After staring at the fireplace for a couple of years it was finally time to start the farmhouse fireplace makeover. Looking at several options, the biggest thing hindering the start was how to trim it out. This you would think wouldn’t be a big deal, however it totally affects the design and technique involved. Not to mention material type. Normally in most brick situations it’s outside and wraps around the house. Not indoors, there wasn’t any inside corners to cove into so-to-speak. A lot of the options for the wall-face would require trim. We really don’t have the type of home structure and design that would welcome columns and this was the main way of getting around the corner problem. Until I found BrickWeb and combining it with a German smear mortar technique.
A thinly veneered clay fired brick on a mesh fiberglass backing. You get the look, heft and feel of real brick for about a quarter of the weight. Excellent. After meandering around this project for a couple of weeks I finally researched the technique and skillset I would need to make this happen. Not to mention on how to do a ‘German smear’. Laying the product was tough enough, now adding in beyond the norm’ finishing technique made the situation a little more tricky.
Tools needed could be on the fringe here. The goal here wasn’t about setting out to have some euphoric experience while doing the work with hand tools; I wanted the job done, efficiently. I will list out what I went with, power drill with a mixing bit (of any kind would work but a 4-footer keeps you from bending over, just saying). Trowel, I went with a 3/8 notch, mainly letting the volume graph on the mortar bag determine the size. A big sponge (used for German smear) was a lifesaver for the finishing work. I did try out a grout bag, but shortly after it was just too much of a mess and not as efficient. A grinder I feel is required, with a DIAMOND blade, that is important, has to be a diamond blade. Also, get a decent brand of blade; otherwise you’ll be changing blades 4 times over when you could of just bought a good one from the start and likely saved money. A 5-gallon bucket for mixing works well. A tape measure and pencil. I also used a set of heavy-duty Dewalt cutting shears, which I’ll touch more on later, to cut hardiebacker board.
After the ‘demo’ is completed, I set out to build footer to the dimensions I wanted. In our case it was 12 inches deep, 10 inches tall and the wide of the fireplace entirely. I don’t have any pictures, but I built it fully supported. A doorframe is a great comparison, not just dependent on fasteners. Very structurally sound.
Then covered it with hardiebacker board. I would normally use a roofing nailer to tack this stuff up and hit the corners with screws, but with the nailer forgotten, I screwed it all using 1 5/8 inch start bit screws. For cutting this, these Dewalt shears were amazing. If you watch the video, I recorded some footage of them in action. NO DUST, minimal noise and clean cuts that you could do in the living room with just some plastic down. Long gone are the days of being covered in dust from a grinder or a circular saw with a hardiebacker blade in it, an absolute incredible method for cutting it. I’ll never attempt it again without it. I was able to borrow these, however, I’d imagine a person could rent them.
By first pre-measuring and cutting my brick in batches, then mortared the area and set to laying it. I gave it about 20 seconds and gently pushed in on each brick getting the mortar to adhere through the webbing. It went well. I mixed the mortar with a consistency of thick oatmeal. As in if you scooped some up and turned it upside down it wouldn’t fall off, but if a gave a little shake, it then would. Also, blue painters tape in some spots to help hold the BrickWeb in position while I kept working, on the fly clamping.
I did take my time on this. I wanted a good result, if you don’t lay a lot of stone, tile or even regular brick, set aside enough time. If you you’re unsure about a technique, cutting method, use of a specialty tool, research it. Someone out there has been in the same boat as you, found out how to do it, then put it up on the web to help the next person. Just discern cautiously……and be safe doing so.
After letting it firm up overnight it was time to ‘smear’ the white mortar on. We went with white mortar for the grout-lines because that was going to be our coverage color anyways, might as well keep it easy. Had we used a normal gray, then I’d just have to work harder in going over it with white for the finish work anyways. I bought the bagged variety of thin-set for a couple of reasons, 1 it is cheaper, 2 you can mix it to your needs and it doesn’t slide around like mastic does. These brick flats aren’t light in that regard.
I tried several ways of doing the mortar. First was with a trowel to sort of push it in. Next up was a grout bag. Which I could see as a good method, however given the cramped and low to the ground space I was working in, too much squeezing for an extended period of time didn’t last long on that one. Next up, a big yellow sponge. This worked good, but highly messy. I wish I had done this in 2ft x 2ft sections. Spreading mortar in the grout lines, then covering, then scraping off the excess from the brick face to keep a reveal that I liked. I didn’t think that far ahead though. Instead, I covered it all, it dried then to remove the excess (now mostly dried) material a spray bottle of water and a wire brush in a drill did the job. Which took a lot less effort, but going in small sections would have been better.
In the end I cannot complain by any means, it turned out good. It turned out better than projected. On one hand it is just bricking your fireplace, on the other it was a new challenge and skill obtained. I can’t ask for more than that. It also was ready by Christmas, which was a plus. I never planned on doing any video or article on it, but have received a lot of questions after posting different stages of the process on Instagram. So it just made sense to answer a few. If you have questions, please feel free to ask. I’d be happy to help if I can.