Assume The Mantle


August 2, 2009 by David Gillaspie



DG’s B&B needs a touch-up now and then.  A local craftsman handles the parts I can’t.  He came over last night.  Nothing was wrong.  He just finished another project and wanted to relax.

“When I needed something over my fireplace I wanted the best of all mantles.  It has to add an extra splash to an already complete ensemble, the icing on the cake.  And it must have good wood.

The fashion conscious know that a mantle is a cloak made from a rectangular piece of cloth, usually sleeveless, of varying width and length.  Think Robin Hood, or Mike Tyson early in his career.

The baseball-conscious know Mantle as the greatest player who ever lived.  Think Alex Rodriguez from Oklahoma.  The Mick was the greatest.  Check fastest times to first base.  You’ll be surprised.

The first example sounds like the white gym towel with a hole ripped in the middle Mike Tyson wore during his marches to the ring. It looked like his head on a white platter, which describes his later fights.

The second example tells of exceeded potential.  The men in Mickey Mantle’s family died at thirty nine.  The Mick is famous for saying “if I knew I was going to live so long I would have taken better care of myself.”  He died at sixty three.  The word ‘mantle’ carries so many feelings and memories to catch.


The first owner built the fireplace.  She’d been to England and saw a fireplace built to roast pigs.  When she built this house she included one big enough to roast a pig.  It gives the wall a baronial look.  Hooks for pig roasting utensils hang off the front.  It needs the right mantle.

Local fireplace shops showed every mantle made.  If you don’t see it in their showrooms they’ll order it.  One fireplace set looks fit for an embassy, another for a Dickens’ story.  I want something local and custom; the more I look the more I don’t think I’ll find it.

I searched local sawmills next.  We still have them in Oregon, they’re just smaller.  I dropped by a log yard and explained what I wanted.  Rustic yet refined, sort of like Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood. 

We walked around stacks of logs, all Douglas Fir.  One scrappy log stood off alone like the runt of the litter at the dog pound.  It clearly didn’t belong with the huge Doug Fir logs.  The piece of wood came from an Indian reservation on the east side of the Cascades, its growth rings pressed tight from low water years.

I scraped the mud off the end and counted rings.  It was high desert Old Growth.  You don’t get that anymore.  It comes from native land, older than the United States.  It had it all.  The mill cut it and dried it and sanded it.  I did the rest.

A woodworker said shellac goes on Doug Fir evenly, so I gave it fifteen coats.  The bark side glows in reds and browns, the grain side a brilliant tan.

What is the difference between my mantle and one made in a Chinese factory?  They both do the same thing.  Except one holds the history of a place and people; it expresses vision and creativity; it joins an organic trio of brick and wood and fire; the other is  made in a Chinese factory.

I pull the pig roasting tool hooks out of the face of the fireplace and drill for half inch steel anchors.  With one person on the other end and one watching the level we touched the back of the mantle to painted cotton pads twisted into the holes.  Four spots marked where to drill. 

The mantle didn’t come in a carton with assembly intructions.  I did what human beings have done over the centuries.  I saw something for what it could be, not for what it is.  From a log rolled in the mud to iconic metaphor, I guided the mantle home.  

The bark side looks like flowing currents in a fast river, like Mickey Mantle flowing through Yankee Stadium.  The grain side shows the fine lines of each year.  They aren’t painted on.  They’re not decals.  It is the real thing from a real place.

And it’s level.”



One thought on “Assume The Mantle

  1. J Rob says:

    Still looks a bit off to me…must be the camera angle and fine wood grain.

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