How to Tile a Fireplace

Six Parts:Getting ReadyPreparing a Smooth SurfaceInstalling a Support LedgeLaying the Upper FieldTiling the LegsGrouting the Tiles

The fireplace can be the focal point of any living room or family room, and as a homeowner, you can greatly alter the character of a room by changing the look of your fireplace. Many people today prefer the cleaner, more modern look of a tiled fireplace to the exposed brick found in many older homes. Tiling your own fireplace can be a challenging and time consuming project, but it also allows you to be creative and design a look that you enjoy and that fits the overall look of your home.

Part 1
Getting Ready

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    Design your surround. Both for making you tile installation as efficient as possible and for ensuring that the final project looks the way you want it to, it is important to spend some time designing your project before you begin. An easy way to do this is to create a life-sized cardboard or plywood template of your tile surround, laying it on the floor, and using actual tiles to create your design.[1]
    • Measure your firebox, then on a large piece of cardboard or plywood, draw the firebox's shape. Measure out from your firebox to the edge of the area you plan to tile, and draw this space on the cardboard as well. Then, cut it down to size.
    • Hold the cardboard up to the actual fireplace to make sure your measurements are correct. You can then use these measurements to determine how much tile you need to buy.
    • The easiest way to calculate the area you need to cover will be the multiply the height of your cardboard or plywood by the width. Then, calculate the area of the firebox in the same way, and subtract it from to the total area of the cardboard or plywood.
    • Then, lay your template on the floor. Get some tiles and start trying different arrangements and patterns on top of it. This part of the project can be a lot of fun, and is a good way to make sure you have enough tile and will be happy with the design. It will also give you a sense of how many tiles you may need to cut, or maybe even allow you avoid cutting any tiles at all.[2]
    • If you do this near the fireplace, you'll be able to pick tiles up directly from your template and mortar them into their corresponding spots on the actual fireplace surround.
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    Cover the hearth or floor around your fireplace with a tarp. You will almost certainly drip some mortar on the ground during this process.
    • It's also a good idea to get any furniture in the immediate area out of the way, both to protect it and to make sure you have enough space to work.[3]
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    Remove any trim around your existing surround, and remove the mantle if possible.
    • If the mantle cannot be removed, tape the edges of the mantle with painter's tape where it meets the existing surround.[4]
    • If you don't remove the mantle, do remove any items that may be on top of it. You will be doing some drilling into the fireplace, and you don't want items to come down on your head while you are working.[5]

Part 2
Preparing a Smooth Surface

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    Assess your substrate. Depending on what type of surface you are tiling, you will either use thinset mortar or 1/4 inch cement board.
    • If your existing surround is drywall, you'll want to use cement board.[6] Likewise, if you plan to tile only part of a brick surround, you may find cement board easier to work with.[7]
    • If you are planning to tile a brick surround in its entirely, you'll want to use mortar.[8]
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    Install your cement board. If you are using cement board as the canvas for your tile masterpiece, cut it into pieces that are the correct size and shape to apply your tiles to. Then, simply screw the cement board into the wall or bricks with heavy duty masonry screws. You will need a masonry bit for your drill to drill the holes.[9]
    • Cement board cuts easily. If you score it with an ordinary saw, it will usually break cleanly along the scored line.
    • To make your surface as smooth as possible, it is a good idea to tape over the joints between the pieces of cement board.[10]
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    Prepare the mortar. If you are mortaring over bricks to create your smooth surface, you'll want to use a thinset mortar with latex additive. Use a plastic bucket to mix the mortar, following the manufacturer's instructions on the packaging.
    • Properly mixed thinset should have roughly the consistency of peanut butter.[11]
    • Do not use an organic mastic for a project such as this. The heat from the fire may cause it to fail, resulting in the tiles closest to the fire falling off.[12]
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    Spread the mortar. Use a trowel to apply a layer evenly across the area you plan to tile, filling all the spaces between the bricks. Run the flat face of a finishing trowel over the thinset to smooth the surface.[13]
    • Allow the thinset mixture to dry overnight before proceeding any further.

Part 3
Installing a Support Ledge

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    Locate the center of the firebox. Using a measuring tape, locate the center of the firebox. Then use a level and a marker to draw a straight line from the center of the top of the firebox to the top of the area you plan to tile.[14]
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    Cut a support ledge. Your ledge should be made from a 1 inch by 3 inch (2.54 cm by 7.62 cm) piece of wood. The wood should be long enough to extend the entire width of the area you want to tile. This will be your temporary support ledge for your upper field tiles.
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    Place the ledge. Hold the piece of wood so that the top edge is just slightly below the top edge of the firebox. Check to see that the ledge is level.
    • If the wood is not level when it is even with the top edge of the firebox, place the wood slightly below the top of the firebox on one side, rather than having it ride high on the other. This way, all of the surround will be tiled, rather than having a small space where your thinset is visible.[15]
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    Secure the ledge. Use your drill and masonry screws to secure the shelf at each end. Double check to ensure your shelf is level, otherwise all your tiles will be crooked.

