Monday, September 17, 2012

A Fireplace Tutorial

When Jason and I were in the market to buy our first home in our city, like many other first time home buyers, we had our list of things we hoped our new home would have.  We wanted to find a nice little Cape Cod home with built ins, namely corner cabinets in the dining room, a fireplace, and lots of character.  Unfortunately, we bought our first home when the market was pretty crummy.  House prices and interest rates were high and that left us with only a few options in good neighborhoods and in our price range.  We did find our Cape Cod with lots of character and some built ins, but sadly, there were no corner cabinets or fireplaces.

However, we didn't let the lack of corner cabinets or a fireplace stop us from buying this house.  The decision came down to a stone and brick Cape Cod, a ranch with an above ground pool that was home to a family of ducks, or another ranch with a large turtle habitat in the basement.  We're talking more than one turtle pond and too many tanks filled with turtles to count.  We settled in and slowly worked on fixing up our home.  We found ourselves some corner cabinets on Craigslist and fixed them up.  You can read more about that project here.  However, there was still one thing missing:  our fireplace.  After creating a family room in our basement, Jason was inspired to build a fireplace down there.  Ideally, we would have loved to put one in our living room, but the square footage and window placement would not allow it.

He began the process by framing out an area between two bookshelves we already had placed along a space in our basement where we wanted a wall to be located.  This wall would section off part of our family room from other areas of the basement.  He made sure to leave a large enough space between the middle studs to accommodate an electric fireplace insert.  He was not concerned about stud spacing because this is essentially a faux wall.  Prior to the wall being built, we had an old curtain hiding the furnace and workshop behind it, so this step in the process was a welcome improvement.  He then added horizontal furring strips and bead board to the framing to complete the wall.

We used painters tape to figure out how big we wanted the fireplace to be on the wall. This proved to be extremely helpful as we found ourselves moving the tape multiple times before we finally decided on a size.

It was at this time that Jason cut out a 22 1/2'' wide by 19 1/2'' high portion of the beadboard so that we could insert the electric fireplace.  The bottom of this cut started about 2 1/4'' off of the floor to allow the hearth to slip underneath.  We bought the fireplace insert at Menards when it was on sale.  The brand is Chimney Free.

To make the hearth, Jason bought a piece of 3/4'' stock pine which he cut to 60'' long by 12'' deep. He used a round over bit to route the edge of the top on three sides. This softened the edge and gave it a more finished look.

To elevate it off of the ground, he used 3/4'' thick stock that was 1 1/2'' wide. He braced it all along the inside with scrap pieces to make it nice and sturdy.  The total length of the wood underneath is 59'' long and 11 1/2'' deep and is mitered at the corners. These pieces are smaller than the actual dimensions of the hearth top so they could be set back from the edge by 1/2'' creating a shadow line. Again, he glued and pocket screwed these pieces to the hearth top.

Jason filled nail holes, sanded, and cleaned up the hearth.  He made sure it was free of scratches and knicks because our desire was to stain it a dark color.  We used Minwax Stainable Wood Filler to fill in any holes. 

We used Jacobean stain and a wipe-on Poly, both by Minwax.  He only stained the top and would later paint the sides of the hearth white.

To make the legs of the fireplace, Jason glued and pocket screwed three pieces of 3/4'' stock pine boards together.  The dimensions of the front board are 46 1/2'' by 5 1/2'' and the dimensions of the two side boards are 46 1/2'' by 3 1/2''.

For the horizontal rectangular piece between the two legs, he used both pine and Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF).  We chose to use MDF for this larger section because it is stable and has a nice smooth surface that easily accepts paint. He cut the piece of MDF to 37'' by 15''. He then attached four pine boards to the back of the MDF to give the middle section the same depth as the two legs. He used 3/4'' stock that was 3 1/2'' wide. He cut two pieces to 37'' and two pieces to 13 1/2''. This is the top portion of the surround, and goes between the legs. Part of this section will later be hidden with moulding.

This section was glued and pocket screwed together as well.

He then attached the middle section of the surround to both legs by screwing them together using 1 1/4'' construction screws. The work pieces were held together evenly using clamps while fastening them together.

This is what the horizontal piece looks like when connected to the legs. In the photo there is a scrap piece of wood on the top.

The next phase was to complete the mantel and moulding at the top. To complete the mantel top, Jason routed the edge of a piece of 3/4'' pine that was 59'' long by 10 1/4'' deep.  He routed three sides of this piece and placed the routed edge down leaving the top completely flat.  He left a bead detail while routing to give the top more interest.  He then secured the top to the legs and the horizontal piece of the surround using 1 1/4'' construction screws.  

