A Fake Fireplace with Mantel DIY

DIY Faux Fireplace with Mantel

Today we are adding a faux fireplace with mantel in our new house.  For whatever unimaginable reason instead of installing a real fireplace and fireplace mantel upstairs, the builders opted for a wood stove in the basement.  I am so excited to be doing this home improvement project as I know it’s going to make a huge difference.  The DIY faux fireplace will provide a focal point in our living room and give me a pretty mantel to decorate for the holiday season.  The heating stove remains hidden in the basement, solving that eyesore will have to wait for another day.

This post has very complete step by step instructions that may make this project seem more complicated than it actually is. Hubs built this with a broken right wrist and cast. The two of us built our fireplace in one day, and took two days to refinish and tile it. Our fake fireplace dimensions will likely be different then ours, but we included instructions for measuring so you can do the same thing with any fireplace surround you fall in love with.

Choosing the Fireplace Surround

The first thing is to find a fireplace surround for an affordable price.  It took a while to find the right one, but worth the wait.  We found this large fireplace surround for $50 on a marketplace Facebook page and I love it.  The best part was its stylish farmhouse look and the surround is quite large.

Second hand white fireplace surround for Faux Fireplace

The second step was to measure the fireplace surround for a base, insert, and the depth we could have.  As our living room is small I didn’t want the base any deeper than 8 inches or it would impact traffic flow through our small room.

Supplies for a Fake Fireplace

I have added links with examples of what we purchased at Home Depot, they aren’t affiliate links.

1 – 4 by 8 sheet of 1/2″ MDF board panel (this was the least expensive smooth wood we could find that is 1/2 inch thick.

2 – 1 by 4 lumber, 8 feet long

1 – 1 by 3 lumber, 8 feet long

Acrylpro Tile Adhesive (not an affiliate link)

White Non-Sanded Grout (not an affiliate link)

7 – L brackets 3″ and wood screws

120 grit & 180 grit sandpaper

Dap Caulking in White (not an affiliate link)

Latex paint – We had Sherwin Williams Extra White on hand from baseboards so we used 1/4 gallon of it, and some Binz 123 primer.

Measuring and Building the Fireplace Base

We decided to make the base the same width as the mantel which came out to 79″.

Picture of faux fireplace surround matching the lenth of the mantel to the base.

Cut Lengths for Base

2 – 1 by 4 cut 79″ long for the length

2 – 1 by 4 cut 7″ long for ends

2 – 1 by 3 cut 7″ long by cross bases

1 piece of MDF board 77 1/2″ by 7″

Underside of fireplace base showing the cross supports.

After cutting all the lumber to length, place the two 79″ lengths parallel to each other. Place the two end pieces between the 79-inch boards as shown below.

The ends of the base on a faux fireplace mantel. The base is made out of wood and there is an arrow to show placement.

Using wood screws, screw the two sort end to the two long pieces.  

Once the ends are connected put in the two cross pieces making sure that there is room at the top as the MDF board will slide down into the frame.

Measuring the Size of the Insert

Once the base is built start building the actual fireplace insert that goes between the opening on the fireplace surround as shown.

Cut the MDF to size with either a skill saw or a table saw. We used a table saw.

Measuring out the size of the insert on a faux fireplace

Once you have the surround cut out, you need to decide how large you want the faux opening to be, and how wide you want the front coverage (tiles/bricks).

Measuring for tile placement on faux fireplace front.

In the picture above you will notice that there is an outline of about one inch around the outside of the large MDF board.  Our fireplace surround had a slot on the backside for the front to fit into.  Your fireplace surround may have something different. 

This is how we decided on our tile placement. You have to decide how deep you want your opening to be depending on the depth of your base, your fireplace surround, and your mantel.  If you want to keep it flat don’t cut out the insert section.  Just paint it a dark color and tile around it.

We chose to cut out the insert to make the faux fireplace box deeper.  If you choose to cut it keep the cutout piece of MDF for the back.

Building the Faux Fireplace Box

The piece that you cut out from the fireplace front becomes the back of the box. Here is an image to help orientate you.

