Building a Fireplace
One mason's approach to framing, layout, and bricklaying technique.
Synopsis: This is not only a description of how a fireplace is built, but a guide to making sure that framing and other building components give a mason enough room to do his job. Clear illustrations give shape and proportion to the firebox, smoke chamber, and other components. With article in hand, an enterprising novice could build one.
I have been involved in building as a designer and carpenter for over 30 years, but building a fireplace has always been a mystery to me. I recently had the chance to clear up the mystery by observing, photographing, and talking to my mason friend, John Hilley, as he built three fireplaces. I now understand more clearly than before what I should do as a carpenter and designer to prepare a job for the mason. I also know I can build a fireplace.
The job actually begins at ground level, with a footing. A block chimney base carries the hearth slab, upon which the firebox and its smoke chamber are built. The chimney goes up from there.
The importance of framing
As a carpenter, I’ve had to reframe for the mason too many times. This is usually because the architect or designer didn’t realize how much space a fireplace and its chimney can take up, and how this can affect the framing around and above it. We’ll be talking about a fireplace built against a wall, which is a pretty simple arrangement, but planning is still important.
Most parts of the country have building codes that specify certain framing details. In Massachusetts, where I live, code requires that all framing members around the fireplace and chimney be doubled, with 2 in. of airspace between the framing and the outside face of the masonry enclosing the flue.
The modified Rumford fireplaces that…