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How to Replace a Hearth with Slate Tile

Ask This Old House mason Mark McCullough replaces a common terra cotta hearth with slate tile.


  1. Start by protecting the edges around the hearth with a little bit of painter’s tape.
  2. To remove the old tile, place the cold chisel straight down on one of the tiles. Hit the back end of the chisel with a small sledgehammer. This will cause the tile to break. Continue doing this until the full tile has been removed.
  3. Once that first tile has been removed, it should be possible to slide the cold chisel underneath the rest of the tiles and pry them up. Remove the rest of the tiles using this strategy.
  4. Start laying out the new tiles on the hearth. Measure the full width of the hearth and divide it in half to determine the center. Place one tile on each side of the center line and put a spacer in between them to determine the correct spacing. Use these two tiles to determine the placement for the rest of them.
  5. It’s likely that some tiles on the edges will need to be cut. There are manual tile cutters that should work, since these are simple, straight cuts, but a regular wet saw will also work.
  6. Once the layout is complete, remove the tiles and lay a base of thinset on the sub hearth using the notched side of a notched trowel.
  7. Place the tiles back on the sub hearth, starting from the center again and following the layout. Wait 24 hours for the thinset to set.
  8. Apply grout diagonally across all the joints of the tile using a float. Wipe off the excess with a damp sponge.
  9. Wait another 24 hours from the grout to set, then wipe off any of the leftover haze from the grout using the sponge.


Mark installed 2x8 Slide Grey slate tile, which is manufactured by Roma Tile.

To secure the tiles to the sub hearth, Mark used standard tiling materials, including thinset, tile spacers, a notched trowel, grout, and sponges. These can all be found at home centers and tile supply houses.

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