How to Make a Fake Fireplace
This fake fireplace has appeared in a few places now, and due to popular demand, I’ll show you how it was done, and how you can make one too. This is more than a temporary decoration for the holidays, when we’re finished, your faux fireplace will warm-up the decor of a living room, den or bedroom. The 10th floor of the DoItYourself building isn’t the most picturesque place I’ve worked, but I’m doing something about it. I have a concrete pillar to work around, but if you’re going flat up against a wall you can build this fireplace without the supporting arms and secure it to the studs. I did purchase the peal-and-stick tiles (the only credible application for this product, in my opinion) and the molding, the rest was scrap.
Step 1 – Measure and Cut
If you have the space, and you want to make this easy on yourself, base everything off the 12x12 vinyl tiles, so you won’t have to cut them. Here, because of the pillar, I cut my sheet of plywood to a 30-inch square. I also cut 2 18x30-inch sections for arms that will project backwards from either side of the fireplace and hug the pillar, holding everything in place.
Step 2 – Create the Frame
The whole thing needs rigidity and structure, and that’s what the 2x2s are for. Measure them to frame out the back of the fireplace. In my case, I inset them an inch from the edges to account for the arms, and set one even with the top. The inset put them close enough to the hearth that they supply structure there too. If you’re going flat against a wall, so this structure is flush with the edges, you may need to secure a smaller frame around the inside of the hearth as well. Screw everything in place through the plywood. The tiles and molding will hide the screw heads.
Incidentally, I used a cordless Panasonic 18v impact driver for this. This is an excellent tool I’ve been trying out for about 6 months on most of my projects. It’s a time saver, the battery holds a charge and it’s powerful enough for everything I’ve asked it to do.
Step 3 – Lay Out the Tile
Notice we didn’t cut out the space for the hearth yet? It’s tempting to get it all done at once, but it’s more important to make sure everything’s going to line up the way you expect it to. In my case, I cut 3 tiles in half and set them in place around the hearth, without sticking them down. They covered the perimeter of the plywood square, leaving a 24x24 hearth in the middle. I know that simple math would give you the same answer, but I say it’s better to trust a physical layout than just the calculations. Using the tiles as a guide, mark the edges of the hearth and cut it out.
Step 4 – Peel and Stick
Now the shape of the fireplace is set. Find the center of the top of the hearth and peel and stick your first 2 tiles so the joint is dead center. Now peel and stick the tiles on the sides of the hearth. Starting at the top and working down ensures than any flaws will occur at the bottom, where they can be more easily hidden or corrected.
Step 5 – Set the Rosettes and Plinths
These molding blocks simplify the molding process, by eliminating the need to cut miters and break out the coping saw, but they serve another function here too. Because this whole thing is fake, they add visual weight to the piece. Molding that simply terminates at the floor doesn’t appear to be supporting anything, but set it on a plinth and it takes on the character of a pillar or column. Set the rosettes in the upper corners and the plinths in the bottom corners and tack them in place with the brad nailer.
Step 6 – Cut and Install the Molding
Measure the space between the rosettes and plinths and cut the molding accordingly. Tack them in place. In my case, I didn’t like the empty look at the top of the molding, so I ripped a bead off a piece of scrap molding and shot it into the gap. At this point, it looks pretty much like a fireplace. It just needs a mantel and some finishing up.
Step 7 – Fill and Paint
The nail holes in the molding need to be filled, and wood fill putty is the usual method, but an old painter taught me his trick of using paintable latex caulk. It goes on smooth and easy, doesn’t need sanding and the only tool you need is your finger.
For the arms, I wanted to hide the grain of the plywood, so I skim coated the surface with drywall mud, let it dry and then sanded it smooth. That could be overkill for this project, but never had a call to use this technique before and I wanted to try it. It worked great, but if you have an aversion to wearing eye protection and a respirator, I can’t recommend it. It kicks up a ton of dust.
Then I painted all the wood elements (except the mantel) white. I also spray painted the interior of the “hearth” black.
Step 8 – Attach the Arms and Back
The arms are 30 inches high to match the front and 18 inches deep, which is a little arbitrary, based on the amount of scrap I had and the depth of the column. Since the column is concrete (and not technically mine) I can’t use any fasteners on it, so the arms had to be long enough and tight enough for a snug embrace. If you’re doing a similar install, but you can screw into whatever you’re wrapping around, the arms only have to be long enough to be secure, maybe 6 inches. I screwed the arms to the 2x2 frame, and hid the joint and filled the offset with more molding.
Behind the arms, I screwed the piece I cut out of the front to make the hole for the hearth to the back of frame, creating the back of the hearth.
Step 9 – Cut and Install Mantel
If you’ve read my other articles, you know how I feel about reclaimed wood. You never know where you’ll find a useful piece, and I stumbled across this nicely weathered tongue-and-groove deck board in a dry riverbed. I didn’t have a project for it at the time, but its rustic look will complement the neo-classical style of the fireplace front. The board was too long, so I cut it in half and doubled it up, securing it with diagonal screws through the tongue and groove. I did this on the bottom, so the fasteners are invisible from the top. Finally, I set it in place with L-brackets.
Step 10 – Create the Hearth Floor
Honestly, this was an afterthought. I thought I was done and then I looked at the thing and realized that if I were to build a fire in it, it would burn a hole through the carpet. Luckily, I had enough scrap plywood and vinyl tiles left over. From plinth to plinth, the base of the fireplace is 30 ¼-inches, so I cut a piece of plywood to that length. I cut it 18 inches deep, so 2 ½ tiles could cover the space. The other halves of the tiles I cut I cut again to fill in the 3-inch gaps on either side.
I set the floor under the base so the joint between the tiles was even with the back of the surround, tacked it in place just to hold it and then screwed it down to the underside of the plinths and the back of the hearth. I also installed a strip of reflective aluminum across the bottom of the hearth, to create the illusion that it’s deeper than it is. This would be better with an actual mirror, but strangely I didn’t have a 6x26 piece of mirror in my shop.
Step 10 – Install It
I really wanted to make this a 10 step project, and there’s really nothing to this, so I’m cheating on the numbers. Slide the unit into place.
If you’re going straight against a wall, you can shoot screws through the back of the hearth into a wall stud.
That’s it. “10” steps and you’ve transformed a dull room (or office space) into a comfortable den. The more you integrate it into the room with appropriate decor, the greater the illusion.