DIY Focus Fire Surrounds

Written by becky lower
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DIY Focus Fire Surrounds
A fireplace surround can be rustic or regal. (Fireplace image by Mistik from

A crackling fire on a cold winter's night adds a layer of warmth and comfort to any room. But all too often, a fireplace is added as an after-thought, with no architectural accents to set it off. You can make your fireplace the true focal point of the room by adding a three-dimensional surround. A surround is composed of four elements: a frieze board which is directly under the mantel; side columns, also known as pilasters; and the mantel across the top.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pry bar
  • Putty knife
  • Paper and pencil
  • Lumber of your choice
  • 2-by-2 wood cleats
  • Saw
  • Common nails
  • Finishing nails
  • Hammer
  • Wood glue
  • Eye protection
  • Level
  • Decorative trim
  • Power saw
  • Mitre saw
  • Nail gun
  • Carpenter's glue
  • Spackle
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint or stain
  • Paintbrush

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  1. 1

    Plan your design first. The surround must be strong and well-anchored to the wall. Measure and mark the layout lines. If you are adding tile around the firebox, be sure to leave enough room. Decide how far out from the wall you want the surround to extend, and how wide you want the mantel. Some zoning boards have specific requirements on how far away from the firebox the mantel should be, so check with local authorities before beginning your project.

  2. 2

    Pry off the existing trim using a small pry bar and a putty knife. Place the putty knife between the wall and the pry bar to avoid damage to the wall. Mark the stud locations on the wall. Mark the location of the surround on the wall.

  3. 3

    Measure and cut wood to size for the frieze board and the pilasters.

  4. 4

    Measure and mark the locations for the support cleats, which are cut from 2-by-2 lumber. These serve as solid "shelf" supports for the mantel, frieze and pilasters. Cut the cleats to the inside widths of these pieces. Nail the cleats to the wall studs at the points where the mantel, frieze and pilasters will attach,

  5. 5

    Assemble the frieze and pilasters to form a 3-sided box. Select a width for the two long pieces to match the distance you want the surround to extend away from the wall, and glue and nail them to the front of the frieze and pilasters.

  6. 6

    Attach the frieze board to the wall, centring it over the firebox. Nail it to the cleats and also to the wall studs if possible. Check with a level to make certain the frieze is horizontally straight and plumb.

  7. 7

    Attach the pilasters on either side of the frieze. Make certain they rest level on the top of the hearth. Add glue to the bottom of the pilaster and position it in place on top of the hearth. Nail each pilaster to the backing boards. Check each for vertical plumb.

  8. 8

    Cut the mantel board to size. Add decorative edge trim, if desired. Add glue to the top edges of the frieze board and pilasters and set the mantel board in place. Check for level and secure it by attaching it with nails to the support cleat, as well as the frieze and pilaster boards.

  9. 9

    Add decorative trim underneath the mantel to give it extra strength. You can either install mouldings, such as small crown or cove, or add a decorative block, called a plinth, at the top of the pilasters. If adding a plinth, balance its look by adding a similar feature at the bottom of the pilaster. Mitre-saw the joining ends of the moulding at 45-degree angles to produce a finished look.

  10. 10

    Fill all nail holes with putty. Sand the entire surround smooth, and finish with the paint or stain of your choice.

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