Part 4
Laying the Upper Field

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    Mix more mortar. Use the same thinset/additive mixture you used to create your smooth surface. The additive helps create a better bond with your tiles, and it's a good idea let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes so the chemicals can react to one another.[16]
    • Mix up only about as much mortar as you can work with in 45 minutes. You don't want your thinset to dry out before you can use it.[17]
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    Apply a layer of mortar. Apply the thinset mixture across the area above your support shelf, just wide enough to install a row of tile. Then, score the thinset mixture.
    • Comb the notched edge of the trowel through the mixture at an angle such that the scored lines runs parallel to your support shelf.
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    Place the first tile. Line up the middle of the first tile with the center line, resting the bottom edge on the shelf. Gently tip the tile into the thinset from the bottom to the top. Then, wiggle the tile gently to set it in place.[18]
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    Finish the first row. Set additional tiles on either side of the center tile. Use the same method for placing the first tile. Make sure the tiles are level and spaced evenly. Alternate placing tiles on the left and right side of your row until you reach the outside edges.
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    Work upward. As you did for the first row, apply mortar and tiles, working up the center line row by row. Follow the design you have laid out on the cardboard or plywood until the upper field is completed.
    • Use spacers between your rows to ensure they are all the same distance apart.[19]
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    Let it dry. Once you've finished the upper field, let it dry before you proceed any further. This will take several hours, so you may want to just let it set overnight.

Part 5
Tiling the Legs

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    Remove the support ledge. Unscrew the masonry screws and take the wood down.
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    Estimate the cut. Most likely, you will need to cut the tile or tiles you'll be placing at the bottom of each leg to make them fit. Taking into account the height of the legs (the untiled areas to the sides of the firebox), the height of the tiles you are using, and the width of your grout lines, you'll need to make an estimate of how much you'll need to cut off the bottom tile.
    • For example, imagine your legs are 37 inches tall. If your tiles are four inches tall, and your grout lines are 1/4 of an inch, this means that each row will be four and 1/4 inches tall. Eight rows of tiles would be 34 inches tall, which is not enough to fill the space, but nine rows of tiles would be 38 and 1/4 inches, which is too tall. Based on this, you know you'll need 8 rows of tiles, with a 3 inch space to fill at the bottom with a cut down tile or tiles.
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    Cut a new support ledge. Trim your 1X3 piece of wood down to the height of the estimated space (e.g. 3 inches in the example above) and place it across the front of your fireplace, at the bottom, up against both legs. Check to ensure that it is level, and secure it in place with masonry screws.[20]
    • If you plan to lay a row of tile insides of legs, you'll need to cut a small piece of wood of the same height to place inside the legs.
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    Work upward. Mix up some more thinset, and then, using the same method as you used for the upper field, apply tiles above the support ledge and work your way upward. If you did your math right, you should fine that the tiles line up perfectly with the upper field, with room for a grout line.
    • As before, use spacers to keep the distance between your rows even.
    • After you're done, allow a few hours for the tiles to set and then remove the support ledge.
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    Cut your tiles. You'll need to calculate how much to cut off each tile you'll be applying to the bottom of the legs. You already know how much space is left, but you'll need to account for a two grout lines as well (top and bottom). Measure and cut your tiles with a wet-cut tile saw.[21]
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    Lay the last tiles. Apply thinset mixture to the back of a cut tile using the edge of a trowel. Gently push the tile in place and adjust until evenly positioned.
    • Repeat this process along the bottom of the surround. Allow several hours for the tiles to set.

Part 6
Grouting the Tiles

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    Get ready to grout. Clean between the tiles using a putty knife to chip away any excess thinset and tape over any art tiles or tiles with uneven surfaces that might get grout stuck in them. [22]
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    Mix the grout. Following the instructions on the packaging, mix your grout in a clean plastic bucket
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    Pull the grout across the tiles. Using a grout float held at a 45 degree angle, push the grout between your tiles. Then, immediately do a second pass with the float to remove excess.
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    Clean the tiles. After the grout sits for 15-30 minutes, wipe up the remaining excess grout with warm water and a sponge, changing the water often to keep it clean. Afterward, wipe the tiles with a dry towel to remove any remaining mud.[23]


  • There are many different types of tiles you can use to create a fireplace surround, which create different looks. You may wish to bring several different designs home to see what looks best with your other décor.
  • If you end up buying too much tile, some hardware stores will accept returns of clean, undamaged tiles. It's a good idea to ask about this before you purchase your tiles.
  • As you lay the tiles, periodically use a damp cloth to remove any excess thinset before it dries.[24]


  • Installing tile is challenging process that requires patience and precision. Be prepared to spend a long time on this.
  • Make sure to double check your measurements before you lay your tiles into the thinset. Once the mortar has dried, you won't be able to remove them without damaging or destroying them.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Candles Lamps and Fireplaces