Four years ago (how has it been that long?!) we moved into our current home. There was a lot that we liked about it, but there were many things that we were eager to change. And, being the project people we are, we couldn’t wait to dig in.
We had always wanted a fireplace, and this home had one! Unfortunately, it was nowhere near the type of fireplace we wanted. If you can see through the previous owners’ boxes (they WERE in the middle of moving out), you can see why.
Before we moved ourselves in, we hired a contractor to make some changes that would be easier to do while the house was empty. And we spent considerable time ourselves repainting all the green walls. So for the next couple of years, this is what our wall looked like: (of course, it wasn’t as blurry in real life…#badphonecamera)
And so it was that we looked at that wall every day for a couple of years. As the potential of what COULD be on that wall played in our minds, we looked forward to the day when we’d get the fireplace that my wife, Leslie, had dreamed of. A fireplace and mantle that she could decorate for each holiday. A place to hang the stockings at Christmas time. The warm, cozy flickering of the fire to greet the kids on a snowy day arriving home from school.
Of course, because there had originally been a fireplace there, we were in luck. Right behind the drywall sat the capped-off natural gas line and electrical wiring we would need to make Leslie’s fireplace dreams a reality.
After we’d saved a little money, and with Christmas approaching, I decided that Leslie would love no gift more than to have a fireplace for Christmas. So we found a fireplace insert that we liked, and – never having tackled a project this size before – made a few calls to contractors for bids. After a week of not hearing back from any of them, I realized that I probably couldn’t do any irreparable damage, and decided to give it a go.
I reviewed the installation manual for the model of fireplace insert that I had purchased, and discovered that it was 38″ wide and 20 ½” deep. I consulted with my wife to determine how wide she wanted the finished fireplace to extend to the sides of the actual fireplace insert, and we determined that we would make the overall width of our fireplace 74 ½”, giving us 18 ¼” of framing on each side of the insert.
And so I ordered the fireplace directly and scheduled to have it installed. I prepared for the install by pulling back the carpet and removing the baseboard moulding, giving me the needed 74 ½”, centered between the door and the window.
I then proceeded to cut back the carpet pad and, using a marker, marked a square on the floor where I wanted the fireplace insert installed. The next day, while I was at work, the insert was delivered and installed. I HATE going to work when I have work being done at my house – but Leslie did a great job keeping me involved by texting me progress pictures throughout the afternoon, and when I came home I was happy to see that the fireplace was right where we wanted it – and I couldn’t wait to get started with the fun part.
Seeing the fireplace insert installed, we could almost imagine how good it was going to look when it all came together. We decided that 53″ would be a good height for the mantle, and knew that we needed to cover the venting and give, per the manufacturer’s recommendation, the necessary 1″ clearance.
I removed the crown moulding and using 2×4’s, I framed around the fireplace insert. I built four 2×4 frames, as shown in the pictures below, and placed two of them on each side of the insert. To start with, I just nailed and screwed them to the floor below. They didn’t line up with studs in the wall, unfortunately, so I couldn’t anchor them directly in the back. However, I knew that I could add 2×4 pieces between my frames using my handy Kreg jig. I could then nail/screw those into the studs.
I also made my frames about ½” shorter than the ceiling, knowing that I would cover the gap with trim afterwards anyway. I didn’t want to mess with trying to get them exact, and knowing that they’d be anchored to the wall, and floor, I wasn’t worried about needing the additional stability anchoring them to the ceiling would offer.
So after adding all four frames, I started adding my 2×4 pieces between them.
I then added 2×4 pieces between the frames on each of the sides, and between the two sides above the insert. Some against the wall, to add additional anchoring to the wall studs, and some in the front to add support for the mantle and paneling that would be installed.
As you can see in the picture below, I went kind of nuts. The Kreg jig is a very neat tool and made adding additional 2×4 supports a breeze. I don’t know how I would have added these supports without its use. I use the Kreg jig in some way in most of my builds, and it is one of my most versatile tools. I highly recommend checking them out.
I continued to add 2×4’s until I felt like I had enough support for the shiplap above the mantle and all the paneling I would use to cover my framing. There is no magic number to the amount you need. I could have used a few less or a few more and been just fine.
As the location of our new fireplace was covering up an outlet, and we wanted an outlet above the mantle to plug lights into, we moved it. We also added a couple of sconces and a light switch off of the same circuit.
Safety Warning: Whenever doing your own electrical work, it’s important to be familiar with local codes as well as safety procedures.
After completing the wiring, I was finally ready to install the paneling.
I’m sure sheet rock would have worked great, but I don’t have too much experience using sheet rock, and even less mudding and taping. So I decided to use ½” particle board as my sheeting instead. This gave me the added benefit of being able attach my finish trim very easily with my brad nail gun, as anywhere I wanted to nail, I was going into particle board instead of sheet rock.
I started by cutting and nailing the side boards on – just big enough to cover the frames, and nailed them on with 2″ brad nails.
After they were attached, it was time to move on to the front. I was obviously excited for how this would make it feel like it was coming together. But our youngest, Mack, was not happy to lose his new favorite hiding place. To this day, I’m not 100% sure there isn’t one of his toys hiding away inside of our fireplace…but I digress…
If you look closely, you’ll notice that I added another 2×4 across the top of the fireplace insert. I did this as I was figuring out how to position my particle board paneling. I knew I was going to have multiple pieces of particle board and wanted to make sure that I positioned the seams such that I would cover them with trim. I also wanted to make sure that those joined edges of particle board, had 2×4 pieces behind them to keep them from flexing.
With the paneling on the bottom of the fireplace complete, it was time to do the trim.
I used pine and poplar for all the trim pieces. I used 1×6 (actually ¾” thick) pieces for the and bottom trim. Everything else was ½” thick. This gives a nice recessed look to the smaller trim pieces. All trim pieces were purchased at Lowes, although could also be picked up at Home Depot or any other hardware store.
I trimmed the sides of the fireplace first, and then the front. This allowed me cover any edges with the front trim pieces.
And then when I finished the trimming, I used spackling paste to fill in my brad nail holes. I also used my random orbit sander to sand the corners, where the side and front trim met, as well as the front of my trim pieces to get a smooth transition between joints.
I then cut, from a 4’x8′ sheet of ¾” MDF a piece for the mantel. I used my jigsaw for this cut. And although it wasn’t a perfectly clean cut, it was good enough, since I was also going to cover that piece with trim from the top as well – which would cover any imperfections in the cut and also serve to help secure the mantle board.
Once cut, I just slid it into place above the 1×6 trim, using my brad nailer to tack it into place in a few spots.
I decided to go for a shiplap look above the mantel. I made my own shiplap boards by cutting a 4’x8′ piece of ½” MDF into strips on my table saw. I then used my router with a chamfered router bit on both edges of the boards.
When installed, it gave the appearance of bead board, but I didn’t have to deal with large sheets of bead board and trying to get the holes cut perfectly for the sconces. In retrospect, this caused different problems. When painting, I ended up having to use many coats of paint in between the boards, as it would tend to pull towards one board or the other. In retrospect, it might have been easier to use my router bit and put a little bead board groove in one large board rather than making my own slats. It definitely would have been easier to paint.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough MDF to finish the whole thing, and had to leave it ALMOST done overnight. It’s a hard thing to live in a small town, and far away from anywhere to get wood for my projects – but that’s probably the only thing I don’t like about living in a small town.
I did go ahead a put a piece of 1×4 trim around the top. I decided to do this since I couldn’t find the exact same crown moulding as what was around the rest of my room. Turns out, when painted, it looks great, and it was much easier than using the crown moulding, even if I could have found it.
The next day I was able to do my last couple pieces of shiplap, as well as add 1×6 trim around the bottom of the shiplap, above the mantel piece. I also cut pieces of the ½” MDF to use as vertical trim pieces to cover all my shiplap edges. Following the same pattern as on the bottom, I put the trim on the sides first, so I could hide the edges with the front trim pieces.
And of course, we need the crown moulding under the mantel! The most important thing to make this work well is to have a good miter saw that accurately cuts at the right angle.
If your saw struggles a little like the one I used for this project did, you can usually make up for it with some artistic spackling at the 90° joint of the crown moulding.
At this point, as you can imagine, we were very excited with how it was turning out! The size and style were exactly what Leslie was hoping for. Unfortunately, it still had to be finished. Priming…painting…varnishing…by far my least favorite part of any of my projects. I will be so into a project that I’ll finish it in days (this fireplace took me 4 days) and then it can take me twice as long to get excited about getting the paint out.
Luckily for me, Leslie was so excited that she eagerly took over that part of this project.
After filling in the brad nail holes, she applied a coat of primer, followed by 2 coats of interior latex paint.
Once the paint was applied, it was time to put the sconces on. It would have been a sad thing if the lights had not worked, meaning my wiring was messed up inside my fireplace somewhere. For this reason, I made sure to use a volt meter to measure the voltage on the wires after doing the wiring, BEFORE covering my wiring. So, after installing them – they worked the first time. Phew.
Leslie had purchased some tile at Lowes to use right around the insert. We got the kind designed for a back splash, and they came on 1’x1′ sheets with a webbing behind them. The spacing between the tiles already fixed and perfect.
I then installed a ½”x½” piece of white trim around the edge, next to the insert, to give a nice edge to the tile.
I did not want to use cement for this tile, due to how small of an area it was, so I opted for a construction adhesive. I gently dabbed the adhesive until it evenly covered the entire particle board area where I was going to apply my tile. Then I gently applied the tile, being careful to get it right where I needed it. The space between the tile gave me a perfect spot use small finish nails to hold the strips of tile I’d cut until the construction adhesive dried.
After the tile was installed, it was time to sit down and enjoy the view for a minute. Of course the grout still needed to be done, but regardless, Leslie was happy with how it had turned out. You can see in the reflection how close she’s sitting to me? Yeah… she’s happy. #thatswhyibuildstuff
Once we finished it all up – got the carpet fixed, Leslie told me it’s going to be a hard present to beat…Great. No Pressure. 🙂
Keep on scrolling to see more pictures, and thanks for pinning!