Renovating With a Tile Over Brick Fireplace Design
I love my old craftsman house. It was built in 1923 and has so much character and charm. Fun to restore and renovate simply because you can discover and experience some of the old world charm that seemed so natural to these older homes. However, one area of these old houses that never seems to do well is the chimneys. Mine used the old style of ordinary brick that used an unusually deep V-groove pattern. I can’t tell if this brick was specifically designed to support plastering or was simply a local style, but it wasn’t attractive. I wanted to find out how to tile a brick fireplace to give the house a new look.
The current fireplace was made of textured bricks that sloped slightly forward. At the top it protrudes in three places (over bricks) to support the rather simple mantelpiece. It may have worked in the 1920s, but it just looked crude to me.
Tiling over a brick fireplace begins with the demo
I didn’t want to do a lot of demo work, but I had no choice in laying brick upon brick. The top of the fireplace, just below the mantelpiece, was pushed too far forward to get the look it wanted. I wanted a flat front with a simple piece of mitred crown under the mantelpiece. To do this I had to break out some of the existing bricks. It wasn’t long before, after consulting my friend and master carpenter David Delk, I realized that I really had to remove the entire top of the existing fireplace and rebuild it.
When you are dealing with bricks, silica dust control is a big deal. To control it I recommend using one of the many dust covers available on the market. You work with both angle grinders and saws. Properly connected to your best vacuum cleaner, they will prevent dirt and material from completely covering your home. If you do this correctly, you will save yourself and / or your customer a lot of trouble later.
We used a DeWalt DWV012 10 gallon HEPA vacuum cleaner on this job and it was a great solution. You may also need a cold chisel and hammer to get to some spots. Just try to control the dust as best you can when using hand tools. Also, remember to cover the floor with at least two layers of thick cloth. Rubble can fly up to 6-10 feet – and bricks are not friendly if they hit a wooden floor or are trampled underfoot. We also love ZipWall ZipDoor kits for isolating rooms.
Framing in the new coat
After removing the top of the fireplace, I rebuilt the frame for the mantelpiece with pressure treated wood. The mantelpiece was attached to the brick with construction glue and Blue Tapcons. These could easily be anchored in the existing bricks behind. I didn’t have to worry about anything other than the structure, however, as I would be adding 3/4 “wood over the entire fireplace. This not only covered the brick, but also provided temporary supports up to the mantelpiece.
Underneath that 1 × 12 is a fair amount of pressure-treated 2 × 6 lumber and bricks that will securely support the mantelpiece.
Shopping list for laying tiles over a brick fireplace
We decided to get materials from the local Lowe hardware store. It had everything we needed to get up and running. Our shopping list included:
- Top Choice Pine (a single 1x12x8 and three 1x8x8 boards)
- Crown shaping
- Chair rail cover
- Tapcon screws
- Construction adhesive
- Cladding boards
- Paint and primer
All in all, we spent about $ 350 on materials, including paint, on this project. It is important that you think through your materials before starting any project. We like Lowes because we can virtually build our project on their website. You can add products and materials to “lists” for later retrieval and ordering. After you’ve figured it all out, just place the order and let the store collect all of your supplies for you.
Cover the front of the fireplace with wood
The next step in renewing and remodeling my fireplace was to cover this brick with 3/4 inch lumber. At first I wanted to use poplar. Poplar is a great, knot-free material that is easy to paint and is good at cutting and sanding. However, I was very surprised to find that Home Depot had some excellent (incredible, really) Class A pine boards that didn’t have a single knot! Ordinarily I would never consider pine, but the cost savings were too big. I voraciously grabbed a 1x12x8 and three 1x8x8 boards to complete my project. I would end up painting all of this wood white. So – with a little care – the pine would be indistinguishable from my original poplar design.
I cut these boards with a Makita 8-1 / 2 inch miter saw and lay the shortened 1x12x8 over the top of the fireplace. It would sit right under the mantelpiece. Left and right I had vertically aligned wood that I cut from 1x8x8 boards. These 1x8x8 side boards ran from the floor to the mantelpiece – a little over 4 feet long. The rest of the wood served as material for custom-made decorative boards. They would run through my skirting boards over the base of the fireplace.
