaty and exhausted leaving the gym I noticed a pile of pots, some old shutters, and a broken vintage desk leaning up against a long warehouse wall. I peered through the chain link fence wondering what in the world was going on in that warehouse. Junk or Treasure? Dangerous or Too Good to Pass Up?

After a few days of peering through the fence I mustered up the courage and channeled my inner Nancy Drew, she would investigate! Come to find out it was a warehouse of old gems about to go to auction. I was able to walk through the musty, tin warehouse using my phone flashlight as a guide scouting out potential purchases.

When I laid eyes on this vintage mantel I knew it had potential. Yes, it needed a good amount of TLC but nothing my mom and I couldn’t tackle. A few weeks and a couple bids later and this beauty was mine!

The first thing we needed to do was save the slipping, beveled-edge mirror before it broke. After gently prying up two supporting wood trim boards the glass was able to be freed. Whew! As I was wiping down the aged glass we noticed a manufacturing stamp dating back to Feb. 1, 1922. Come to find out it was originally finished by PeeGee Paints in Louisville, KY back in the 20s. WOW, can you imagine what the rooms would have looked like back then with THIS being the focal point!?

After the glass was removed, we pried loose the old, rusted nails once used to mount the mantel to the wall. Then we sanded…and sanded…and sanded some more. This mantle had clearly been loved because there were 3 layers of paint to chip away.

Before sanding antique check for lead paint

NOTE: When working with a vintage piece, be sure to test for lead paint BEFORE sanding! See this easy, inexpensive way to test for lead.

Unfortunetly, this mantel was lead positive and, considering we didn’t test it until after I was coated in sawdust, our mistake resulted in a day of panic, a blood test and X-ray. This little escapade could have been easily avoided had I tested for lead paint prior to project restoration! I learned my lesson: Wear a mask and ALWAYS test your paint before sanding!

Close-up-sanded vintage mantel

Once smooth to the touch we cleaned off the dirt and sawdust using a damp microfiber rag (if you are restoring a lead positive piece keep your mask on until the project is sealed). Then it was time to paint!

We did some research on what this mantle would have looked like back in its glory days and learned we were only missing a few small pieces (pretty great condition considering in 3 years this mantel will officially be an antique)!

I selected a small trim board to cover some exposed nails and mimic what would have been there long ago. Just for fun, I add a bit more detail using an iron applique in the center of the mantel for a decorative, more feminine touch.

Finally we secured our beveled-edge mirror using wood glue, then reattached the supporting trim. The mantel was looking pretty and polished once again. To really highlight its age, I distressed my perfectly creamy mantel using 60 grit sandpaper.

how to restore a vintage mantel

Due to the layers of paint, this mantel took a lot of muscle to hand sand. If you are working on a piece and have a similar sanding experience, I recommend wearing thick work or garden gloves to protect your hands. Let’s just say I moisturized with Vaseline for a couple days after distressing this beast.

refinished antique mantel

Again the sawdust and paint flakes were removed using a microfiber rag. To seal the chippy paint in place I used Dixie Belle ‘Best DANG Wax.’ This not only gives the mantel a smooth finish to the touch, it also keeps my house free from chippy lead paint!

beautiful vintage mantel refinished

And WALAH! Another old forgotten piece of furniture rescued and redeemed : ) This mantel took A LOT of work and there were moments I felt like throwing in the towel, but I couldn’t give up on the hidden potential underneath.

refinished vintage mantel

This mantel now welcomes guests into their overnight headquarters at our house. To me, nothing says, “REST, YOU ARE HOME” quite like a mantle. My hope is to encourage a restful retreat when suitcases unzip and the morning sun arises with new mercies.

In a strange way, working on this mantel reminded me of me. Stubborn. In need of TLC, and a committed craftsman with faith and vision for what I could become. Someone willing to grind through the layers of coverup and restore the beautiful raw wood underneath. Again my heart melts at the thought of the cross. Fully Lord, clothed as a carpenter, willing to coat himself in the poison of my sin to remove it once and for all. So thankful Jesus didn’t throw in the towel!

how to restore a vintage mantel from the 1920s

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