Happiness. Short-term, stupid, self-interest.

Home Renovation – How to build a Hearth

September- October 2006

NOTE: Thank you everyone who has commented on this article! However, please note the following:
1) This is not a step by step “how to”. They are just a series of pictures and I didn’t annotate many/any details at all; but hopefully it gives you ideas and inspiration.
2) The type of stove you plan to install will change fire code requirements. This sealed natural gas stove could actually have been placed 2 inches from drywall. However, a real wood burning stove requires much more, including an air space between the tile and actual wall. Please consult your local codes.

September was half gone and I could see all of the Fall house maintenance coming up like, extra lawn mowing, fertilizing, raking leaves, draining water lines, tuning the snow blower… all that stuff and I didn’t have a plan, materials, or even a clue on working with stone.

I needed help, and, if there is anyone out there more happy and willing to take on a project that they also have no idea how to do, it’s my wife. We split up the tasks. I worked on figuring out where the stove had to be placed and vented, what was needed to support it, and the detailed dimensions.


My wife worked on picking out the materials, the layout, the techniques, tools and supplies we would need to install it.

We knew we would use some kind of stone (natural or manufactured), even though the specs for this direct vent, natural gas, “wood” burning  stove allowed for placement next to drywall and could sit on hardwood floors. Most of the ceramic tile we looked at looked too neat and perfect and we were looking for something more natural. We looked at natural stone and found some to be too expensive (flamed granite) and some to be too rough/irregular. My wife kept pushing slate, despite my initial distaste for slate. However, she found some Brazilian and Indian slate that had all sorts of great colors and textures. We bought different lots from several different stores and chose the best ones.



I came up with a plan that didn’t call for too many cuts and consulted with the contractors who were going to install the stove to make sure it was all going to work, and I was right on with my plan. My wife arranged all the pieces for the best mix in colors and pattern and then sealed them. (natural stone needs to be sealed)

I built a strong support for the hearth, even though no one was going to be walking on it.






With the backer board in place, it was time to install the tiles.





We learned as we went along that perfect spacing was never going to happen with natural slate as all of the pieces were not cut perfectly. Just following close to my guidelines was good enough; grout will fill it all in and it will look great.



Do I even have time for Octoberfest??? Somewhere right around this point I had to skip a weekend of work for the most important weekend of the year. (other than my anniversary; but I worked on the hearth that weekend)

Time to cut some slate… Don’t bother trying to dry cut with a masonary blade. Get (or borrow) a wet saw and cutting is like a hot knife through butter.



Looking good! Time to grout and finish up.



I was even able to find and pull my thermostat wire I had left in the wall. (good thing I marked it on the plans)


In the end, getting to this point didn’t seem so hard, but I didn’t like how the grouting went. The slate is very rough and the grout didn’t wipe off like it would on a polished slab of marble. (you can see it in the pictures above… all the little white streaks in the slate) I wanted to remove the remains, which was dry at this point, but, oh-boy, is removing the grout from slate a very painful story to tell…


May 7, 2007 - Posted by | Home Improvement


  1. I just want you to know that I am enjoying this series immensely. I look forward to each installment. I can’t wait to see the final product.

    Comment by Wrathchild | May 7, 2007

  2. Thanks man. I love writing it; I wanted to document the whole thing anyway so where better than here? (most of it is written and scheduled to post, but I have to muck with the photos.)

    I can’t wait to see the final product either. As in, it is not done yet, and won’t be for awhile. According to my estimates, by the end of June I should be caught up to real time. Then, the Monday posts will probably turn into monthly updates.

    Comment by NYRampage | May 7, 2007

  3. can you tell me what backerboard is.

    Comment by paul hoven | September 17, 2007

  4. Backer board is a cement board substitute. Tile or stone needs to be mounted on a solid surface if it is going to be walked on. There are guidelines for the subfloor, such as minimum thickness and minimum spacing on joists. The backer board or cement board is mounted with thinset and lots of screws to the sub floor and then the tile goes one. Its purpose is to not let there be any deflection in the floor, otherwise the tile or joints will crack.

    I used Hardi backer, which you can buy at any of the big box stores. It is easier to work with than cement board which can crumble. Tile that is going to be mounted on a wall can be mounted directly to dry wall, unless it is a shower or such; as water proofing is another function of the backer board.

    Comment by NYRampage | September 18, 2007

  5. Great pics! Just found this on a Google search.. this is the only picture by picture set of instructions for building a suitable hearth I can find. Great Job!

