Mantel shelves are classy and useful; they’re a great place to mount pictures, display family heirlooms, and in general provide personal touches to a family room that really pulls all the other decor together.

Unfortunately, they’re not cheap. Depending on the materials you want and the labor that installation would necessitate, you could set yourself back hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. If you’re interested in being classy and keeping your paycheck, you may want to opt into the DIY philosophy. Here’s how it works:

beforeFirst, you’re going to want to install backboards around your fireplace. This will secure the mantel, protect your drywall, and help with adhesion. Take a 1-by-12-inch piece of wood and attach it to studs in the wall behind your fireplace (assuming your fireplace was installed legally, they should be in straight-froward, mantel-building-allowing places). This will help you to create your top backing board.

Next, cut fluted molding the size of the backing boards. This can be challenging, as rough cuts will show and look unprofessional. Take your time, and purchase extra molding if you think it might take you a few tries. Once cut, attach the molding to the backing board using wood glue.

Now you’re ready to mount three L-shaped wood brackets to the backing board. These can be ornamental (and are commonly so). Pick the style that best suits your tastes.

Apply simple molding along the edges of the shelf and sand down the entire mantle. You don’t want there to be rigged edges sticking up anywhere, as it will show through the paint and make it difficult to apply an even coat. These ridges can also allow for dirt and phlegm to build up, which often has an adverse effect on the looks and durability of your DIY mantle.

Once sanded, try to pick up any loose wood particles with a wet cloth. Allow the mantle to dry, then apply primer to the molding using a paintbrush. Apply layers of primer based on how rough the surface is and make sure to end up with a smooth surface ready for varnish.

afterMost varnish their mantels with high gloss. Once the first layer has dried, see if you think it could use another. The more coats you apply, the glossier and more professional the finish will look.

Now you’re ready to adorn your DIY mantle! If you want to put up a picture, be sure to match the frame to the varnish that you chose. If you like to put up vases of real flowers, definitely use something to protect the wood from the potentially moist container. You definitely don’t want to leave any rings behind on your new and improved fireplace once your first vase of sunflowers goes up. You can put trinkets up if you don’t have a family and don’t like flowers; maybe cat statues are more your game, or you enjoy mounting a fiesty set of maracas. Perhaps a Portuguese guitar is more to your liking, or a framed picture of Ronald Reagan.