How to tile a fireplace

Learn how to tile your fireplace and create a practical base for a woodburning stove with this advice from interior designer Sian Astley

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Whether you're installing a wood burning stove or want to tidy up your hearth, tiling the fireplace will give you a neat finish. Approach the job like you would tiling a floor – with just a few adjustments. Here's how.

You will need:

  • Your chosen tiles 
  • A self-levelling compound
  • Primer
  • Tile cutter
  • Adhesive
  • Trowel
  • Tiler’s trowel
  • Grout
  • Soft grouting float
  • Long spirit level
  • Short spirit level
  • Blade
  • Tile spacers, if needed
  • Sponge
  • Clean water
  • Protective eyewear
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Tape measure
  • Piece of cardboard

1. Ensure you've picked the right tiles

Before you begin tiling a fireplace, it's important to ensure that the tiles you have chosen are suitable. Whether you opt for a patterned encaustic tile, a shaped tile – hexagons are popular at the moment – or something textured, ensure that they are floor tiles able to withstand heat. 

living room with fireplace and mirrors

(Image: © Farrow & Ball)

2. Measure your fireplace

Accurately measure your fireplace, making note of where your central tile will sit. 

3. Lay out your tiles

Working from the central tile, outwards, position and style your tiles to ensure that you achieve the desired finish (this will make it easier to lay them eventually) think about the composition of different shades and patterns. 

Also take this opportunity to make any necessary cuts to your tiles using a tile cutter, ensuring that they fit the exact measurements of your fireplace.

4. Use an acrylic primer to seal dusty surfaces

After dusting your fireplace, seal with a layer of acrylic primer. This increases the adhesion between the surface and adhesive ensuring that you achieve a high quality finish. Wait for it to dry before using a pencil to mark your central line. 

5. Spread the adhesive evenly

Prepare your adhesive first, according to the manufacturer instructions. Measure a centre line in the fireplace and use a pencil to draw a mark at the front and back of the wall and floor, ensuring the line comes above where the tiles will sit, so you can see it throughout the tiling process.

Start applying the adhesive at the back of the area using a trowel to transfer it from the bucket and spread evenly using a tiler’s trowel to around 2-3cm thick. Use the grooved edge of the tiler’s trowel to make ridges in the adhesive, which will help the tiles to stick.

8. Begin tiling

Lay the central tile first and work away from it. Do a small area at a time to ensure accuracy. Place each tile onto the small area prepared with the adhesive, placing tile spacers in between each if the tiles are not already on a mesh background.

Use your spirit levels to continuously check that each tile is level with the next and gently push each tile into the adhesive, being careful not to push the adhesive up through the gaps too much.

9. Clean the area

Use a sponge and clean water to gently wash each tiled area as you finish it, waiting a few minutes until the tiles have begun to stick, to remove any adhesive on the tile surface. It’s good practice to change the water regularly to ensure it is clean.

10. Continue tiling

Carry on applying the tiles, checking levels and cleaning the surface until the whole area is covered and apply the upstands and skirting tiles last.

11. Check grout lines

When tiling, the adhesive will creep up the grout lines, which can create a speckled finish once the grout is applied. Use a blade to gently prize away any adhesive in the gaps. Wipe down the surface with a sponge and clean water.

12. Prepare for grouting

Once the adhesive has completely dried, remove any left over residue from the grout lines with a stanley knife. Vacuum the area thoroughly before you begin grouting. 

13. Begin grouting

Prepare your grout (whether it's pre-made or powdered) and keep your grouting float at hand – a soft float is essential as it prevents tiles from becoming scratched.

Make sure you press your grout in between the grout lines, starting from the back and moving forwards. Apply liberally, working the grout into a small section at a time. Clean off each section before moving onto the next, but be careful not to over wet as this will cause the dye to bleed.

14. Finishing touches

Once you've finished grouting, add an up-stand or skirting if it suits.

living room with grey scheme and open fireplace

(Image: © Pooky)

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