Q: We are remodeling a 35-year-old home that has a nice brick fireplace. The previous owner used it to burn paper and other low-temperature items that produced a lot of smoke, resulting in a very heavy and unattractive buildup of carbon and soot. Worse, the owner used off-white, wall-color-matching, latex paint on the outside part (yes, right on the bricks) of the fireplace.

What must I do to restore some of the natural color and texture of the original brickwork? Sandblasting? Chemicals? Small bombs? And, what type of professional service should I engage to tackle this work, if you feel that “sweat equity” will not suffice?

A: Chemical stripping won’t work very well, and we suspect that you had your tongue planted firmly in cheek when you mentioned a small bomb. The alternative we’d suggest is sandblasting.

We wouldn’t take on a sandblasting job, especially an inside one. The preparation is intense and the cleanup of sand and leavings will be significant. Also, a deft touch with the wand is necessary to avoid gouging out too much mortar while trying to get rid of the paint. It’s a job better left to the pros.

To find someone to tackle the job, we suggest you check the Yellow Pages. Call several blasters to see if they can do the job and get references. That’s the route we’d go.

But you might want to consider another alternative to sandblasting — refacing.

Our brother Bryan has a fireplace project going at his home in Eagle, Idaho. He just ordered a wood-burning, energy-efficient fireplace to replace an antiquated, poorly designed woodstove. Every time he tried to start a fire in the stove, he got smoked out.

When the workers removed the old stove, the flue opening was plugged with what Bryan said looked like a couple of deflated footballs, made of creosote. Needless to say, this is a serious fire hazard. If you haven’t already done so, we recommend you employ a good chimney sweep to get your chimney in “fire shape.”

Bryan’s fireplace is faced with used brick. He doesn’t like the look. Uncle George suggested — you guessed it — white paint. That isn’t flying with Bryan. So Kevin suggested he consider refacing the brick with stone, tile or marble. In your case, consider following Kevin’s recommendation and refacing with brick. It would be a lot less messy than sandblasting; you could choose the look you want; and it’s definitely a do-it-yourself project.

If you decide to go this route, choose a veneer brick. It’s thinner — 3/8 to 3/4 inches thick — and much lighter and easier to work with. It has all of the warmth of brick without the heft. For examples and more information, go to www.artobrick.com.

Q: I would like to reuse the ceramic floor tiles from my kitchen remodel (putting old tiles at the kickboard onto new cabinets). How do I get the mastic off the tiles? I’ve tried soaking, but that hasn’t worked. Should I try muriatic acid?

A: We bet you’ve soaked them in water. That won’t soften and remove the mastic, as you’ve discovered. Muriatic acid will work only on cement-based mortar. Instead, we suggest soaking the tiles in lacquer thinner followed by a good scraping with a wide putty knife and a scrub with a wire brush. Do the job outside, and wear gloves, eye protection and a respirator because the fumes from the solvent are strong and can burn skin and mucous membranes.

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