How to Build a Built-in Part 2 of 3 - The Fireplace Mantel and Surround

The Fireplace

My childhood fireplace and the adventure to find gold.

My childhood fireplace and the adventure to find gold.

The center of any living room should be the fireplace. This is a special place in the house because it brings people together. I have wonderful memories of the fireplace that was in my house as a kid growing up in Georgia. We were lucky and had a real wood working fireplace.  I got to chop wood and clean out the ashes when the fire had burned out. It sounds like it was a chore but it was so much fun. Not many fireplaces these days are wood burning, most of them use natural gas. The fireplace I grew up with was always a special place full of great memories and laughter. 

I remember like it was yesterday. I had a wonderful childhood and I loved to play around the fireplace hearth. I often pretended, along with my brothers, that our Lego men were scaling an enormous rock face on the mountain of doom or something like that. They had to scale and walk the treacherous narrow pathway (grout lines) up the mountain on some epic journey fighting pirates and bad weather. They were always looking for the pirates lost gold or sometimes just exploring. I don't think much has changed in the years past and now I get to play Legos with my son.

Shaker Style Fireplace

Shaker Styled Mantel Fireplace

When my wife and I decided to build a house I said I wanted a large fireplace. I wanted something that was going to draw everyone's eye, something we could all gather around and tell stories and create memories. I first thought I wanted a Craftsman styled fireplace because the outside of our house was following the Craftsman look and feel. After some research and deep thought I discovered that I really didn't like the Craftsman look on the inside of our home. I gravitated to the Shaker style and my wife leaned toward the Farmhouse. I did a lot of sketches and illustrations to come up with the design of the fireplace mantel and surround. I think I spent several days mulling over the design and when my parents came to visit I realized I had to make some adjustments to compensate for the cabinet proportions etc. My goal was to follow the Shaker's guiding principles. If you don't know much about the Shaker style I would encourage you to keep reading and even purchase the books I have referenced below.

History of The Shaker Style

Shaker furniture is a distinctive style of furniture developed by the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, commonly known as Shakers, a religious sect that had guiding principles of simplicity, utility and honesty. Their beliefs were reflected in the well-made furniture of minimalist designs. If you are interested in making Shaker furniture I would recommend the book by Thom Moser "How to Build Shaker Furniture" and "Shaker Furniture Projects" by Popular Woodworking Magazine.

Their furniture was made thoughtfully, with functional form and proportion. Rather than using ornamentation — such as inlays, carvings, metal pulls, or veneers — which was seen as prideful or deceitful, they developed "creative solutions such as asymmetrical drawer arrangements and multipurpose forms to add visual interest." Furniture was made of cherry, maple or pine lumber, which was generally stained or painted with one of the colors which were dictated by the sect, typically blue, red, yellow or green. Drawer pulls for dressers or other furniture were made of wood.

Video on How to Build a Shaker Styled Fireplace Surround

Here is a video showing how this was made. Please subscribe to my channel.

How to Lay Marble Tile for a Fireplace Surround

This was probably the most challenging part of the build. Growing up I saw my dad lay lots of tile, as he is the ultimate DIYer and Handyman. When they were building our house I watched the tile guy very carefully and asked lots of questions about laying tile around a fire place. See, one thing you need to keep in mind when laying tile around a fireplace is that the walls and surround are going to get very hot. The heat from the wood or gas burning fireplace release a lot of thermal heat into the room and surrounding walls where the fireplace is installed.

grouting marble tile

The other thing you need to remember is that you cannot lay tile over metal without some type of membrane. The reason is that the mortar can't adhere to metal it will just slide off or dray and crack. I did a lot of research and came across a great product Ultraset SF by Bostik. You can purchase Ultraset SF online or your local tile dealer may be able to order it for you. This stuff worked great and did the job. I didn't realize how sticky it would be. It has the consistency of thick putty or really sticky chewing gum. I recommend you use gloves before even opening the case. If you get this stuff on your hands won't be able to get it off easily, trust me I learned the hard way. I would purchase the G & F 3100 Knit Glove with Textured Latex Coating from Amazon, you will be glad you did. This will give you the textile feedback you need to get the job done and won't break down or fall apart if the Ultaset happens to get on them.

