How To Frame A Fireplace Surround

finished framing

When it came time to build my fireplace surround, even though I had the general idea of what I wanted and knew the How of building it, what I needed was the What. What specifically did I want the fireplace to look like? Ah, this is when I go searching for my inspiration photo. Thank you Pinterest, Google Images and print magazines. I found my inspiration in a back issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  The moment I saw it I knew I had it. I had found the photo of the fireplace that would guide my design decisions. Original inspiration pic The photo so much mirrored my space and my style. Now with the inspiration photo in hand, it was time to grab the tape measure, get some numbers, put pencil to paper and start drawing.

The first set of numbers I needed was the height and width of my space. My numbers were 93″ high by 79″ wide. Although my inspiration photo used subway tile, which I liked very much, I had already purchased 11 3/4″ square slate tiles which brings up the point that an inspiration photo is just that – inspiration – a jumping off point, not something that is always replicated exactly. And that’s okay. That’s the beauty of DIY – making something uniquely yours, uniquely personal to you and your space. So, factoring in my space constraints, the tile and the trim, I came up with my preliminary sketch. I had a place to start. Initial drawing.jpg Not only did I draw on paper, I also used a white marking pencil and drew on the floor where I would be working to help me visualize where the framing, cement board and tile needed to be. This helped me measure so everything ended up right where it needed to be. And that is a good thing. drawing on the floor Also, before I began with the framing, I needed to do some prep work and install a piece of plywood to get a section of the floor flush to the rest of the floor. I measured the area and with a circular saw and piece of scrap plywood I cut out a patch and simply screwed it into the floor. Now the three different floor surfaces were level to one another. plywood fix

With the floor prepped, I began the framing. As the fireplace surround would be ultimately holding cement board, large slate tiles, multiple layers of trim and our 47″ TV I used 2×4’s for needed strength. I attached four vertical boards and one horizontal board into the wall studs wherever I could. framing 1.jpg Then I attached 4 2x4s directly into the floor. These boards were cut 1 1/2″ shorter than the finished depth to allow for the thickness of the vertical 2×4 that would be attached to their front edge. Also in this step I allowed another 1″ for the thickness of the cement board and the slate. So when the vertical framing members would be installed they will be 1″ behind the front of the firebox. Framing 2.jpg

Framing 3.jpg

Framing 4.jpg

The drawings taking shape.

Framing in process

Once the basic outline of the frame was in, I laid a horizontal board across the top of the firebox and installed short boards to increase the stability, rigidness and to form the shelf that would eventually become the mantel. I used metal plates as fasteners. (It is important to note that the design of my firebox allowed me to install wood directly on it. Check the particulars of your firebox prior to designing your frame.) Inside framing When building the frame I cut the wood 1″ shy of the front of the firebox – 1/2″ for cement board and another 1/2″ for the tile. This one inch would allow (if all went well) the tile to be flush to the firebox on all three sides.

framing-detail with arrow.jpg

Finally, before I could consider the framing finished I needed to plan for the next step – attaching the cement board for the installation of the tile. I had to make sure I had vertical and horizontal boards in the right places so the cement board could be attached.

Out came my sketch paper.

Working with the fireplace dimensions, I was able to make a cut plan that covered the framing facade using two 3’x5′ sheets of cement board. Maximize material, minimize waste!

That is why I have two verticals running only inches apart in the front center of the surround. It wasn’t symmetry I was after.:-)

finished-framing 1

The cement board layout plan.cement board placement.jpg

One final check for level (notice I tacked up my inspiration photo for quick reference and motivation) and I was done making my box. it's level baby I had before me a solid, secure and level (thank you carpentry gods!) fireplace frame just begging to become the surround of my dreams. Next step: Installing cement board and the slate tile. p.s. When I found this sheet of paper in my notes I laughed as it reminded me to mention that for me, construction is a fluid process. I always have scratch paper handy because I’m constantly checking my thought process, making updates, jotting down measurements and doing math. chicken stratch

Next Steps in the Process:
How to Tile a Fireplace Surround

How to Trim a Fireplace Surround

About Life&Ink

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. Go Charlotte! I love the final touch of showing your scratch paper – it’s a perfect complement to the photos an drawings. It makes sense that it comes in a flash, and what a helpful insight, that it’s really all just boxes!

    1. Thanks for your kind words Lynn. Yup. Boxes. And now I am thinking about learning how to build a new kind of box – one with legs – a table. And my notes on scratch paper – I have so many I could wallpaper a room with them!:-)

  2. I know I’m 3 years late but thank you so so much for this!!! You give me hope that I can accomplish this with the help of a friend.

    1. Hi Anna! You can accomplish this. Seriously! Think it through, plan it out and do it and when it’s done, step back and you get to say, “I did that!” No better feeling. I’m excited for you! Thanks for the note and happy building!:-)

    1. Wow! Good question, we bought it in 2003 so off to the box that has our manuals in it to find out, and, ta dum… It’s a gas, Majestic Vermont Castings Direct Vent model DVRT 36, which is a 36″ firebox. It was also sold in a 39″ and 43″ model. Hope that helps!:-)

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