Carpentry Projects
Comments 12

How To Tile A Fireplace Surround

The last post in my Fireplace series described the basic process involved in framing a fireplace surround. In this post it is time to cover up all that work and hang some slate.

We have a lot of fun here at LIfe&Ink, don’t we. And you know, I am being only slightly sarcastic when I say that because it really is fun to see the surround come together and getting the slate installed, the slate I purchased a decade ago, yes, 10 years ago, is well, it’s the stuff awesome is made of.

So, here goes it. My first ever vertical tiling job. My only tiling before this project was installing the slate in front of the fireplace.

The first thing I did because I am both a tactile and visual person and prefer, whenever possible, to handle a project, I put all the pieces on the floor so I can see them and fuss with them. Using blue painter’s tape, I made the outline of the firebox and then placed the tile around it to see how it would fit and what cuts I would have to make.

dry fitting slate

Fortunately, the tile fit about as perfectly as I could have hoped for and all that would be needed were approximately 1/2′ cuts to the two bottom pieces. You can see in the photo above how the tile extends  just beyond the blue tape.

With the pattern of my layout established, I devised my strategy for hanging them. But first I had to install the cement backer board.

Which meant cutting the cement board. I used a box cutter.

We used two 3×5 boards to get the right number and size of pieces to cover the area to be tiled. Once cut, we used drywall screws to attach the cement board to the wood frame. I was very glad that I had laid out where each piece of cement board would go during the framing stage so that I had a board waiting to be used for attaching. cement board installation

Because the only cuts were to the bottom pieces, and because of my inexperience, I decided to hang from top down so that I would know exactly how much would need to be cut off the bottom of the last tiles. I didn’t want to rely on my dry fit estimate. So once all the boards were up and secure, using a piece of painter’s tape, I marked the top center of the firebox.

centering her up closeup

I also marked the center of the first piece of tile to be hung. I made this mark on a piece of painter’s tape and placed it on the bottom of the tile. All I had to do was line up the marks and I would know I had that important first tile positioned correctly.

Additionally, because I wanted the tiles butted together rather than separated with grout, and because of the natural irregularity among each slate tile, I preselected their arraignment to minimize the unevenness. With my handy-dandy roll of painter’s tape I numbered each tile.

ready to begin closeup

With the prep work done, it was time to begin. Again, this was my first time tiling and I will admit I was skeptical.

Really? I can hang a slate tile my bathroom scale says weighs 5.8 pounds on a vertical surface and it will stay there just with adhesive?


It was with a sense of wonder blended with a touch of doubt I started applying the adhesive exactly as directed on the label. Three of the tiles would be supported by the firebox itself. That reassured me. And then for the two tiles on other side of the firebox, to help the adhesive out, to further support the tiles, I made makeshift holders out of some spare trim held into the cement board with nails.

The peace was restored to this rookie tiling DIYer.

the t zone closeup

A close up of the tile support ledge.

ledge closeup

Following the cure time directions on the adhesive to the word, remember, paranoid tile layer here, I waited the full 72 hours before I installed the rest of the tile. Even then, when I removed the tile support ledge I held my breath.

And yes, I jumped for joy and finally trusted the system when the tile stayed in place. It did not fall off the cement board!

So I tiled down each side of the firebox and when I got to the bottom tiles, my husband Neal, circular saw cutter extraordinaire with a diamond blade, made each of the cuts and did a fantastic job.

During the multi day wait to let the adhesive cure, I installed 1/2″ furring strips to the front of the surround. The furring strips created a level surface for my next step – attaching the wood surround.

troublesome tile

Neal doesn’t call me Gales of Creative Destruction for nothing because I sure know how to make a mess. As if building the fireplace wasn’t enough, I decided to begin refacing our kitchen cabinets.

You know, in my spare time and all.

So in this photo you can see the first two cabinet fronts with their new shaker style trim, which, oh I just love this, will just so happen, although I didn’t know it at the time, match the shaker style trim I was going to end up putting on the fireplace.

Have I mentioned how much I love DIY?!

because the fireplace isn't enough

And finally, let me end this stage of the Fireplace project with a very important step in the process – plopping on the couch with feet up and just gazing at your DIY wonderment. It is a really great feeling.just chillin'

So that’s how I tiled our fireplace surround. I really loved doing this part of the project because I got to try my hand at tiling. It was great fun and I learned something about trusting the process and getting the right materials. I love tiling now and if you come up really close I will tell you a secret…

I’m going to retile my daughter’s bathroom.

But that will have to wait just a little bit longer.

And speaking of the right materials, here’s s shot the adhesive that said, and has, held the 11 3/4″ square slate tile I used…


So overcome your fears and do that DIY project you have been unsure about. With research and prep you will be glad you did.

Next: There’s a whole lot of trim going on.

This entry was posted in: Carpentry Projects


Hi, I'm Charlotte and armed with the experience 24 years of marriage, 2 kids, 2 dogs, 8 homes and a closet full of power tools brings, I come here to share how the processes of raising my kids and transforming my home raised and transformed me.


  1. we Indians are the most un-DIY people. maybe because we can easily get the work done by others. I’m overwhelmed and awed to see your work. It’s amazing and I can feel how gratifying it must be to see your idea come to life and that too all done by yourself. Enjoy!!! :)

    • So interesting that you say that it is so easy to get work done by others in India. I have had absolutely the opposite experience. So opposite in fact that’s why I learned to do so much home remodeling – I couldn’t get a contractor to call me back let alone come to my house and do the job. I found it was just easier and less headache to do the work myself! Well, just think of all I have learned because of it! How’s that for a positive spin! :-)

      • That’s exactly the point! you learn so much when you do it all by yourself and you learn not just about the work you’ve taken up but also about yourself. The biggest DIY job I did was to paint furniture portions in my daughter’s room when we first prepared her room, and that felt wonderful and I realized that I could do it. I proudly showed my work to all our friends who visited. Which is why what you do inspires me! Maybe some day I’ll take up something more challenging!! :)

      • Move to America and you will have to learn! :-) You are absolutely right though Hema. I have learned a lot about patience, perseverance and myself through construction. The result- the fireplace, the bookcase, the painted piece of furniture is an outward manifestation of an inward growth. Gosh you are so smart! I like having smart friends!!!! :-)

    • dabangg says

      As an Indian I completely agree. The only thing my dad can do is change a light bulb. After buying a house in the US I have learnt to mow a lawn, paint walls, cabinets, fix minor plumbing issues and recently also tiled my laundry room.

      • Awesome! You just don’t know what you can do until you are pushed to do it! I didn’t know about DIY until I couldn’t get a contractor, so I was like, “Guess I got some learning to do because it looks like I’m going to have to do this myself.” And you know, I haven’t looked back. Hope you feel the same way and so glad you’re in our club! :-)

  2. Yes, I think you did mention how much you love DIY! I love the distrustful support wedge! Makes sense to me. And the slate looks really nice – it’s a nice material, isn’t it? And you can always jot notes on it if you’re short of paper… ;-) (I think I like the shot of you laying back & looking over your work best.)

    • I like laying on my back too! Plopping, preferably in my jammies, is one of my favorite past times! And I like your idea for your use of slate. I was just using chalk today, drawing on the deck and the house’s sheathing, planning for where the doggy door is getting installed. I think rather than putting the chalk away I will just leave it on the mantle for those flashes of brilliance that have to be jotted down. Also good for impromptu games of tic tac toe. :-)

  3. Pingback: How To Trim A Fireplace Surround | Life&Ink

  4. Pingback: How To Frame A Fireplace Surround | Life&Ink

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