How to Build a Fireplace Mantel

To lay tile over metal first apply Ultraset SF

To lay tile over metal first apply Ultraset SF

Adding the 2x3 blocks to the wall and attaching the box surround.

Adding the 2x3 blocks to the wall and attaching the box surround.

Building a fireplace mantel is not as hard as you might think. It just takes a lot of planning and forethought. The biggest challenge to building a fireplace mantel and surround is figuring out how you are going to attach the surround to the wall. I overcame this challenge by installing 2x3 blocks of wood to the drywall using liquid nails and screws. You can see by the picture that the 2x3 blocks of wood are screwed into the drywall and that I then placed the boxes I made over the blocks to hold them in place. Once the boxes were in place I simply used my nail gun and nailed them to the block of wood. This technique proved to be a really good technique to getting a seamless and clean install of the boxes on the left and right of my surround. I have to be honest, it was one of my most favorite parts of the build. There was something really gratifying about attaching the boxes to the wall. I only wish I took more pictures of the process.

Painting a Fireplace Surround

Filled the cracks with caulk and holes with wood putty.

Filled the cracks with caulk and holes with wood putty.

I really enjoy painting things like furniture and odd stuff, however I don't like painting walls and find it rather boring.  Before I painted the surround I had to caulk the cracks and fill any holes with wood putty. This is a very, very important step. You want to make sure the surface of where you are going to paint is as smooth as possible. Most people think that all you have to do is sand and sometimes that is true but most of the time you need to go one step further.  I used caulk because the fireplace will emit a lot of heat. Wood putty will crack under heat and that is why you should always use something like caulk for cracks when the situation permits. I ended up giving the fireplace surround 3 coats of paint. The paint I used is from Sherwin Williams and it is important to note not all paints are equal. For furniture or carpentry you should use the highest quality paint you can afford.  If you are interested in the specific color just leave me a comment. Below is a picture of what it looked like before I painted it and next to it is the final coat of paint.

Prepped for painting

Prepped for painting

Painted fireplace surround

Painted fireplace surround

All The Materials and Tools Need to Make a Built-in Fireplace Surround

When I was doing my online research for this project I found that most of the blogs and videos I read and viewed didn't have any of the materials or tools listed. I found that this should be one of the most important thing to have. I have provided my materials and tools list to help you on your project. Most everything can be ordered on Amazon. If you have any questions on the tools or materials I used please feel free to leave me a comment.

Materials list for a fireplace mantel and surround:

Most of the materials can be found at your local hardware store and on Amazon.

•    Poplar Wood 1x3
•    Poplar Wood 1x5
•    Poplar Cove 9/16x3-1/2 - goo.gl/uZ2kS6
•    Poplar Mantel 1x5x60 - goo.gl/uZ2kS6
•    ¼ in MDF
•    Pine Wood 2x4 – goo.gl/IRg5BX
•    Wood Glue - http://amzn.to/1YpJiqd
•    2.5 in Wood Screws - http://amzn.to/1SZAQfN
•    Paint Cashmere White - goo.gl/pRCVti
•    Carrara White Marble - http://amzn.to/1YpJyFH
•    White Thin Set Mortar- http://amzn.to/23p73FA
•    White Grout - http://amzn.to/1NkKAwL
•    Long Nails - http://amzn.to/1S18kbl
•    Short Nails - http://amzn.to/1NkKCov
•    Ultraset SF - goo.gl/MhZ6HN
•    Rope Caulk - http://amzn.to/1RP6wFw
•    Knobs - http://amzn.to/1NkKKEt

Tools needed to make a fireplace mantel and surround:

Here is a list of all the Minor tools needed to make the fireplace mantel/surround, bookshelf and cabinets. Check out My Tools page for a list of the larger tools that I use in my shop.