Q: I have a question regarding my old fireplace, built in the 1920s with a brick facade that was added in the 1950s.
The brick facade has been painted white and is as ugly as can be. The fireplace also has a threshold that is 2 inches high, 5 feet, 2 inches wide, and 1 foot, 9 inches deep.
I want to remove the brick surround and the threshold, freeing the fireplace of some of its weight, and then refinish the facade with either tile or stone squares. I plan to refinish the threshold in the same material, except that this will now be flush with the rest of the floor so as to add more continuous space to the room.
How does one go about removing these bricks? Can we carefully remove the brick ourselves? And, if so, what tools do we need? My husband and son are ready to tackle the project.
A: Of course a picture is worth a thousand words. So when our reader offered to send a photo along, we gladly accepted. We were also curious about the reference to the weight of the facade and wondered whether there might be some settling involved or some other structural problem.
Happily, she reported that there were no problems with the fireplace settling and that the motivation for the fix was purely cosmetic. One look at the soot-stained white brick facade and hearth, and it’s apparent that a makeover is in order. Fortunately, this makeover is not too extreme.
Removing the brick should be a pretty easy job. The only tools needed are a cold chisel and a stout hammer. A 3-pound sledgehammer should do the trick. This is also known as a "single jack" — named for its use by a single hard-rock miner in conjunction with a star chisel to bore holes in rock for placement of dynamite.
Start by removing the wood mantle that sits on the top of the brick. Place the cold chisel in the mortar joints of one of the end bricks. There should be a joint where the brick meets the wall and there is a joint between the top brick and the second course below it. Work on both joints until the brick is loosened, then lift it off. Work gently so the bricks don’t fall and damage the floor or your feet. Work from the top to the bottom in this manner until you’ve removed all the bricks. The brick you see on the fireplace is a facade. It is attached to the firebox by mortar. You’ll be able to clean up the brick behind the facade and cover them with a new flat mortar bed to install the tile or marble.
After all of the facade bricks are out, remove the hearth (threshold) in the same way with the same tools. You’ll probably find the hearth is set in a bed of mortar. The mortar base will provide a good substrate to set your tile.
As far as putting the fireplace front together again, unless you have some experience installing tile, consider hiring a tile setter or mason to do this part of the job.
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