January 15, 2013

Playing With Fire

Remember that whole "getting away from house renovation updates on my blog" thing? It didn't last long. But, the bad news gets good-er, because this might be my last reno entry for a while. As in, we are pretty much done. Admittedly, I thought the Cubs would win a World Series again before we would arrive at this point, but here we are.

Warning: This is a long one. I struggled between a straight "how-to" tutorial and just showcasing the progression. As a result, I think I failed miserably at both. If you DO read it all the way through, first of all, God bless you. Secondly, you will notice the writing gets worse and worse until finally it is just one run-on sentence with a plethora of commas. You're welcome?

The journey to a DIY fireplace mantel and surround

Ahh, the fireplace: the focal point of every great den. Form and function. Well, until very recently, ours was just functional. It was ugly. What I thought would be a relatively quick project turned into months - not because it was some major painstaking process, but because I hit a snag in the plan and then other things came up. So the fireplace finish got bumped, then bumped again, until finally I had some time over Chrimmus break to knock it out.

Here is what it looked like when I started.

Beautiful, I know. Why would I ever mess with that? But I did. It goes without saying, but getting the larger than life flat screen LED mounted was my #1 priority.

First problem: TV cord wouldn't reach the closest outlet.
First solution: Install an outlet right next to fireplace, that will be hidden behind the mantel.We wired it off of the existing outlet. I didn't do the wiring part, but I saved some cash by cutting out a horizontal 1" strip of drywall between the two spots. Electricians charge by the hour, so the more you can do to cut down on their labor, the more money you save. When he was done, I put the strip(s) back with adhesive, sanded, mudded the gaps and sanded again before painting.

After that, I had to get the old mantel off.

Me: "For the love of everything holy, please let whatever's behind there be OK so I can just have a floating mantel.

Me: "God, why do you hate me?"

Not only was it not OK behind there, but it looked like the genius mason who built this masterpiece did so with that hideous mantel in mind. I can almost imagine the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure internal struggle that went down:

I spent the last week creating an intricate brick fireplace - days of my life I will never get back. Now that I'm on the final stretch, should I: 

A) take pride in my work and finish this thing off right, or...

B)  just stick random shapes and sizes of brick in the most non-sensical arrangement you could possibly imagine, then slather on way more mortar than could ever be necessary?

Screw logic, it's close to quittin' time and I want an ice-cold Budweiser. Let's go with B, LOL!

LOL, indeed. Time to re-adjust the plan...right after I finish whitewashing the brick.

Second problem: Thanks to Dudley Do-right, I had to scrap the idea of a solid beam mantel.
Second solution: Make a faux beam entirely out of 1" thick pine boards. Mounting would be easier, and besides, that shoddy mortar job wouldn't hold the weight of a solid beam. It was also cheaper than a solid beam would've been.

As for how I built it, it's a hollow box. I built it to the size I wanted, then based my 2" x 4" support system off of that, drilled holes for screw anchors into the mortar joints, attached the support, slid the box on and screwed the box to the supports in discreet areas that wouldn't show.

And that is how it stood, untouched, for about two months. That is also how it would've stayed, if I had a choice. I wanted a floating mantel, dammit.

Begrudgingly, I began to measure out for the trim I needed to add. It consisted of two layers since the area needing to be covered was not flat. What happened next wasn't so much complex as it was time-consuming. Measure the area for the first layer, cut the plywood, hold it in place, drill through in all four anchor spots, insert anchors into holes, drive screws into the anchors. Repeat.

Then I measured, cut and nailed my columns (into the 1st layer of plywood) on top of that to bridge the gap between the plywood and the fireplace opening.

Third problem: The sub-par mason applied mortar like Paula Deen uses butter, and the excess mortar wouldn't allow the columns to sit flush to the brick.
Third solution: Masonry chisel + big-ass hammer = no more mortar

Finally, I bought some trim I liked that was not overly complicated in design or ease of installation. With this, I would create four separate trim panels to give the whole thing a splash of design and depth without killing myself. I measured so that the trim rectangles would be basically centered on each panel, made my miter cuts, used a level to place and a brad nailer to install.

And here it is caulked, primed and painted. I used regular old, run of the mill cabinet hinges to attach the screen to the wood, so it wouldn't shift/fall over when trying to build or stoke the fire. You don't need anything special (depending on your screen, obviously), just a drill bit and the screws that come with the hinges.

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