Tiling a fireplace surround

HELLO! Sorry for such a late post today – I completely forgot I was supposed to help at my son’s school this morning so my day has been a bit behind. ;) This is a big post but I still wanted to share it with you today because I’m SO thrilled with how it turned out.

I finally finished up the tile around the fireplace and I luurvvvvve it. Yep, I brought out the lurve for this one. I went with the herringbone tile because a.) I loved it and it was the one that had my heart as soon as I saw it b.) I realized that it wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought to install and c.) my husband picked it immediately between that and the regular marble subway tile.

SO. I’ve shown you how I tiled the surround years ago, but this is a refresher with a little more detail. That time I didn’t need to grout so this tutorial includes that step. I started by finding the middle of the actual fireplace – not the surround but the firebox:

how to tile fireplace surround

This was because the two sides beside the box aren’t exactly the same size. So I wanted everything centered on the firebox part.

I borrowed a tile saw from the guys that do work on our house occasionally (they’ve let me borrow it a couple times and it’s a big money saver). I’ve used it before and actually quite love this tool. It looks scary but it’s not hard to use at all. For this marble tile I made my measurements and used a pencil to mark where I needed to cut:

how to use a tile saw

Pencil is the only thing that would leave a decent mark. Before you do any cutting be sure to check your mark against the saw:

how to use a tile saw

Like double and triple check! The saw makes it easy to line everything up – just make sure all the sides are flush against the panel that the tile lays on and then check your line one more time before you start cutting.

The tile saw must have a water source – usually a bucket that the pump sits in underneath that runs the water through the machine. Make sure that water is running through before you start cutting:

cutting tile on tile saw

Now, tile on the mesh is easy to cut because you’re taking care of such a big piece at a time – but there are some tricks to it that I learned along the way. First of all, GO SLOW. The marble is very soft and will easily chip. You’ll want to hold onto the panel that the tile sits on and control it as it goes through – otherwise the saw will want to push it through really fast.

It’s not hard – you just have to be patient. I found that when I was cutting the tile didn’t cut as cleanly on the right side, but the left side was usually a better cut. So I made sure to turn my tile accordingly to get a clean cut each time. Does that make sense? I wanted the “good” side on the left.

Also, because the tile is so soft and the pieces on the mesh are so small, I found it helpful to lay something on top of them as I pushed them through:

cutting herringbone tile

If you can apply a little pressure as it goes through it keeps the tiles from moving around as the saw cuts them. (WATCH where your hands are!) It was really helpful when it came to the first and last piece along the mesh.

Bottom line though – very few of my cuts were perfect. I realized very quickly that it was going to be next to impossible to get perfectly perfect cuts on every one. Which doesn’t bother me – it adds to the “character.”  ;) I have a LOT of character in this house.

I would cut a piece or two and then get them up on the surround – I used this premixed adhesive to do so:

easy tile application

I’ve tiled a few times and the first time I mixed the thinset and grout myself – I didn’t care for it. It’s messy and a pain in the butt, at least to me. Buying it premixed and ready to go costs a little more but was SO worth it.

You’ll want a notched trowel to spread it on. I don’t feel like I’m ever good at this part:

how to tile a wall

I think I use too much – but I’d rather have too much than too little. Spread it as evenly as you can and make sure to get the edges: 

tiling a backsplash

Then just push the tile on there and smoosh it around. I didn’t use spacers at all and I didn’t need to do anything to hold the tile up as I went – the thinset grabs it pretty quick and within a few minutes it starts to set. Just adjust it if it starts to move down at all. Also, if the thinset comes up between the tiles you can just use a toothpick to clean it out. Even with my laying it on thick I didn’t have to do that much.

I had the gas line run to the  front of the surround when we moved the fireplace so I had to work around that spot – you can just unscrew that metal valve so you know what pieces need to be cut:

tiling fireplace surround

I thought that area was going to be a lot harder than it was. If a piece was in the way I just took it off the mesh backing and then cut it by itself. You can also get little nippers that will cut smaller pieces like this easily.

When you’re done you just “butter” the back of that individual piece with the thinset and then stick it on. I had quite a few pieces that didn’t cut great and I would just take them off the mesh and then find/cut a better one for that spot and stick it on. You never know when it’s done. :)

I let it sit for a day or two – I can’t remember how long really but the container will tell you how long. Then it was time to grout – which is usually my least favorite part. It’s MESSY so be prepared for that.

I taped off the wood around the surround:

grouting tile

And then covered the actual fireplace with some tape and a trash bag:

grouting tile

I let the trash bag come out to the floor so it caught most of the grout that fell in that area – it made for quick clean up too.

Again, I used premixed grout:

gray grout for tile

I picked a color called Delorean Gray – you get more color options when you mix it yourself but I was going for this anyway.

So usually if your grout lines are more than 1/8 inch you’ll want to use sanded grout. If they are less you can use unsanded. Most of mine were 1/8 – but some were less, some were more so I used sanded grout.

The only thing is, as I mentioned, marble is SOFT. So there are some issues with the sanded grout that I’ll touch on in a minute.

You use a float tool to apply the grout – I found it easier to get it out with my little scraper: 

how to grout tile

And then apply it to the float:

how to grout

In my opinion there’s no right or wrong way to do this part – just do what you need to do to get it all in there:

tips for grouting marble tiles

Just smoosh (lots of smooshing) it in there as much as you can, making sure to get the edges. I had a gap between the fireplace and the tile that I grouted too (that’s why there’s painters tape there).

Then as soon as you can start wiping it all down with a big sponge and a bucket of water. This part always freaks me out because it feels like the grout isn’t going to come off. But just keep at it – wet sponge, wipe, rinse the sponge, repeat:

grouting tile

So here’s where the problems with sanded grout come in with this tile – first of all because the tile is so soft the sand kind of wears down the sides of the tile a bit. There’s not much you can do about it though – and honestly between the float and the sponge I think you’d get some of that anyway, even with nonsanded grout. I actually like the “worn” look it gives them. Again with that character. ;)

And then the grout kind of etches into the tile as you can see here:

getting grout off tiles

It didn’t do it on all of them, but I did have to wipe down a bunch individually. I just used a wet rag:

getting grout off tiles

After that if any had some left I used a (very clean) razor to get any other residue off:

cleaning tiles after grout

If you were using this on a backsplash where it would be seen closer I’d probably use the non sanded grout – but because I had some bigger areas to fill I’m glad I used the sanded on the surround.

After the grout dried I ran a bead of grout around the edges (it comes in a tube, same color) to make all of my not perfect cuts (mostly) disappear. Character! :)

And we now have a gorgeous fireplace surround that I’m obsessed with:

herringbone gray tile

I went back and forth between gray and white grout and I’m so glad I went gray – it really makes the design pop even more. I LOVE IT.

I love all the colors in the marble too – white, gray and a lot of a tans as well – they tie in perfectly with the new wall color in this room and those tan colors keep it from feeling too cold:

herringbone tile design

I love how the the tile looks with the gray paint and the metal doors on the built ins. And I love that they catch the light and almost shimmer:

herringbone marble tile

Next up – tackling the wall above the fireplace! It will be the same gray color and will get a treatment. I hope to get that started and maybe done this weekend. And then everything will get one more coat of paint.

But for now I’m thrilled with the progress so far!!:

herringbone tile gray fireplace

I hope I made some sense of the tiling process – if you have any questions let me know! It’s not hard at all, it just takes some patience.

Have you attempted a tiling job? Did you find it hard? A small spot like a fireplace surround is a great place to start! Have a great weekend!

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