My neighbor installs dishwashers in people's houses, and saved all the nice 1x3 strips of pine they use to pack the cheaper dishwashers in. He's using a bunch of them to make a computer desk but had plenty left over to give to me to make a new fireplace mantel. Our old one was just a big super-rough plank of softwood painted white, and wasn't much of a sight. I decided to start by edge-gluing the pine strips my neighbor gave me. I offset them somewhat randomly to make a nice sort of woven effect. I traced the wall contour and rounded the outside edge, which would give my new mantelpiece a kind of canoe shape. This was tough to cut with my weak jigsaw, but my bandsaw isn't up and running yet. Once I planed and sanded I was pretty happy with the results. My wife and I picked out a nice reddish stain ("Sedona") that would match hints of other colors in the room from the floor, bookshelf, and curtains. After a few coats of poly it was ready to go up on the wall, just in time for Christmas eve. This was my first try edge-gluing something and cutting it to shape, and I'm really happy with it! The next phase of this project is to make trim to go around the fireplace, and moulding between that and the mantelpiece. I think that will be a lot harder than this was, so wish me luck!