I’m going to share my latest living room project with you today! Buckle up, because this is a big one and not necessarily a really easy DIY project. This DIY fireplace surround has been on my to-do list for awhile. As you know, I’ve been systematically updating my entire house, and this is the latest room on the main floor that needs to be finished. I’ve already replaced all the flooring and switched out the old dated baseboards for a new modern look. Then it was time to tackle this big, empty, open wall and give it a focal point that would add some function and character.
I decided that a faux fireplace with a DIY mantel and a built-in TV mount space above it was exactly what I needed! This fireplace was “faux” only in that I used an electric fireplace insert (more on that later). Everything else about it was real! This was a major build, and I’m really proud of how it turned out. There were some bumps along the way of course, but that is part of the DIY experience. Come see how I turned a blank space into a gorgeous central gathering place for my house!
Can you build your own fireplace surround?
I don’t blame you for asking this question. It seems daunting when you just look at the finished DIY fireplace surround. But like all DIY projects, breaking it down into individual steps is the way to conquer anything! In this post, I will show you how I built my DIY fireplace surround, including how I got it standing and made it strong enough to bear the weight of both the TV and the electric insert. It absolutely is possible to do this yourself, and I’m going to show you how! Let’s get started!
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Materials for a DIY Fireplace Surround
- 1×5 pine select boards
- Star-head screws (easiest to drive without stripping): 3″ for the back support boards and 2.5″ for all the wood I screwed together
- Loctite Power Grab glue
- Wood glue
- Corner pieces
- Drywall tape
- Face mask
- Stain (one color or two, whatever you want!)
What kind of wood do you use for a fireplace surround?
I built my fireplace surround out of 2x4s and 2x6s that I purchased at Home Depot, and then covered them in drywall and painted everything for the finished look. For some of the more delicate framing I used thinner pieces (see the materials list). What you really need to do is make sure that you use wood that is strong enough to hold a fireplace insert, which can be really heavy! I used 2x4s for the outside framing and 2x6s where I needed the frame to bear the most weight.
Step 1: Plan your space
A DIY fireplace surround is a substantial project, so planning is key! I had all my plans made, but when the fireplace insert arrived I had to rework everything because I didn’t realize how heavy it would be. Make sure you plan for this! The night before I started working, the first thing I did was find and mark all my studs so that I could see where everything needed to be attached to the wall. Having a good plan and a marked-out space is a great way to start. Make sure your outlet placement is planned out ahead of time too. Don’t ask me why I’m telling you that; you’ll see!
This is the diagram for the plan I used. This will vary depending on which fireplace insert you use. I used this one. There is more info on my specific insert below.
Step 2: Start cutting
When I do a project like this with many different pieces, I like to do all the cuts for the wood I’m going to work with that day all at once. So, I got my new 12″ miter saw set up with an 80-tooth blade. More teeth = smoother cut! I made all my cuts and stacked all the pieces of similar sizes together where I could see them all. This way of doing things saves you from running back and forth to the saw all day, plus it’s much easier to build momentum if you don’t have to pause and cut after you attach every piece.
Step 3: Start assembling
Once I was done cutting, I started assembling the side frames. I used a corner clamp to ensure the outside frame was squared off and regular clamps to hold the middle pieces in place after I put them where I wanted and before I got them screwed in. I predrilled every hole using a countersink and then drove the screw in. This meant that the screw head was slightly recessed into the wood and wouldn’t get in the way of the drywall or the insert. I’d never considered before how great it is to have two drills! I used one to predrill and one to drive the screw, instead of having to continually change drill bits for every single hole.
Then I needed to attach my five 2×6 cleats to the wall to anchor the frame to them. I used my level to make sure I got each piece exactly right. After this was done, I attached the assembled framed outside pieces to the wall on either outside edge of the cleats.
Step 4: Frame the front of the fireplace
Then it was time for the front piece, where the fireplace and TV actually sit. This step was pretty essential to this DIY fireplace surround project. It meant a lot more boards and a lot more cuts! Once my cuts were all made, I got to work framing the outside of it first. I used my corner clamps again to get all the corners exactly squared off.
Once the outside was done, I added the supports for where the fireplace insert will sit. I used 2x6s instead of the regular 2x4s I used everywhere else to ensure it could handle the weight.
Then I just kept putting in horizontal boards above the fireplace insert area, and since I had already planned out exactly where they needed to sit, this part was fairly straightforward. It was just the same thing repeatedly, so a bit tedious, but that’s how it goes with most DIY projects!
Building the TV mount area
Once the horizontal pieces were in, it was time to build the individual sections above the fireplace insert. First, I did the TV mount area. I planned to make this a little bit inset so the TV didn’t stick too far out when it was finished. I just started putting my vertical boards in where they needed to go.
Step 5: Finish up the framing
Now that I knew the fireplace would fit, I worked on getting the doubled-up 2x6s that would hold its weight all in place. I couldn’t lift the frame anymore to get the corner clamps under it, so I just used them upside down!
TV mount again!
Once those 2x6s were in place, it was time to cover the area I bumped out for the TV mount space. I wanted to ensure there was enough support there that it wouldn’t matter where I put the mount itself or how big the TV was. 2x6s were my choice for this as well. I also cut a hole in one of the boards for the cords to go behind so they wouldn’t hang down anywhere.
Do a Double Check
Before I went any further, I put the fireplace into the space I was creating for it just to make sure that I had my measurements correct and that it would actually fit there! I had this terrible fear that I would get everything installed and then find out that I had made a mistake and it wouldn’t fit. Fortunately, it all seemed ok.
Step 6: Putting the front piece into place
I was supposed to wait for Kevin to get home so we could lift this thing together. I’m sure this will shock you all, but…I didn’t wait. I did manage to get it up, but it was SO heavy, and I really struggled. I think waiting would have been safer and easier, and I recommend getting another person to help you lift yours. Even having someone hand me the drill while I held it in place would have been so much better!
Once I had the front up and in place, I screwed it to the side pieces. One of the boards I had used for the outside frame of the front was very curved, and getting that board to lay flat against the side frame using my drill took so much effort! I pulled something in my left arm on that one. Was it worth it? I think so!
You can laugh at me, but once I had the front screwed to the sides, I dry fitted the fireplace insert again. It still fit! I was so worried it wouldn’t, and I would have to rip this whole thing apart.
My fireplace insert
Speaking of my fireplace insert, here’s some more info on that! The one I’m using is from @electricfireplacesdirect, and it’s called the Modern Ember. I got the 50″ model, which is the smallest one. It also comes in 60″ or 70″ lengths. It’s a Highmark Smart Linear Electric Fireplace. I chose this model for a few different reasons. First, it can either be plugged in or hardwired into the wall. You can control it from the remote, an app, the controls on the unit, or any smart device that you have. The flames can even be customized! You can adjust the color, brightness, and speed. I love that I could get the look of a real fireplace without worrying about getting a gas line put in.
Step 7: Building the mantel supports
Once everything else was done, it was time to build my mantel! I started with the supports. I used my Kreg pocket hole jig to create pocket holes in the support pieces. Then I attached the supports to the frame, using my corner clamps again to ensure they were square to the rest of it. Then I attached the bottom piece of the mantel plywood to the supports.
Step 8: Mantel drawer for a DIY Fireplace Surround
My mantel wasn’t going to be just any old mantel shelf! I decided I wanted to make it into a hidden drawer. Cool right? To put the frame together, I used:
- My corner clamps
- My favorite Loctite glue, and
- Brad nails
Then I used the glue and nails to put the bottom of the drawer on. I filled the seams with wood glue and sanded them down while the glue was still wet.
Step 9: Time to drywall
Then it was time to cover the whole thing with drywall. First, I started with the outside pieces, leaving a hole for the outlet access doors. At least cutting drywall is super easy: just score the front with a utility knife, snap it off, and cut the paper on the back. Once I finished the end pieces, I started covering the front where I didn’t want spaces. I moved from the floor to the ceiling and made sure to cut a hole for the cords in the TV mount area.
Step 10: Drawer installation
Once my drawer was painted, I installed it on slides in the space I left for it. I wanted to use side slides and one centermounted slide in the middle, but I couldn’t get them to work together, so I just used the ones on the side. That part was a bit frustrating, but I got it done!
Step 11: Drywall corners
Once the drywall was all installed, it was time for the metal corner pieces to go on! These are super easy to install and they make it much easier to achieve a crisp corner for the end result of your project. Just measure, cut with a pair of tin snips, and screw onto your outside corners.
Step 12: Spackle time
Then it was time for one of the most important and tedious tasks: spackling! I had to cover all the seams, screws, and corner pieces. I used tape as well for the seams. This job takes such a long time. I worked my way up from the floor to the ceiling again, just like putting drywall on. I did two layers (sanding in between) on all the seams, and then I decided to do a skim coat of everything. This is not necessary if you have just a flat drywalled wall. But because I have so many corners that still needed another layer or two to cover the metal pieces, I didn’t want a huge build up of spackle around just that area. So, I did two layers of skim coat to make it all even and cover everything. This is NOT always necessary. If you do a skim coat, thin out your mud so it’s really easy to spread. And of course, I hand sanded the layers of the skim coat before putting another one on, including wet sanding the corners. Please don’t forget to wear your mask for this stage!
Step 13: Prime and Paint
The fireplace was looking so good at this point! Once the spackling is done, I always forget all my regrets and get excited. I primed everything with Kilz primer. I like this brand because I find it to be low odor compared to others.
For the paint, I used a mineral wash from @romabiopaints. I like the textured look that this paint gives a surface, even though it means doing a few different layers with a certain technique. You apply it in a “cross stitch” pattern, which feels totally different from how I usually paint! I was pleased with the look I achieved.
Step 14: Building, finishing, and installing the mantel for your DIY Fireplace Surround
I actually did this step in between waiting for the primer and paint to dry! I mitered the edges of the 1×5 pine boards for my mantel build using my table saw. Then, I put the mantel “box” together using wood glue and my nail gun. I put painter’s tape around it too, just to make sure it stayed together during the dry fit.
To install the mantel on top of the drawer, I screwed some 1x4s to the drawer to extend it to the outside edges of the fireplace area. The inside of the mantel should fit snugly around those boards.
Once I was sure the mantel would fit around the drawer, I took it down again and sanded it all by hand, including the edges. Then I wood filled all the seams and sanded it down again. This made it look more like a solid piece of wood.
Then it was time to stain! I stained the mantel before I installed it with two water-based stains: Weathered Oak, and then Early American. The nice thing about personal preferences is that it really doesn’t matter what stain you use as long as YOU like it! I would just make sure whatever you choose is water-based. I wiped my stain on in small amounts with a cloth (wear gloves!)
When it was totally dry and for the final step, I nailed the wood mantel to the support boards on the drawer. Voila! My new mantel, which is also a drawer, was complete! So much work, but I think it will be such great storage for remotes and all the little things that collect in a living room. It also really gives the whole build the look of a fireplace that I was going for.
FAQs About my DIY Fireplace Surround
What is the difference between a fireplace mantel and surround?
Some of you might be wondering what the difference is between a fireplace surround and a mantel. To avoid any confusion in your research or planning, I will tell you that the mantel refers only to the actual mantel: the shelf above the fireplace. The surround refers to everything around the fireplace, including the mantel. In this case, it means the entire bumped-out part of the wall that I built to go around the faux fireplace. I hope that helps!
How big should a fireplace surround be?
Keep your surround proportional to the size of your fireplace. The most important part of the surround to consider is actually your mantel! You want the mantel to be wider than the fireplace by 3-6″ on both sides. For my surround, I chose to make it the exact width of the mantel.
And that’s it! Step-by-step instructions for creating your very own DIY fireplace surround project. This DIY makes such a huge difference in my house! It would warm up any family room and make it a cozy, happy place. This beautiful fireplace was such a challenging project, but so worth it. Have you done a major fireplace DIY? Tag me @designingparkside with your fireplace remodel ideas, or put them in the comments here!
Happy building everyone!
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