We found it much easier to build and assemble the fireplace by placing it up on a flat surface first. 

Building a fireplace insert using wood

Next, we need to cut three pieces of MDF for the two sides and the top of the faux firebox. We do not need a bottom as it fits against the base. Our opening is 2″ deep.

Note: When deciding the depth of your faux firebox, you need to be aware of the depth of your mantel. If you want a deeper firebox you can create it, but you may have to add a strip to the back of your mantel and camouflage the joint. I mention it just because I don’t want you to be surprised by a problem at the final stage.

We cut the following 3 pieces of MDF board.

2 pieces – 2″ by 28 1/2″ for the two sides

1 piece – 2″ by 36″ for the top

Once cut, line them up with the back, apply the wood glue, and nail them into place.  We used an air nailer but small nails or a brad nailer works as well.

Nailing the sides on a faux fireplace mantel

Here’s the finished box.

The back side of a faux fireplace surround and mantel

Assembling a DIY Faux Fireplace

Now that we have the faux firebox, the front for the tile, and the surround with the mantel all done, we need to assemble everything before finishing.

The project started to get heavy for us just two of us to move, so we moved the fireplace into the living room before assembling and starting to tile.

Next, glue the front edge of the firebox to the wood front and nail it in place. (my bad I have no image).

Using L Brackets and nails to assemble piece of a faux fireplace

Once the fireplace box is attached to the front, lay the front with the box attached to your fireplace surround.  You can glue and brad nail it, but we found it easier to glue and use 7 L brackets and wood screws to hold it in place.

Here is another angle of the brackets

Attaching a fireplace surround with L Brackets

Once we had the basic fireplace built it was time to think about the finishing touches.  As we already had the white fireplace surround we had to think about how we wanted to put the finishing touches on the hearth, the front of the fireplace, and the fake firebox.

Tiling the Fake Fireplace Front

I gave up the faux brick idea right away in favor of tile. There are a few things to consider when purchasing tile for a faux fireplace. Can it be cut?  Do you want to be cutting tile? What’s the budget?  What color do you want?  How much material do you need to cover the front surface of the fireplace?  Do you want to tile the firebox, or not?

Before shopping we made the following decisions.

We can cut the tile, the budget is $150 (Canadian), we want dark grey or black tiles not bigger than typical subway tiles, and we need 15 – 20 square feet of tile material.  We decided NOT to tile the firebox as I am still thinking about painting a fire image for the firebox area, and eventually an electric fireplace insert.  

Starting at Home Depot and Lowes we looked at sand local availability, then made notes and went to the thrift stores to see if we could find either enough material or some material that matched what they had in the department stores.  We found tile at Habitat for Humanity. I freaked out when we found enough matching penny tiles in 12 by 12 sheets.  We got them for 25% of the original cost so $6 each at  Habitat.  

The great thing about this penny tile is it comes in 12 by 12 connected sheets so no individual tile setting, but we don’t know how to cut or have the equipment to cut it. We decided to place the tile so that one edge would not be even.

Steps to adhere tiles to a faux fireplace

1. Lay your tiles out to decide on pattern and placement before adhering them. Take loads of pictures for reference and then put your tiles back.

2. Spread tile adhesive using a putty knife where you want your tile. Do it in 1-foot square or smaller sections. Spread the adhesive about 1/8″ thick, and don’t fret about smoothness, just stay within the tiling area.

3. Once the tile adhesive is spread out. Pass a notched trowel over the adhesive keeping it as flat as possible. The trowel will remove about half the adhesive.

4. If cutting, cut your tile to size, and lay the tile onto the adhesive. The tile won’t stick immediately so you can adjust it into place.

Start the next section by repeating the steps. You will see the tools Hubs used.

Placing repetitive squares of tiles on the front of a fireplace.
Tiling a fireplace.

We learned that the staggered edges looked okay. We were able to save enough tiles to do the base, by cutting and fitting in sections of the 12 by 12 sheets.

