Build a Mosaic-Tile Fireplace Surround

Create an eye-catching setting for a gas insert with these step-by-step instructions.

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The frame for this fireplace-insert surround is built with a small inset on the front side. The tile is adhered to a separate piece of plywood, which is then fastened to the front of the frame within the inset. Finally, salvaged wood flooring is used to trim the entire piece. Here's how to build it:

Materials and Tools:

¾-inch plywood
½-inch medium-density fiberboard (MDF)
reclaimed oak flooring strips or trim
sheets of ½-inch tile
mortar or tile adhesive and grout
notched trowel
grout float
wood glue
tape measure
straight-edge ruler
2½-inch brad nails and nail gun
air compressor and hose
drill with ¾- and 1¾-inch wood screws
router with ¼-inch round-over bit
table saw
miter saw
circular saw


1. Determine the size of your fireplace surround.
2. Use the table saw and the miter saw to cut the MDF to the appropriate size. Cut two different lengths of MDF per side. For the top, cut one piece 1 inch longer. For the sides, cut one piece ½-inch longer for each side.
3. Use wood glue and a nail gun to attach the two top pieces. Center the longer piece on top so it creates a rabbet cut for both ends.
4. Put the side pieces together, leaving only one rabbet edge per side.
5. Attach the three sides together, creating a three-sided frame. Use wood glue and a nail gun to fasten it together, and secure it with wood screws.
6. Using the table saw, rip 4-inch pieces of MDF to attach to the inside of the framing for extra support.
7. Attach ½-inch inset from the front edge, creating a ledger for insetting the face of the surround.
8. Use the table saw to cut the plywood to size. The plywood is going to be the face of the surround. Measure to the inside of the framing.
9. Measure the dimensions of the firebox opening and cut it out of the plywood.
10. Lay out the tile on the plywood to determine your design, and make any necessary cuts to the tile.
11. Mix the mortar for the tiles. With a trowel, smooth the mortar onto the plywood and then adhere the tile. Leave a few small spaces untiled on the edge of each side of the plywood so you'll have a space to screw the plywood face onto the frame. Once it's attached, you can either cover the screws with the trim or go back and cover them with little pieces of tile.
12. Allow the tile to set overnight.
13. Attach the tiled face to the plywood frame.
14. Mix the grout according to the directions on the bag. Ideally, it should have the consistency of toothpaste or peanut butter-make sure to remove any lumps.
15. Using a grout float, apply the grout to the entire tiled surface. Apply the grout across the tiles at a diagonal so the grout will get into all the crevices. Wipe away any excess grout from the tiles with a sponge. Allow at least four hours for the grout to cure.
16. Cut the trim for the frame with the miter saw. (We used salvaged flooring strips for our project.)
17. For the mantel, use the router to round over the edges on three sides of the wood.
18. Use the drill to attach the mantel to the top of the surround, keeping the flat edge against the wall. Drill from inside and underneath so the screws won't be visible from the top.
19. Place the fireplace insert in the surround and attach the gas line.

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