How to Build a Fireplace Part 1: Structure and Cover

Tera found an electric fireplace built by someone in the blog world that inspired her to direct me to build one too.  I haven’t ever built a fireplace, and we’re currently broke, so this should be an interesting project.  It will be about like everything else I’ve never built before; we’ll see what happens as we go! The other problem is that I’m starting on the 1st of December, and we want it done before people come over for the holiday. Our daughter’s birthday is the 24th, then Christmas, then Tera’s birthday on the 26th.  Lola’s family party is the 18th.  We want to get it done before then. I have no plans or measurements; I’ve started with the insert dimensions and building the idea out from there.



This is what our entertainment center looks like right now.  Aside from the VR mess that my brother-in-law brought over, it doesn’t look too bad.  It isn’t great either, so it’s time to upgrade! I got a Shopsmith from my father-in-law, so my 70’s Craftsman table-mounted lathe is no longer going to be used.  The table that it sat on top of is going to be chopped up and used for the bones of the fireplace.




After dismantling the old lathe table and milling some 2 1/4″ strips out of the top, I put together this basic shape with wood glue and screws. At this point in building something you intend to be in your house for a while, make sure that you are checking it for square all along in the beginning phases.




I think I’ll move it inside now, although that means that I will be making a large mess in our living room. I don’t want to continue much further without putting it in place and making sure that the scale of it works for what we’re thinking.




It is looking plumb and square with the wall, and also the scale looks appropriate to our liking.  We have ordered a fireplace insert from Amazon, and are waiting for that to arrive to make sure that my void is the correct measurements.  I won’t continue building on it until that has a chance to get here and we can check it out. Because I have no plans, and I am following my conceptualization and my wife’s.  My point in saying so is to hopefully encourage you to try building whatever project you want and just “go with it” until you are done with what you want!




We got the insert today and it fits perfectly! We are also pleased enough with the realness factor of the fake logs that we will keep this insert and move forward with the building project as is.  We are currently debating whether or not we want columns on the sides or what the dimensions will be for all of the components. The horizontal column/section above the fireplace,  but below the mantle can be flush, inset, or protruding from the side columns. Make sure that whatever you are doing includes at least a mental picture of what you want (when you know what that is).




I will be starting here for the day.




Due to my lack of foresight on all of the components (mentioned above) I need to have another horizontal stick so that I can have something to tack the sheathing and cement board (for the tile) to. We did a lot of visual exercises to figure out what we wanted.  The tile around the fire insert will be about 9″ wide, and the columns will be about 9 1/2″. We wanted them to be about the same width.




I need something to attach wood and tile backer to, so I added this middle board while accounting for the measurements mentioned.




Score-and-snap products (meaning run a razor knife across your measurement and bend to snap it) are so easy to use.  I love placing tile board for an intricate floor with HardiBacker instead of mesh cement board that needs to be cut with an angle grinder. Very dusty.




All of the backer board is in place. The top will be a little wider than the sides.  We looked at a bizzgillion different fireplaces online and decided that was what we wanted.




This looks like the same picture, but notice the second horizontal board I attached to the wall and added two little braces to it.




Now it’s all boxed in and supported. This is going to be a “secret stash” for our electronics etc that need to be hooked up to the TV. We have been transitioning to mostly digital, so we don’t need a bunch of storage for DVDs and the like anymore.




One of the only construction costs so far (aside from the $300 insert) is the plywood panel boards that we bought (2) at about $15 apiece. I used a slice of that to be the bottom of the secret compartment.




Again, this looks about like the previous picture, but I’ve added a back panel to the compartment.




…and likewise to the sides. I am using the Japanese handsaw you can see in the top left of the photo.  I would highly suggest a Japanese hand saw over any Western blade that I have tried to date.




I put the same plywood over the first column on the right. Moldings will be all over this, so my corners don’t need to be perfect.




The right column is also boxed in now.




Notice at the top that I added in horizontal supports for the mantlepiece. We’ve got all the bones in place now and I’m ready to add the finer details to it.  Please check out the next post, “How to Build a Fireplace Part 2: Moldings, Faux Flue, Paint” to see the progress!

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