Grouting Tile

We let the tile dry overnight before applying the grout. We thought about dark grey or black grout, but as the room itself is dark we opted for a white non-sanded grout. I think black grout would be gorgeous on this type of tile.

The easiest grout to work with is pre-mixed, so we suggest using pre-mixed nonsanded grout. Apply the grout into the voids between the tiles, for our penny tiles we used much more grout than you would for other styles of tile. The process is the same you just keep applying grout until the cracks are smooth.

Applying white grout to grey penny tiles on a Faux Fireplace

Grout can dry quite quickly but it depends on the product and how moist it is. Work in small areas like you did the tile.

As you do each section once the grout is applied use a large damp sponge to wipe off the access grout leaving the tile exposed. Repeat until is cleaned off. Hubs has a handled sponge as he has done a few tiling projects. You can use a really large sponge if you have one on hand.

Using a sponge to remove grout while tiling a fake fireplace

Once Hubs removed all the grout and made it smooth, I went with a damp rag and spent some time wiping each penny tile making sure it was cleaned right off and perfectly round. It took two hours for the penny tiles, which was a labor of love but I adore having them. For other tiles, you may be able to skip this step.

Final Fake Fireplace Finishing

Our fireplace surround came with glued-on scrollwork that was covered in glue and paint blobs, we took them off, and sanded everything smooth with 180-grit sandpaper.

We filled any nail holes with wood putty let it dry and sanded it smooth by hand with sandpaper.  Next, we painted the unfinished wood firebox and the outer edge of the base with one coat of primer and one coat of paint white latex.  We used Sherwin Williams Extra White (1/4 gallon), and 1 cup of Binz 123 Primer.

In the remaining already painted areas we sanded to scruff up the paint with 120 grit paper, skipped the primer, and gave it one coat of Extra White.  

Filling the Firebox

To fill the firebox I chose to use flameless candles and mini lights, but you can use logs and twinkle lights, an electric insert with faux logs, or painted-on flames.  For now, we kept the firebox white, we may update it with a shiplap or a mirror, or paint a fire in it. As I was so undecided I chose to leave it plain and just sit with it for a while. 

The final finished fake fireplace in white with dark grey penny tiles and candles for fire.

As this home doesn’t have the right spot to add a piped-in dream fireplace, this beautiful fireplace does all it needs to in this home. It instantly gave the living room a focal point and the rest of the room a cozy feel.  This fireplace although large can be moved around like a piece of furniture, making rearranging the tiny living room so much easier for the holiday season.  If you’re short on space you can move it right out and store it. 

Other DIY Faux Fireplace and Mantel Ideas

There are so many different options for faux fireplaces and mantels.  You can make a faux fireplace for such a reasonable amount I think building one is the perfect opportunity to see if you want to invest in the real thing or not.  For us it wasn’t the heat, it was having a beautiful mantel I could decorate and have fun with.  Here are some other DIY faux fireplace ideas I rounded up for you and other mantel decor ideas from different ways I decorated the mantel over the last year.  

A fake fireplace with flameless candles instead of fire.

Other Fireplace Related Ideas

A collection of different styles and sizes of fake fireplaces.

DIY Faux Fireplace Ideas

Here is a selection of other fake fireplace DIYs I collected. So many different ways to have a mantel and fireplace, with ideas for filling the fake firebox as well.

DIY Fall mantel with a fall banner made using book page leaves, and assorted fall decor, including glass pumpkins a white truck artwork, and a wooden squirrel.

Fall Mantel Garland

Here is the mantel decorated for Fall with a Cricut Book Page Craft Banner. I have since used the Cricut and black vinyl to make a large fire decal.

A Christmas decor for the mantel with cushions, greenery, gold bells, twinkling lights, a sign and candles all in neutral white, green, and brown. There is a large puppy relaxing in front of the fireplace.

Neutral Rustic Christmas Mantel

Here you can see the same DIY Faux fireplace in Neutral Rustic Christmas Mantel Decor but now I have removed the candles and added twinkling lights and logs.

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