Constructing A River Rock Fireplace

corner fireplace with river rock surround
  • 40-60 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 1800-3,500
What You'll Need
River rocks
Painter's tape
Mortar pan
Metal lath
Masonry saw
Damp cloth

A river rock fireplace can be a beautiful and attractive addition to any home, particularly one with a rustic or country cottage décor. This type of home improvement project requires substantial work and effort on the part of the homeowner but it can be well worth the sweat equity involved if it is done right. This expert guide will show you how to do it yourself like a pro.

Sources of River Rock

You can find river rock in a number of places. The most obvious, though also probably the most time-consuming, is in local rivers and streams. You may be able to gather many if you live in an area with abundant creeks and streams. Before collecting, however, make sure that you will not be violating any conservancy laws.

Another source is your local home improvement center. Many large home improvement retailers have not only natural river rock stones, but also manufactured rocks. Manufactured rocks can offer greater variety in shape, color, and size of stones.

Finally, local quarries may also sell river rocks for home improvement and landscaping projects. You may be able to purchase river rock from quarries by weight or by the load. In some cases, it can even be delivered to your home or building location.

Create an Outline on the Wall

rock fireplace with lit candles on the mantle

Use painter’s tape to design an outline of the dimensions for your mantle. This will give you a visual to work from and help you prep the space to place the stones when the time comes.

Create an Outline on the Floor

Determine where you want the mantle to extend from the wall and mark this space off with painter’s tape on the floor. There may be a local code that identifies a minimum size for your floor pad so check with the building department.

Cut Metal Sheets

Prepare and cut the metal lath sheets to the size that will fit inside the area of the painter's tape against the wall and on the floor. The metal lath will be the base for the mortar and make the fireplace stronger and more durable.

Install the Metal Sheets

Nail the metal lath to the floor and the wall. Remove the tape.

Mix the Mortar

Mix the mortar according to the package instructions. Starting at a bottom corner, apply mortar to your first stone and put it in place.

Create a Reference Point

At the opposite corner, apply mortar to another stone and position it. This will give you a reference point for laying the stones across the bottom and having them meet in alignment.

Lay your First Row

wiping off a fireplace next to stacked wood

Place your first layer of stones along the bottom, applying mortar around each stone as you place it. Use your trowel to add mortar between the stones if more is needed. Smooth the mortar with your hands as necessary.

Add Additional Layers

Build the layers of stones along the wall, always starting at one corner and moving horizontally across.

Clean the Mortar

After you have completed building the wall of river rock, wipe away any excess mortar with the damp cloth. If any of the lath is visible at the top, apply a thin layer of grout to hide it.

Let Dry

Let the mortar dry for 48 hours before use.