Two types of mantels typify the ordinary fireplace. The traditional mantel, also known as a mantel shelf, is connected to the wall and supported by corbel braces. The knockdown mantel, or surround, is supported by columns on both sides. If you're remodeling and choose to swap one for the other or just need to update, either type can be removed using ordinary hand tools. Knockdown mantels are connected to the wall with screws or bolts. Shelf mantels are connected to the wall by corbel braces, masonry or both.
Remove the corbel braces under the mantel if the mantel has them. Corbel braces are large, often decorated supports under the mantel. They may be stone, brick or wood.
Chip off the masonry around stone or brick corbels using a cold chisel and masonry hammer. Insert the tip of a pry bar behind the corbels. Tap the pry bar with the hammer to penetrate sightly. Pry gently until they loosen, and remove them.
Remove screws from wooden corbels using a drill driver. If the corbels are held in place with bolts, use a socket and ratchet to remove them. If there are no visible screws, look for wooden furniture buttons and pop them out with a chisel to reveal the screws. If the screw holes are covered with wood filler, chip the filler out with the chisel to expose the screw heads and remove them. Tap on the corbels with the hammer to loosen them, if necessary, and remove them.
Push upward on the mantel, rocking it up and down to loosen it. Bump it from the bottom with a rubber mallet, if necessary, to loosen it.
Insert a pry bar behind the mantel and pry it off. If it won't come off, there may be a ledger behind or under it. The ledger is a connecting board screwed or bolted to the wall. Look for connecting screws and remove them from the mantel or ledger using the drill driver.
Pry the mantel off the wall using the pry bar. Remove screws from the ledger if necessary and remove it.
Knockdown Mantel, or Surround
Insert the tip of a chisel behind prominent moldings and pry them off to reveal screw heads. If no screw heads are visible, use the chisel to pry off outer panels, or trim on the vertical legs to reveal screw heads and remove them.
Chip off plaster, if needed, around the vertical legs with the chisel and hammer. Look for screws and remove them with the drill driver. If the legs are bolted on, use a socket and ratchet.
Insert the tip of a pry bar behind the mantel anywhere there's a gap or crack. Pry from one side to loosen it. Move the pry bar to the opposite side and repeat.
Pry the mantel away from the wall, using the help of an assistant to prevent it from falling forward. When the mantel surround is sufficiently loosened, tilt it down and away from the wall.