    Comment by Rick Williams | November 29, 2007

  6. Great Job-I’ve been looking for ideas for a wood stove hearth and surround that doesn’t look ‘country’-is more contemporary. Right now our first floor looks like yours in the picture (finishing up electrical and moving towards drywall and fireplace). Thanks for the inspiration-I was leaning towards slate and I think your pics sealed the deal. I was under the impression though that I had to use backerboard for the walls even though it’s not in a bath in order to hold the weight of the tiles? Then again that was advice from those selling the backerboard 🙂

    Comment by April Rud | December 1, 2007

  7. I really like (and share) your HD build methodology. Did you find that the drywall was sufficient to support the rock? That would worry me.

    Comment by Jim Larson | December 6, 2007

  8. Your project looks nice. Did you treat your slate with a grout-releasing agent before you grouted it? With a porous material like slate you need to pre-treat it or the grout may never come off, and you will be left with a hazy finish as well as pockets of rock-hard grout. There’s really nothing that gets it out at that point. Also, many building codes require a one inch space between the non-combusible wall shield and the wall itself. If tile is stuck directly onto a combustible wall, the wall is still considered combustible since tile has such a high heat conductivity.

    Comment by Kirk | December 6, 2007

  9. Ooop- I just realized my computer initially did not download your Notes from the beginning of the project and you have addressed the wall clearance issue. Keep us posted on your progress. Looks like you’re doing nice work.

    Comment by Kirk | December 6, 2007

  10. I’d love to see a picture of the finished product…stove and all. That is, if it is finished. We are looking for ideas for a slate hearth, but only want a base to put the stove on. Your website and commentaries have certainly helped us out. Thanks.

    Comment by Linda | December 27, 2007

  11. I am rebuilding a hearth of my own and got good foundation ideas from your pics. I do know a little something about working with slate though and for anyone looking to use slate, a trick to keeping the grout from sticking to the stone during installation is to seal it before grouting. I recommend two coats of penetrating sealer which will prevent the above problem and protect the stone from oils, greases, and stains without changing the appearance of the stone. You can also use a stone enhancer type sealer to intensify the colors in the slate without detracting from the natural look.

    Comment by Denise | June 6, 2009

  12. can you tell me what the dimensions of your hearth are? it looks to be about 4x4x4, with the floor corner cut off?

    Comment by crustymustard | September 1, 2009

  13. I’m going to renovate my house soon so I thought to search for information about general remodeling, remodeling costs and remodeling companies to compare between. This article gives me access to a Targeted quality information about remodeling. Thanks, I hope you continue to publish articles like this, I will continue to visit here from time to time

    Comment by Roy Smith | May 10, 2010

  14. i was just wondering the dimiensions of the area you did.

    Comment by fred | May 23, 2010

  15. For future reference, while the grout is still semi wet use some white vinegar and a rag to help remove the grout. just damp the rag and scrub.

    Comment by ME Home owner | November 27, 2010

  16. I looked for so long to see a design idea for an area the same shape as yours for a pellet stove. I want to tile over old ugly brick but could not invision what would look good and how to start the first row. You did an amazing job and I want to thank you for posting the photos of each step and the story.

    Comment by Deb | February 13, 2011

  17. Great job man, looks awesome! I am planning on following your lead and building my own hearth in my new house but have a question. We are installing laminate flooring on top of tile, I wanted to have the hearth in place before we lay the laminate but have no idea I would anchor the hearth down to the tile. Any suggestions?

    Comment by Patrick | March 27, 2011

  18. Hello there! Do you know if they make any plugins to
    protect against hackers? I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on.
    Any tips?

    Comment by information | January 26, 2013

  19. As a result, engine parts rub and grind together which creates friction and heat
    inside the engine. Even if you offer the product or service, sometimes inventory levels
    make it impossible to offer so what’s a business owner to do. Trained mechanics can repair any type of vehicle in no time.

    Comment by auto repair shop signs | June 20, 2013

  20. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your weblog. You have some really great articles and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to
    write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine.

    Please shoot me an e-mail if interested. Kudos!

    Comment by weight loss yorkville il | August 16, 2013

  21. Hello there! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established blog.
    Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about setting up my own but I’m not sure where to start.
    Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thanks

    Comment by http://www.alstrahost.com/vs/uprofile.php?UID=2051 | September 8, 2013

  22. Hi my family member! I wish to say that this article is amazing, great written and come with approximately all important infos.

    I would like to peer extra posts like this .

    Comment by Gaming | February 16, 2014

  23. nice – my tile was crushed – not sure why – nice orb too

    Comment by sara buffalo | September 26, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: