Chipped bricks, a stained hearth, and years of accumulated soot can turn what should be the focal point of a living room into an eyesore. Replacing a hearth and surround—either with seamless tone slabs or with ceramic or stone tiles—makes a big difference in the way a fireplace looks.
Below, Dan McLaughlin, with help from carpenter Thad King, shows how to replace an old quarry tile hearth and cover a brick surround with four sleek granite slabs, each 1¼ inches thick. It took McLaughlin and King just a few days of work to rejuvenate this fireplace and reinstall the existing mantel. Installing a tile surround might take a bit longer, but there’s less heavy lifting than with stone.
Steps for Refacing a Fireplace Sound and Hearth
Step 1: Pry off the mantel
- If the mantel is to be reused, mark its outline on the wall and floor.
- Use prybars to gently remove the mantel from the wall.
- Make sure all wood framing and lath are at least 2 inches away from the firebox opening, as required by code.
Tip: This is a good time to consider building or buying a new mantel.
Step 2: Remove the old hearth
- Tape thin plywood or cardboard to the floor around the hearth to protect floor from scratches and debris.
- Use demolition hammer with a chisel bit to chip away old hearth and the mortar underneath (as shown). Leave concrete hearth base and firebox floor in tact.
- Brush and vacuum debris and dust from hearth base.
Tip: Wear eye and ear protection and a dist mask when using a demolition hammer.
Step 3: Prepare the hearth base
- Notch the ends of a 2×4 to make a screed that’s a foot longer than the hearth; its bottom should fit easily in the excavated area. For the flush hearth, cut the notch depth equal to the thickness of the new hearthstone, plus 3/8 inch (for thinset).
- Wet the hearth base. Mix and pour concrete topping.
- Set ends of screed on the floor, notch down. Pull it across the hearth while moving it quickly from side to side (as shown).
- Add or remove the topping mix and continue to pull the screed across it until the base is flat. Smooth with a trowel.
- Let the mix set overnight.
Step 4: Spread the thinset for the hearth
- Stick suction cups to the new hearth slab and test fit on the hearth base.
- Mix enough thinset mortar to cover the hearth base.
- Pour thinset onto the base.
- Comb the toothed trowel through the thinset to raise evenly spaced furrows across entire surface.
- Save leftover thinset for next step.
Step 5: Set the hearth in place
- Use suction cups to lift and set the slab (as shown).
- Press down firmly on the hearth to adhere the stone to thinset.
- Check that the hearth does not rock. If it does, lift the hearth and add more thinset.
- If the hearth is meant to be flush with the floor but is too high, tap on the stone with the rubber mallet; if the hearth is too low, lift it and add thinset.
- Fill the joint between the firebox and hearth with thinset. Scrape off the excess and tool smoothly.
Step 6: Set the surround pieces
- With a trowel, comb thinset onto the backs of side pieces.
- Set each piece in place on top of the hearth and press against the brick. Make sure the inside edges slightly overlap the sides of the firebox.
- Lay straightedge across tops of side pieces. Check that they align. If not, pivot slightly.
- Butter thinset on the top of the piece. Set it on the side pieces. Press tight to the brick. Check that joints are flush.
- Allow thinset to harden overnight.
Step 7: Fit wood mantel
- Set mantel on the hearth, tight against new surround. Align with the outline on the wall.
- Measure from the back of the mantel to the wall. Cut wood filler strips to that thickness.
- Glue and nail the filler strips to the back of the mantel, flush with its edges. Glue and nail molding extensions to strips.
- Using a compass, scribe the strips where they touch the wall (as shown). Cut along scribe lines with a jigsaw.
Step 8: Fasten the mantel to the wall
- Mark the locations of the wall framing.
- Set the mantel so it’s centered on the surround.
- Push the mantel tight to the wall and the surround.
- Toenail mantel into framing with 8d finish nails.