Fasten the wood to the brick
I attached the wood to the brick with construction glue and 2-1 / 4 inch tapcons. I pre-drilled this and drove it with a Milwaukee M18 FUEL impact wrench. For the 1 × 12 at the top of the chimney, I used construction glue and also finish nails to attach them to the pressure-treated wood and bricks below. After I measured and installed the top piece (with temporary side pieces to ensure the correct length) I measured and cut the front side pieces. These reached from the bottom of the 1 × 12 to the floor. I countersunk all of the tapcons so that I can connect and fill them later before painting.
When splitting and cross-cutting the side boards from the 1x8x8, I made sure to measure them and place them behind the front boards. My design was to simply nail the front of the wood into the side pieces, fill in and use a Makita 18V cordless orbital sander to work the corners so that they are perfect when you paint them. The trick worked and I was able to combine all the edges and corners perfectly without any bumps or burrs in the finished product.
Planning and design of the tile over the brick fireplace
It’s a lot easier to tile in a frame, in my opinion, and a lot easier to paint when you don’t have to worry about getting it all over your newly grouted tile. The correct order is important, and I’m sure there are several schools of thought when doing a tiled stove renovation. For me it was framing the wood, tiling over the bricks, painting and then grouting. In terms of additional preparation – there really wasn’t any. I just took my time and smeared the pieces with butter before filling the recessed area that was to be tiled.
That jack clamp and a piece of stiff 3/4 inch tongue and groove flooring came in handy to support the lower row of tiles as everything dried properly while the chimney was spanned with tile.
I went for a nice porcelain stoneware tile that I bought at the local Habitat for Humanity re-store. It’s a great Tier IV tile product and offers great durability for use on the stove as well as in the area around the fireplace opening. I chose a 12 × 12 tile for the stove. Using the same tile, I cut 3-1 / 2-inch strips to create a brick pattern for the top shelf area. I started working with a QEP 750X tile saw, a 7-inch tabletop model. After a short while, I quickly went to a sturdier Bosch TC10 tile saw to finish the job.
Cutting and placing the tile
While chop cuts would have been fine, tearing through the heavy porcelain tile was just too much for the 750X’s engine. Since I was ripping up tiles, I used a tile stone to manually lighten the edges of all of my cut pieces for a more even look after grouting. Laying the tile was a simple matter of buttering each piece and using the Hart Quick Tatch trowel to lay a nice 1/4 inch counting layer over the fire pit and inserted fireplace surfaces.
Grouting the tile
I added a trim piece just below the main 1 × 12 board that went around the sides. My custom crown molding went under the mantelpiece. I say “custom” because I had to angle it differently than the traditional 60/40 because of the size of the mantelpiece and the restrictions placed on me by the windows on either side of the fireplace. This simply took some trial and error to get the correct miter and bevel settings – but I like this kind of thing and it didn’t take long to sort it out. I attached my trim with a Ryobi One + Narrow Crown stapler – one of my new favorite tools due to its ease of use and portability.
To get all of the beautiful paintwork on my newly surfaced fireplace, I used green painter’s tape to cover the inside edges of the wood that surrounds my central tiled area. I also covered the bottom wood where it met the stove bottom tile. After that I mixed some grout (it doesn’t take much) and got to work. The painter’s tape worked like a charm so I could work the grout freely as needed without worrying about messing up my painted surfaces. I was able to do all of the work in just one batch, and when I was done I wiped it off with a sponge. A dry rag was perfect for soaking up the dry haze a few hours later, and I stepped back to examine my work.
Pack everything together
Aside from a few decorative joints, my tile-over-brick fireplace project was finally done – and the new look really freshened the house up. There’s nothing like a refinished fireplace to completely set the tone of a room. The only problem was that renovating a fireplace with tiles quickly made us think about how much better the room would look like being repainted. A consultation with a painter friend who is a color genius and a quick trip to Sherwin Williams brought us some great ideas … but that’s another article.