He then wrapped the top of the surround with a piece of inverted base molding and a piece of crown moulding.  We chose to use the inverted base molding to make the crown look more substantial.  The base molding was purchased at Menards and the crown moulding, which was 5 1/4'' wide was purchased at The Home Depot. After being properly placed, it was nailed to the surround.

He left the top mantel and moulding 1/4'' long on the back side to accommodate a 1/4'' piece of MDF that we used for the entire back.  This covered the beadboard and gave the area right around the firebox a nice clean look.  You can see this piece on the pictures below.

He also wrapped the bottom of the legs with left over pieces of base moulding.  Again, he left only the outside pieces 1/4'' longer to accommodate the back piece of MDF.

We then added some moulding to the front horizontal piece to add some detail to the front of the surround.

In the picture below, you can see the piece of MDF that covers the entire back of the surround and goes directly around the firebox.  It looks loose in the picture because it is not yet secured to the legs.  Eventually it would be secured using 1 1/4'' construction screws.  The dimensions of the entire back are 48'' wide by 46 1/2'' tall. Like the beadboard, it too had to be cut to make way for the fireplace insert.  There is a 22 1/2'' wide by 19 1/2'' tall rectangle cut out of the bottom to facilitate this.   

Below is the entire piece before we painted it.  To prepare the entire piece for painting, Jason filled in all nail holes with Minwax Stainable Wood Filler and the joints where all the components of the fireplace came together with DAP Dynaflex 230 Premium Indoor/Outdoor Sealant.  He also sanded and made sure that the piece was clean and free of debris that could make painting difficult.

Here are the dimensions for the entire fireplace.

Jason painted the entire fireplace white using Olympic semi-gloss.  He also painted the front and sides of the hearth that we did not stain.

Here is the final product.  Don't mind the wonky pictures.  Apparently it is difficult for me to photograph a dark basement.

We are pretty thankful to finally have a fireplace in our home!  It not only adds character but some extra heat in our chilly basement family room.

If you'd like, you can check back tomorrow.  I'll be posting about my first fall mantel decorating experience ever!  I'm just a little bit excited...

I'm linking up to some of my most favorite blogs:


  1. Wow! I will be showing this to my husband tonight because we (he) pretty much has to rebuild our basement fireplace. It used to be wood-burning but had masonry issues that would make it too expensive to repair. Now we have an electric insert but nothing other than an off-center stone surround. We were looking at tile for the hearth, but would much rather do something with wood since there's not a fire hazard.

    Your husband's hard work looks amazing! Thank you for sharing such a thorough tutorial :)

  2. This is astounding! I'm totally impressed -and what a beautiful space you've both created. I'd never want to leave :)

  3. Beautiful -- you both should be extremely proud!

  4. That is beautiful. We also built a faux wall fireplace, but we put our flat screen tv in the top and used the sticky tiles and grouted around them to make them look like real stone tiles, it looks amazing. We put an old fashioned electric heater that looks like a wood burning stove and faux cute, on the hearth. Below the mantel my hubby added a shelf to put all the electronics. I would post a picture but we had to wipe out laptop recently and the pictures didn't get saved..sigh!!
    We are so blessed to have talented men to help us around the house. :-)

  5. You have done such an impressive and created a terrific tutorial! I would be delighted for you to link to Potpourri Friday, in progress!

  6. This is FANTASTIC! I love that you found a way to incorporate a fireplace into your home, and a beautiful one at that! We're trying to figure out how we want to improve our own fireplace, so I'm all about posts like these! Well done!

  7. I am seriously impressed. You did such a wonderful job. I would love for you to link this project up to my Fall into Fall party that opens Tuesday evenings at 8pm EST. Hope to see you there.

  8. Wow!!! You guys did an amazing job...very impressive.

  9. Fabulous job. When is the bookshelf tutorial? What are paint colors and finishes? Is that carpet? Resources for chair and pillows? So glad found you !

  10. this is awesome!! We have ZERO fireplaces in our AZ home but I think I could totally do this! :)

  11. This is great! How did you attach the whole fireplace and hearth to the wall and flooring?
    I have all of my materials but have no idea how to secure it to the wall. Thanks so much.
    you can email me at: pkendall1@frontiernet (dotnet) it's really all one email .net but want to keep it broken up to keep the hackers Thanks again.

    1. I would also like to know about securing the mantel to the wall. Thnx

  12. However, we didn't let the lack of corner cabinets or a fireplace stop us from buying ...

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  14. It’s unbelievable that fire place can be built by ourselves at home, it’s looking quite hard work but too fantastic. I'm absolutely impressed.

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  16. I enjoyed reading your work. I'll come back for more

    Keep up the good work :) from, Home Buys Plus

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