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Before you can continue there is one more imporatant step which is to tape all the joints between board sections with fiberglass cement board tape (not drywall tape). The tape is then skimmed over with a layer of tile adhesive to stabilize the joint. Here you can see how the bottom sections of each side have been also made level with a coating of adhesive.


Part 2: Adhering the tile

taping the joints

close up of backer board

Here youcan see the two layers of board installed. Note at the bottom of the leg there is only one layer of 1/2 inch board in addition to a layer of 1/4 inch board. The wood in this area was left bowed out by the builder and would have caused the tile to bow out also in this area. Not an uncommon problem. In this case the thinner layer of board will leave an area that can now be made level with a skim coat of adhesive making for a nice true surface.

backer board in place

Two layers of 1/2 inch backer board have been applied to create a total thickness of one inch. The depth of the bullnose I will be using. The board has been applied leaving a 5/8 inch space around the opening of the firebox to accommodate the thickness of the bullnose as it turns the corner. The handmade tile itself will then form the final opening size covering the edge of the board. The hearth area has only one layer of 1/2 inch board screwed and glued to the floor. A special custom bullnose tile will cover this area which will be raised up one inch from the floor. Tile can also be inset into the wood floor but backer board should still be used in this area.

Screws are used here every eight or six inches to secure the backer board to the wood.
Here construction adhesive is applied to the backer board which comes in contact with wood.
Here I use silicone glue to adhere the board to the metal flashing. Silicone is tolerant of the minimal heat on the flashing area and is flexible and can move a little with the expansion and contraction of the two surfaces. Screws can also be used with the glue on this area if you know there are no critical components behind the flashing. In this case I did not install the insert and don't know what is back there, so I will not be using screws in this area.
apply adhesive
apply silicone
screw down backer board

Above is the fireplace prior to surface preparation. On the bottom photo you can see the black metal flashing to be covered . The vent NOT to be covered and the transition area from wood to flashing that must be dealt with. This transition area is the main concern here. You cannot just glue tile over this joint and expect it to stay in place. This joint is subject to movement because of the different expansion characteristics of wood and metal. We need to somehow bridge this gap first with a more stable material. My solution is to use a cement backer board or similar material. This material can be 'glued and screwed' to the surface and the tile can be applied then to this board. The next concern then becomes how to deal with the exposed edge of the backer board.

Now we come to one of the advantages of custom tile. My solution is typically to make a bullnose tile specifically intended to cover this edge and in the process creating an attractive border around the opening of the firebox. If you are not using custom tile then you may be out of luck or have to find some suitable option. This tutorial concerns custom tile so you need merely to have the required pieces made. If everything works out right there should be a minimum of cutting to do on your tile. If you do make some cuts you even have the option of returning them to the tile maker to have the cut edges radiused (rounded a little to soften the cut edge) and reglazed!

In the next series of photos you can see how the backer board is being applied to this area.

detail of insert area
unprepared surface
tile installed

Although installing tile on an existing masonry fireplace is always my preferred option it is becoming increasingly common for new construction to use metal insert fireplaces. These new fireplaces offer a significant cost savings in that a masonry chimney need not be constructed. Also the new inserts are considerably more efficient and are now available in many styles that can be quite elegant. My lingering concern is for durability. Handmade tile will retain it's beauty for centuries... Long after the metal insert has failed. That being said I accept that the trend is now toward inserts and I will attempt here to illustrate how to deal with some of the unique problems you may encounter in applying tile around one.

Vents and Metal Flashing

The first consideration is how to deal with vents as well as how you want to deal with the (usually black) metal flashing around the opening of the fireplace. The rule regarding vents is simple: Don't cover them! If they are present they are there for a reason and are necessary for the safe operation of your fireplace. If you find them unsightly there are inserts available with no visible vents. These are my preference.

When it comes to flashing you have to make a decision. You can leave it uncovered which makes it possible to remove the insert at some future date or you can choose to cover it up and leave just the firebox showing. This is the option I will be showing in this tutorial. If you choose to leave the flashing exposed then you would prepare the surface for tile right up to the flashing but everything else would be basically the same as shown here.

Installing tile on a metal insert style Fireplace.

This is a tutorial for the installation of handmade tile on An insert fireplace.
by: Richard Pruckler

Installing handmade Tile part One