Painting a wooden fireplace or fireplace mantel is no different from painting other wood trim in your house. Since fireplaces are often a focal feature in a room, you can have fun painting it with specialty paints, faux finishes or matching the paint color to artwork above the fireplace.
Prepare the Surface
Surface preparation is a critical part of any good-looking, long-lasting paint job. If the wooden fireplace mantle or frame is stained and varnished, it needs to be thoroughly sanded, wiped clean and primed with a bonding primer before painting. Repainting over existing paint requires no priming. Simply sand and wipe it down. A new wooden mantle will need to be primed, allowed to dry and then lightly sanded for a smooth finish.
Don't forget caulking. If there's a gap, no matter how slight, between any part of the fireplace and the surrounding walls, apply a bead of caulking. If you don't plan on painting the wall, use clear caulking and wipe it smooth as soon as it's applied. When it dries, you won't see it on the wall. Use painter's blue masking tape to protect surrounding areas and get clean, straight lines unless you have an extremely steady hand with a brush.
The easiest way to paint a wooden fireplace is with a brush. Buy the best brush you can afford. A 2- or 3-inch sash brush will allow you to do a nice job with intricate edges and larger areas alike.
Choose Paint and Color
If you burn wood in the fireplace, the paint can get discolored by smoke over time. You should use either oil-based (alkyd) enamel or a premium water-based (acrylic latex) enamel. Both choices will bear repeated washing. Avoid using cheap, inferior paint: Go to a paint store where professional painters buy their materials. Unless the wooden fireplace is very large and ornate, you won't need more than a quart of paint. The cost difference between premium paint and cheap paint is minimal.
You cannot go wrong which crisp or creamy classic white. However, consider more dramatic colors, especially if the surrounding wall is neutral. Pick a color from artwork above the mantel, upholstery or window treatments for a more pulled-together look. If the sides of the fireplace are also wooden, consider painting them a different shade to the mantel. If there is a brick or tile hearth, try a color that complements and accentuates the stonework.
Faux and Specialty Paints
For a little extra work, faux painting your wooden fireplace to look like marble or stone can really add pizazz to the space. Because faux painting has become so popular, most home and paint stores have specialty applicators and finishes to make it a pretty simple project. Ask around for free or low-cost faux classes, or look online for inspiration and instructions (see References).
Specialty paints can provide a faux look with even less work. Using metallic paints, either as an accent or for the whole fireplace, can look stunning. Pearl-finish paint gives a more subtle and elegant look. Sand- or river rock-textured paint imparts a warm, rustic appearance to a fireplace.